Tammy Stuhr, brand new children’s author, has just released her debut picture book: Jax Dreams of Heaven. To celebrate, we sat down to chat about where she started and how she got to where she is now.
MIRIAM LAUNDRY: Hi Tammy! Congratulations on your first children’s book. Can you tell us who this book is for and when you started writing it?
TAMMY STUHR: Jax Dreams of Heaven is for children four to eight years old. I started the book in 2021 as I worked through your Children’s Book Masterclass program. I knew I wanted to write about Heaven and hope, and that Jax and Friends would be a series. However, trying to find a way to have Jax talk about Heaven was going to be tough. Then when I lost my mother-in-law, I had the idea of visiting hours in Heaven and the plot took the turn towards Jax dreaming about Heaven. The plot also took a turn when I was inspired to include the cardinal as a sign of hope. These were lessons I wanted to pass along to my two grandchildren, so the timing became important to finish the book by my grandson’s 4th birthday.
ML: What inspired you to become an author?
TS: My inspiration for being an author came from a few sources. First, working as a university faculty member I saw a need for adults to be able to talk to children about important, but also tough topics. Next, I knew I had a talent for helping adults relate to children, and writing books would be able to help me use my gift. Finally, I believe reading is the key to all learning, and I want to contribute high quality, fun children’s literature to the world.
ML: Where did the inspiration come from to write this book?
TS: My dog Jax seemed to do a lot of crazy things, like chewing up the family Bible and jumping over six-foot walls. My family kept saying I should write stories about Jax’s adventures. The first concepts were about a very naughty puppy. However, Jax is a very sweet doggie, just determined to get what he wants. We have adopted so many great dogs into our family, and I wanted to incorporate them somehow into Jax's stories although they lived at different times on this Earth. That is where the Jax and Friends Adventure series was born. Then, working in the field of positive youth development for 25 years, I often had the opportunity to be a young person’s confidant. These same reassurances I gave to youth during tough times, I realized may be taken more to heart coming from Jax.
ML: Why was it important to share the message in your book?
TS: Death and hope are often the topics people feel paralyzed by discussing, so I wanted to help all generations find hope amongst their grief by writing Jax Dreams of Heaven. The extra page in the back provides tangible and real ways for young and old to come together as they go through the stages of grief. A month ago, I heard there is a sixth stage in grief: to create. The speaker claimed a person can move beyond the grief cycle by creating. I do wonder if creating this book helped me move on to the ‘create’ stage from my loss of a person I loved so dearly.
ML: That is so heartwarming, Tammy. I hope your readers can find the same sense of peace as they learn to create as well. Do you have a memorable moment to share from either the publishing journey or when someone read your book?
TS: I have a couple to share. First, when I read the book live, there is a moment (when Jax gives Grandpa the evil eye) that you can hear a pin drop in the room. It doesn’t matter if I’m at a preschool or with middle school kids. The silence is palpitating, then when we bring Fluffy Buffy into the story he begins with a big ‘ARF!’ Every single audience jumps at that point. My husband pointed it out to me when he was photographing an event for me. Now I watch for it every time knowing it is coming.
My second story is about a pre-teen boy who had $20 to spend at a pop up event of local vendors. He saw the cardinals at my booth, and insisted to his grandma he was going to spend his money on a book. Cardinals reminded him of his grandfather. His dad told me that his son is autistic and won’t really talk to anyone, except…he will show everyone his Jax Dreams of Heaven book when they come to his house. They aren’t allowed to touch it, but he opens it and shares about it with them.
ML: Wow, those are such incredible moments. I can only imagine how it felt to experience these. Did you have any impactful moments of your own as you worked on the book?
TS: My biggest lesson during the publishing process was that there is an art to everything. Mastering that art, and working with gifted people who have mastered their art, is the key to a great book and an enjoyable experience.
ML: Well said. It was such a joy having you in the Publishing Mastermind. What prompted you to join? Did you have a favourite part of the course?
TS: I joined Publishing Mastermind for a couple of reasons. First, my manuscript sat on the shelf for a year after the first edits. I knew I needed accountability to prioritize my book. Second, when I realized what it took to assemble a team of editors, book designers, and illustrators, the Publishing Mastermind was almost a one-stop shop of professionals, along with the bonuses of an author coach to keep me on schedule and a cohort group to keep me inspired.
My favourite part of Publishing Mastermind was the professionals who support me and make my dreams a reality. There were many times well-meaning people’s ideas could have derailed me, but I knew the process to publish, and publish on my timeline, because of the guidance Publishing Mastermind provides me as an author.
ML: I’m so glad the program could help in that way. Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors who are thinking of writing for children?
TS: Just start writing, not correcting, not perfecting, just start writing. Then read, read lots of children’s books and keep your favourite books handy to inspire you to create a masterpiece you enjoy.
ML: Lastly, what do you hope parents and children take away from Jax’s adventure?
TS: I hope parents and children foremost have fun reading the book together. The dog’s barks are carefully placed in the book for the child to read whether in a group or just home sitting on a lap. Next, I want them to have meaningful conversations about death, and about where they can look and find hope.
ML: Thank you, Tammy, and congratulations again on a wonderful children’s book.
Watch the Full Interview:
Tammy Stuhr is the CEO of Author My Day L.L.C. in Nebraska. She works as an author, motivational speaker, trainer, and personal coach to empower people to reach their goals and dreams.
She enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, grandkids, and her dog, Jax. She loves spending time in nature, hiking trails, camping, and fishing. She comes from a career in education, teaching college, preschool, and positive youth development.