Django the Greyhound Gets Adopted! [A Story of Love and Acceptance]

I met Samantha (Sam) Wulff, a fellow Buffalo State alum, in 2019 when I led a yoga event for Music Is Art in Buffalo, NY. She helped me with my social media and logistics for the day. Instantly, I could tell that Sam was destined for greatness with her natural spark and drive!

A few weeks ago, I saw on Sam’s IG page that she worked on writing her first book, a heartwarming children’s story of a greyhound’s journey. I was excited to catch up with her to get the details! Her self-published book, Django the Greyhound Gets Adopted!, debuted to the public on March 6. I was hoping to share our video interview with you, but Duo didn’t cooperate, so here’s the transcription from our conversation…

Q: Why did Django influence you to write this book?
A:
I think it started with his adoption when we got him. Our friends and family would see him, and they’re like, he’s so different. Not a lot of people know about greyhounds, and not a lot of people understand them. They have some weird intricacies and patterns — they have to learn a lot after they come off the track (as race dogs). They’re super sweet and a misunderstood breed. I wanted to tell the story of greyhounds in general because not many people know about them — they were a breed to fuel a racing industry and make people money. I want to bring that fact to light.

Q: How long have you wanted to be a children’s book author? And why did you pick that genre?
A:
I think I chose to write a children’s book first because I myself am a child at heart. I’ve always wanted to write books. I started writing them when I was at least four or five years old. It’d be sitting with construction paper, stapling the papers together, and writing on them with crayons. They were always cat- or dog-themed or some other type of animal. So I think that was always the path I wanted to go. As I got older, I realized because I like children’s books so much when I was a kid, the sense of wonder they sparked, that I really wanted to write one for my first book. If I can make a kid happy or inspire a spark of wonder in them, then I did my job.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from the book?
A:
Reading is so personal. I hope that everyone takes away something different. I hope the story inspires and educates people. Life is full of twists and turns, and I think that can be scary. Sometimes life can be stressful and cause some anxiety, but there are really great people in this world who are willing to help you, willing to be there for you. And that’s what I really want to come through with this story.

I hope that people enjoy Django’s story and come to love him just as much as I do. Greyhounds are awesome dogs. Again, they’re often misunderstood. I also hope that people going through life changes, or, you know, a family with a child or animals who are adopted, really get something out of this storyline, which helps their family.

Q: I know it’s still early since your book release, but what has been the biggest thrill about the experience so far?
A: The biggest thrill so far has been the launch of the book and seeing how excited people are, like you. A close tie to that was my first time working with the illustrator (Sofie Engstrom von Alten). Seeing the storyboard for the first time when I mapped out how I wanted the pages to look, this is what I’m thinking… working together with her and seeing it all come to light was great. The copy is pretty minimal in this book since it’s a kid’s book — the visuals are important, and she did a fantastic job.

Q: All that said, how did you choose Sofie as your illustrator?
A:
I found Sofie through a freelance platform. I wasn’t searching for a specific style. It was kind of like, I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. I had an idea in my head, but I couldn’t bring it to fruition myself because I’m not really a visual artist. I can do basic graphic design, but this type of illustration is a whole other game. People who are skilled at illustration are impressive. When I found her, I was like, this is it! She has her own experience in the publishing world. She had her own book published through a traditional publisher, and she has helped other people publish their books. She had the formatting aspect down well and industry knowledge. We would bounce ideas off of each other. She was really invaluable and awesome to work with.

Q: What was the biggest unexpected challenge you faced with writing and publishing the book?
A:
Self-publishing is really cool because you get to make it whatever you want. Thinking back to my days when I was a kid, I was like, I’m going to make whatever I want and throw it out there. If people like it, cool. If they don’t, that’s fine. I did what I wanted to do. On the flip side of that, you don’t have the support of a publisher. You don’t have someone who will take the reins and work with the illustrator and do the formatting and do the printing and do the distribution. So you need to figure out every little piece, which was a bit of a learning curve for me. It was learning all the different platforms and the software and getting the formatting just right — all the little tweaks and going back and forth. I’m a pretty impatient person. It took about four months to do the whole thing after I had the story. In my mind, I’m like, oh, this should be quick! Working through the process and learning everything, getting up to speed, was the toughest part.

Q: What are your future plans as an author?
A:
I think that if I do any more children’s books, I will potentially make a series from Django the Greyhound Gets Adopted! We’ll see how it goes. Next, I’d like to write a novel. I already have a couple of ideas in the works. It would be for a different demographic — young adults, teens. I would also like to write some short nonfiction stories. Kind of run the gamut. It’s what makes me happy, what I’m feeling at the time. I don’t want to be just a children’s author. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just not for me or the path I want to take.

Q: Given what you have learned from this self-publish experience, would you ever want to do it again?
A:
That’s to be determined. With self-publishing, you have to front all of the costs. It takes a long time to reach the profit stage. If you’re writing, you should do it because you love it, not because you’re going to make money. Anything in the creative field is usually driven by passion, not by the paycheck. I’ve heard the pros and cons of both self-publishing and having a publisher. I’ve done a lot of research, and I think it would be nice to have somebody say, I’m going to take this from here and, you know, do all the manual labor after you wrote the book. It depends. If you’re working with a publisher, there’s going to be some changes you have to accept.

Q: Who is your author idol?
A:
I read all different kinds of books when I was little — Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein. Those stuck out to me as a kid. I have liked Kurt Vonnegut for a really long time. I think his storylines are so unique. I love his dark humor and that he didn’t start writing until later in life. He’s a good example of following your passion and writing because you feel compelled. So I had to pick one person; he’s probably my favorite author.

Q: What is your biggest goal for this book?
A: Awareness about racing greyhounds is definitely important. Second, I would like to have the funds to donate a portion of the proceeds to Buffalo Greyhound Adoption. We got Django from them.

Q: Most importantly, how can people buy your book, Django the Greyhound Gets Adopted!?
A:
They can buy it on Amazon — there are a hardcover edition and paperback or ebook through Kindle, FREE if you have a subscription. I’m happy to share that shortly after my interview with Sam, she learned that Barnes & Noble picked up her book!

ME: I look forward to doing a follow-up interview with you once your next book is ready!
SAM: Thanks, you’ll be the first to know.
ME: You heard it here, an exclusive with Gal on the Go next time!

Carving the Way: Author, Athlete, + Influencer Hayley Diep

Hayley Diep, author
Hayley Diep, author

Q: What age did you first ride a bike?
A: My parents got me on a bike when I was about 5. I had one of those pink/purple “girl” bikes that I’d ride up and down my street. We lived on a hill, so I had some fun scrape-ups, but I stopped riding bikes after elementary school and didn’t get into biking again until my senior year of college. At first, I was using my bike to commute. I didn’t start riding for fun or as a sport until I was 23. My husband and I got into doing triathlons, and so I learned how to do road rides. I didn’t even know mountain biking was a sport that you could do until I was 25!

Q: What is your favorite style of riding?
A:
It is so hard to choose between road or mountain biking! I love them both. They each have their fun and challenges, but right now, I have been really enjoying mountain biking. I like being on trails and learning new skills. It’s the most satisfying feeling to come back to a trail and conquer obstacles that I couldn’t do before. I feel like with mountain biking, I can see my progress. Also, I don’t have to worry about getting hit by cars.

Q: What was one of the most challenging rides you have ever done?
A:
A 121-mile bike ride (road ride) with a little over 8,000 feet of elevation gain total. Five thousand feet of the elevation gain was in the first 20 miles. It was the longest ride I’d ever done, and it took a lot of mental willpower and food to finish it. 

Q: What is your dream ride trail or destination?
A:
I don’t know if I have a dream ride trail, but I’d love to try mountain biking out in Moab, Utah. I’ve seen photos and videos. The trails out there look beautiful. I’m just not sure if my skill level is there yet.

Q: What or who influenced you to write your book?
A:
I was inspired to write my book after a bike ride with friends. My two friends and I had been the only women on a trail. I drove home that night with the line in my head, “If you give a girl a bike, she will ride and ride and ride.” Then, my book was born. I thought about the other male-dominated sports that exist that I enjoy doing and figured that my character could do them all!

Q: Why did you choose The Be Good Foundation as one of the recipients of your book proceeds?
A:
The Be Good Foundation is one of six foundations that will receive proceeds (only if the book is bought directly through my website, though). I chose it because I love its mission and all of the good that it is trying to accomplish. It is removing unexploded ordnances in Laos that were left behind from the Vietnam War. My family is from Vietnam and escaped after the war, and so I know how the war has directly impacted people who live in those countries. My family was lucky enough to leave. It is unfortunate that not everyone has that opportunity and that their homes aren’t safe due to these unexploded bombs. I love that the Be Good Foundation is trying to make these places safer for the people. I also love that it supports other cycling-related nonprofits to help get more people on bikes.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away?
A:
I hope that all readers, young and old, will be inspired to get outside and try any of these sports. I also hope that all girls, but specifically minority girls, will see themselves in this book and know that they are capable of doing these sports. 

Q: Why did you select Braden as your book illustrator?
A:
I chose to go with Braden because I liked the dynamic movements in his art and his characters’ silly facial expressions. When I saw his art portfolio, I knew right away that I wanted him to bring my book to life. He is such a talented and creative illustrator. Also, I love Star Wars, and when I saw his drawings of Star Wars characters, it was a done deal!

Q: What are your plans as an author?
A:
I am currently working on a picture book biography and a middle-grade novel. I’m going to try to be traditionally published next. We’ll see how it goes!

Q: Who is your female athlete idol?
A: I have several female sports idols. Ayesha McGowan (IG: @ayesuppose) and Brooklyn Bell (IG: @badgal_brooky) are both cyclists who are breaking down huge barriers for women and women of color, which is so inspiring to me. Rebecca Rusch is another idol of mine. She is an incredible cyclist who is doing so much good for the world through her foundation and way of life. Last but not least, Sky Brown. She’s a 12-year-old skateboarder who is fearless and flies up halfpipes! She’s a superhuman kid!

Q: Where can people buy your book, If You Give a Girl a Bike?
A: My book is available in local bookstores and Amazon, but it is preferred if people order it through my website www.hayleydiep.com so that 10% of proceeds can be donated to charities such as the Be Good Foundation and National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA).

Fine Line Between Fact and Fiction With Author Samantha Mina

Samantha Mina | Facebook: @SpectrumNovelSeries

Meet Samantha Mina, a young adult dystopian sci-fi/fantasy book series author and “American Fiction Awards” finalist. I randomly crossed paths with Samantha last week when I stopped into Barnes & Noble in Fairfax, Va. She was there for her book signing, and we started talking. After learning her personal story, I knew right away that I wanted to interview her for Gal on the Go. I’m proud to add Samantha as my first literary interview, who I hope will inspire you!

Q: At what age did you first get the writing bug? What incident or point made you decide that you wanted to be a published author for a living?

A: Since early childhood, I always loved to write. At age seven, I remember spending Christmas day scribbling down stories about the characters whose action figures my brother and I received that morning. My brother didn’t understand why I preferred to write about my dolls and toys rather than picking up and playing with them!

I started drafting the six-part Spectrum series when I was 16 years old. Before I began this series, I was an avid fanfiction writer. I produced mass quantities of Harry Potter and other such fanfiction—and, I mean, hundreds of pages per story. At that time, I also followed the daily blog of my favorite author, Orson Scott Card. One day, Card posted an entry titled, “When to Write Fanfiction.” To my great astonishment, he answered, “The time is never.” He said, if you consider yourself a real writer or ever want to be published, you need to create your own original material. Fanfiction can be fun and good writing practice, but you’re never going to propel your authorial career with it. That week, I sat down and started drafting Spectrum, which I’d amusingly titled back then Fire vs. Ice.

The genre of the series is young adult dystopian science fiction and fantasy. When I wrote the first drafts of each installment in the series, dystopian fiction was not all the rage it is now. I think The Giver was the only dystopian novel I’d even heard of at the time! But, in recent years, with the release of novels and movies like Hunger Games and Divergent, it has become a booming genre with a broad readership.

My long-term goal is to be a full-time author, but right now, it is my second job, alongside managing a cybersecurity software engineering firm in the DC area.

Q: Who is your author idol, and why?

A: Prior to reading my first Orson Scott Card novel at age 16, I’d never touched science-fiction or fantasy, only literary fiction. (By now, I’d read almost everything Card has ever written). In 11th grade, a friend of mine shoved a copy of Ender’s Game in my hands and demanded that I read it! To my surprise, I got hooked by the first sentence. What captivates me about Card’s work is not the world-building or sci-fi glamor, but the quality of the characterization. I strive to put the same degree of intensity, complexity and depth into my own characterization, thereby drawing in a larger audience. I’ve been told by many that my work appeals to far more than the typical “sci-fi reader.” For example, a 60-plus-year-old lady who usually only reads Amish romance recently told me that she binged all my books. She said she just couldn’t stop! Previously, she never touched Star Wars or Harry Potter or anything of the like. Hearing that made my day.

Q: For other aspiring writers, what is your overview writing process?

A: When I began writing the series, I didn’t have an outline or a specific plot in mind; I didn’t necessarily know where the story was going or even where it would be set. All I had in mind at the time was the image of a character whom I’d been sketching in my notebooks at school all week: a red-haired, red-robed, green-eyed teenage girl named Scarlet July. So, I sat down and started writing about her—who she is, developing her quirks, and her voice. After that, it was as if the book wrote itself: a world and story seemed to form around Scarlet naturally.

For volumes 2 through 6 in the series, I drafted detailed outlines before diving into the prose. However, writing book 1, where the primary world-building is completed, was almost like a feverish trance that happened to me. It was as if I was along for the ride like a reader, excited to see where the story would go!

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being an author?

A: Writing the actual books is fun and easy. The more difficult part is working with teams of individuals to get the books published—everything from editing to formatting to commissioning cover art and marketing. Writing the books is truly only half the battle. No matter how great a story you write, it won’t get read without thorough promotion, such as social media marketing and book-touring.

Generating ads, managing social media platforms, and touring the country for signing events and conventions is almost a full-time job in itself. Between running a cybersecurity company during the day, writing/editing at night, and traveling for my book-tour on weekends, I don’t get much sleep or rest.

Q: What is the greatest perk of being an author?

A: I’ll start by telling you what it isn’t. It isn’t about being recognized by random fans in public. It isn’t about the attention, photo-ops, or awards. It isn’t about the nationwide travel or the money—I still need my day job. It’s about reader reaction. I tear up sometimes when I hear how my stories have touched various people around the world, especially young tweens and teens. Written in the first person, alternating between the perspectives of a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy from radically different cultures, what drives my plots is the characters’ struggles and growth as they fight to find their place and purpose in the wars plaguing their world. If you’ve ever been a confused, displaced teenager, you will relate to the protagonists. If you’ve ever been impacted by racism or classism, you will relate to the protagonists. If you’ve ever been affected by war or military life, you will relate to the protagonists. You may even find yourself relating to some of the antagonists, as you read their accounts and come to see that they are the heroes of their own stories, often believing that they are fighting for good.

In 2018, I exhibited at the big “Gen Con: Authors’ Avenue” convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. I encountered a teen named Sarah on my first day there. She read the entirety of volume 1 overnight then came back the following morning with her whole family to purchase volume 2, exclaiming how much she enjoyed my creation. Her excitement was infectious. Readers like Sarah have no idea what an impact they make on authors like me. She’s one of the highlights of my entire book tour, right up there with meeting New York Times bestseller Terry Brooks and Tor Publishing Founder Tom Doherty. Experiences like that are the reasons why I write.

Q: What is your dream for your book series?

A: It would be amazing if my novels ever became movies or TV shows. With all the action and adventure, I think they would lend themselves well to the silver screen. My work has been in consideration for video productions before. A couple of months ago, Spectrum made it in the top 10 out of 40 books considered for an HBO movie or series. I wasn’t selected, but I hope the door gets reopened in the future!

Q: Out of your six stories so far, do you have a favorite? If yes, why is it your favorite?

A: With tons of intense, juicy protagonist interaction and twice the word-count of previous installments for it to play out, I believe that book 3, Crystallized, is the most engaging volume in the series thus far.

Q: Given the genre you write and our current COVID-19 environment, do you have any new storyline ideas? If yes, do you care to share?

A: The coronavirus pandemic has not inspired any new novel ideas yet. But, after the Spectrum series is all published, I plan on releasing a medical thriller. Living Ghost is based on my journey with an incredibly rare gastro-vascular disorder called Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome that caused me to stare death in the face before even reaching my second decade of life.

Here’s a sneak peek at the back-cover synopsis: “When eighteen-year-old college freshman Blanca Rokitansky becomes seriously ill, she and her best friend at Nation’s Capital University, aspiring radiologist Russell Brown, are abruptly thrown into a medical mystery enshrouded in controversy. Fighting for acknowledgment of and treatment for Blanca’s rare syndrome from a skeptical medical community, Blanca stares death in the face while Russell—a pre-med Presidential Scholar and volunteer orderly at the University Hospital—confronts the possibility of losing his scholarship and credibility before his career in medicine can really begin. The two embark on a long and dangerous journey filled with controversy, confrontation, invasive procedures, mystery and malpractice. For Blanca, finding a diagnosis is just the beginning.”

Q: Given the current ban on travel and COVID-19, do you see yourself doing something else to stay connected with your readers/fans like a virtual book tour through streaming sessions?

A: Absolutely! Facebook, in particular, has been incredible for engaging my readers, from announcing new releases to running sales to answering questions from other aspiring authors. I started my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/SpectrumNovelSeries, about two years ago and have already gleaned 30,000 followers—through a lot of hard work and dedication. I post several times a week, interacting with readers virtually while my book tour is temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.

Q: When is your next story being released? What is the plotline?

A: Currently, all six books in my series have been written and rewritten over a dozen times each. However, only the first four volumes have gone through the publication process thus far. The fourth Volume, Covalence, just released on March 1, 2020, with book five, Iridescence, expected by March 1, 2021.

The Spectrum series follows an eclectic cast of young adults fighting to survive and find their place and purpose in the wars plaguing the dystopian, future world of Second Earth. From fantastical world-building, to combat sequences, to geopolitics, to the exploration of a soldier’s psyche, to racial and social commentary, to the turmoil and confusion that comes with the teenage years, to forbidden romance, the sextet is a fast-paced, character-driven, sci-fi/fantasy adventure for the Divergent and Hunger Games generation.

Beneath the fantastical world-building and sci-fi sparkle, this series is mainly about young adults consecrating their lives for their countries while still trying to figure out who they are themselves. Whether on this Earth in the present day, or 3,000 years later in a fictional society, the honor, bravery, love, and fear that compose the heart of a soldier is timeless and transcendent, so is the hope, optimism, confusion, and ambition that characterizes the average teenager or young adult.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share that I didn’t cover?

A: You don’t have to be an avid reader or a sci-fi/fantasy buff to dive into the Spectrum series, due to the style and pacing of the prose. I’ve been told by many “non-readers” that Spectrum is the first book they’ve been motivated to finish in years! So, I invite you into the world of Second Earth, following an eclectic cast of young adults who learn the hard way that freedom isn’t free.

___________

Get lost in Samantha Mina’s sci-fi adventure series! Available in paperback, e-book, and audio-book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Audible, iTunes, Google Play, and more.

  • Spectrum – “American Fiction Awards” finalist
  • Diffusion
  • Crystallized
  • Covalence
  • Iridescence
  • Scintillate

SIDE STORY: Samantha has led an unusual life journey. She almost died at age 20 from a rare and misunderstood illness called SMA Syndrome that induces spontaneous starvation upon its sufferers. She was featured in a documentary on the Discovery Channel called ‘Mystery Diagnosis. To view the three-part feature about Samantha, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAX-sZKgU-E