By Stacey Gualandi/July 10, 2017
When I recently caught up with author Theresa McKeown at a cool patio bar in North Hollywood, CA, I wasn’t meeting her for the first time. Far from it. Theresa and I go back to the heyday of tabloid TV working at Inside Edition, and covering the misadventures of celebrities like Michael Jackson, Tonya Harding and Heidi Fleiss. Oh, and of course OJ.
But in 2015, after several successful years as a Hollywood television executive, she decided to listen to her true calling: writing children’s books. Together with her devoted sisters, she created The ABC’s of Everything, a company established to self-publish a series of educational books and content.
“Our tag line is ‘Raising happy, healthy, conscious children in body, mind and spirit.’ So it’s a holistic approach. They are the future of our world.” Theresa McKeown
Her first rhyming book How to Eat your ABC’s stars a happy honeybee named BuzzBee who shares his joy for fruits and veggies. And the just released The ABCs of Being Me — part-journal, part-scrapbook — is getting rave reviews as the perfect summer project, and a book that as one Amazon review says, “could be used by every marriage family therapist, social worker or psychologist who works with children.”
Our reunion was long overdue, but I’m proud to share how Theresa switched gears, said no to fear and found the best version of her self…
EYE: Publishing children’s books is a whole lot different than producing television…
THERESA: I’ve learned a completely new world! It moves at a different pace than television, but honestly, it’s been so much fun. I don’t have any children, so for me this is a different sort of thing. My friend was calling me the “Pied Piper of Kids!” They just come at me and are drawn to me.
I was trying to figure out why because I don’t have any! And I realized it’s because I don’t look at them like a parent would look at a child. I look at them like another human being. I think they pick up on that and they are drawn to it. I look at them as just shorter people…Ha!
EYE: Are you surprised that your focus is on kids now?
THERESA: I’ve written children’s books my whole life but never did a thing with them. (I did publish one, but the publisher did a horrible job.) About two years ago, my older sister Sue had a vision. She was working in Texas. My other sister June was still in a corporate job getting ready to retire.
So Sue …called me and said, “It’s time for you to publish your books.” My father wrote children’s books his whole life and we write exactly the same way. During the ’40s, children at that time were not as evolved as they are now, so he was told his books were too complicated for kids to understand. Now they are a totally different generation.
He died before he finished writing an epic hero’s journey called Little Bit, the Fan-tailed Fish. He wrote about 30 pages of it. I finished it and you can’t tell who wrote what!
There’s a part of me that feels like I’m carrying on for him. I feel connected to him when I’m writing the books.
EYE: So it seems like you were destined for this?
THERESA: My sister put her life on the line, cashed out her retirement, and said, “I’m putting everything into this and let’s make this happen.” Something changed in me. I was like, “Oh my God. That’s how much she believes in it; I can believe in it that much.”
We started working on the first book, and then my other sister retired and said, “I’m in.” And then I have one more sister [Mary] who actually was a huge influence in the first book with her creative vision – she came up with the book titles; she’s really good at titles – and someday she will join when we get bigger. Plus, my lovely niece(Samantha) who oversees our social media, is onboard as well. But you know it takes a village!
EYE: When you decided to create The ABC’s of Everything where were you in your life at that moment? Was this a reinvention?
THERESA: Total reinvention. I left Los Angeles and went to Texas. I tried to get a documentary funded, but it never got completed. It was almost like the universe was literally saying, “You don’t get to do this anymore. You’ve got a job that you came here to do and you haven’t done it yet.
So, guess what? We’re going to close all these doors and we’re going to open one big door for you.” It hasn’t been easy by any stretch because there is a lot to do.
EYE: What are the challenges?
THERESA: The writing is not a challenge at all. That is the one thing that feels like the most natural thing I could do. That’s such a small part of it. The challenge is selling books and getting the word out. We’ll get 2000 hits on a video, but that doesn’t always translate to buying a book.
There’s a lot of trial and error because it’s a brand new world for all of us. So we are all learning together and that’s been really challenging because we were human, and we make mistakes.
EYE: Have you ever reached the point where you regretted your decision?
THERESA: No, but there was a moment where I was like, “Did I make the right choice?” because I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to do this.
EYE: Like what?
THERESA: Well, lifestyle for one. I’m used to having disposable income. I haven’t had a traditional paycheck since we started this. Scary! And not only that, but we’re also spending money to get it off the ground. So it’s like double scary. But then we get one sale and we’re like cheering, “Somebody bought a book!!!” It’s hysterical. We get so excited. One of our mandates is we have to celebrate the small things…any accomplishment.
My sister June is an executive coach, so she’s been so helpful in making us set goals; she’s the structure, the glue that keeps us from going off into the universe because there are so many good ideas.
EYE: So ultimately what is your goal?
THERESA: Our tag line is “raising happy, healthy, conscious children in body, mind and spirit.” So it’s a holistic approach. They are the future of our world. I was thinking of this today: the United States feels like the divided states right now. There’s a lot of chaos. We’re forming a trajectory for kids to lead a really healthy life but it’s also about character.
What I’ve seen is children are innately full of sweetness, most of them. And I think we can embrace that a little more and offer better options for them.
I feel like we can at least provide something that is entertaining that’s not a tech device of some sort, but also teaching them about personal responsibility. That’s what the next book is about, The ABC’s of Living Green.
EYE: Do you plan to give back?
THERESA: When we start turning a profit, we will be giving back to Save the Bees. That’s one of our charities. Problem is there are so many great charities for kids. I got involved with Reading to Kids, an LA-based charity, which I love. They have 500 volunteers who read to eight elementary schools every month. And they chose my book for their 3rd grade-reading club. Biggest sale ever!
I’ve visited the Variety Boys & Girls Club. We donated about 100 books to them and are developing a workshop for the new book. What’s cool about this book is that it’s a non-threatening way for kids to communicate. Kids love to … talk about themselves. I was watching kids interacting, and what was interesting was as soon as they would start to read a page, another kid can’t wait to jump in with their artistic ideas and start drawing and pasting.
Then they start talking and their conversation was very meaningful because everything in the book is about character and values, kind of the important stuff.
EYE: Do you think kids are underestimated?
THERESA: Yes. I was in a bookstore recently and looking at books for kids 7 and 8 and astonished at how simplistic they were. So let’s take it up a notch people! These are kids whipping around on their iPads and YouTube.
Don’t you think children can understand more than five words on a page? Seriously, it’s almost insulting. I decided I’m writing what comes from my heart.
EYE: You became a successful Hollywood production executive which took you inside the White House, on top of the World Trade Center and into the heart of the LA riots. You produced hundreds of hours of television and formed your own production company. With all of your television adventures, does this pale in comparison?
THERESA: It is a like another lifetime. That was a physical adventure and we did some crazy stuff. This is an adventure of my spirit that I’ve never done before. I didn’t understand the impact you can have because I don’t have children.
We are trying to build a community of like-minded people. People are hungry for this; mothers especially, homeschoolers. What we are hoping is that we can create a platform that everyone can come to.
EYE: One fan said you are like the female Art Linkletter, the legendary television host, especially with kids.
THERESA: I love that! By the way, we are also developing a TV show for ABC’s of Being Me. This is where my past comes to help in the present. I have all these ideas and there is one with a Linkletter vibe. This is the best way to talk to kids; it will be super funny, and short and sweet now that you can’t keep people’s attention for very long anyway.
One eight-year-old, Annie, I asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She said, “A lot of people ask me that question. I just want to be me. I want to be myself. I want to be happy in my own body.” That was an 8 year old!
It’s fun to be out of showbiz at least for a little while. I’m inching my way back in but in a different way. I want to partner with a production company. We have a cooking show with my book character ‘BuzzBee” at a network right now. That would be cool if they came back right away and said this is a really cute show! It is a really cute show.
EYE: What is your advice for someone who has an unrealized passion?
THERESA: Well, for me, because I didn’t have any children, it’s my legacy. I want to leave something behind and I want to feel like I made a difference. Whether it’s 100 or a million lives, it doesn’t matter.
I think that anyone who feels really passionate about something and they follow their heart – it may not be the easy course – but it’s absolutely the course that will feed their soul.
We are here for a reason and everyone has a purpose and everyone has an incredible gift to give the world. Some people never realize it because they get caught up in the fear and they are like, “I have to pay my mortgage, put kids through college…”
I would encourage people to look up people who have made a great contribution late in life, and see the list of people who held on to their vision, got through the hard stuff, got through their responsibilities and still managed to pull it off.
EYE: How do you walk through that fear?
THERESA: What I do is I focus on my vision. I believe in my heart. I think it was Wayne Dyer who said that it’s not that I’LL believe it when I see it, it’s “You’ll see it when you believe it.” That is true. Thoughts become things. If I’m fearful, then I’m going to attract fearful experiences or put myself in a situation where I’m going to be afraid.
But if you focus and really hold a vision, you can really create your life the way you want it to be, and the only failure anyone ever experiences is when one gives up. You never fail if you never give up. That is the truth. Don’t give up. I don’t care if you’re 60!
EYE: Lastly, how do you like the title of “author” in front of your name?
THERESA: It is so much fun. I get such a kick out of it. When I go to schools and the kids look at me and ask me, “You made this?” I say yes! They get giddy. And then when I sign it for them… it’s a joy I’ve never experienced in my life, a totally different joy. Now we just need to get our community… we’re building and we’re not gonna give up!
TWE: I love my autographed book. I’m not too old! Thank you, Theresa, for being you, and we look forward to your next book, The ABC’s of Living Green in the fall!