lIn just a few hours 2013 will be a distant memory. The year has seen quite a lot of excitement, change, tragedy, uplifting moments, but through it all there have been people of extraordinary character that have made it a part of their daily lives to enrich and improve their lives, and the lives of those around them. If you haven't met Kyrja Withers, she is such a person. She is unstoppable! Like the colorful pixie she often portrays in her youtube children's program, Kyrja is full of light and sparkles. In fact, her home is known as The Glitter Dome for it's vivid colors and upcycled art pieces.
Kyrja is known for her community outreach, but also for a series of children's books based around a cuddly bunny named Rupert who teaches children about the seasons, kindness, and keeping the Earth clean and tidy. Earlier in the year Kyrja became well known for something a lot less sparkly as the target of anti-Wiccan hate crimes. As her office was targeted by a drive by shooter, her home targeted with home made bombs, and hate rhetoric thrown in her direction, Kyrja let her light shine through all of it to push forward to continue her work with local charities and children's events. A little while ago I sat down with her to discuss her success as a children's author, teacher, and humanitarian.
" What inspired you to write children's books?"
" It had to be divine intervention, because I never had an inclination to write books for children at all. I have always written very adult fantasy-genre novels of epic length. However, at a family gathering a couple of years ago, my younger brothers were re-telling their adventures as children when they heard a terrible noise which woke them from their sleep. They decided to go on a monster-hunting quest in the middle of the night. As the family was laughing at the end of the tale, one of my sisters-in-law said, “Someone should write a book about that!” My other sister-in-law said, “Kyrja, you’re the writer in the family!” There was absolutely NO WAY I wanted to write a story about that. No way. No. No. No!!! Too late. The seed had been planted.
At the time, I was working in construction, digging ditches and operating heavy equipment. Other than taking the appropriate safety precautions, there really wasn’t so very much to occupy my thoughts – and that is a dangerous thing for a writer, I can tell you! The first children’s book I wrote was called “The Monster Got Mom,” and it all rhymed. It’s just a fun romp and really doesn’t have much of a message.
But there was all this rhyming stuff in my head and Rupert had been whispering in my ear, nibbling, nibbling and becoming more and more impatient for HIS story to be told. So one day, after being at work for a couple of hours, I told my foreman that I had to leave, because I had story that could wait no longer. “See you tomorrow,” was all he said. So I went home, muddy boots and all, sat down at the computer and wrote “Rupert’s First Beltane.” I was absolutely amazed at what happened, and how the story wrote itself. I was awash with tears of gratitude, and so tickled at how the story unfolded. The story – Rupert’s story – was just beginning, but I didn’t know it that day. I thought I was just going to write the one story, but the Gods had other plans.
When I write a Rupert’s Tale, I honestly have very little idea how it will go. I know it will be about a Sabbat, or will have a certain, individual “character” in it, or maybe even that it will be about a certain subject, but that’s about it. The story doesn’t reveal itself until I begin to write. Being a Friend of Rupert is an amazing adventure for me! "
"Who is your inspiration?"
"If this question means to ask where I get my ideas from, or why I write the stories I do, the answer is: from the Gods Themselves. I serve Freyja and Freyr. They are “home” to me. They are whose voices I listen for, whose direction I seek, and whose work I mean to do.
If you mean to ask who inspires me on a daily basis, my answer is: kind people. I don’t necessarily mean people who are humble or who simply go quietly about their lives, doing what must be done – although they are certainly included as well. I cherish people who do the work that must be done, even when nobody is watching. I am grateful for those who do their very best, no matter what it is they do, and don’t just “say” they’re doing their best. But those who inspire me the most are those who are kind to others and to themselves. Those who are happy with themselves and share that happiness with others. My husband, Randy, is such a person. He truly inspires me to be the very best person I can be, and I like that."
" You are a role model for so many, who is your role model?"
"Laugh if you will, but the honest answer to that question is Xena. Sometimes deadly. Sometimes campy. Always sincere. She is determined to do what is right, no matter the cost. She sometimes goes off in the wrong direction, but she always comes back to do the “right” thing. I appreciate honesty and integrity, and value her ethics. And, quite honestly, I dig her relationship with the Gods."
" How do children and parents react to Rupert?"
"I cannot tell you the number of parents who have approached me after a “Rupert’s Tales and Tunes” performance at a festival or some other event to tell me their child never sits still that long, but that they did when I was telling the story. Our performances are very interactive, with a good deal of audience participation, so most kids have a great time – and so do the parents! It’s funny how most parents think their teenagers would think our books are too “babyish” for them, because when I have had the opportunity to read to them, they have all kinds of questions, and love to have as much fun doing the workshops as the little kids do. Of course, they would never tell you that!
What’s the most-amazing part of our performances to me, though, is watching the parents. They bring their little kids to what they think is going to be a “story time” workshop during festival, but their mouths are the ones which drop open in delight. Their eyes light up and they often tell me they wish they’d had THESE stories growing up. Some of the most fun I’ve had during performances is those when no children showed up at all – just adults. That’s when they let themselves be free and have fun just for the sake of fun.
Randy, my husband, and I truly enjoy bringing Rupert to everyone everywhere, no matter who is in the audience. Each performance is different, and each one is a joy to share."
" How have the recent events affected your writing and community projects? "
"To be honest, we didn’t let the incidents affect our scheduling. We continued with each and every thing we had planned before the shots were fired and the homemade bottle bombs were thrown. And believe me – we have a very, very full schedule. At that time, we were in full production of our “Friends of Rupert” TV show, I had students graduating their first year of the the Elemental Witchcraft Tradition I teach, we had an Adopt-A-Road clean up event, several performances of our “Rupert’s Tales and Tunes” workshops to give, and a few other events as well. We absolutely refused to allow the threats and acts of violence to deter us from our work.
What did take a lot of effort was answering the hundreds and hundreds of messages, both public and private, from those who wanted to demonstrate their support and concern. It was an absolutely incredible outpouring and we were stunned. I cannot tell you the difference it made, though, when Lady Liberty League stepped in to help. Selena Fox and Peter Dybing make an incredible team."
"What sorts of community outreach do you do and how does your path affect your community work? "
"Our “Friends of Rupert” Clean Up Crew has been an official Adopt-A-Road crew for more than three years now. We clean up 2.3 miles of roadway a minimum of four times a year. I always read my newest Rupert’s Tales to our volunteers first, in gratitude for their help. That and the free pizza is about all they get – other than the good feeling it gives them to help in keeping Mother Earth clean. And that’s why we do what we do; we walk our talk in taking care of our planet. It’s the only one we have, you know!
Our Hands of the Goddess volunteer group has been helping to support a local homeless women’s shelter for about the same amount of time, although we also support any and everyone we can as well. We’ve been called upon to assist when we’ve learned that families have been burned out of their homes, or when the victim of domestic violence needs help in starting over, or when a young woman needs help with baby items because she has no one else to call upon. We also provide information and resources for other needs as well. Where there is a need, we can usually help in one way or another.
In the past year, Randy and I have started growing food instead of lawn, and it’s been quite the experience! Since I don’t really like most of the food we grow, we give most of it away, as well as selling it through our local co-op. I just love growing the plants and watching them thrive. I can’t tell you what a thrill it gives me to be in the gardens and see a new plant sprouting, or watch as a fruit, vegetable, or flower comes to fruition.
As I mentioned previously, I also teach the Elemental Witchcraft Tradition. With modern technology like Skype, I can now offer the free classes to people all over the world. The Elemental Journey is one of self-discovery and can be truly life-changing. And, while it is mostly self-directed, it’s important to have a mentor or guide to help you through. It is utterly amazing to witness the growth some of the people who walk this path make in their lives, and I am grateful to be a part of their Journey. "
" With your Amazon best seller status, did that surprise you? "
" No. And yes. Hey – I’m a Libra, what do you expect? No, because we’re not done yet. Keep your eyes opened for when we are on the New York Times’ “Best Seller List.” It will happen. Rupert will be there. I have every confidence. Still, it is absolutely THRILLING to watch it happen. When you have one book on Amazon’s Top 100 Best Seller’s list, it’s an AMAZING feeling. When you have four titles – all at the same time – on that listing?? Well, it’s simply indescribable. "
" This is huge! How do you feel this will affect your work in the future? "
" Our publisher, Schiffer Publishing, is able to use this information to convince the buyers from the various brick-and-mortar booksellers to purchase our titles and to actually have them IN the stores. We currently do not have any of our titles in the stores, and you can only buy them online, except for a few, select stores throughout the country. And let me say now to those who DO carry our books: THANK YOU!!!!!! If we could have our titles in the major book stores, that would be a truly “Big Deal.” The covers Rupert’s artist, Tonia Bennington Osborn, creates would attract a lot of attention, which would lead to more sales, which would (this is the best part) lead to more people having a better understanding of who Pagans are, what we do, and why. And that, my friends, would lead to more acceptance and other good things happening throughout the world. That’s what we are trying to do here – change the world – one “bunny hug” at a time! "
" Does Rupert have a television program in his future?"
" That is a complete unknown at this time. At the beginning of 2013, we launched the “Friends of Rupert TV Show” through The Illuminati Network. Because I did everything except film myself, it took a tremendous amount of time, so after eight episodes, I had to stop production to regroup and re-prioritize. I hated giving it up, because I enjoyed doing the show so very much. This was an incredible opportunity to teach and share, and I really didn’t want to stop. But if I was going to have time to do anything else at all, I couldn’t keep doing it. There’s always the possibility that I will do additional episodes in the future, but that day is not today. "
" What can you tell parents who are looking for children's books? "
" Rupert’s Tales is truly a delight for all from cradle to grave. Because they rhyme, it’s fun to read the stories aloud to the youngest children. Because our first two books cover all the Sabbats, you will read them year after year. Each Sabbat, you will pull them out to see what Rupert is up to this time! As the children begin to get older, they will begin to understand just what Rupert IS up to each time, and he will become a part of their experience as they grow up. Before you know it, they will be able to read on their own and the lessons will begin to make sense on a different level.
One of the most important aspects about Rupert’s Tales is that the message of “there is more than one way to do everything” is repeated over and over again. So parents who celebrate in a different way than what Rupert learns about can easily say “That’s the way Rupert learned it, but we do things a little differently.” Rupert’s Tales are a good place to begin a discussion and then to keep it going as a child’s understanding and awareness increases.
And the illustrations are just amazing. If the story seems too long, or your little one is easily distracted, you can just read a few sentences and turn the page to the next delightful illustration.
" Do you have more projects in the future? "
Well of course we do! Our next Rupert’s Tales book, “A Book of Bedtime Stories” will be released in 2014 and will include stories where Rupert meets all kinds of mythological creatures who teach him how to control his dreams so he (and your children) can have sweeter dreams than ever! After that, Rupert will learn about making magick – where imagination and intention are the most-important ingredients, and then he’ll learn about the Nature of Elements. I’ve already written half of the book after that, which I believe will be titled “Celebrating Yourself.”
Plus, Tonia and I have also teamed up to self-publish three short stories in the “Gatekeeper’s Choice” series. Set in an ancient Asian culture, this modern myth will surprise you with “Mi’s Search for Beauty,” and “Beauty’s Children” which are both currently available, and will conclude with “The Price of Beauty,” which will be released in spring 2014.
Tonia also recently completed the illustrations for “The Monster Got Mom.” That’s right – the first children’s book I ever wrote will finally be published. We remain uncertain, at this point in time, whether it will be picked up by a traditional publisher, or if we will self-publish this story as well. We’ll be making that decision quite soon.
And you just never know when I’ll write a new song to post on our “Friends of Rupert” channel on YouTube or write a short story to share with the “Pooka Pages” readers. In the meantime, we’d like to thank everyone for being a Friend of Rupert and for helping to take care of Mother Earth. Rupert rocks and so do YOU!!"
Kyrja is every bit as bright and shining as the books she writes and home she lives in. She and Randy plan a long life of service to her community and the world at large all the while spreading a bit of glitter and sunshine along the way! She recently made the news yet again, but this time for crocheting sleeping mats for the homeless from plastic bags and collecting toiletries, food, and toys for those in need with Hands of the Goddess. She is a dynamo and without a doubt 2014 will be hers! Here's to hoping her good will, love, light, and creativity are contagious!
To keep up with the adventures of Rupert, like Friends of Rupert! https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfRupert