Thank You and Fare Well!

All sorts of words can be used to describe the purpose of this post.

Goodbye.

Farewell.

Ta-ta.

Later.

Adios.

Adieu.

Ciao.

See ya.

But I most like “farewell” because my feelings about leaving the nest don’t feel permanent or sad. What I really feel is gratitude for the opportunity to work with such a phenomenally talented group of authors, and I sincerely want everyone to fare well in their journeys on the writing path. Because writing really is about the journey, at least to me.

I’ve always felt writing is akin to trekking a long path into the mountains, full of ups and downs, challenges and rewards. If you do the hard work of putting one foot in front of the other you will advance.

Keep moving.

Keep progressing.

Keep discovering the rewards around the bend, out of sight but waiting.

 

 

The EMU’s nest is one of those rewards I’ve experienced on my writing journey. I’ll admit, at first I was hesitant to join because I worried about using social media. All these “young pups” were so savvy with social media—could an old dog (or in my case, a cat) really learn new tricks? I thought hard on it and finally realized this was yet another part of my journey. Take the next step, Terry, I thought, see what’s around the bend. So, I embraced the opportunity and signed up. And thanks to the kind and patient leadership in the group (Jason, Debbi, Andrea), I’ve not only traversed the valley but I’ve reached new heights and made many new friends along the way (seriously guys, we really should take a camping trip together!).

 

 

So, thank you, my fellow EMUs, for letting me walk alongside of you on the writing path (I dare not name names for fear of missing one of the flock!). This has been so much fun! I’ve learned a thing or two about the writing business and book promotion, strengthened friendships, and have been reminded to keep moving forward, keep persisting and the rewards will come.

 

May you all fare well on your writing journeys!

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About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes board books, picture books, easy readers and middle-grade adventure novels. Her latest books, MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN and MAMA LOVES YOU SO were both launched on EMU’s Debuts. Terry  lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension. She also has a grown son who is an amazing outdoor photographer (all outdoor photo credits to Greg Pierce).

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After the Ecstasy, the Editing

Everything editors, agents, and authors have told me at SCBWI conferences has turned out to be true, particularly the things I didn’t believe would be true for me.

For example, I’ve been told that getting a book deal will not magically transform me into a permanently satisfied, optimistic, and resilient human.  When SCBWI folks said stuff like that, I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m sure that’s true for the other pre-published writers here, but not me. Once I get a book deal, I may still be an easily-exhausted anxiety-prone weirdo, but then I’ll be that weirdo WITH A BOOK DEAL AND THAT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.”

Nope. Sigh.

After the ecstasy of getting “the call” in 2016 from my darling agent and connecting with my talented editor to begin the publication journey for my debut middle-grade novel, I expected to wallow in utter contentment for a long time. Years of wallowing. At the very least I’d wallow through the whole process of getting my manuscript out into the world.

Then the first round of revision edits was delivered to my door, and with it arrived the Mind Games Writers Play On Ourselves (yep, MGWPOO).

I got caught up in such MGWPOO favorites as:Shel Silverstein head

  • I’m Not a Real Writer
  • Before I Can Handle Criticism, I Need to Die
  • Chasing False Measures of Success
  • Envy of All the Other Writers Who Don’t Struggle with This Crap
  • The 33 -Minute Limit of Success-Fueled Joy-Basking Before I Find a Way to Undermine Myself
  • The Permanent Longing for Success That Makes Hope Painful.

 

TheySidecar (4) come roaring along with every new delivery of manuscript revisions, like rumbling motorcycles leaving greasy tire tracks across my soul, and this thousand-pound steel sidecar is attached to every single one: Beating Myself Up for Falling into Mind Games Again.

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

First, I think, find another writer somewhere who will tell you that you are not alone in this. (You’ve found me. I’m telling you. You’re not.) Airing out the mind games, bringing them into the light of discussion with your fellow writers shows them up for what they are: common. Common as commas.  I’m beginning to think none of us can publish a manuscript with some of them in the mix.

Editing Kit Kats

Next, it seems smart not to assume the mind games will pass us by.  We must arm ourselves for the ongoing battle; perhaps with weapons of Show Kindness to Fellow Writers and Give Yourself Time and Turn the Nebulous Sense of Mortal Despair into a Concrete To-Do List. I’m still working on this concept as my battle armor currently consists of a jar of Kit Kats.

But I’ve got my MGWPOO out in the open now, here in the light of EMU’s Debuts, and that’s a start.

(Many thanks for the warm wit and wisdom of my agency-mates Anne Nesbet, Ann Bedichek, and Sophie Petersen for convening the Special Committee on Writerly Mind Games and How to Defeat Them. Check out Anne Nesbet’s Middle Grade Mayhem post on the same topic!)


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is a bike writer, bike rider, mother of twins and dweller of Massachusetts. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Help her learn to dodge the MGWPOO at http://www.christinauss.com.


 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, jealousy, process, rejection and success, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

My Baby is Real!

As you can tell from a lot of our posts on Emu’s Debuts, the path to publication is a long one. It’s been over two years now since my debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, sold. The release is almost upon us (July 18, 2017). For the past six months or so, however, I entered a state of disbelief. When people asked if I was excited for my book to come out, I felt like Miranda on Sex and the City when people asked if she was jazzed to have a baby boy, and she would have this awkward pause, then squeal, “Boy, am I ever,” because she thought that was the right response, even when she wasn’t sure if that’s how she felt.

I told people at the beginning of this year that it still didn’t feel real yet that a book with my name on it would be in bookstores. Since it’s been a while since that call from Trish about our first sale, I didn’t think it would really hit me until other people were reading WHOBERT that the book would actually be out in the world. Well…that moment finally happened, and now I can’t stinking wait for WHOBERT to be among us. I feel like this:

The moment when I finally realized other people were reading the book came in the form of a review from Kirkus. When I saw an email from my editor saying Kirkus had taken a look at my book, I was immediately nervous. My stomach catapulted into my throat. I think I shouted to my partner, “THE REVIEW FROM KIRKUS IS IN WHAT DO I DO?” After his ears stopped ringing from my banshee shriek, he replied, “Um, read it.” So I did…

I pored over that thing. I think I was holding my breath the entire time. Here was real life proof that WHOBERT is actually going out into the world and that other people are going to read it and have thoughts about it. I am so, so happy with what Kirkus had to say (they used phrases like “witty wordplay” and called it “a cracking whooooo-dunit”), but what really hit me is that my baby is about to enter the world. After years of gestating in the womb that is Simon & Schuster, being cared for by so many loving hands, little WHOBERT is going to say “who, who” to the world and people are going to respond. So now when I’m asked if I’m excited, I can legitimately say, “I’M FREAKING OUT!” without a hint of Miranda hesitation.

____________________

Jason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases on July 18, 2017, from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. Despite his connection to Miranda in this post, experts agree he most closely resembles Charlotte, but he’d prefer to be likened to Anjelica Huston. Jason is a tried and true Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

 

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Writing Through Doubt: How This Impossible Light was Born

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My debut book’s path to publication was an unusual and lucky one. During my sophomore year of college, as part of the Wesleyan University slam poetry team, I performed my poem “Shrinking Women” at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. The poem discussed the way girls learn to shrink, both physically and metaphorically; how we learn not to take up space, learn from the women who came before us that, as women, we must be small. It’s about watching our mothers shrink and learning to mimic them.

While I was studying abroad the following fall, the video went viral. I remember my surprise at returning from a trip to the North Argentinean desert, reconnecting to the internet, and seeing that my poem had more than a million views on YouTube. Soon after that, I heard from Liza Kaplan, an editor at Philomel, who was interested in speaking. We spoke several times, and after she attended a poetry performance of mine at the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute in New York, she offered me a contract for a yet-to-be-created novel.

I was, of course, ecstatic. I’ve wanted to write books my whole life. I’ve been a voracious bookworm since teaching myself to read at age four, and my dream career has always been author, but I never quite dared to believe I was capable of doing it. After all, it’s scary to believe you’re capable of your dream, right? ‘Cause then you actually have to go for it.

This was the constant question in my mind in the two years following, during the writing of This Impossible Light: Am I capable of this? Can I write a book? Sometimes, I thought so; other times, I was positive I sucked at this and Liza had made a huge mistake and the book would be a flop. I doubted myself through every round of edits, but I put in the work because I also loved it. And I wanted to prove to myself that I could.

I also needed to tell this story. Ivy’s story is her own, but it is also my story: the story of a girl, in the middle of adolescence, whose family dissolves before her eyes, who is left to her own devices, who takes out the resulting pain on her own body. This is the story of This Impossible Light, and it’s the story of me, and I wanted to tell it, so I had to work through the doubt.

It wasn’t until the book was officially done that I felt pride. That I re-read the novel and felt Ivy’s pain, her loneliness, and her hope, and I cried. Because her hope was my hope. And I’d proven to myself that I could do it. Regardless of how the book is received, I am proud of the way I’ve told this story.

I’m thrilled that come June, This Impossible Light will be a physical object in my hands, that I can point to it in a bookstore and whisper to my younger self: You did it.

 

LILY MYERS is a writer, feminist and witch. Her debut novel, This Impossible Light, is out June 6 from Philomel. She lives in Seattle with her baby corn snake, Calliope H. Danger.

Lily Myers Headshots -81

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Answering the Question: “Why Did You Write This Story?”

Recently, I sat with my marketing team at HarperCollins and discussed different ideas for promoting my novel, The Poet X. People often ask me what my novel is about (which is a question I hate! I don’t have my elevator pitch down and I often hem and haw my way through every plot point only to wrap up with, “anditisaboutslampoetryandloveandfaithanddaughterhood.”) but at this particular  meeting my publicist asked a question I wasn’t expecting, “Why did you write this particular story?”

I’ve been sitting with that question. I think I wrote The Poet X because as a teen Afro-Dominicana, spoken word was a place that I found I could express myself and question all of the roles that had been impressed upon me by my culture, and neighborhood, and school; roles that sometimes felt like too tight clothing I couldn’t breathe in.

I’ve taught everything from 8th grade English to creative writing in adjudicated youth centers to the award-winning cohort of youth poets, the DC Youth Slam Team, and time and again I was moved by the realization that many of the young people in my classes and workshops found poetry as an outlet to be their full selves. So many of these young people were also trying to stretch into the person they wanted to be. At some point in their life they’d been told they were too big, or loud, or black, or brown, or accented, or poor, or incarcerated, or dumb; and so The Poet X is for them. A place where young people who are “too much” can see themselves reflected back; a reminder they exist and are worthy of every piece of literature.

Between when I began The Poet X and when it sold, I wrote two other manuscripts. One was an urban fantasy novel set in the Dominican Republic and the second one was magical realism centering a teen mom who aspired to be a chef. I loved both those stories and each one of them taught me how to become a better fiction writer. In my heart I knew that I wanted my debut book to be a story that set a strong foundation for my career and if it was the only thing I ever wrote, I wanted it to be something that reflected the values and experiences I hold dear. So for writers working on their first project, here’s what I’ve learned while trying to answer the “why” that I think led to my telling the story closest to my heart.

  • Write with blinders on. That doesn’t mean to be tone deaf to current events, but it’s easy to want to write in response to a trend. I think about all the writers who wanted to write vampires or BDSM after those subjects became trendy, and it was clear what stories had been mulled over for years and explored and writtend irrespective to what was “hot” and the stories that were quickly slapped together to fit the times. If the story doesn’t nag at you, or tug on your heart, or make your palms sweaty that lack of rootedness will show. Write the story that feels urgent to you. Don’t chase a trend because what the market wants will change in a second, but what moves you will move others. If you return to an idea, it’s because you truly love it.
  • Give yourself permission to meander. I had to write a lot of different things before I could finish to The Poet X. Like a first time dater, I had a lot to learn before I could fully commit. I needed to play with other storylines, and try different styles and genres, so that by the time I returned to X, I was smarter, a better writer, and had a clear sense of why this was the story I wanted to be working on and putting out into the world.
  • Allow your book to be a mirror and a window. In The Poet X, I was intentional about how I deployed slang, and non-standard English, and Spanish, and Latinidad, and slam poetry, and urban imagery; I was mindful that not all of my readers would be familiar with ways to navigate those different experiences, but I trust readers will still be intrigued enough to peek in and stay awhile. For other readers, I imagine this world will feel really familiar and I’m so happy they will find a comfortable place to rest their head. Negotiating what needed context clues and what might require the reader to do additional work, was a tough balance to find, but I stayed true to telling my most authentic story.

My “why” will probably change as the release date gets closer and I keep mining the myriad of answers that spring up every time I think about my book. The heart of my answer will probably always be: Growing up, I wanted to find a blueprint for myself in stories but struggled to find a girl like me in books. So, I decided to write her. And so my last piece of advice: write into existence the story you most needed growing up; your younger self will thank you.

20131031-dsc_7508-copyELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance experience, Acevedo has toured her poetry nationally and internationally. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC.

 

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I Need Space (and so do you!)

Ever feel so focused on the details of a manuscript that you actually lose sight of the entire work? Maybe you are working on the pacing or world building or hunting down ‘telling’ to replace it with “showing.” Maybe you have zeroed in on three words, writing and re-writing them over and over again. Meanwhile, six hours just zipped past. And these three words you labored over––exist in a manuscript that has 35-thousand more!

It’s critical to focus on the bits and pieces, to lose oneself in the particulars. But when I am ready to emerge from the deep the woods of writing, sometimes I need a compass to find my way out.

As I painter’s daughter, I know that artists also become consumed with specific brush strokes or the interplay of colors in hidden shadows, or using the reflection of a painted sterling cup to tell a story. Detail after detail lures the artist deeper into the painting until he is so consumed with the pieces, he can no longer see the whole painting.

Mirror in hand, my father will turn his back to a painting and stare at his work in the mirror’s reflection. This fools the brain into seeing the painting anew, from a different perspective, with more objectivity. And, like magic, mistakes and solutions are suddenly easy to spot.

How do we writers obtain the same distance from our work? How do we back away from the minutia and see the whole story? Free our creative flow? This is especially hairy after we opened the idea cupboard only to find it bare. Or face a tight deadline.

Here are some tricks that work for me:

~ Listen to someone else read your work aloud. This is as close to the mirror trick as we can get. Where do they stumble? Did the emotion in their voice match the emotion you hoped to convey? Did it make sense? Was it too slow in places? Things will jump out at you.

~ Read your WIP out loud to yourself. Did you stumble?

~ Put your MS in the drawer and leave it there (or stash it in a computer a file labeled “incubator”) and don’t touch it. Whether it sits in the incubator for two hours or two years, sometimes you need space. In Television News, self-critique is a staple of the process. You can’t improve your skills without it. But an anchor told me early in my career, let 24 hours pass before “watching back” any tape. Even with the passing of one day, the emotional connection to the performance is broken and now you can view it objectively.

~ Put down the computer and work it out on paper. Sometimes, when I’m especially stumped, stuck, or just not moving a work forward, I turn to cursive. There is something about writing in cursive that activates a different part of my brain. Suddenly while looping letters, a breakthrough appears on the page.

~ Go and do something physical, something out of your routine. Ride a ferry, journal at sunrise by the ocean, take a road trip, or skip down the block instead of walk. Whenever I shake up my external world, it is amazing how quickly things loosen up in my internal world.

~ Take apart the beaver dam. When I’m focused on a manuscript and get a new idea for another story, I find myself shutting it down. “I’ll get to that later, right now I’m working on this project and cannot be distracted.” Story by story, idea by idea, log by log, I’ve built a dam. And then, nothing is getting through. Why not devote twenty minutes in your day for a delicious idea feast? Get those thoughts on paper and keep the dam at bay.

What are your tricks? Share them below!

Here’s to space, new perspectives, and roaring idea rapids!

Anna


About Anna:

_sl13594_lr_2Before diving into the deep end of writing for children, Anna Crowley Redding’s first career was as an Emmy-award winning investigative television reporter, anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Redding now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for kids –– which, as it turns out, is her true passion.

Redding’s debut middle grade nonfiction GOOGLE IT! will be published by Feiwel and Friends in May 2018. Anna is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Writers Need Cats

Writers need cats. Not to say that other pets aren’t lovely, as well. In fact, I don’t consider myself a strictly cat person–more of an “everything” person (bring on the critters!). But when it comes down to it, as a writer, there’s no better companion than a cat. Or two. (Or more.)

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Meet Galileo. He’s my 9 year-old cat, and resident mischievous genius. He’s been with me since nearly day 1 of my journey to publication. Whenever I would get frustrated or down, he’s always be there for me, doing something absolutely absurd to distract me. Sure, that “something” often is breaking through child safety locks to open up cupboards and pull out every item he can get his paws on, but the point stands. Cats provide much needed levity and laughter, and sometimes even remind a person to get out of their writing chair and move around. Quickly. No, seriously. Hurry! Catch him before he–! …Too late, there goes everything from the medicine cabinet.

 

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Meet Darwin. He’s my four year-old cat, and is Galileo’s polar opposite. To be honest, not a lot happening upstairs with him, but he’s a sweetheart and impossible not to love. He came home with me a month before I signed with my agent, Joan, so he just as tied to my writing journey as Galileo. Darwin is a simple cat of simple needs. He is a wonderful reminder to stop and look out the window at the trees and the birds. While Galileo provides distraction, Darwin provides peace. Both are needed in a writer’s life.

Cats are natural writing companions. They are usually totally cool with sitting around, doing nothing, hanging out with their favorite person. They love routine, which writers tend to cling to for dear life, so that works out well. They like warm places, so your writerly blanket fort + coffee/tea nook is an inviting space for them to curl up and cuddle next to you in. They’re relatively independent, so when you get absorbed in your work, that’s A-OK. Usually. Unless it is time to eat, which honestly? Is a good reminder for you, too!

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Food time! Darwin begs for food by sitting next to me on the floor and opening his mouth wide, hoping I will put something in it. Galileo begs for food by…

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Well, let’s just say Galileo doesn’t beg. He lays claim.

Anyway, now that your cats have reminded you to feed them and yourself, let’s move onto another benefit. Cats keep the mind active! For example: “What was that noise?” “What’s he getting into in the other room?” “Oh my gosh, why is there toilet paper EVERYWHERE?!” These are important questions in any manuscript. Uh…well, maybe not, but they certainly keep an author on their toes! And that in turn, helps us keep our manuscripts full of surprises and plot twists.

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Speaking of mental challenges, how many cats are in the picture above? Just one? Look closer! Cats are great at hiding–just like our character motivations, or the solution to the plot hole you’ve dug yourself into. Odds are, the answer is in plain sight. We just need to look again in a different way.

Finally, cats are wonderful at helping you celebrate your big moments. Like when I got my ARCs in the mail last November, Darwin helped me inspect the box to make sure it wasn’t going to come alive and kill us all, and Galileo helped me by modeling for a photo-shoot. Thanks, guys! You made this milestone even more special.

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So have I convinced you to get a cat yet? Maybe not. But all us cool authors have them, so if you think you have a good home for a feline companion, talk to your local shelters and take your next step on the road to becoming a professional author!


Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) tells the story of a 13 year-old robotics whiz who is thrilled to be chosen to train for an international mission to Mars, but soon finds herself and her fellow cadets in a situation far more dire and deadly than any of them could have imagined. Publication is set for August 1st, 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Visit Katie on Twitter (@paleopaws) or on her website, www.katieslivensky.com.

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There is Room for All of Us

My first real fiction writing was in college, when I wrote and performed in a sketch comedy group.  It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen or read anything we wrote back then, so I have no perspective on whether what we produced was good or terrible. But I know that we believed in the work we were doing, and we were always driven by the simple motto of our group’s president: Something for Everyone. Every show was a melange of of slapstick, satire, jokes that landed, and jokes that didn’t.

It’s the kind of motto that’s so simple that it seems almost silly to repeat.  Of course there should be something for everyone.  Of course. But back then it was a reminder that there isn’t just one kind of comedy. An audience is made up of a lot of different people; what’s eye-rollingly lame for one person may be hilarious to someone else, so don’t yuck anyone’s yum.  There’s room for all of it.

I was recently at a writing retreat with brilliant, inspirational speakers.  One speaker gave a beautiful presentation, and she told a story about an art student who was devastated when a professor told her, “Your art looks like something I could find at Crate & Barrel.” Part of the talk was about how to avoid writing a Crate & Barrel book. After the lecture, my friend turned to me and said, “But I like Crate & Barrel.”

I laughed and said, “Dude, Crate & Barrel is all I write.”  My forthcoming book series, Babysitting Nightmares, is a fairly-commercial spooky adventure series that is billed as Babysitters Club meets Goosebumps.  I love poignant, thought-provoking symbolic writing; reading a beautifully-written book is like savoring a gourmet meal.  It’s just not what I happen to be interested in writing right now.

That same speaker reminded us of the resonance and impact of writing. She said that once her first book was published, she realized that sales numbers didn’t matter; awards didn’t matter. If just one kid could read her book and say, “This means something to me,” then that is enough.  That is the reason to write.

In my mind, I write the books I write for a specific imaginary kid. It’s the kid who flounders during free reading time, because she can’t find a book that pulls her in.  It’s the kid who has almost no stars on the classroom reading chart. It’s the kid who says I don’t really like to read. I hated seeing those kids feel like they were always missing out on something, like reading was a punchline that everyone else seemed to get. Somewhere out there is a book that that kid will pick up and be able to say, Yes, I am a reader, too.

What I love about kidlit is also what I loved about comedy: the bandwidth is almost unlimited. We have so much freedom to tell the stories we want to tell.  We need every kind of story to be out in the world, because we have every kind of kid looking for a way to connect.  Something for everyone.  There’s room for all of it.  And I think that is why the kidlit community is such a supportive one.  We celebrate one another because we know that with every new book comes a new opportunity for a child to find the reader within.

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Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. She has been an avid reader since childhood, and as a teacher she worked to bring that same joy to her students. She is thrilled to be creating fast-paced, spooky stories that can engage all types of readers. The first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

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Filed under Reaching Readers, reading, Writing, Writing and Life

Let Nature Nurture You, and Wash Your Spirit Clean

Readers of Terry Pierce’s cozy MAMA LOVES YOU SO will encounter many poetic images of nature nurturing the young, reminding us that nature has room to nurture us at any age.  mama-loves-you-so-coverTerry will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. Enter by leaving a comment below, and she will enter your name into the giveaway (up to one comment per day.) Read on to see how nature nurtures Terry and some of her fellow kidlit writers.

Terry has always found solace in nature, going back to her childhood. “For hours, I could sit cradled in the branches of a tree, or perched on a rock watching the woods. Anytime I’m feeling restless, worried, or at a breaking point, if I can get out in nature I’m instantly calmed and can put things in perspective. And I love writing in the woods! I carry a waterproof journal and pencil in my backpack because my muse often appears in nature. In fact, I wrote MAMA LOVES YOU SO outside, inspired by the grandeur of the mountains.

 

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The place in nature that nurtures me the most are the Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether I’m sunning on a boulder, climbing, hiking, listening to a stream, or watching wildlife (hopefully with a camera in hand), I’m at peace in the mountains. I once spent five weeks hiking from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

John Muir, one of my favorite writers, once wrote, ‘Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. So true! My hope is that MAMA LOVES YOU SO will inspire parents to take their little ones outdoors so they can learn to love nature and feel its benefits, too.”

 

Author Debbi Michiko Florence finds, “Whenever my mind gets too busy or I feel overwhelmed by my Things To Do list, all I need to do is step outside. I have two ducks (Darcy and Lizzy) and at least twice a day I have ‘duck time.’

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I let them out of their coop to wander the yard and I sit there, watching them, listening to bird song (and duck quacks), breathe the fresh air and watch the clouds roll by. My mind settles and I get present with what is. Duck time is meditative for me and nurtures me like nothing else.”

 

 

Author Hayely Barrett appreciates animals too. “As much as I love people, I’m deeply thankful that humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet. Life on Earth is spectacularly varied, and whether I watch a video of a jaguar slinking through the rainforest or spot a fisher slinking through my yard, I am cheered.

Me and Munchkin

Hayley and Munchkin, fully themselves

I enjoy the company of non-humans, horses and dogs especially. They are fully themselves—unchanging and at peace—and spending time with them helps me to remember who I am too.”

 

 

 

 

Author Katie Slivensky shares,

bluejoyNature calms me by giving me something to focus on that is external. I was stuck on some summary work during a snow day in February, and then a paused and spent an hour taking pictures of blue jays outside. That took my mind away from my book troubles, and when I came back around to work on those summaries later, I had a much easier time.”

 

Author Megan Lloyd’s debut picture book celebrates kids in nature, and she finds support there herself. “When I find myself getting anxious, with my heart racing and my thoughts swirling, going outside for a walk, or just taking a minute to sit in the sunshine, centers me. It helps me let go of my problems and instead feel absorbed in the beauty around me. And then I’m ready to take a deep breath…and return to my challenges (writing and otherwise), with a renewed sense of perspective and focus.”

Author and agent Ammi-Joan Paquette knows where writers can find an ever-present boost beyond their writing chair, saying, “Nature is nurturing because it is always accepting, always peaceful, always there. It’s like a personal magic kingdom that lies in wait for whenever you need it.”

And wherever any of us are in the writing and publishing process, there’s not one of us who couldn’t use plenty of that.

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Filed under Book Launch, Inspiration, Nature, Thankfulness, Uncategorized, Writing and Life