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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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.

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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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MAMA LOVES YOU SO: An Interview with agent Tricia Lawrence

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I’m excited to celebrate the launch of this lovely book, Mama Loves You So, by author Terry Pierce. Terry is giving away a free copy of her book, so leave a comment below to enter the drawing. Today I am interviewing Terry’s agent, Tricia Lawrence, from Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Sarvinder: Hello Tricia Dear, Thank you for joining us as we celebrate the launch of Terry’s new board book, Mama Loves You So

Tricia: Terry is a writer with so many talents, from early readers to picture books, to board books, which is what we’re celebrating today, and this book, be still my heart, is the sweetest board book you’ll ever see. 

I know we have a lot of people who want to learn more about you as an agent. Are you an editorial agent? Do you give feedback for revisions before sending out to clients?

mama-loves-butterfly3I am an editorial agent, alas. I have been a freelance editor for almost 22 years and I can’t stop now. 😉  Yes, but revisions are not a guarantee. Sometimes, the manuscript is ready, so out it goes. Other times, the author and I revise together. tricia-lawrence

How many queries do you average per month? What percent are picture books, middle grade or young adult?

It really varies. Sometimes, there’s a lot to go read. I would say the majority of what I read are picture books currently.

What percent of queries do you take on?

Less than 1%. 

mama-loves-foxWhat do you see a lot of, in terms of repetitive ideas? 


Too-short and too-sweet manuscripts or overly long and too-sweet. Not that sweet isn’t good, but I see a lot of that same note sweet manuscript.mama-loves-butterfly

What is a common mistake writers make?                                                                mama-loves-butterfly2

Assuming that writing a picture book is easier than writing a novel. 

As a picture book writer, I LOVE that answer. What are you looking for and not looking for?

  I am looking for everything. I’m having to be super particular with picture books because I have to fit a new writer into a list of picture book authors (like Terry!) that I am already representing. I don’t want any of my clients to compete with each other.

What are some of your processes for considering a future client’s manuscript?

Read the text a few times, both to myself and aloud. Think about if the manuscript(s) feel too similar to what is out there on the market and then if not, think about if the manuscript(s) feel too similar to what my actual clients are already writing or planning to write.mama-loves-you-so-bear

How long does this process usually take?

It varies. For most of my submissions, I know this really quickly. Some, though, I have to sit on for a bit.

Do you respond to every query, or just those you are interested in? What is your usual response time?


mama-loves-butterfly2I respond to every query. I am extremely backlogged from 2016. I wish I could be faster, but my actual clients and their writing and submissions must come first.

How does one submit to you? (I assume look on the guidelines of the submissions page)

I’m closed to unsolicited submissions (as is all of EMLA), so if a writer wants to query me, they should attend a conference where I’m speaking.

What spoke to you about Terry’s manuscripts when she first queried you?

Terry had a real sensibility with her texts. She has a very good sense of fun and whimsy and is able to balance the sweet with beautiful words and a cohesive theme, so it doesn’t come across as too-sweet.tpierceheadshotucla-2

What’s next for you and Terry? 

Terry’s got some exciting things she’s working on that I’m very ready to talk about, but first we’re so excited about MAMA LOVES YOU SO going out to the world. It’s just a wonderful book and is just so lovely.

Sarvinder: Thank you so much Tricia for taking the time to answer these questions and to help celebrate the launch of Terry’s lovely lilting lullaby, Mama Loves You So. Congratulations to both of you!  XOXO
Visit Terry’s website at https://terrypiercebooks.com



sarvinder-naberhaus-1200Sarvinder Naberhaus is a the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her upcoming book, Blue Sky White Stars is a patriotic salute to the flag and the forces behind the forging of this great nation. Look for it June 13th, in time for the 4th of July. Illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson.



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Border Collies and Babies—It’s Never Too Soon To Start (plus a giveaway!)

The story I’m about to tell is relevant to Terry Pierce’s MAMA LOVES YOU SO. I promise.

mama-loves-you-so-coverYears ago, my brother got a beautiful border collie puppy. I remember how excited Warren was, and I remember the solemn advice the breeder gave him. It was this: Show the dog everything he’s ever going to see within the first six months of his life. In short, it was Warren and his family’s responsibility to quickly give intelligent, impressionable Comet the information he’d need to thrive.

*presses pause on dog story*

My first professional, if unrequited, love is midwifery. Permit me to geek out for a bit.

The importance of verbally communicating with babies—and I mean from about 6 months gestation onward—cannot be overstated. Auditory function in the human fetus is complete at 7 months. Not only do they hear and respond to outside noises, research suggests babies learn intonation and can develop a basic recognition of words before birth. After birth, newborns rapidly form brain synapses that correspond with their birth language. In fact, studies have shown that young children who leave their birth language behind through immigration or adoption retain an enhanced ability to relearn it. Cool, huh?

Now let’s talk about MAMA LOVES YOU SO. This book, meant for the tiny ears of the tiniest of people, employs exquisitely rich and melodic language. It describes a world that is sparkling, stony, and ablaze. These are words an adult would be happy to use on a given day. MAMA LOVES YOU SO is crammed full of such delicious and nutritious words. It’s a brain-building buffet for babies and a boon to the brave souls who care for them. Baby and Book

Babies are exhausting. I know. I’ve had two babies, and two aren’t many at all. My in-laws had ten. My parents had five. Have I wondered if  I’m a slacker in the baby department? Yes. But that’s not my point.

Babies require mountains of back-breaking, laundry-making, sleep-taking care, and that’s just to keep them alive. We’re also supposed to educate, encourage, and entertain them. While all forms of communication nourish babies’ language readiness, including singing and everyday conversation, it’s challenging to know what to sing or say to a baby all day, every day.

I ask you, how are sleep-deprived people, wracked as they are with desperate love and stabs of anxiety, supposed to dredge up words like ablaze? They need books. They need books to give them words when they are too tired or overwhelmed to think up their own. Their children are primed to quickly learn millions of discrete, dynamic words, and optimally, they’d possess this treasure trove before starting school.  Where language acquisition is concerned, variety isn’t the spice of life, it is life. Books like MAMA LOVES YOU SO are a sure and happy route to that variety.

We must encourage caregivers, all the caregivers, to talk to babies early and often. Encourage them to talk to the belly, to sing to it, explain stuff to it, and for the love of literacy, to read to it. Encourage them to talk to the newborn. To sing. To explain. To read. We can smile at them benevolently when they do all of this in public. If we get the chance, we can give the caregiver a minute to shower and eat something while we talk, sing, explain, and read.

It might be possible to show a puppy everything it’s ever going to see in six months, but it’s impossible for a human newborn. Luckily, we have opposable thumbs, and opposable thumbs are great for making bookstores and libraries. That’s where Terry Pierce’s beautiful and important MAMA LOVES YOU SO can be found, ready and waiting to offer intelligent, impressionable young people information they need to thrive.

*presses play on dog story* 

Comet lived a long and happy life. He understood his world and how to conduct himself in it, thanks to purposeful attention to his formative experiences. May we do the same for each new child. We have longer than six months to accomplish it, but we don’t have forever. It’s never too soon to start.

 

Terry is giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make this week—and please comment only once per day—she’ll enter your name into the giveaway.

Additional resources:

http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/book-mom

Valerie Garfield, Simon & Schuster editor of MAMA LOVES YOU SO, blogs about reading to and with children.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

https://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/about-us/mission-statement/


Enjoy the day,

Hayley
Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press, spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, narrative nonfiction illustrated by Diana Sudyka, is also coming spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY! Interview with MAMA LOVES YOU SO illustrator, Simone Shin

I am tickled pink as a newborn babe to have my first board book, MAMA LOVES YOU SO, be released into the book world today! And how fun to have my fellow EMU’s right there with me (a bit like having a Mission Control flock at my side!).

Today’s post brings me an extra helping of book release fun! Not only do I get to bask in the warm light of having a new book come out but I also get to interview the illustrator who so perfectly captured the spirit of my book, the talented Simone Shin.

Thank you for answering a few questions today, Simone, and happy book birthday! I can’t express how much I love the illustrations in this book. I appreciate your taking the time to share a bit about yourself with us.

How long have you been illustrating children’s books?

I’ve been illustrating children’s books since about 2011.

 

How did you get started in children’s literature?

I studied illustration in college, and went directly into editorial illustration work. From there I made a segue into children’s books by joining SCBWI and meeting my agent eventually.

 

What made you decide to illustrate this book?

I saw the text and knew it was for newborns/infants, and thought that was unique and fantastic! From my own experience having a baby, I would have loved to have more newborn baby books available. I also was really into hiking and nature myself, pre-baby, and would have loved to have a book about a mom hiking with a newborn baby when my child was born, so I loved the idea.

 

When my agent (Tricia Lawrence) showed me the cover, we were both giddy! When I saw the interiors, three things stood out to me:  First, the color palette (gorgeous!). Second, your ability to illustrate nature/landscapes in a kid-friendly style. And third, how you went from a “wide-angle” view down to a “close-up” of the mother and baby.  Can you describe your process and the medium you used in creating the illustrations? How much collaboration was there with the team at Little Simon?

I use textures from painted material that are scanned and manipulated through photoshop when illustrating. Everything begins by sketching by hand on paper, then gets put into photoshop for more illustrating.  There were already some notes on what type of scenes they had in mind for each page, but the decisions to be up-close or far away were up to me (as well as most of the animals). I based my decisions on the way the text was supposed to be read and the dynamics that were already a part of the story.  Some of the ideas flowed very naturally, like the page that the notes called for all the animals to be on one spread (in which case I noticed the only option was to make a far away “map” of the entire landscape-which I loved!).  I had a lot of fun with colors in this book, I typically don’t go so bold and bright, and that is something Little Simon helped encourage me to do which I’m very happy about.

 

I just about cried when I saw the illustration with the bears (I’m “big on bears”). The only named animals in the text are the eagles and deer. How did you decide on what other animals to include?

I believe in general there was a suggestion to make animals in pairs (representing Mama and child). I decided on birds, butterflies, foxes, opossums, rabbits, etc. based on the scenes. There was a lot of collaboration in this book that way, there would be a suggested landscape, and I would create the landscape and make up the animals based on where the landscape took place. I wanted to go big (bear) and small (cricket), to include everyone–since almost everyone has a mama!

 

How does nature inspire you?

Natures inspires me a lot! Like I had mentioned before, I already love hiking and things like camping and beaches. I have always wanted to do more landscapes since I have a lot of childhood memories of road trips in cars going across the mid-west… I was so happy to have a change where I could illustrate something like this!

Thank you, Simone!

I will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of my book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make, I will enter your name into the giveaway (Up to one comment per day.).

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About Terry Pierce…

When Terry’s son was little, she and her husband would hike with him in a “Gerrypack” to expose him to the beauty of nature. She got the idea for this story when he was a baby (he’s now 32).

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer 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 (go Bruins!).

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Oh, Baby! Happy Launch Week Terry Pierce!

This week we are celebrating the launch of a book for newborns by Terry Pierce:

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Mama Loves You So by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Simone Shin (Little Simon/March 14, 2017)

This sweet book in rhyme celebrates nature and a mother’s love with gorgeous illustrations of animals and their young. A perfect bedtime (and really anytime) book to read to a little one.

We asked authors about a favorite baby book, either one read to them as infants or read to their own babies. Check out these baby pictures! And we’d love to hear about your favorite books from your childhood!

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Christina Uss: My twins’ favorite book as babies was Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance. Their eyes would get wide when I did this little dip-and-shuffle-thing and began “Stomp your feet…clap your hands…Everybody ready for the BARNYARD DANCE!”  Then their faces would crumble and tears began when I hit the last page – “The dance is done, but we’ll be back!”, so I’d just turn to the first page and start all over again. Literally for hours. I think they knew all the dancing and rhyme-reading must have meant their mama loved them so.

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Carole Gerber: My daughter’s favorite baby book was Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood. We read it to her at least a thousand times. She and her husband welcomed their first child four months ago. Joanna Mae (JoJo to her Mimi – that’s me!). JoJo isn’t yet old enough to let us know her favorite book. I am hoping it will be Tuck-In Time by Carole Gerber (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

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Hayley Barrett: My earliest memory of story doesn’t involve a book. My mom spent my babyhood singing songs and teaching me nursery rhymes. I knew them all, but my favorite was The Three Little Kittens. I recall reciting it with great dignity to the checkout ladies in Woolworth to much applause and laughter. I would have been about three years old then, similar to toddler Hayley in this picture. The earliest book Mom and I both recall was a Golden Book, The Little Red Hen. She created different voices for each character. I loved it then and still do.

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Jason Gallaher: The book that was a staple for my mom’s reading to me was Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

 And finally, the lovely author of the lovely book —

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Terry Pierce: Neither my mom nor I can recall a specific book I loved as a baby, but she reassures me that I did have many books. My earliest recollection of a favorite story was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I’m not sure if it was because I identified with Goldilocks (notice my hair color in the photo) or the fact that there was something so satisfying about things eventually being “just right” but I loved hearing that story over and over again. In fact, the more I think on it, the more I realize that the classic fairy tales were amongst my favorite stories—The Gingerbread Man, The Little Red Hen,…Wait! Porridge, gingerbread, baking bread, a photo of me with my birthday cake—I think I’m seeing a theme here!

GIVE-AWAY ALERT!  Terry will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make, she will enter your name into the giveaway (up to one comment per day).


fullsizerender-2When Debbi Michiko Florence was young, she loved having her dad read Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. Her dad got quite good at reading those tongue twisters!

Today, Debbi writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her rabbit, Aki, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux on July 11, 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of an early reader series, Dorothy & Toto (Picture Window Books/2016).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

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Countdown to Launch

jugglerIt’s 169 days until LOST BOYS is let loose to find it’s way in the world and into children’s hands. I recently got to meet my team at Henry Holt and confirmed what I’d been feeling over the last approximately 380 days we’ve been working together – I am lucky to be in their hands. Let me tell you people – there is nothing like walking through hall after hall of shiny bookcases filled with pretty children’s books and knowing yours is going to be there soon.

It’s been approximately 660 days since that champagne cloud of a day when the book sold, so you can imagine Launch Day brings equal parts elation and abject dread. I’m a juggler struggling to keep a large bowling pin, an apple and a chain saw in the air. Are we all done with edits? How will the book be viewed in this political climate? When shall I start the ARC tour? Is the website done? Have I thanked my new followers on Twitter? Am I getting new followers on Twitter? Have I booked my launch? And OMG – is the laundry done?

And in among that avalanche of questions is maybe the most crucial one. How is that work in progress – the next book? On this bright Monday morning I’m feeling good. I’ve finally jettisoned all those characters and scenes that weren’t serving my story and the path forward is clear. But Oh Lordy! Finding the headspace to give it the attention it deserves is not easy. That pure writing time is precious and dear and so different from the twirling tornado that is my everyday. So my friends, thank you for listening as I pledge to carve out time in the eye of my storm and hold in my sights an empty space on that shiny bookcase.

Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry darceyhighresHolt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and dances.

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Meet Our Newest EMU: Elizabeth Acevedo– Keeping it Real

The day my agent said we were going out on submission, I was completely taken aback. I’ve always heard publishing is sloth-slow, but exactly four weeks after becoming Joan’s client, we were sending the manuscript to editors! I didn’t feel at all ready. Although with Joan’s notes I had completed a full revision, although I had worked with two critique partners and felt ready to submit to Joan, although I had been working on this novel on and off for four years, the moment it became real that editors were going to read my work all I could think was “the novel isn’t ready! I’m not a real writer.”

But I didn’t say that out loud to Joan. What I emailed back to her was, “Wow. It’s happening! How exciting is this moment when anything is possible?” And that moment right before feedback, before any rejections, when the publishing world is your editorial oyster really is exciting. And then Joan sent me the words every fiction writer dreams about as they pick away at their keyboards late at night: the champagne and caviar dreams of unpublished writers who sustain themselves with whimsical fantasies: the words that I’d read about but never believed would be said to me: “We are going to auction, Liz.”

It was real. Not just one, but several editors were taken by this world I had penned. The auction? Was real. The interest level? Was real. The squeal I let loose at the restaurant in Kosovo where I was participating in a poetry festival? A whole real squeal. The day of the auctioned dawned with seven editors outbidding one another in an attempt to acquire my book. It should have been one of the most joyous days of my life. And it was glorious, don’t get me wrong. But it was still shadowed with the question: “What if this is all a hoax? I’m still not a real writer, am I?”

The question of “realness” is one I’ve carried for a long time. I found my way to creative writing through music (I really wanted to be a rap star in my teens) and slowly transitioned into poetry. Even while getting my Masters in Creative Writing, I questioned whether or not I should be in the program. Even while competing for—and eventually winning—a National Poetry Slam championship, I questioned if I was good enough to be on stage. So, it’s not surprising that the auction and book sale that should have been an incredibly validating experience was a mental exercise of pacing up and down the halls of self-doubt. When you’ve cloaked yourself in imposter syndrome for as long as I have, it’s not an easy thing to slide off your shoulders and hang up.

I don’t bring up the story of the length of my submission process and auction to brag; I know my process was quick and painless and not the norm. I was so, so lucky and the many years of studying and practicing writing and committing to the craft led me to writing something that resonated with folks. But I was wrong to believe there was a magic moment when something or someone would affirm me enough that I would no long doubt my position as a writer.

That will never be enough external affirmation that I am a real storyteller. There will never be any outside stamp, award, or sticker that will make me believe I deserve to occupy space in the literary world. Even when everything goes right, I question my right to be here, even a member of this EMU Debut blog group.

I grew up never seeing stories about girls like in books. I was the daughter of Dominican Immigrants, growing up in 90s New York City, dreaming of being a rap star or the first woman President and my story was on no bookshelf, in no library. I came from an untraditional path to children’s literature. I have too many scars of being told I don’t have the right to be in certain rooms to not always expect someone to pull the rug from under me. Which is why I know the only person who can determine if I’m a “real” writer has been the same person who had been determining since I was nine years old: me.

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Teen Liz on her way to a poetry slam.

It sounds cliché, I know. But the reality is that when I began to actively work at seeing the world as a poet, when I began reading as a writer, when I began to scribble on grocery receipts and fill notebooks full of rhymes; when I wrote for hours and edited for hours more. When I followed ideas down rabbit holes, I never imagined being able to climb out of…that was when I became a real writer. When I was told directly and indirectly that these scribbles would never amount it anything it wasn’t the MFA degree, the book sale, the first collection of poetry winning a contest, not a national championship in slam poetry, it wasn’t any of those credentials that made me believe I was real. It’s been my continuously reminding myself I’m not just playing dress up. That someone isn’t going to magically snatch away what I’ve written.

Every day I think about my novel, The Poet X, being released into the world in a year. I catch myself going down the same path of worry. What if it isn’t any good? What if the world discovers I’m a fraud? What if…

And every day I remind myself to get back to my laptop and my current project and remember that magical moment before pressing send when everything is possible. Although writing means stretching the bounds of imagination, there is a tangible creation that is mine, and every time I make a poem, or a character, or a even something as small as a simple outline, that writing is real. And as its writer, so am I.

About Liz:20131031-DSC_7508 copy.jpg

ELIZABETH 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 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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Meet Our Newest Emu: Anna Crowley Redding

 

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Even now, I can still clearly see the view from my windshield as I drove along leafy, tree-lined streets with my three-year-old boy and his baby brother strapped into their car seats, slowly making our way home from the library.

“You can be anything you want,” I promised my sweet boys. “Anything you want. All you have to do is follow your dreams.”

As soon as the words left my lips, I felt a twitch inside.  A pang. A thud of a forgotten memory, the whisper of a long lost dream.

A dream, quieted by the demands of life. School. Journalism Career. Raising Littles.

But, in that moment, after an afternoon surrounded by books, I couldn’t deny I heard it. It felt like an untied shoelace.

You can be anything you want. All you have to do is follow your dreams.

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Anna Crowley Redding, Age 10. That little toothless girl had big dreams (and even bigger sunglasses. Some things just do not change.)

For as long as I can remember, my dream was to be a children’s book author. At 10, I used to a carry a wire bound notebook around with me, filling  the pages with a murder mystery. In my teens, I wrote picture books and poetry. All along, I collected children’s books. Even in my 20’s, my father still added to my collection every year during the holidays. I loved it!

But the dream of actually writing for children slowly, mindlessly, invisibly drifted to the back burner––until that drive home from the library. Until the talk about following one’s dreams. And I realized that if I want my boys to follow their dreams, I had better get busy leading by example.

The next morning, I woke up earlier, made coffee, climbed into a chair in front of my computer, and started. And it felt––ridiculous. I mean, truly, it felt absurd, silly, and small. How could I justify it? The boys, the nursing, the laundry, the schedule, the money, no assurance it would ever go anywhere at all, and on and on and on.

But the next morning, it felt less ridiculous. Defending the time to write came easier, with practice.

And that twitch, that pang, that thud of a long forgotten memory became a battle cry, day in and day out. Something that could only be calmed with writing.

I joined SCBWI and prepared to attend my first conference. Business cards, sharpened pencils, and fresh paper packed into my bag, I walked through the doors with big expectations. After two days of workshops, seminars, and talking to other writers, it hit me: I was standing at the bottom of an enormous mountain. And I had not a single clue as to how to climb it.

I felt defeated.

Until the next morning, that battle cry woke me up and I returned to the computer. The mornings added up. So did meetings with my invaluable critique group. Countless revisions, workshops, seminars, false starts, failed attempts to quit . . . every morning, the battle cry came for me. And I answered.

Nearly five years later, my agent called.

“Hey,” I said. “I’m about to run into the school for a parent teacher conference. I can talk for five minutes now or longer this afternoon.”

“Five minutes should be enough,” she said, “to tell you we have an offer.”

A book deal. A real live book deal.

All I remember after that is crying and feeling extreme gratitude, the kind of gratitude that’s built morning after morning, setback after setback, word by word, sentence by sentence, and draft by draft.

Maybe you, too, are in the throes of raising amazing little people, juggling the demands of an intense career, or fending off the terror of trying to make ends meet (or all three at once.) And maybe you, too, feel that twitch, that pang, or hear that thud of a memory long forgotten.

Tomorrow morning, if you wake up and get started, imagine me there with you, cheering you on . . . no matter how ridiculous it feels. Because actually what you are doing is quite brave.

Write on!

Anna

P.S. As a practical matter, here are some things I did that made all the difference:

  1. Join SCBWI
  2. Attend a conference
  3. Find a critique group (the number of times they have picked me up off the floor!)
  4. Don’t Give Up!

 

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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