I’ve always been a book geek.
When I was young, that involved walking to the bookmobile and trying to convince the librarian to let me check out more books than the rules allowed.
It also involved visiting the public library whenever my parents could take me. That’s where they got me an adult card rather than a child’s so I could take as many books as I could carry home with me.
But I didn’t just read those books.
I read everything I could see. Magazines, newspapers, brochures, cereal boxes, junk mail. In fact, the first time I had to do a demonstration speech on a hobby, I loaded my backpack with all these items and shared my passion for the written word.
Maybe that’s why I wasn’t invited to more parties.
But I honestly didn’t care. Who needed parties when there were words? I remember having to put books down and stop reading because I was so in awe of how the writer had turned a phrase or constructed a sentence.
And, sometimes, I’d laugh out loud. Not because the sentence was funny, but because I especially liked a particular combination of words on the page.
Eventually, I started writing myself.
In fourth grade, I wrote awkward stories about a cat named “Salt” and a dog named “Pepper.” (Guess what colors they were?) Around that same time, I wrote terrible songs about sisters named Madeline and Adeline. I read “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?” and then tried to write essays that sounded like Erma Bombeck. All I remember is that one of them made my mother mad.
But in fifth grade, I wrote a poem about a yellow duck on the run from the law that made my teacher laugh so hard he cried. And in sixth grade, I wrote a paper about my grandmother’s swishy, swirly, square-dancing skirts that another teacher said gave her chills.
When she asked me how long it took me to write it, I answered honestly — about a half hour. Everyone in my class gasped. That was the first time I realized that writing wasn’t easy or fun for everyone.
Then one day, I was flipping through the school library’s card catalog when I realized something. Every book in there was written by somebody. A real person. And maybe someday, I could write a book too.
I flipped to the Zs to see where my name would fall.
Well, my name will probably never be in a card catalog. I’m not sure any still exist. But it just might be on amazon.com and goodreads and in the Library of Congress.
If all goes well, my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, will be illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf and published by Schwartz & Wade in the fall of 2013. And I find that — almost — too cool for words.
Here’s how it happened:
- Four years ago — after writing newspaper articles and a wide variety of technical memos to pay the bills — I decided I wanted to write books for children. No, I did not quit my day job.
- Instead, I started spending three hours each night after my kids were in bed writing manuscripts. They weren’t as bad as my songs about Madeline and Adeline, but they were far from lovely. Miss Clavel of MADELINE fame might have said, “Something is not right.”
- So, I brought piles of picture books home from my new public library and read them. I read everything Kevin Henkes has ever had published. Everything by Mem Fox.
Everything by Judith Viorst. Everything by Kari Best and Jill Esbaum and Dori Chaconas and Mo Willems. Plus a ton of stuff by authors whose names I don’t recall.
- I went to my my first SCBWI conference and hid in the back row hoping no one would realize I didn’t belong and ask me to leave.
- I joined two critique groups and got feedback on my stories.
- I kept writing. I kept reading.
Then, I cautiously began sending out submissions.
Lots of form rejections. Lots of silence. Then, one day, a little blue card with a handwritten note. “Cute, but not quite right for us.” I almost had it framed. A real, live editor thought my story was cute.
As I kept writing, I got enough tiny bits of encouragement in between the rejections to keep me from giving up. More personalized rejections. A story that sold to Highlights magazine. An honorable mention in a writing contest. A few requests to revise and resubmit.
But always, ultimately, a rejection.
Until my phone rang almost exactly a year ago. The area code said “212,” and the caller ID said “Random House.” And the voice on the other end said, “Hi! This is Anne Schwartz. You probably don’t remember sending us SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but …”
That was the fateful moment that led to my being part of this EMU’s Debuts blog. I’m so excited to count down to my book release — and those of my talented agency-mates — with all of you.
Because a confirmed book geek like me can never have too many books.