I’m Pat Zietlow Miller. And, I’m a book geek …

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. I joined two critique groups and got feedback on my stories.
  6. 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.

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23 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Introduction, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

23 responses to “I’m Pat Zietlow Miller. And, I’m a book geek …

  1. I love your story, Pat. And eventually, I’m sure I’ll love those other stories when they come out as books! The bookmobile and card catalogs are fond memories for me as well. I loved the way the inside of the bookmobile smelled. I can’t exactly remember how it smelled, I can just remember going into it, sitting on the floor (because the kids books were on the bottom shelf) and feeling special.

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  2. Pat, the first story I wrote that I can truly remember was about horses named Brownie and Half-and-Half. Surely, we were on the same wavelength.

    I kinda miss the old days of card catalogs…

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  3. Congrats Pat!!! I love your blog voice. 🙂 I can’t wait to get your book and have it signed!

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  4. Pat, congrats to you! So you got the editor before the agent? And your book was plucked from the slush pile? Wow, that’s a fairy tale story. You did all the right things to get there, though. Never fails to amaze me how many pre-published writers don’t read their own genre. It truly helps to know what’s out in the world.

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  5. Joshua McCune

    Love stories like this. Perseverance can sometimes suck, and sometimes it’s the little victories along the way that help us know we’re headed down the right path. One of the most uplifting moments for me early in my rejection career was a handwritten note from a Highlights editor (loved it; not quite right for us). Admittedly, my path went more toward the dark side, but it helped remind me that, yeah, I can do this.

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  6. I’d love to read that duck story, Pat! Time to get it back out? Congratulations! Mixed in with my zillions of rejections, I got some nice cards and letters from the Cricket magazines–so nice to get those flashes of light in the darkness!

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  7. Inspirational story Pat! Thank you for sharing, and giving hope to those of us waiting, working and revising our way to those little notes, cards and possibly calls!

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  8. OK, Susan. Here’s the duck poem in all its fifth-grade glory. I remember being quite proud that I used the word “evident.” As I look at it now, I definitely needed a little more rising action before the climax of Harry throwing the hockey puck. Oh, well.

    THE YELLOW DUCK

    Once there was a yellow duck,
    who wanted to ride in a lettuce truck.
    He ate all the lettuce it did carry
    and harrassed the driver, whose name was Harry.

    Harry decided he’d had enough,
    so then he started to get tough.

    He took a hockey puck,
    and threw it at the duck.

    “Hee, hee,” said the duck with evident glee.
    “Can’t catch me.”

    Harry tried, but he did fail.
    Now guess what? Harry’s in jail.

    Harry still thinks he’ll catch that duck yet.
    But I think he would lose that bet.

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  9. Pat, you richly deserve a whole shelf of books with your name on the spines. Can’t wait!

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  10. In case people are wondering, Pam Wells is my twin sister and my co-conspirator in the Madeline and Adeline songs. She’s gone on to have quite a musical life. And the fact that she can still quote large chunks of my duck poem is one of the many reasons I love her.

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  11. Alexa

    I’ve learned several things from this:
    1. If I feel discouraged, it’s totally normal.
    2. Time to start submitting like crazy.
    3. I gotta get caller ID!

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  12. I wanted to be in the card catalogue, too!

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  13. Laurie Boyle Crompton

    Love this! So glad you’re an EMU and looking forward to hearing more about your publishing journey as it unfolds!!

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  14. Only four years? You’re a fast learner! And, I can hardly wait to see SOPHIE’S SQUASH.

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  15. Our library only allowed kids to check out two books at a time. So my mother would go with us and check out all the books we wanted on her card instead. I still remember the excitement of walking out with a new stack of books to read. Wait! What am I saying? I STILL have that feeling every time I walk out of the library! I guess that means I’m a book geek, too.
    Cindy

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  16. Pingback: AMAZING KIDS, BOOKS, GRANDMAS, AND GOLDFISH. OH, AND ME! | EMU's Debuts

  17. Wonder how many of those card catalogues will end up in antique stores and museums. Fond memories, for sure. Welcome to the Emudebuts, Pat!

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  18. Woohoo! Welcome to the EMUs, Pat! I, too, have fond memories of reading the cereal boxes over breakfast. And the TV Guide, back when it was a thick little booklet. 🙂

    So glad you’re here with us!

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  19. That ducky poem is splendid! Looking forward to owning your squashy book!

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