Author Archives: Rebecca Van Slyke

About Rebecca Van Slyke

Rebecca Van Slyke has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, and poetry. She’s currently working on something she swore she would never attempt: a middle-grade novel. She also has illustrated five art books for children. Her picture books LEXIE, THE WORD WRANGLER, MOM SCHOOL, and DAD SCHOOL are due to be published in 2015 and 2016. Rebecca is a second-grade teacher in Lynden, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and a very spoiled dachshund. She wants to be a cowgirl when she grows up. Or a penguin tamer.

Laurie’s Book is the BEST!

It’s another happy book birthday for Laurie Thompson! Her book My Dog is the Best  is out today! Just see how happy it makes her dog, Prim! And you could be as happy as Prim if you comment below and win a signed copy of Laurie’s book!

This book is Prim-approved!

This book is Prim-approved!

 

To celebrate, the EMUs are sharing what they think is the best in their lives.

Carole Gerber

My cat Winston was the best – and most beautiful – cat ever. He was an indoor/outdoor cat (part Maine coon) who hunted mice and bestowed them – sometimes still wriggling –  at my feet. I’d put on garden gloves, shut Winston inside, and carry the mice as far away as possible. Winston died three years ago at age 17. His last act was to walk the circumference of our yard, making sure we were safe from mice and other cats who might try to invade his territory.

Look at the coat on this boy!

Look at the beautiful coat on this boy!

 

Maria Gianferrari

My critique group, Crumpled Paper, is the best! My CP critique partners, Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban, Andrea Wang, Sheri Dillard and Abigail Calkins Aguirre have been staunch supporters and friends. I know I can always count them to pull me through the dark days, and cheer me through joyous times. Their critiques are thoughtful, insightful and spot on, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help. I’m so happy to be a part of this supportive writing family!

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Donna Janelle Bowman

My writer pals are the best because they understand why I walk around my house talking to myself, with a pen in my hand.

Tamara Smith

My Winn-Dixie is the best.  He, like the famous Winn-Dixie is a stray and he even came from the south just like Kate’s literary dog.  But that’s not why he’s the best.  He’s the best because he takes such good care of me.  He follows me from room to room, and keeps a keen eye on me.  (You know how border collie’s eyes just radiate connection and wisdom?  Those are the eyes I am lucky enough to have protecting me.)  He is also my trusty running partner, rain or shine, snow or heat, he comes with me on the trails in the woods or by the river, helping me keep the rhythm and pace going, but also reminding me to stop and watch a beaver diving into the water, or glimpse a deer bounding behind the trees.  Finally, every night he waits until I am ready to go to bed and then he traipses up the stairs after me, ready to retire, until the next

What a faithful friend!

What a faithful friend!

Penny Parker Klostermann

My duck is the best. Mrs. Quackers is the best part-time pet.

She the best setter.

setting

She’s the best hatcher.

hatcher

She’s the best swimming teacher.

swimming teacher

And she’s the best momma.

momma

Megan Morrison

My students are the best! They’re funny, and fierce, and fantastic. They start nature clubs, fight for LGBTQA rights, raise money to buy goats for people they’ll never meet, and fundraise to support foster kids right here in our community. Some of them have beautiful singing voices; others, the most brilliant smiles. Some can build robots; others write stories that take my breath away. Being 12, 13, and 14 years old is not easy under the best of circumstances, and some of my kids have it rough. But they fight hard to be true to themselves and to be forces for good in the world. Every last one of them is lovable and capable, and they inspire me every single day. They are, without a doubt, the very best.

kids_grass

Janet Fox

My family is the best. (They don’t hassle me for having too much on my plate! 🙂

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Laurie Thompson

My fellow Emu’s Debuts bloggers are the best!

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Laurie, we think YOU’RE the best!

And if you want to order Laurie’s book, you can find it at University Book Store  as well as:

Amazon

Powell’s

Indiebound

And something else that’s the best? PRIZES!

The winner for Pin the Quote on the Emus is: ANDREA WANG with a total of 8 points! She wins a signed copy of Book Scavenger plus a swag bag containing a walking map of San Francisco, an invisible ink pen with black light to detect the writing, and Book Scavenger stickers and bookmarks.

And these are the answers for last week’s quiz:

1)      Star Wars: Megan

2)      Ticket to Ride: Maria

3)      Word puns for multiple games: Rebecca

4)      Hungry Hungry Hippos: Adam & Mylisa

5)      Quidditch, Clue, Chutes & Ladders: Jenn

6)      Parcheesi: Luke

7)      Candyland: Penny

8)      Jumanji: Janet

9)      Who, What, Where: Tam

10)  Minecraft: Elaine

11)  Dungeons & Dragons: Laurie

12)  Lord of the Rings online: Susan

13)  Pac Man & Frogger: Christine

14)  Old Maid: Calista

BONUS: Jumanji: filmed in Maria’s hometown of Keene, NH!!

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Filed under Book Launch, Book Promotion, Celebrations

We Have a Wiener! Err.. A WINNER!

Sable says, “WE HAVE A WIENER!!”

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(I think she means, “We have a WINNER!”)

Actually, we have THREE winners!

No, Sable... Three WINNERS!

No, Sable…
Three WINNERS!

But before we announce the winners, we want to thank all of you who stopped by to celebrate the release of Susan Vaught’s book, Footer Davis Might Be Probably is Crazy.

I'm just crazy about this book!

I’m just crazy about this book!

And if you didn’t win, you can always order a copy from The Flying Pig BookstoreIndie BoundBarnes & Noble, or Amazon!

And now…

 

Congratulations to

 

SUE HEAVENRICH,

CARLEEN M. TJADER,

And WINEMAMA!!!

This book will make your tail wag!

This book will make your tail wag!

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Filed under Uncategorized

Southern Expressions

 

 

 

Y'all, this book is gooder'n grits!

Y’all, this book is gooder’n grits!

I just finished reading Susan Vaught’s Footer Davis Might Be Probably is Crazy, and I think it’s gooder’n grits.
Even though I live about as far away from the Mississippi as I can get and still be in the continental United States, I have connections to the South and all its charm… and expressions.
Footer knows that when people in Bugtussle, Mississippi, tell her, “Well, bless your heart,” for all the kind-sounding words, the meaning is not good:
People who don’t live in Mississippi think ‘bless your heart’ means something nice, but it really means they think you’re too stupid to bother trying to explain things to you, or that you’re too crazy to help.”
So to celebrate the release of Footer Davis Might Be Probably is Crazy, here is a list of Southern sayings that I’m just crazy about.
First, some definitions:
Y’all- you
(Y’all knew that already, didn’t you?)
All y’all- more than a few of you
All y’all should read this book!
Catawampus- crooked
Straighten out that picture frame. It’s all catawampus.
Forty ‘leven- a lot
She must have forty ‘leven young’uns running around that house.
Knee-baby- the second to the youngest child
Jesse is the baby of the family, and Jake is the knee-baby.
Blivit- A blivit is when you have ten pounds of manure in a five pound sack.

We got ourselves a blivit here.

We got ourselves a blivit here.

Southerners have some great expressions. Some are about hunger:
I’m so hungry my stomach done thinks my throat’s been cut.
I’m so hungry I could eat the north bound end of a south bound polecat.
Or, if you’re no longer hungry, you could say, “I’m as full as a tick.”

Weather is a common topic.
If it’s raining hard, it’s a frog-strangler.

Enough already!

Enough already!

Or if it’s not, you could say, “It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.”

There are expressions for surprise…
Well, butter my buns and call me a biscuit!
… and for trouble:
Come here! R-A-T rat NOW!
I’ma gonna tan your britches.
I’m gonna tack your hide to the woodshed.
I’ll knock you so hard you’ll see tomorrow.

Southerners have great ways to describe all kinds of people.
Proud people:
They’re too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.
Nervous people:
He’s as jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Happy people:

Looks pretty happy to me!

Looks pretty happy to me!

He’s grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ sweet taters.
He’s happier’n a dead pig in the sunshine.
I’m as fine as frog’s hair, split four ways.
He’s just as happy as if he had good sense.
Angry people:
Madder’n a wet hen in a tote sack.
Complainers:
Some folks’d grumble if you hung ‘em with a new rope.
Lazy people:
He ain’t afraid of hard work. He’d crawl right up next to it and go to sleep.
Busy people:
I’m so busy I don’t know if I found a rope or lost my horse.
(Okay, that one might be more Texas than Mississippi.)
Tired people:
I feel like I’d been chewed up and spit out.
Those of *ahem* lesser intelligence:
He’s as dumb as a bucket of rocks.
He’s as dumb as a box of hair.
He’s dumber’n a bag of hammers.

Apparently, intelligence can be measured by the container.

Apparently, intelligence can be measured by the container.

And, bless his heart, if he’s not attractive, Southerners aren’t shy about saying so:
He looks like he’d been beat by the ugly stick.
Looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
He looks like ten miles of bad road.
He looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet.
His face’d knock a buzzard off a gut wagon.

Ewww... Now I've completely lost my appetite.

Ewww… Now I’ve completely lost my appetite.

Finally, some Southern advice:
Be sure to try your best, because can’t never could.
But, if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.

This dog can't even.

This dog can’t even.

What are some of your favorite Southern expressions? Comment below, and you may win a copy of Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy!
Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

 

Don’t forget, to enter the drawing for a free copy of FOOTER DAVIS MIGHT BE PROBABLY IS CRAZY, please comment on any post this week! 

You can also buy your own copy of Footer Davis at The Flying Pig BookstoreIndie BoundBarnes & Noble, or Amazon!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Uncategorized

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… A Book

“Your book is getting published! You must be SO excited!” a friend gushes over lunch.

And I am excited. Really excited. And nervous. And apprehensive. And bored. I remember feeling a lot like this about twenty years ago. Right after I found out that I was pregnant.

"It's REALLY happening!"

“It’s REALLY happening!”

I think this whole book publishing event is a lot like being pregnant. At first, you’re over-the-moon elated, but you can’t tell anyone. What if something happens? What if it’s all a dream?

Then when you finally tell people, there’s a lot of celebrating.
“Congratulations!”
“When is it coming out?”
“I can’t wait to see it!”
And the ones you know who are whispering behind your back: “It’s about time! I thought for a while she… couldn’t…”

"It's FINALLY happening for her!"

“It’s FINALLY happening for her!”



You wonder. What will the cover look like? Will kids like it? I hope the reviewers don’t pan it. Or ignore it. Will they see just how special—how precious— it is? Oh, I hope it’s one of the popular ones.

You plan, knowing you can never plan enough. The publication date seems SO far away! Is it too early to start planning the coming-out party? The checklists are endless, but instead of painting the nursery, finding a crib, and buying tiny socks and onesies, your checklists say:
 Call bookstores
 Order bookmarks
 Write press release
 Design temporary tattoos to give out at launch parties.

And you wait. As I recall, there was an awful lot of waiting when I was pregnant. Waiting to feel that first fluttery kick, waiting until that “baby bump” started showing. Waiting in doctors’ offices, for test results, for The Day to finally arrive. And even when The Day arrives, there is still a lot of waiting to be done. I got The Call a year and a half ago, and I still have a trimest…errr… three months to go before delivery. Of my books, I mean.

Not that there hasn’t been the occasional flurry of activity. Like those bursts of energy in pregnancy, the periods of quiet waiting have been suddenly interrupted by an out-of-the-blue email from my editor. Please fill out this survey. Here are some revision notes for you to go through. We need a high-resolution photo for your flap. These emails, like the occasional baby kick, remind me that things are progressing, even though I can’t see them.

Things are happening behind the scenes!

Things are happening behind the scenes!


Soon, I know, The Day will arrive, and I will cradle… HOLD! I mean hold a brand new book in my arms, knowing that the whole experience has been worth the wondering, the effort, and the wait.

It’s truly a labor of love.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Happiness, Patience, Promotion, Time Management, Uncategorized, waiting, Writing and Life

The Journey

I love the subtitle on this blog: From Deal to Debut: The Path to Publication. When I think of the Path to Publication, I picture a whole throng of writer-ly/illustrator-y people, all traveling together, a Pilgrimage to the City of Being Published.
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We all arrived on the Path in different ways. Some of us joined it early in life, some came to it later. Some of us have made the pilgrimage many times, others are toiling on, and on… and on, with nothing to show for it but blisters on our feet. Some are weighed down by the journey, while others seem to skip merrily along, book deals raining down on them like confetti at a parade.
But here’s the thing. Unlike many professions, especially creative ones, the Path to Publication for children’s books is populated by some of the greatest people you will meet. In my experience, my fellow travelers are all rooting for my success. Here are some of them:
• My teachers- Elementary school, Jr. high, high school… all the way up to the extremely talented faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts. All along the way I’ve been fortunate to have great teachers (including librarians!) who have encouraged me to write. Thank you!
• My critique partners- Whether I’ve been a member of a critique group or just an informal manuscript exchange, I’ve gotten great feedback, both the “I love this!” kind as well as the, “I’m kind of confused about why the principal would ride a pony to school” kind. You know who you are. Thank you!
• People in SCBWI- I joined SCBWI about ten years ago because I heard it was a great way to learn more about the craft of writing and illustrating. What no one told me was how very, very supportive everyone has been. Oh, I’m sure SOME member SOMEwhere must be a jerk, but by far the norm is to have people who are encouraging, excited about my progress, and willing to share their experience. You know who you are. Thank you!
• Fellow students- When I began this journey, I wanted to approach it like the teacher I am. I wanted to go to school. I found a college that offered a master’s degree in writing for children. Unfortunately, I had a small baby and I had taken time off from teaching, so both time and money were at a premium. But ten years later, it worked out, and I found my home-away-from-home in Vermont College. It also came with a whole bunch of brother and sister writers who are my mentors and cheer squad. I love you guys! Thank you!
• People in my agency group- Not only was I blessed with a fabulous agent (Are your ears burning, Ammi-Joan Paquette?), signing with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency came with an instant cohort of talented writers and illustrators. Thank you!
• Friends and family- Okay, they’re not all officially writers, but when it comes to people cheering me on from the sidelines, these folks can’t be beat. You know who you are. Thank you!
So with all these wonderful people who are rooting for my success, what’s my response? It has to be to come alongside others on the journey and be part of their support group. For people just beginning their journey, to point them to the books and groups that helped me. I was once there. For people who are close to publication, to encourage them. I’m right there with them. For people who have reached the destination, to be their promoter and cheer for them. Hopefully someday I’ll be there, too, but for now, I’m enjoying the journey because of my other travelers. You make the path worth it!
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12 Comments

by | September 4, 2014 · 6:41 am

Two Brains, Tulips

Last spring I visited a local tulip farm. If you’ve never been, picture a field full of red. Next to a field of yellow, next to a field of pink. On and on, acres and acres of color. It looks like some crazy/enthusiastic artist got hold of a GIANT box of crayons.
Tulip Fields
So I got inspired. That summer I ordered tulip bulbs for my gardens. LOTS of tulip bulbs. When the package came in the fall, I had 300 bulbs to plant. The neighbors, watching you dig hole after hole, say, “That looks like a lot of work.”
The thing about planting bulbs is that they come looking like deformed onions.
Tulip Bulbs
Then you stick them in the ground and suddenly your garden… looks just like it did before you started. NO progress.
Or so it seems.
Winter comes, and still no progress.
Then, along about February or March, there is finally a sign that something is happening. Some tiny, fragile-looking green shoots peek out, often when the weather dial is still definitely set at “Winter.”
Bulbs Sprouting
But then the weather softens, and suddenly those tiny shoots start looking promising. Spring comes, and all your hard work and waiting pay off. You have tulips. Now the neighbors slow down as they walk past your house. “Beautiful,” they tell you.
Tulip Garden
I think writing works a lot like planting tulips. We get inspired by a wonderful flash of creativity. We dig into a brand-new, huge project with dreams of how beautiful it’s going to be. We start to find the words and get a solid beginning going.
And then… frustration. The project hits a wall, and suddenly the first frost comes and kills any progress. So we wait. And wait.
And nothing happens.
The thing is, things ARE happening. But they are happening beneath the surface. Like tulip bulbs need cold before they can bloom, ideas need time to mature. Anastasia Suen, in her book Picture Writing (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003), talks about the brain’s two hemispheres. The left brain is the logical, step-by-step half that uses language. The right brain is the random, imaginative half that works with images or pictures. Both halves are working together to grow this project, but they have different jobs. So while our left half cannot find the words we need, the right half is working on a subterranean level, mulling over what the next step should be.
Then suddenly- FLASH! Inspiration hits, and we become unstuck. The seemingly dead project begins to send out shoots of hope. Spring has come, and the left half now has the words we need for our story to grow and flourish.
I’m currently working on several stories. Some are coming along, but some still need…something… for them to work. I’m looking at my trusted critiquers’ notes: “Needs a more satisfying ending.” “Something punchy and funny.” “Make it more character-rich.” “More story-driven.” When I sit down with my manuscript, though, I’m met with a frosty nothingness. How do I make all those things happen? So I shut down my computer. But my brain, I know, isn’t shutting down. Even though my verbal left brain is currently mute, my right brain will continue to work on these stories subconsciously. I don’t know exactly WHEN spring will arrive for them, but if I keep coming back to them, I hope to have that FLASH when suddenly the words are there, and I can look at my completed project and say, “Beautiful.”
Tulips and Books

 

Rebecca Van Slyke has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, and poetry. She’s currently working on something she swore she would never attempt: a middle-grade novel. She also has illustrated five art books for children. Her picture books LEXIE, THE WORD WRANGLER, MOM SCHOOL, and DAD SCHOOL are due to be published in 2015 and 2016. Rebecca is a second-grade teacher in Lynden, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and a very spoiled dachshund. She wants to be a cowgirl when she grows up. Or a penguin tamer.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, craft~writing, Creativity, Faith, Patience, Writing and Life

No’s Job, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rejection

     “Dear Author,
Thank you for your recent submission to XYZ Publishing Company. I regret to inform you that …”

Does this letter look familiar to you? If you’ve ever tried to submit a manuscript for publication, chances are you’ve gotten a response similar to this at some time in your writing career. I remember the first one I ever got. I was in college, and my professor had suggested that I submit the dummy that I had done for his literature class to his publisher. Finally- FINALLY- I would be a published author! And at such a young age!

I sent it in. I waited. After a week, every time I went to the mailbox I was sure that this would be the day I would get my SASE back with a contract in the mail. I began to think about changing my major from teaching to writing.

After a few more days (okay, six months), my SASE came back! I pulled out my manuscript dummy and… a tiny postcard that began, “Dear Author…” I was crushed. I cried. I sent it out again in a massive simultaneous submission to every publisher that did picture books.
I got a massive simultaneous rejection.

But I kept writing. I kept learning. I joined SCBWI. I went to conferences, joined a critique group, and took classes. I kept submitting, but I submitted smarter. (Turns out that some publishers only publish certain kinds of books! Who knew?)

I got a LOT more rejection letters.

But. While each rejection letter still felt like, well, a rejection, I noticed that after a while they changed. I was getting some letters that began, “Dear Ms. Van Slyke.” There would be a reference to my actual manuscript, like they had read it. And sometimes the editor would tell me why it wasn’t a good fit for them.

I started to look for an agent. And- oh, goody!- NEW rejection letters came pouring in!
I eventually did get an agent. Unfortunately, it was, shall we say, not a happy match. The rejection letters stopped coming to me. But, as I later learned, that was most likely because no manuscripts were going out. I came to the decision that an unproductive agent was worse than no agent, so we parted ways.

Fortunately, I did get another agent, and manuscripts began going out again. As proof, I started getting rejection letters again. By this time, though, either because my writing had improved or (more likely) my agent was matching them more closely to the right editor, the rejections were very specific. And they started coming with offers to look at more of my writing, or even to look at a manuscript again after a few changes.

Now, after a few sales, I’m still getting rejection letters. LOTS of rejection letters. But I look at them differently now. Instead of focusing on the “No,” I look for themes. Does a manuscript get rejected because it’s weak or because the publisher already has a pirate book on their list? Do I see several of the same comments on the same manuscript? Perhaps it’s time to try another revision based on that feedback.

Most of all, though, rejection letters mean that I’m doing my job: writing. Submitting. Revising. Submitting again. Writing new manuscripts.

Because sometimes instead of a no, there will be a “Yes.”

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Panic, Patience, Publishers and Editors, Rejection, rejection and success, Uncategorized

Not-So-Deadly Deadlines

I love deadlines. Usually.

“Ummm… that’s due TOMORROW??”

I have a confession. I’m a terrible procrastinator. (Well, actually I’m a fabulous procrastinator. Ask my husband. “Have you made those reservations yet?” he will ask me. *Gulp…)

In fact, as I write this, I have deadlines for three projects. All due tomorrow.

*Deep breath* I can do this.

A few years ago I decided the time had come to finally get my master’s degree. After considering many options, I decided to do a crazy thing. I would take a leap of faith and apply for Vermont College’s master’s program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Not only would I be adding a suggested 25 hours of reading and writing per week on top of teaching full time and being a wife and mom, I would need to complete 20 packets of work during the two-year program, including new manuscripts every month.

Where was I going to get ideas for 20 packets worth of new stories?? Oh, if I were working on a novel, maybe. I could add a few new chapters a month. But I write picture books. That’s two to six new story ideas every month.

The first month was covered. I had a few manuscripts saved up that I could pull out and submit. (It was a good thing, too, as we ended up moving that first month to a new house after living 17 years on our farm.)

Then came the second month. Again, I had a few stories I could dust off, plus a brand new idea or two. The third month rolled around, and once more I had new ideas. Every time I would come down to a due date, the ideas were there. Every time I hit “Send” I was sure that the idea well was now dry. Yet the next month would come, and with it came more ideas.

How was this working? Did panic get the creative juices flowing? Did I have a cooperative muse? Was it the power of prayer?

Panic and prayer notwithstanding, I think the secret lies in having a deadline. Deadlines help me organize my priorities. I am the WORST in the summer when I don’t have to show up for work. Somehow, the morning slips by without anything getting done. But if I have a deadline, it bumps laundry, weeding, and checking my email to a lower place on my “To Do” list, and I actually end up with something to show for my time.

Deadlines make me accountable to someone besides myself who will be expecting results. Not just any results, but my best work. When I am accountable to a critique partner, my agent or an editor, I don’t want to disappoint them. They are expecting something good to land in their inbox, and I don’t want them to see shoddy work, or worse yet, an empty inbox.

Finally, regular deadlines make me develop the habit of writing. And while practice may never make me a perfect writer, it certainly helps me improve my craft. I know that unless I actually show up to do the work, any creative juices, chance muses or divine interventions will pass me by.

So if you’re facing a revision, in need of some inspiration, or working on a new story, having a deadline just might be a lifeline.

Congratulations to Melanie Fishbane, winner of a copy of Adi Rule’s STRANGE SWEET SONG!

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, craft~writing, Deadlines, Deadlines, Education, Faith, Panic, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

That’s Cool

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

— Ernest Hemingway

You know it, and I know it, but not everybody you come across knows how wonderfully magical a thing it is to write a book. To create characters that are as real as members of your own family. To dream up events that keep readers awake late into the night promising themselves, “Just one more chapter.” To speak truths into the minds and hearts of others that you will never meet.

Not everyone knows what it is like to work for hours, agonizing over the subtleties of word choice. (Is it a secret meeting? A clandestine meeting? Does a stealthy meeting make sense?) How do you describe what it feels like to walk into a new school when you’re in third grade? Does this dialogue sound authentic? And then what happens?

There are actually people who believe that writing a book, especially a children’s book, is easy to do. And THEY WALK AMONG US!!

As a children’s book writer, I have had more people than I’d care to remember say things like, “You write for children? How cute!” “I’ve always wanted to write a picture book!” and “Oh, I should write a children’s book, too!”

            I’m normally a picture book writer, but several years ago I decided to try my hand at a middle grade novel. (Okay, I was dared to write a middle grade novel.) I worked for two years on it, on and off. Finally, I got tired of the “and off” method and decided to give myself a writer’s retreat. I blocked off a week in August to go to our family’s cabin and finally, finally finish the first draft.

            I took the dog, left my husband and daughter at home, and retreated. I worked solidly for a week, knowing that they would be coming to join me on the weekend.

            I finished on Friday afternoon. In fact, I was typing, “The end” as they came up the driveway. My husband, Rollo, opened the door, calling, “How’d it go?”

            “I’M FINISHED WITH THE FIRST DRAFT!” I told him.

            He made the proper amount of commotion about this announcement. (Definition or Proper Amount of Commotion: Not so little I had to wonder if he was impressed. Not so much that he made me think he was astonished I could actually finish a novel.) “Tomorrow I’m taking you out to dinner. We’ll go to Visconti’s. We’ll order a really good bottle of champagne. We’ll splurge and order dessert!”

            The next evening we drove into town. We had champagne with our appetizers. We had a really good bottle of red wine with dinner.

            “Looks like you’re celebrating something special,” our perky young waitress said as she brought out dessert.

            “My wife just finished her book,” Rollo said.

            I tried to look suitably humble.

            “Oh, that’s cool,” the waitress said. She set our desserts down in front of us and turned to me. “What did you read?”

            The humble look fell from my face, ninja-kicked off, I am sure, by an expression of outrage. Did I look like someone who needed a celebratory dinner for reading a whole book by myself??

            “No,” Rollo told her, enunciating clearly. “She wrote a book.”

            “Oh,” the waitress said, refilling our water glasses. “That’s cool, too.”

            They walk among us…

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anti-Advice, Celebrations, craft~writing, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

Waiting by Rebecca Van Slyke

Waiting

Lord, please grant me patience. And I want it RIGHT NOW!

 

Last month I wrote about getting The Call. As with most deals, I had to wait until it was official to be able to share my joy with my family and friends. When I could finally announce something, I got the same reaction over and over: “That’s WONDERFUL! You certainly have waited a long time for this to happen!”

Yes.

Yes I have.

I’ve been waiting to be a “real author” for a long time. When I was four years old, I discovered that books were made by real people. I wanted to be one of those magical people called “authors” and “illustrators.” So I wrote stories on my Big Chief notebook and drew pictures on typewriter paper.

Skipping ahead to college, I took an educational literacy class where the professor offered us this choice: write a research paper, or write a children’s book. That was a no-brainer for me. I spent happy hours writing and illustrating a picture book. The professor liked it so well that he gave me an A… and passed the book along to his publisher. Unfortunately, they did not publish picture books, but it was all the encouragement I needed. The next thirty-mumble years were spent sending manuscripts out. I started with the first story, but gradually added others. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I joined SCBWI. I learned. I wrote. I sent out new manuscripts. I read. I went to conferences, to classes, to lectures. I learned more. And I waited. Every time I sent out a manuscript I knew that this could be the time.  And it wasn’t. Again and again it wasn’t.

I just went back and re-read this last paragraph and realize how pathetic it sounds. Good gravy, what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I give up? Thirty years without a nibble? That right there is some special kind of stupid.

Except I was making progress, I could tell. I finally took the plunge and decided to do more than take an occasional class. By now I was a teacher, and I did what teachers do. I went back to school. I got a master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. That led to getting an agent. Now I was guaranteed to get an offer.

But the offers didn’t materialize. I watched classmates sell a book. Or several books. I had several near-yesses. I tried not to be jealous. I kept writing. I kept waiting.

A quote from Anne Lamott’s book, BIRD BY BIRD helped:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.

So while I waited, I watched and I worked. I cheered on my published friends. I became more involved in my regional chapter of SCBWI. I started giving talks on writing. I critiqued. I mentored. I didn’t give up.  And the dawn DID come. I switched agents, and, after still more waiting, I got The Call in June.

So now that the excitement has settled down, what am I doing? Waiting. Waiting on revision notes, decisions on illustrators, opinions and decisions on new projects.

I have several friends who are waiting to get The Call. They’re close, I can tell. I know because they’re showing up. They’re waiting, and watching, and working.

Some of you reading this are in “waiting for The Call” mode. I need to tell you not to quit. Keep waiting, but while you’re waiting, keep watching for the next opportunity. Will it be a class? A conference? A chance to help someone else on the journey? Keep working to improve your craft. Write. Read strong literature. Illustrate. Study. Read craft books. Show up. And never, never, NEVER quit. Because The Call could be waiting just around the corner for you, too.

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Education, jealousy, Rejection, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call