Author Archives: tamaraellissmith

Another Kind of Good-bye

It is my turn to say good-bye.

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Historically, I haven’t much liked good-byes.

roller coaster

whatwillimiss whatwillimiss whatwillimiss…whoa!

I used to have this really strong knee-jerk reaction to them. This wavy feeling in my belly, like I was riding a roller coaster. And this thought in my brain: What will I miss if I go?

 I had that reaction for a long time. And it was connected to this ancient fear of mine of not knowing. Do you know that fear? For me, it was always about wanting to be on top of things; wanting to know what everyone needed at all times and trying to accommodate those needs. It was also about feeling ridiculously uncomfortable with the idea that something might happen without my knowledge.

Ummmm. Yeah.

Lots of things happen without my knowledge.

Of course that’s true, and there’s no way around it—and no need for a way around it—but I fought it so hard for so long. I stayed past the time I should have stayed at places, I kept my eyes open too wide, my brain going a mile a minute all the time.

What will I miss if I go?

What will I miss if I don’t go? This is real question. Or even more to the point: What will I miss if I don’t let go?

 Because I have finally learned that holding on too tight, and needing to know too much, actually limits me in very profound ways. (Not to mention the fact that it annoys—at best—the people onto whom I am holding!)

Many parts of my life have taught me this over the last decade or so – try holding on too tightly to your teenager, for example! – but the process of writing, publishing, and, now, promoting Another Kind of Hurricane has probably taught me this the most.

I can point to so many lessons, but I will only talk about two here.

PRE-PUB

Bear with me while I explore my experience with Tropical Storm Irene one more time. Like a spiral of wind and water goes round and round, I come back to it again and again, looping around again, but moving into new learning each time. rainbow spiral

Some of you know this part of my saga with Irene. We lost almost all of the contents of our basement when it flooded. At one point during the process of hauling stuff from the basement, someone gave me a box. I opened it. It was filled with photographs – a picture of my siblings and me at my wedding, a picture of my sister the first time she made my son, Luc, laugh, a picture of a camping trip with friends. The photos were soaking wet and covered in mud. I knew there were dozens of similar boxes, still in the basement. I knew I had to throw them all away. But I couldn’t do it. Not yet. So I went back to filling the dumpster. Hours later, as the sun was setting, I took a break and walked to the lawn at the side of my house.

What I saw took my breath away.

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A photo of my sister Callie and my son Luc (who is now that teenager I have to let go of!), among others.

People I didn’t know—were saving all of my photos. Someone meticulously peeled them apart, someone rinsed them in a shallow bin of water, and someone hung them on a clothesline to dry.

It was one of those moments that shines a light. Instead of focusing my attention on that box of photos, I let it go. And in the process I left a space for these people. Without realizing it, I had allowed there to be this vibrant, full-of-potential space. A space, it turns out, spanning those amazing people and me.

And inside of that space, those people and I—we were forever changed; we became friends.

POST-PUB

When Hurricane was just beginning to get some public attention, I wanted to center myself; to try to find a way to be grounded while on this public journey, because this story had been just mine for so long, you know? And I knew I could easily get mired down in watching and waiting for and fretting over those reviews. I asked both my editor (Annie Kelley) and agent (Erin Murphy) for their philosophies on reviews. They are wise, Annie and Erin. They both told me almost the same exact thing, and it really stuck with me.

They said that it’s important to remember that the book is out of my hands now. I have to – wait for it, wait for it – let it go. It “belongs” in a sense, to the people who read it.  That rang so true to me. It is very humbling to imagine my book—my ideas and words—becoming a part of someone else’s life, part of a reader’s thoughts and perspective. But it also makes a lot of intuitive sense. I can vividly remember the books that I felt were written just for me when I was a kid.

And what I have come to believe, both based on my own reading as a kid and my own research on reading as an adult, is that there is a space created when you read. A space between you and the book. Sometimes it is sort of window-shaped – where you learn about new things; sometimes it is more mirror-like – where you see yourself; and sometimes it is like a map with a thousand creases – pointing you on a journey.

Annie and Erin also told me to remember that so many readers who have a positive experience with my book—librarians, parents, teachers, and mostly kids—are people I will never, ever hear from. There is something magical about that.

If I let go. If I leave space.

The magic of space, for me, is the landscape—or maybe people-scape—where the alchemy of one person connecting with another unfolds.*

BEYOND-PUB

Emu’s Debuts has been a place of so much alchemy and so many connections. I can’t even begin to thank those of you who have graced this blog, and those of you who will. Just please know how much you have touched me, comforted me, taught me, changed me. I am on-my-knees humbled by you and hands-outstretched-to-the-sky honored to know you.

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calvin and hobbesI still don’t like good-byes. They still scare me, to be perfectly honest. But I respect them. And value them. And thinking about them as letting go and leaving space – for other people, for other ideas, for magic – makes it infinitely easier…

…to say…

…good-bye.

 

 

 

*I can’t write about the alchemy of connection today without thinking of the so many refugees who need a place, a space, to call home. This is a smart op-ed piece about moving forward together.

 

 

tamara_ellis_smith_bio

Tamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was published by Schwartz & Wade/Random House in July 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com and on Twitter @tsesmith.

 

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Another Kind of Hurricane – The Movie!

First!

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Congratulations to Adam Shaughnessy on his debut novel THE INCREDIBLY TRUE STORY OF THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB heading out into the world!  So wonderful for us all!  And, specifically, wonderful for BRENDA who wins a copy of the novel! fireworks2

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I was recently fortunate enough to be asked by Marshal Zeringue to be contribute to the blog, MY BOOK, THE MOVIE. It was such a great exercise for so many reasons, the biggest one, perhaps, being that I had to imagine my story in a completely different way. Visually. It was very cool. And so I thought I would repost here. Thanks to Marshal for letting me do just that!

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I love color and shape, I love picture book illustrations, and I love movies – but I don’t think in images at all. I think in words, and, more specifically in sounds and rhythms and energy. That said, I have definitely imagined Another Kind of Hurricane as a movie – Oh that would be so exciting! – but I have envisioned actors based on their energies more than anything. I love strong and quirky woven together. A few people have been in my mind from the get-go who bring that mix to their work.

Half The SkyI see Alfre Woodard as Ms. Cyn. I think I first saw her way back when in Passion Fish and have loved her ever since. She is fierce and funny, and has a sense of wisdom about her, a sense of knowing the truth of the matter.

Sam

I see Sam Rockwell as Jake. He is brilliant in Way Way Back – a bit of a smart-ass, disorganized and unwound like an empty spool attached to a pile of knotted thread. But really, deep down, he is solid in his beliefs and enormously big-hearted.

ChiwetelI imagine Chiwetel Ejiofer as Ben. I fell in love with him in Love Actually and will see anything he is in. He, too, is fierce and has an energy range that would allow him, I think, to dig into all of Ben’s nuances.

CatherineI have always thought of Catherine Keener as Henry’s mom, Eliza. I loved her in Walking and Talking, as well as Lovely and Amazing. She plays a great mom and she has a disheveled beauty, insidTonie and out. And Toni Collette would be fantastic as Wayne’s mom, Annie. From the time I saw her in Muriel’s Wedding I have been obsessed with her. She, like Catherine, plays a mean mom, and she just has this essence that is authentic and, for me anyway, mesmerizing. I adore her. Like Chiwetel, I actively seek Catherine and Toni out and will watch them in whatever I can find.

NimratI’ve thought about some of the other main characters in Hurricane too. These took me a little longer to land on, but I can imagine Nimrat Kauer as Cora and Ariadne Gil as Margarita. I alsAriadnao see Jeffrey Wright as Tavius, Don Cheadle as Isaac and Jordan Peele as Skeet. What a dynamic trio!

Jeffry    DonJordan

MarcusOddly, though, my two main characters have eluded me more than anyone else. I have gone around and around who could play Zavion and Henry, and truthfully, if Hurricane was really going to be made into a movie, and I had some say in who would get cast, I would ask that we go search for some unknown boys – kids that haven’t necessarily done any TV work or movies, kids whose parents are not necessariLiamly connected to the industry, but kids who have that certain energy. Probably kids who, in their actual lives, have experienced a tragedy or who have that unusual older-than-their-years feeling about them – like Alex Shaffer, who was brilliant in Win Win, but had never acted before. That said, if I had to pick right now I would probably pick Marcus Scribner to play Zavion. I like him in Blackish and I think he knows how to play obsessed and focused. And I’d probably pick Liam James to play Henry. He was in Way Way Back and pulls off awkward and inarticulate very well. Both boys have an off-the-beaten-path quality as well as a sense of depth, I think.

Who do you think would play the lead roles in your book, the movie? Who would star in your favorite books-turned-big-screen? Such a fun thing to imagine, especially for someone so NOT visually minded…

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tamara_ellis_smith_bio

Tamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was published by Schwartz & Wade/Random House in July 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com and on Twitter @tsesmith.

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An Interview with THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT editor Jacque Alberta

And for the grand finale of our week of all things LOONEY, we caught up with Zonderkidz Senior Editor Jacque Alberta about Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Here’s a little reminder about this wonderful story, from Luke’s web site:

Atticus Hobart couldn’t feel lower. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists, he is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe—just maybe—discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.

Looney Experiment

And without further ado, here’s Jacque!

Tam: What was it about THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT that made you want to acquire it?

Jacque: It hooked me in the first chapter. Atticus’s character felt so relatable and real—a kid who is very withdrawn publically, but has this amazing internal voice and humor. And the journey of finding the courage to be who he really is—to risk putting himself out there—is done so well. I immediately felt like this was a character and a story I needed on my list, because Luke’s story is not only really entertaining, it also has a storyline that can help readers see how they too can overcome what feels impossible to face in their own lives.

Tam: What do you love most about Mr. Looney?

Jacque: He is that teacher we all wished we had. He’s a substitute, but he puts all of himself into the job, and even takes the time to notice what Atticus needs—something no one teacher has ever done before. His giving Atticus his signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite things about Mr. Looney—helping Atticus really see who he is and what he can do means more than a book that is likely worth a lot sentimentally and monetarily.

Tam: And then of course I need to ask, what do you love most about Atticus? 

Jacque: Atticus has a great voice, and is such an appropriately wise soul. He is insightful in many ways, but still a teenage boy who probably secretly still likes fart noises a little bit too. And his journey from a kid who can barely speak in class to becoming the spokesperson for a group of students at the end is a fantastic one. I also loved that even though he does mature a lot in the book, he never totally loses the humor he had at the start—his fart-noise contest with Adrian toward the end was great!

Also, I loved Atticus’s list of what guys should and shouldn’t do in middle school!

Tam: It is always so inspiring and enlightening to learn a little about the behind-the-scenes editing process.  Can you give us some insight into how you approached editing this book?  What was it like to work with Luke? 

Jacque: Actually, the editing on this was one of the easiest processes I’ve had in a long time! The manuscript that was submitted was quite clean—and Luke was fantastic with revisions and rewrites. Most of what we worked on was making sure Atticus’s journey toward courage felt natural, so that the reader can see the gradual awakening after meeting Mr. Looney, and then how Atticus regained that confidence after Danny’s attack. And also debating over fart jokes and the like …

We also tried to keep up with the developing news over Go Set a Watchman, as To Kill a Mockingbird is so central to the storyline. When it was announced the precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird would be coming out, we had to scramble to change references to Harper Lee’s publishing story in real time, knowing our book was going to the printer before Go Set a Watchman would be in stores and the storyline known.

Tam: Who do you see this book appealing to? 

Jacque: My hope is that middle-school boys will find the book and enjoy the story, and see some of themselves in Atticus. And I think girls will enjoy it as well, as Atticus is just a wonderful character—and there’s a nice love story of sorts with Audrey Higgins to help balance the fart jokes JI also hope all readers leave with a sense that what is inside you matters … even if middle-school you feels like only other’s outside perceptions matter.

I think adults will love it too, as there’s something about middle school that never leaves us. And the journey Atticus takes is one that everyone has to take at some point—deciding who we are, what we want to become, and taking the brave leap to make that us known.

Tam: And, finally, is there anything else you would like to add? 

Jacque: Hmmm … Only that I loved working with Luke, and hope this book becomes a huge bestseller for him, because it’s a fantastic story by a fantastic person and author.

Well, that’s just about the truest truth ever spoken. Luke Reynolds is SUCH a fantastic person and THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT is SUCH a fantastic story! Comment below and you’ll have a chance to win a signed copy of Luke’s debut middle-grade novel!

Or, if you just can’t wait for your copy (we definitely can’t!), click any of these links to purchase THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT now:

AmazonBooks A MillionBarnes and NobleIndieBound

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Jacque Alberta is a Senior Editor for Zonderkidz as well as Blink, the general market YA imprint of Zondervan—and while she loves reading and editing new books, her favorite part of the job by far is interaction with authors. Jacque joined Zondervan in 2004, and over the years has worked on a variety of kids’ products, from picture books to storybook Bibles and juvenile fiction, but YA is one of her true passions. A graduate of Calvin College (with an English major, naturally), she lives in Grand Rapids surrounded by piles of good books, as well as a very cute (and equally naughty) wire fox terrier named Tucker.

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An interview with MOTHMAN’S CURSE illustrator James K. Hindle

Another day for celebrating MOTHMAN’S CURSE by Christine Hayes!

Mothman's Curse Final Cover

Just look at this AMAZING cover!

Really, how cool is this cover? Right? The mighty illustrator behind its awesome creepiness is James K. Hindle. And he’s got sweet black and white illustrations inside the book too. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me, so without further ado, here’s James…

You’re an illustrator and a designer, right? What do you design?  And then what do you illustrate? 

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One of James’ comics.

During the day, I work as an art director at a creative studio where I do a lot of different kinds of graphic design work for colleges, businesses and non-profits. Then, when I’m not there, I work as a freelance illustrator. I’ve mostly done editorial work for newspapers and magazines, but I was excited to work on Mothman’s Curse, and I hope it leads to more book illustration in the future. I also draw self-published mini comics.

How did you get connected to Christine’s book?

I was contacted by a designer at Roaring Brook Press. I met him at a comic book convention several years ago.

When you first read the manuscript for Mothman’s Curse did you take some time to decide if you wanted to illustrate it or did you know right away?

As soon as I read the description, I knew it would be a fun project to work on. It’s exactly the kind of spooky book I loved to read when I was a kid.

What were some of your favorite books?

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By Edward Gorey, from The House With a Clock in Its Walls.

My most favorite book that I can remember reading as a kid was The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs. The gothic story combined with Edward Gorey’s creepy illustrations left a lasting impression on me.

 There are illustrations within the book? How do you decide what gets illustrated in a novel?  Why black and white?

Yes, the book is filled with spot illustrations. They were required to be black and white, probably because of printing costs, but I enjoy working in black and white, so it was great for me.

Why do you enjoy working in black and white?

I enjoy the simplicity of black and white line drawings. That’s the kind of artwork that I’ve always gravitated towards, and the kind of artwork I’ve always enjoyed making.

For the most part, the publisher let me decide what to illustrate. It was a lot of fun to read through the manuscript and pick out scenes to draw.

Because you are also a designer, did you have any creative say in the design of the book?  The chapter heading art details, for example?

The book’s design was done by Andrew Arnold at Roaring Brook Press. I think he did an awesome job.

I do too! How did you create the cover? Was it a long process?

The cover process didn’t take too long. I started by making a few sketches of different ideas. Then, after they chose a direction, there was some back and forth about the poses of the characters, to get the movement and gesture just right. I love to illustrate covers, so this was a lot of fun.

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The different stages of MOTHMAN’s cover. So cool!

What was the most challenging part of this process?  What was the most rewarding?

The most challenging part of the book was deciding what to show, and how to show it. I wanted to make pictures that would set the right mood, but not show every detail of the scene, so that the reader could still use their imagination.

The most rewarding part was seeing all of the illustrations together after they were finished.

Have you illustrated other books?  Which ones?

This is the first real “book” that I’ve illustrated, but I’m looking forward to doing more in the future.

Do you have a general process for creating illustrations?  What is it?

 I start by making some sketches in pencil, and I send those to the client. They’ll pick one, and maybe have some changes, and I’ll make a revised sketch. Once they’re happy with it, I make the final drawing in pencil and then ink it. Then, I scan the ink drawing into the computer and color the illustration in Photoshop.

Do you use a sketchbook?

Yes, I always have a sketchbook with me. I use it to sketch ideas, write things down and draw from life.

What’s up next?

I have a few projects I’m working on at the moment, but nothing specific to share.

Well, we can’t wait to see what they are!  Thank you so much for sharing some of your process, James!

 

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James draws James!

James K. Hindle is an illustrator and a designer. His illustrations have appeared in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, The New York Times and others. When he’s not drawing, he spends his days working as an art director at a graphic design studio. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

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Don’t forget to comment on this post and you will be entered to win a signed copy of Mothman’s Curse!  

Or pick up a copy for yourself or a friend at the following retailers: 

AmazonIndieboundBarnes and NobleBooks-A-Million, and Powell’s

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When Life Imitates Art… or What Tropical Storm Irene Taught Me

I have written many times about my experience of life imitating art with regards to my debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane – how I researched diligently as I wrote and rewrote the story; how I felt like I had done a thorough job of it; how I felt like I had found a deep place of empathy and understanding for Zavion, my main character who lives in New Orleans and who lives through Hurricane Katrina; and how, in one day, everything changed. Tropical Storm Irene swept through my town – and very specifically my block and my house – and I was suddenly and amazingly inside my story.

Another Kind of Hurricane coverI have also written some about what I learned through that odd, reverse process of the art experience coming before the life experience. First, my two main characters, Henry and Zavion, are strangers when the story begins. They are strangers from two very different places – geographic and internal – and yet the only traces of solace they eventually find are in one another. They become connected and they become friends. This happened to me during Irene too. Important lesson #1, a reinforcing lesson: I got that connection piece right in my book. Second – oh boy – the visceral and emotional experience of living through a flood (and the subsequent recovery from that flood) is intense, to put it mildly. And Katrina was so much more…everything…than Irene. Important lesson #2, a reminding lesson: striving for knowledge and empathy, while accepting that I might not be able to totally get it – is truly the best I can do. Maybe another way to put this is knowledge and empathy and a good dose of humbleness is my best practice when I write anything outside of my direct experience.

But is there more to it than that? And how does this all fit within the conversation about diversity we’ve all been engaged in? Does it offer anything new or useful to that dialogue?

Amy Koester, who has a blog called The Show Me Librarian, wrote a post in February of this year titled Selection is Privilege. It’s spot on, in my opinion. In it, she talks about the frustration she feels when colleagues take “diverse”* books out of their libraries, or simply don’t buy them for their libraries because they feel they either a) don’t have enough diverse patrons to read those books or b) their non-diverse patrons don’t have any interest in those books. She then said this:

 When it comes down to it…selection is a privilege. If you select materials for your readers, you are privileged to get to influence not only what children read, but what they have access to in the first place. And when I read arguments against including diverse titles, or questions about why we have to talk about this topic, it puts into sharp focus for me the fact that we have to recognize our privilege as selectors, and, more than likely, as white selectors for diverse readers.

I feel like this extends to us writers too. Or I’ll only speak for myself – to me as a writer. If I am to have the great fortune of having any sort of influence over kids, then I must recognize my privilege. In an interview over at CBC Diversity, agent and author Tanya McKinnon cited some neurological research:

“The thing that reduces hate and increases acceptance of diversity is knowledge and rational thought. The more we use our pre-frontal cortex, the seat of rational thought, the more likely we are to reduce hate. That’s why reading about difference, especially at a young age, is so very important. And it’s why racially inclusive children’s books are so crucial for a rational and tolerant society.”

And there it is. If there was ever a reason to use my privilege – as a white, middle class woman, but also simply as a writer fortunate enough to get a book published, really – well, there it is.

To offer a door or a mirror for the child reading my book.

So how do we writers do this with integrity?

By finding the places where we are the same as our characters, and finding the places where we are not. By connecting to our characters where that sameness resides (and connecting our characters to each other in a similar way), and by trusting ourselves to hold an empty space inside that we work to fill by listening and researching and being curious (and allowing our characters to have similar empty spaces inside for the same kind of journey.)

We need to know the borders we are choosing to cross as we make those journeys. The process of that knowledge is fluid and constant. The more we are curious, the more open we are, the more we venture into places that are not our own, the more we integrate all of that into ourselves. We need to integrate, but at the same time keep things distinct. It is a dance of sorts. Am I more suited to tell a story about flood victims because I have experienced a flood? Yes. Am I still a middle class woman who could borrow money from my family when I lost so much in that flood? Yes. Did many of the flood victims in New Orleans not have that privilege? Yes. There is part of that dance right here.**

If I am taking those journeys, then I know it is possible to take them, you know? And thus I am creating the opportunity for kids (my readers) to take their own, perhaps similar, journeys.That means everything to me.

One of my favorite photos from Irene, taken by Jared Katz. Talk about a journey...

One of my favorite photos from Irene, taken by Jared Katz. Talk about a journey…

Back to Another Kind of Hurricane, and Zavion and Henry, and my experience with Tropical Storm Irene: it was all an accidental gift; a humble journey of finding connection despite (and alongside of) differences. Is there a way to consciously leave space inside of ourselves for those kinds of gifts? Is there a way of holding tight, as we write, to the threads that connect us all? Because those are gifts too.

I don’t know if this adds anything new to the diversity conversation. But I do know it’s something I want to continue to explore. What do you think about it all?

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*I am only going to use quotes around diverse once. But I want to use them a lot! It is such a loaded word. Take it to mean many things – racial, social, gender-based, ability-based differences; also differences in experiences and environments and many other things as well.

**This is a riff off of a great essay that Mitali Perkins wrote over at CBC Diversity.

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ImageTamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane will be published by Schwartz and Wade on July 14, 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com andwww.smithwright.blogspot.com.

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Megan Morrison’s GROUNDED book launch and the People Who Have Changed Our Lives!

We are continuing our celebration of Megan Morrison’s incredible GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL with a nod to the people who have come into our lives and changed us – forever. You know who we are talking about. That person who came out of left field, and now you can’t imagine your life without him. Or the person who guided you out of a dark space, and is an essential part of why you live in light. Or the person who stood up to you – how dare you! – and challenged some engrained belief of yours and you were finally set free. Or or or…

That person.

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Here’s what Megan says about Rapunzel’s that person:

Rapunzel lives quite happily in her tower – she loves it, in fact, and has no interest in the ground, where, she believes, everyone is horrible. When Jack climbs into her tower on a quest of his own, he frightens her, insults her, and shakes her belief system. Soon afterward, to protect her Witch, Rapunzel chases Jack out of the tower to get back what he has stolen. Thus begins her journey across Tyme and her first real friendship – both of which challenge her narrow upbringing… and change her forever.

Sounds amazing.

So we decided to conjure our that people (those people?!) – the people who have irrevocably changed us. (You’ll notice we are split about halfway between spouses and writing mentors!)

Adam Shaughnessy:

Given that I am getting married in May, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my soon-to-be wife Jane as a person who has come into my life and changed it forever! I spent a lot of time hoping to meet that one person who would be the perfect partner in life. I didn’t really expect that she would sit down next to me at a conference for children’s writers one day—but I’m glad she did!

Christine Hayes:

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How cute are they in their matching denim?!

It’s probably cliché to say that my husband is the person who changed my life forever, but it’s true! It’s more than the fact that we have three children and are celebrating our 20th anniversary this summer. So much more. Bryce and I are opposites in many ways (beyond the whole short/tall thing). He’s confident, adventurous, and has crazy good people skills. Me…not so much. But after 20 years together, I like to think that I’ve made positive strides in all of those areas, largely because of his example. We’ve had amazing adventures together, including living in Asia for four years—something I never would have been brave enough to do if he wasn’t by my side. We balance each other, make each other stronger. I can’t wait to see where the next 20 years will take us!

Carole Gerber:

John D. Engle, my high school English and creative writing teacher, changed my life forever. He taught me to write, submitted my work, and helped me get my poems published. He encouraged me to go to college and, because he was a fabulous teacher, my first – brief! – career was as a high school English teacher. Lacking his extroverted disposition, I lasted one year, then earned an M.A. in journalism and began my career as a writer.

John and I remained lifelong friends and I visited him two or three times a year (he lived a couple of hours away). I became part of an informal writing group of his friends and former students. He was a respected and widely published poet (1,000+ poems in magazines and anthologies).

When I visited him a week before his impending death, he handed me Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline” and asked me to read to him, as he was too weak to talk. He did not live to see the publication of my book, Winter Trees, but I sent him the galleys so he could read my dedication:  “To John D. Engle, Jr. – tree lover, poet, teacher, friend.” John departed this world on June 6, 2006 at age 83.

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Here is Mrs. Ferguson. Wow.

Penny Parker Klostermann:

Oh my! It’s hard to pick one person who came into my life and changed it. Many have. My husband. My son. Friends. But I’m going to approach this from my writing world and go with my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Ferguson. I wrote a twenty-six line, rhyming poem when I was in her class. She bragged and bragged about the perfectly metered story it told. She even showed it around to the other teachers. Her words gave me a boost that has stayed with me on my journey as a writer.

Luke Reynolds:

My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Robert Looney, deeply changed my life. I will never forget the day he stood up on his teacher’s desk chair and help up the Spelling Textbook. We all groaned. We had gotten used to the drilling from that textbook version for the previous aces. Different cover now, but same program. But then Mr. Looney broke into this wide grin, and proceeded to dump the thing in the trash. We all looked at one another like, IS THAT EVEN LEGAL!? In lieu of the Spelling program, Mr. Looney introduced us to his self-designed program called FLAIR. We wrote, and wrote, and wrote. We learned spelling and grammar in context, and we crafted crazy stories that year—each time to Mr. Looney’s delight. Whenever I think of writing or stories, I think of Mr. Looney’s big grin, a trash can, and a decision that forever changed my life. Thank you, Mr. Looney.

Maria Gianferrari:

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Anya, Niko & Becca in the Grand Canyon

It may be cliché, but it’s true—my husband, Niko, wandered into my life, and it has now changed in so many wonderful ways—geographically, culturally, psychologically, spiritually. Niko’s a scientist who’s originally from Berlin, Germany. Because of his job, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to visit and live in many different places. During his first sabbatical, we lived in Berlin for one year, which was so culturally enriching, and wonderful for our daughter, Anya, who was only 2 ½ at the time. For his second sabbatical, we lived in sunny San Diego, and drove cross-country from our then home in Massachusetts, and back, with daughter and dog, Becca, in tow. It was such an eye-opening experience for our family to see so many different places in the U.S., especially the many national parks that we visited (since I’m a nature girl at heart).

But he’s changed my life in more personal ways too. Through his steady love and support, he’s helped me to peek, even sometimes wholly emerge from my introverted shell, to learn to better argue and disagree without necessarily fighting, and to be more Zen and less reactive—things that have just made me a better person and partner. And it goes without saying that Anya has also enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined before she was born. I feel so lucky, and grateful to have them both in my life!

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman:

I can’t think of a more apt choice for someone who came into my life and changed it than my son. I have wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl playing with my Cabbage Patch Kids. It was something I took for granted would just happen one day. Becoming parents proved to be a difficult road for me and my husband, and it wasn’t until the third trimester of my pregnancy with my son that I let myself relax and finally get excited about becoming a mom. We celebrated my son’s third birthday this past weekend, and I never thought I would be so happy and thankful to spend my days doing the voices of Sesame Street characters and brushing up on my Thomas the Train knowledge.

Do you think he likes books?

Do you think he likes books?

Tamara Smith:

I’m kind of balking at the idea of picking just one person who has changed my life. There are so many! But I’m sure every single one of us thought that – and everyone else dutifully chose one person – so I will do the same. When I was an undergraduate in college I thought I wanted to be an actor. I spent two years taking acting classes and trying out for plays. Then I went to a college in Alabama for a year—don’t ask, I followed my boyfriend!—and while I was there, I was in a play by Maria Irene Fornes. The minute I opened the script to read at my audition I was flooded with this sense of…familiarity, maybe? This sense of amazement. Fornes’ voice spoke so strongly to me, and made me want to use mine. I truly think it was in that moment that I decided I just might be able to write the way I wanted to write, and to say what I wanted to say.

Laurie Thompson:

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So beautiful!

I have to say my husband is the person who entered my life and changed it completely (for the better!). We met at a time in my life when everything was changing for me and I was sort of just drifting. I didn’t know what I wanted from life or even who I really was. I had a pretty poor self-esteem and low self-confidence. I felt like I didn’t really fit in anywhere and never would. From our first conversation, I admired his self-awareness and integrity. I liked that he was such a hard worker yet had an easy-going attitude and never took himself too seriously. He didn’t worry about making mistakes, and viewed life as an adventure. He taught me not to worry so much about what others thoughts of me and always made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted to. Our early conversations really opened my eyes to possibilities that I’d never imagined for myself and gave me the courage and confidence to go after them. I am sure I never would’ve become a writer without him in my life and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done (besides marrying him, of course!). 🙂

Who is YOUR that person? Who is the person who changed your life?

Want to win your very own signed copy of GROUNDED, plus a cool bookmark? (It might just be the book that changes your life!) Please leave a comment here, or after of any of this week’s posts, for a chance to win!

You can also buy a copy of GROUNDED at the following locations:

Third Place Books

The Secret Garden Bookshop

Powell’s

Indiebound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Thanks for joining us here at Emu’s Debuts!! Be sure to visit again tomorrow and Friday for new and exciting posts on Megan Morrison’s GROUNDED: The ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL!

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The Art of Essential Living (and Writing)

My debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was sold on April 3, 2014. On that same day, I got a phone call from our social worker, asking if we would be interested in changing the age range of the child we were willing to adopt. We had been in the process of adopting a child for 3 years, and were approved up to the age of 24 months. She asked if we were interested in, let’s say, changing the upward end of the range to 28 months.

Translation of that question: There is a child that the adoption committee wants to match you with. He is slightly older than the age range you requested. If you change your age range you will be matched with your son.

Answer to that question: Yes. And yes and yes and also yes.

growingPlant1My book sold on the same day I found out about our son. Two excruciatingly long processes in the soil, sun and rain, and they flowered on exactly the same day.

Explain that. (Seriously. I’m collecting reasons, magical and logical, for why these two journeys are so intertwined.)

Or I will explain it. Or I will try, at least. But bear with me? I want to finally write a little about my son, who just came to live with us in December. I’ve been protective of his journey, not wanting to expose him too much in too public a way, but there is a part of it that I want to explore now. Here. With you all. And I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with writing. Maybe. We’ll see.

Image 15

In Honduras.

My son was born in Honduras and lived his three years there before we adopted him. He lived in the same town, with the same family. His life with his foster mother was secure and full of love. This is evident. He is fully himself wherever, thus far, he has been – in his home town; in Tegucigalpa, the capitol city of Honduras; on Roatan Island; on my parents’ farm in very rural Vermont; and now, in my town in Vermont, in our little village, in our house. In all of these places, in all of these landscapes, he is…who he is. Do you know what I mean? He’s got a solid sense of self. And he is very comfortable residing there. No need to defend himself, no need to hide himself.

I believe he is like this for two reasons: First, he came into the world this way. He must have. And second, his foster mother nurtured this in him – through her love and gift of security – during those critical early developmental years in his life. (The respect and awe I feel for her, this woman who took in my son with open arms, raised him, and then let him go with those same open arms…that is for another post another day.)

Because he has this innate sense of centeredness, he is very curious about and very comfortable finding the ways that he fits into the landscape of our family. And here is where maybe he and writing overlap? Or are woven together?

My son’s first three years were full of the routines and rhythms of household chores. I’m learning this about him. He loves to do the laundry with me, for example, and learned the order of button pushing to start the washing machine by the second time we did it together. He loves to cook too. He sits on the counter, his short legs kicking the wooden drawer underneath him, and he dumps the flour, cracks the eggs, and pours the milk. Stir is one of his first English words. He watched my other 3 kids come home from school for about 3 days before he began taking their lunch boxes out of their backpacks and bringing them to me – because he realized that was what they did, day after day, right after they piled through the door and spilled into the house.

This kid watches routines. He feels rhythms. And then he acts. He finds the places where he can fit himself into the beat, into the music, into the pauses and patterns – and then he inserts himself. The earnestness with which he pursues this breaks my heart wide open. He is so transparent. He is so clearly identifying and claiming his place in the family, and in this new life. But – or maybe and – at the same time, he is so clearly tapping into something that is familiar to him at his core.

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Trampolining in winter in negative digit temps. Welcome to Vermont, kid.

Rhythms and routines. This is how you write a book too, isn’t it? On a meta-level: make a routine for your writing. On a micro-level: find and follow the rhythms of your characters’ voices and of the story. But it’s deeper than that. And I don’t know if I can describe what I am feeling adequately here. (Maybe someone can give me insight after reading this?) There is an essential quality to my son’s life right now…as in, he is practically all essence. There is an authenticity that buzzes through and around him that’s palpable. Maybe this is because he is, in a way, being re-born right now. And that newborn time is all about essence and core and what-you-see-is-what-you-got, right? Most kids keep this for a while, some for a long while, so I am, by no means, suggesting that my son is unique in this…but I do think that, among the myriad of other reasons I am so lucky to be mothering this kid, I am privileged to be a part of this kind of essentialness in such an intimate way.

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Yup, he’s drinking it all in…

This – this essentialness – is what we strive for in our writing, isn’t it? The transparency and truthfulness of the human spirit that breaks open the hearts (and minds) of our readers? That inspires them – in even the smallest ways – to live fully inside of themselves?

I don’t know. I think so anyway. What I do know is that my son humbles me every single day.

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Cover Reveal: ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE

Yup, it’s time for another cover reveal.

These are truly some of my most favorite posts. There is just so much adrenaline attached to seeing a cover for the first time. And so many questions: What does it look like? That’s the obvious one, of course. But also: How does it make me feel? Is it what I expected when I imagined the characters and landscape and energy of the story? and Who is the illustrator?

So the story of the moment I saw my cover is short but sweet.

My editor emailed me an image of Another Kind of Hurricane‘s cover as I was driving with my husband and daughter this summer. I saw the email on my phone, read it, saw the icon to open the jpeg of the cover, and almost clicked it right then and there. I mean, how could I not? But my husband urged me not to. He thought I should wait so that the first time I saw it was on a big screen. Okay, so he was right. I waited the excruciating, like, 15 minutes it took us to get to my folks’ house, turned on my computer, finally clicked the icon and…

 

 

Another Kind of Hurricane cover

 

 

Remember those questions?

What does it look like? This! It looks like this!

How does it make me feel? All heart-racy because of the wild rain and water and that house washing away, but also intrigued by those two boys staring at each other.  (And, oh oh oh, as the writer of this story, I also felt so excited and awed and amazed by it all.)

Is it what I expected when I imagined the characters and landscape and energy of the story? Yes! The color and movement in this cover feels just right. And those boys framing the whole thing – they anchor it all.

Finally…Who is the illustrator? Chris Silas Neal, illustrator of Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow and Mary Lyn Ray’s Go to Sleep Little Farmand simply an incredible artist.  I feel like Chris captured the essence of Hurricane. 

Wow.

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Tamara Ellis SImagemith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com andwww.smithwright.blogspot.com.

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Music to Be A Changemaker By

Mozart to Eminem, Krudas Cubensi to Mazz Swift, or John Coltrane to Beyonce. Music feeds the soul and no doubt invigorates my passion to rock the word.

changemaker_jacket_r3.inddChildren’s author e.E. Trujillo shared this on Monday – that one source of inspiration for her is music. This is true for so many people; there’s so arguing that a great beat can feed your body with energy or that clear, powerful lyrics can make your brain buzz with ideas. And then there’s that hard-to-articulate quality that music can bring – almost like a magnifying glass or a drop of concentrated flavor – it makes what’s already there just so much…more. What a great source of inspiration for making change!

On this final day of welcoming Laurie Ann Thompson‘s debut BE A CHANGEMAKER into the world, we wanted to explore this idea. BE A CHANGEMAKER is a guide for young people who want to make positive change within their communities and beyond. This is good, hard work. Music helps harness the determination needed to do such work, it fills the room with creativity, and, as Trujillo said so well, it invigorates the passion you need to rock the word – or world.

And so, here are some of the songs that invigorate the EMU mob. Read about why we chose these particular songs and then click on our Spotify playlist to hear them for yourself!

 

allwillbewell

Megan Morrison

Being a changemaker means having the courage and motivation to get things done.  My Get-It-Done music falls into three categories:

  1. Philosophical. Sometimes, the ability to make change comes from a place of deep faith and serenity, a place of openness and optimism.  All Will Be Well by the Gabe Dixon Band is a song I listen to when I want to tap into my better self and achieve that sense of serenity.
  2. Revolutionary.  Sometimes, change comes from outrage in the face of injustice, and the desire to rebel against that injustice. I love a lot of songs with that message, but Muse’s Uprising is the boss.
  3. Triumphant. Making real change in the world is a slow, frustrating process, so it’s important to celebrate and appreciate every small success along the way.  I can’t think of a better song for that purpose than Queen’s cathartic power ballad We Are the Champions. 

 

Hallelujah for Mr. JimLindsey Lane

So I am not a religious person but I am a spiritual person and music, for me, is a spiritual experience. In fact I would say that the soundtrack that has played throughout my life has deepened me, inspired me, and generally made me a happier person.

Here are some of my faves:

  1.  Van Morrison – On the Bright Side of the Road – This song always makes me happy and makes me believe in a brand new day.
  2. Joan Osborne – One of Us – Her question: “what if God was one of us…just a stranger on the bus…trying to make his way home?” Well, that’s just sheer brilliance.
  3. Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah – Enough said.
  4. Rodney Crowell – Earthbound – The beauty of being alive and the irony of being earthbound.
  5. Bob Dylan – Just Like A Woman – It’s cruel to pick only one Dylan song but it would be even crueler to leave him out.
  6. Grateful Dead – Sugar Magnolia – This was my seminal song.
  7. Olu Dara – Okra – African rhythms, simple lyrics, deceptive in their depth; it will get you dancing in the kitchen.

 

Christine Hayes

 I listen to music pretty much all the time! Movie soundtracks are my favorite. They’re just so spectacular, and they make anything seem possible. I love anything by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. I love Lindsey Stirling and Jake Shimabukuro. Two albums in particular that I love are Audiomachine’s Chronicles and Kerry Muzzey’s Trailer Music 2. I could go on and on!

 

images Mylisa Larsen

 Samuel Barber’s Adagio (the Kronos Quartet version from the album Winter Was Hard because it’s a nice, minimalist version.) It’s great clear my head music for when it gets too busy up there. And the King’s Singers version of New Day because, not to get too soppy, but it always makes me think of my kids.

 

 

Dana Walrath

 The music of Salif Keita always soothes and inspires.  Keita has spent his life leading change. Outcast on account of his albinism, he also broke the rules by becoming a musician. This was something he wasn’t supposed to do on account of his birth into a noble family, a descendant of the emperor of Mali. I saw him live once and he opened on a huge stage just his soulful voice and guitar carrying the entire audience as he sang Folon.  I love how his lyrics go back and forth between many different languages and show how we are connected.

 

Penny Parker Klostermann

I don’t listen to music while I work. I like total silence. But when I’m blocked or stuck, I listen to mood lifting music that makes me happy or evokes a creative mood. It helps me get past the frustration.

  1. I’m Yours/Over the Rainbow by Straight No Chaser (Reminds me of my inspiring EMLA family)
  2. Happy by Pharrell Williams (snappy and happy)
  3. Let It Go by​ Idina Menzel (inspires me​ to let my​ creativity go)
  4. Amazing Grace by​ Chris Tomlin (I love hymns. I have sung them all my life and I think singing them  ​helps me recognize rhythm in language.​)​

imagesAmy Finnegan

My song is I Will Survive!

Best disco song ever, and very appropriate for a writer trying to break into publishing. Also appropriate for teens trying to get through their school years – bad breakups, difficult friends, too many bullies, impossible classes – as well as finding their place in the world and making a difference! We will all survive!

 

Donna Bowman Bratton

 When I’m not working in total silence, I generally listen to a six-hour playlist of quiet instrumentals while I write.  I’ve found a lot of soundtracks do the trick for me: Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Dances with Wolves, Shakespeare in Love, and some albums of reading/studying music that contain that even tone I need.

As for inspiration music, here’s what comes to mind – maybe in this particular order:

  1.  The Climb, by Miley Cyrus (before she went off the deep end)
  2. What Doesn’t Kill You by Kelly Clarkson
  3. These Are the Days by Keith Urban
  4. 100 Years by Five for Fighting
  5. It’s My Life by Bon Jovi

 

Jennifer Bertman

  1.  The Middle by Jimmy Eat World.  Publishing is a long journey filled with ups and downs. Patience is your ally. The lyrics to this song have always been a good pep talk during the “downs” of publishing (and other life moments): Hey, don’t write yourself off yet/It’s only in your head/you feel left out or looked down on/Just do your best, try everything you can/And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re awake/It just takes some time/Little girl you’re in the middle of the ride/Everything, everything will be just fine/Everything, everything will be alright, alright
  2.  Right Now by Van Halen. Life is precious, time is fleeting. This song reminds me to act now for the things that matter to me. The best line in the song is “Right now it’s your tomorrow.” That reminds me to keep looking forward, and that what I do today – large or small – makes a difference in determining who the future me will be.

images

Rebecca VanSlyke

 My songs are two versions of What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. They’re just my “feel good” songs. That no matter what terrible things might be occurring, this world has some wonderful things happening in it, too, and it’s worth saving.

 

Listen to all of these songs here. Really!  On a personal note, I didn’t know half of these songs when I made this playlist and after I compiled it I played it through from beginning to end as I worked. I. Was. Inspired. (And I sang out loud and even—don’t tell my kids or you will embarrass them—danced!)

 

 

BE A CHANGEMAKER is coming on September 16! Don’t wait! Run out and buy it, and then put on your favorite tunes and get ready to make a difference! You can get your own copy from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Simon & SchusterPowell’sB&Nor Amazon.

And please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

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The Practical Side of Longing

I threw a party when I sold my book, and my husband, Derek, surprised me at it by gathering everyone and giving an impromptu speech. It was sweet and teary, and he thanked my friends for all of their constant support and encouragement. But he also asked them, with a devilish look in his eye, did they know that we had been living with an extra member of the family for the last few years? Derek, me, our three kids (five chickens, two dogs, three cats) and…my longing. As though it was a living, breathing thing!

Ummmm….yeah. He was right. Not only had I been wrestling with my longing, but the rest of the family had too. Derek laughed and said he had to admit that, as much as he respected it, he was kind of ready to show it to the door and give it a shove. (We only have a queen bed, after all, and it’s kind of small…)

Illustration from A Monster Calls

See that longing trying to get back in the house? (Illustration from Patrick Ness‘ A Monster Calls.)

Yeah, I got that. I felt the same way too. See ya later, longing. Ciao. Don’t let the door hit your big ole full-of-desire derrière on the way out.

Except, maybe not.

Because longing is a useful thing. And not just in those emotional and psychological realms that I explored in my last post – how longing lets you know what matters in your life, how it confirms your human status, and how it offers a point of connection with other people – but also in a very practical realm too. And so I thought it might be helpful to pull together 5 ways longing is a functional and sensible tool. Actually, after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that what I had come up with was more of a progression; steps that deepen both a sense of self and the work. So here is what I stumbled into, and I humbly offer it here:

1.  Let longing be. Longing is one of those emotions that is so easy to transform into some other emotion, something more manageable, like self-pity or jealousy. Seriously, it is so much easier to spiral down the rabbit hole of I’m not good at anything, I’ll never succeed ever or lob an I want what she has so bad I can taste it in HER direction. But don’t. Sit with the feeling. Let it teach you to be still and present. It is stubborn, but you can be more stubborn. Let it teach you just how much courage and resilience you have.

meditation

Cartoon by Maria Scrivan.

2. Let sitting with longing become a practice. Then take it a step further. Like yoga, or running, or meditation, or whatever else you do on a regular basis, let being aware of your longing become something you connect with regularly. Watch it, touch it, be curious about it. Get to know it. You know that super cool thing that happens with rituals? The simultaneous subconscious quality it takes on, where you don’t have to even think about it anymore AND the insane eagle-eyed focus on details it allows? Let that happen with your longing.

3. Sit with other emotions too. Once you can sit with your longing, practice sitting with your other emotions too. Let that become a ritual too. The same cool thing will happen. Plus, a side benefit? You will reduce those times when you really wish you had thought for another minute before opening your mouth. (At least I have….ummm…anger management, anyone?!)

4. Sit with characters’ emotions. So this is where you segue your focus from self to work. The most amazing thing is that this progressive practice translates onto the page. Once you can sit with your own emotions, you can sit with your characters’ emotions too. This is big. At least for me, it was. I was finally able to – not just see, but – truly feel my characters’ emotions. Part of that was due to my developing skills at being still and present, and part of that was because I was becoming an emotion expert.

image-via-toonpool.com_

An added benefit of this practice? Much less Writer’s Block! Image from toonpool.com

5. Write deeper, more authentic characters. For me anyway, as I learn to stay present with what I am feeling, when I get to know, in my bones, the nuances and underbellies and depth and details (especially the details) of my own emotions, I can find the same landscape within my characters. And I can translate all of that into the tiny gestures and words and moments that make emotion come colorfully, wildly, passionately alive on the page. I can deeply know the arc that an emotion travels, and I can match my characters’ journey along that arc to specific plot moments in my story. For me, this was the difference between a very good story and one that felt…different.

Take this, or leave it. I am sure – absolutely sure – that for many of you this is old news. Or maybe something you do intuitively. But for me, it was an epiphany. (Or a series of epiphanies, really.) I was one of those kids (and then one of those teens, and then one of those young adults) that got things the first time around, academically, socially, emotionally. Everything was a quick learn; an instant success…except for those things that weren’t. But those things got put into an if I can’t succeed at this right this minute then it must be something I’m not supposed to do category. The process of facing that, and my fears around being my authentic self, is a subject for another post. But once I did, I had to learn how to make mistakes, try again, try a 100 more agains, and…face my longing.

GoDogGo3

From Go Dog Go by PD Eastman.

And it’s not going away. Yes, I’ve sold my first book, so that particular longing has left me, and left the house. But, boy oh boy, there is more. So much more.

Sorry, Derek. Maybe we need to get a bigger bed.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Faith, Helpful or Otherwise, Writing