Category Archives: Anxiety

ACKNOWLEDGING THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In the months leading up to signing with my agent, I got in the habit of flipping to the acknowledgements page of middle-grade books to peruse who the author thanked and how fervently they thanked them.  I didn’t realize how much the tender, earnest gratitude other writers pledged towards their supportive spouses and children was making me sweat until I saw the acknowledgments page of Scott Seegert’s VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. Here, after dedicating the book to his own glorious self, Vordak refuses to commend the contribution of others to its publication, observing, “A herd of bison would have been more helpful.”

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I felt a thrill of YES and VORDAK, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME.  Then I found a quote from Franz Kafka telling his fiancée, “You once said you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I would not be able to write at all…one can never be alone enough to write…” Oh, Franz, I hear you, too, dude.

 

My husband and I worked out a plan last summer whereby he’d be the family breadwinner, and our kids would be the family bread-eaters, and I would try being the family writer. In planning, however, we failed to acknowledge that I already have a couple of full-time jobs managing our household and parenting two intense little people who want nothing more than to spend their day talking to me, negotiating with me, playing with me, squabbling near me, and lying down on various parts of me and asking me to read to them. In addition, my husband is pretty introverted and many days, I’m his only social outlet.

We’ve tried various methods of preserving a quiet, protected daily writing space and time for me.

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I’ll be frank, though: bit by bit, I’ve been disintegrating. I’ve always been unusually sensitive to disturbances in the Force around me, which my doctor is now calling generalized anxiety disorder. When I’m out of balance, I develop really odd anxieties. (One fun example: after my twins were born, I developed a fear of my home’s mailbox.)

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And I’ve found that even with a regime of medication, supplements, meditation, and therapy, if I don’t get enough alone time, I’m neither a good writer nor a good member of our family. Instead, I hide in bed and fantasize about:

  • digging a moat around and bricking up the doorway to our home office
  • finding a way to become the sound-hoarding Soundkeeper from THE PHANsoundkeeperTOM TOLLBOOTH
  • inventing reverse hearing aids that allow you to turn silence up or down as needed (better than ear plugs, we’ll call ‘em Hearing Thwarts, $19.99 per pair plus shipping and handling. Stock up for the holidays!)

It’s not easy. Nevertheless, when my editor asked for my own dedication and acknowledgements pages, I did thank my family. It’s understated, but it’s there. While there’s a mailbox-fearing creature ready to hijack my hippocampus pretty much whenever, I’m not a jerk nor an evil overlord at heart.

It’s worth noting, however, that my kids’ school summer vacation begins tomorrow. So if you hear I’ve disappeared, please do me a favor – don’t tell the authorities that I’ve likely taken my laptop to sit amidst the nearest herd of bison to get some peace and quiet.


Christina UssCHRISTINA USS has never found a frilled lizard in her mailbox, but there’s always a first time. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Tweet her if you know of a herd of bison seeking a Writer in Residence @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Families, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

After the Ecstasy, the Editing

Everything editors, agents, and authors have told me at SCBWI conferences has turned out to be true, particularly the things I didn’t believe would be true for me.

For example, I’ve been told that getting a book deal will not magically transform me into a permanently satisfied, optimistic, and resilient human.  When SCBWI folks said stuff like that, I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m sure that’s true for the other pre-published writers here, but not me. Once I get a book deal, I may still be an easily-exhausted anxiety-prone weirdo, but then I’ll be that weirdo WITH A BOOK DEAL AND THAT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.”

Nope. Sigh.

After the ecstasy of getting “the call” in 2016 from my darling agent and connecting with my talented editor to begin the publication journey for my debut middle-grade novel, I expected to wallow in utter contentment for a long time. Years of wallowing. At the very least I’d wallow through the whole process of getting my manuscript out into the world.

Then the first round of revision edits was delivered to my door, and with it arrived the Mind Games Writers Play On Ourselves (yep, MGWPOO).

I got caught up in such MGWPOO favorites as:Shel Silverstein head

  • I’m Not a Real Writer
  • Before I Can Handle Criticism, I Need to Die
  • Chasing False Measures of Success
  • Envy of All the Other Writers Who Don’t Struggle with This Crap
  • The 33 -Minute Limit of Success-Fueled Joy-Basking Before I Find a Way to Undermine Myself
  • The Permanent Longing for Success That Makes Hope Painful.

 

TheySidecar (4) come roaring along with every new delivery of manuscript revisions, like rumbling motorcycles leaving greasy tire tracks across my soul, and this thousand-pound steel sidecar is attached to every single one: Beating Myself Up for Falling into Mind Games Again.

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

First, I think, find another writer somewhere who will tell you that you are not alone in this. (You’ve found me. I’m telling you. You’re not.) Airing out the mind games, bringing them into the light of discussion with your fellow writers shows them up for what they are: common. Common as commas.  I’m beginning to think none of us can publish a manuscript with some of them in the mix.

Editing Kit Kats

Next, it seems smart not to assume the mind games will pass us by.  We must arm ourselves for the ongoing battle; perhaps with weapons of Show Kindness to Fellow Writers and Give Yourself Time and Turn the Nebulous Sense of Mortal Despair into a Concrete To-Do List. I’m still working on this concept as my battle armor currently consists of a jar of Kit Kats.

But I’ve got my MGWPOO out in the open now, here in the light of EMU’s Debuts, and that’s a start.

(Many thanks for the warm wit and wisdom of my agency-mates Anne Nesbet, Ann Bedichek, and Sophie Petersen for convening the Special Committee on Writerly Mind Games and How to Defeat Them. Check out Anne Nesbet’s Middle Grade Mayhem post on the same topic!)


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is a bike writer, bike rider, mother of twins and dweller of Massachusetts. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Help her learn to dodge the MGWPOO at http://www.christinauss.com.


 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, jealousy, process, rejection and success, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.

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FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”

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Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”

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(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”

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I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

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Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.

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Oh, and this:

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Only one more, I promise.

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Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”

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Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”

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Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,

Hayley

 

Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT

images.macmillan.com

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:

http://amzn.com/0374303126

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374303129

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-perfect-elly-swartz/1122889663?ean=9780374303129


hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

My Friend, Fear

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Fear is a fickle friend. I mean at first glance it’s hard to imagine her as your lunch buddy, but as time goes on, you understand her subtle ways. Confession – I’m not always the bravest. I’m scared of hairy/crunchy/large bugs, heights, the dark, mice crawling over my sandals at the movies. You get the picture. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as publication for my debut mg novel, Finding Perfect, inches closer, so does fear. She visits with some regularity these days. She accompanies me when I hit send to my editor and when I venture into uncharted territory, like this week at the New England Independent Bookseller Association Author Reception. This is me at the reception hanging with Gillian Kohli, owner of the amazing Wellesley Books and president of NEIBA. (Fear aside, the night was amazing.)

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Fear tugs at my chest as the years/months to publication dwindle to days. When my daily activities of marketing, tweeting, blogging, signing, visiting school, and participating in panels, all fall outside of my comfort zone and squarely into the box marked ARE-YOU-KIDDING. But it’s in these moments that I have begun to see fear less as my-roller-coaster-going-to-throw-up foe, and more as my you’ve-got-this friend. You see, fear is what has taught that to grow I need to learn and to learn I need to step beyond what’s comfortable. I need to embrace the itchy, the awkward, the feared. I need to welcome all of it. Because it’s in those moments when the real magic happens.

So as the days to publication now number 26, I say, bring it on! The fear, the challenge, the awkward itchiness.  Let’s do this thing!

***

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Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, comes out October 18th, 2016 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. FINDING PERFECT is about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her family. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on next, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Writing and Life

The Essential Glimmer of Hope

Middle grade readers are engulfed in emerging awareness of the world around them. They have a lot to learn, a lot to to try and understand. That’s plenty right there, but it’s not all that’s required of them. They have to learn about themselves too. Sometimes that process is straightforward, if painfully and memorably awkward.

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Sometimes it’s decidedly not straightforward. Peer conflicts and personal challenges loom large. Young people encounter problems that threaten to get out of hand and actually hurt them. They may not know how and when to seek help. Fear and shame stop them in their tracks.

The Scream

When this happens, they need an antidote to the poison of despair. They need hope. They have to have it.

This is where a deftly written, sensitive novel like Elly Swartz’s upcoming FINDING PERFECT (OCTOBER 2016) comes in. I just finished reading the ARC—the pre-publication Advanced Reader Copy—and emerged feeling both enlightened and heartened. This is a story that trusts readers with hard truths while encouraging them to turn away from despair and step toward hope.

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Twelve-year-old Molly, FINDING PERFECT’S main character, finds that her efforts to control life’s turmoil backfire. Habits that once brought comfort and security become traps that steal her peace. Her pain is very real, yet throughout her story, there is an essential glimmer of hope. Hope that she can and will find her peace again. That with courage and support, she’ll find her way—step by small step—out of a thorny tangle that once felt inescapable.

Hope doesn’t smooth over life’s snags and scars with a veneer of perfection. It shines light onto them, eliminating dark corners of doubt and fostering strength and growth.

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This is what a book like FINDING PERFECT can offer to the beleaguered and bewildered middle grade reader. A chance to experience a trial and emerge triumphant with a bit of hard-won hope of their very own.


Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. I’m currently expecting two picture books, BABYMOON (Candlewick Press) and WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, spring 2019, (Simon&Schuster, Beach Lane Books) illustrated by Diana Sudyka.

Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Character Development, Characters, Uncategorized

I’ve Been Bitten

What I love about the EMU nest here on EMU’s Debuts is that we are all cuddled up together celebrating each other’s accomplishments. Namely, that we’ve sold our first book! While I feel so lucky and happy and can’t stinkin’ wait for my first book to hit shelves next year, I realized I’ve been bitten by a bug.

That bug is the need for MORE! More submissions to editors, more publishing contracts, more book ideas to keep this writing train a-chugging down the tracks. That need grew so loud and incessant in my own mind that I swear I could hear an actual buzzing. I totally related to Cory in this moment:

I realized that I needed to slow my roll and just relax. Publishing takes time, publishing things people actually want to read takes even longer, and me freaking out about the whole thing was not only NOT going to make things move faster, but it was only going to end up making people think I was crazy and look at me like this:

So I started finding ways to utilize that buzzing energy for the forces of good, rather than self-inflicted crazy-making evil. To satiate that need for more submissions, I found me a nice office space where I can write to my little heart’s content. My daily word count has doubled since getting that space at the beginning of July, and I’m feeling ON FIRE!

To ease those feelings of not having enough published, I’ve altered what exactly counts as publishing in my mind, and now I publish videos to YouTube in addition to writing manuscripts. I geek out about fandoms, I do a terrible Tom Brokaw impersonation while I film my puppy “reviewing” picture books,  and I sing terribly. I’m able to get out all that goofiness that constantly runs around my brain, and hopefully it will catch people’s interest and have them eagerly anticipating my books when they do come out (feel free to subscribe;)!).

These two things alone, my office and new creative outlet of YouTube, have made that buzzing go away. I’m feeling so much happier, so much more productive, and so ready to rock!

And of course, for those times when I’m feeling a little more energy than normal and that buzzing starts to creep back in, I can go out and play Pokémon Go!

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IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases in Summer 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. Things Jason thought were first causing that buzzing he heard include the garbage disposal, a hive of invisible bees, and an audiobook narrated by Gilbert Gottfried. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Creativity

Love Batteries

I think we can all agree that as writers, we stress out a lot. The pressure to find an agent, the pressure to write a stellar manuscript, the pressure to have an editor buy that manuscript then turn it into a book that becomes an instant bestseller can make even the most stable and sane author crack.

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We all come up with our own ways to delay or lessen that writer stress. This past week, I discovered my new go-to stress relief: Love Batteries. What are Love Batteries, you ask? They are those little bursts of good juju you get from doing non-writer things with those you love. And the charge in those little Love Batteries goes from a tiny AAA to a Transformer-sized car battery when you can do those fun non-writer things with other writers who are in the same boat as you and need just as much of a boost.

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I discovered this fact firsthand at the annual EMLA retreat. This wasn’t my first go-around at the retreat. The craziness and loveliness and silliness was something I’d experienced last year, but for some reason I didn’t catch onto Love Batteries during that getaway. I think it was because it was my first time among the snuggle bunnies of EMLA, and although everyone I met was ready and willing to give me a hug, I was too nervous as the new guy to realize the recharging benefits of my fellow writers’ love. But not this time. This time around I felt like I was back among family, and from that first moment pulling into the lodge carport with a half-dozen EMLAs waiting to hug and laugh and squeal with me, I felt those batteries recharge. At first I thought part of the week might include me pulling out my WIP, but ultimately I realized that nope, this wasn’t the time for that. That first spark of energy in the carport made me realize my Love Batteries were empty, and trying to write would only drain them further. So I played. I played like I haven’t played in a while. I swam in the ocean every single night, I sang parody songs with my writer pals, I got as close to making my dream of becoming a merman come true by dressing up like a merwhal, and I did it all surrounded by writers I love and who made me feel like I was loved back. I’m sure there were quite a few times when my EMLA sisters and brothers and I looked like this:

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And at the end of it all, my Love Batteries were fully charged, and now I’m ready to rock. I’m ready to write stories that make kids laugh, I’m ready to create books that hopefully turn kids into lifelong readers, I’m ready to spread the love. If ever there has been a week when more love is needed in the world, this is it. Remember to recharge your Love Batteries often, learn to recognize the signs when those batteries are being depleted, and above all, have some extra love to spare when you see somebody who needs it.

I’m sending you some right now. Here’s to love.

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IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases in Summer 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. Things Jason loves include mapping how many degrees of separation he has from Anjelica Huston, pondering what Pikachu would look like in real life, and you. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Colleagues, Creativity, Happiness, Inspiration, joy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Hold the Vision

Look what I got in the mail the other day! My signed contract for THE NIAN MONSTER! I was so excited that I hugged it. But not too hard, because that might crinkle the pages. If you look closely, you’ll see that the contract was issued last August – 7 months ago. And that was nearly 7 months after receiving the offer to buy my story.

My first book contract!

My first book contract!

I found out that this is not at all unusual in the publishing industry. It’s still hard to get used to, though. When I worked as an environmental consultant, we never did any work unless we had a signed contract from the client. Sometimes, we even asked for a retainer — payment in advance! But over the past year, I have done a lot of work on the book — all without a signed contract. It didn’t make me feel better to read this line at the bottom of the offer letter: “Please note that this offer is subject to contract and in no way does this offer represent a binding agreement.”

 

And that got me thinking about trust. From the very beginning, when it was just me and the blank page, there had to be trust. I love what Neil Gaiman says about this part of the process: 2016-03-24 07.04.53

After the story was written (and re-written many, many times) and an offer had finally been accepted, there was still no guarantee that there would be a book at the end of the tunnel. I had to trust that my editor and art director shared my vision of the book. I had to trust that my illustrator would bring my words to life and add a layer of emotion and richness that I couldn’t. I had to trust that people were working on my book when I wasn’t there to watch. It was hard. I’d never met any of these people in real life; I hadn’t even spoken to them on the phone. Communication was done over email. I’m sure I could have called, but I didn’t want to hover — I was afraid that if I made any demands, the offer would just vanish into the ether. So I just took a deep breath and chose to believe in them.

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I realized that although it felt like I had lost control, I really hadn’t. My editor had to learn to trust me, too. And I could do something about that. I listened to her feedback on my manuscript. I revised to the best of my ability. When she asked for information on the landmarks and the monster himself, I researched for days and produced what felt like reams of photos and data. And strangely, the more work I did, the more comfortable I felt with the situation, despite the lack of a “binding agreement.” The fact that my editor and the art director were asking for more information proved that they were working on my book. Just like when I was writing the story, I had to trust the process — but this time, it was the process of publication. My editor, art director, illustrator and I ultimately had the same vision: a beautiful book butterfly emerging from its publishing house cocoon.

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I know that the path to publication isn’t always smooth; I’ve had it easy in comparison to some. But even when the road is bumpy or full of detours, trust is involved. Trust in yourself and your story. You will both be fine.

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Andrea WangAndrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in December 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before embarking on the writer’s journey, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang. What’s the “Y” stand for? Take a guess!

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Faith, Uncategorized, waiting

Going with the Flow

I’m going to steal borrow Hayley’s wonderful idea and start my introduction with an embarrassing confession too. Mine is: I love flowcharts. I love knowing where I am and what I have to do to get to where I want to go. Those little arrows pointing the way to the next step always give me a little thrill. You’re probably wondering, “Control freak much?” To which I reply, “Does it show?”

 

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When I received an email in December 2014 from an editor at Albert Whitman that thanked me for submitting my picture book manuscript, THE NIAN MONSTER, and asked if it was still available, I was stunned. I had submitted to the general address eighteen months prior and assumed that I’d been rejected (in the vein of “no response means it’s a no.”) I didn’t have a diagram for what to do in this situation. What was the next step? I was fairly certain that I should reply, but what should I say, short of begging her to buy my book? In my mind, I had taken the path from “Write a Book” to “Get Professional Critiques” to “Revise Manuscript” (a loop I repeated for a long time), with occasional forays to “Submit to Editors.” At the decision diamond that asked, “Submit to Agents?” I had followed the “No” arrow. At the time, I’d believed that a rejection from an agent was final and I didn’t want to “use up” my chances until I’d also completed my MG novel. Now here I was, agentless and stuck at the rectangle that said, “Get Plucked out of Slush Pile after 18 Months.”

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Once I stopped hyperventilating, I sought advice on what my next step should be. I contacted friends, critique partners, my MFA mentors, anyone who had more of a clue than I did. They were evenly divided on whether I should try to sign with an agent or not. An agent wasn’t necessary for a first picture book, several said. Others thought having editor interest was an excellent opportunity to land an agent. I had ended up back at the “Submit to Agents?” decision and both “Yes” and “No” options carried equal weight.

At the same time, I replied to Kristin Zelazko, the editor who had emailed me. “Yes, it’s available,” I wrote. “Thanks for your interest.” I groaned as soon as I hit send. After two days of religiously following the “Should I Check My Email?” flowchart, I wrote a longer, babbling email to Kristin. It was as equally cringe-worthy as the first, terse email. I was clearly out of my depth. Having an agent now felt essential. I followed the “Yes” arrow and sent out queries to half a dozen agents, including Erin Murphy, to whom a dear friend had referred me. In the month that followed, Erin offered me representation and negotiated the offer from Kristin. I was so overwhelmed with excitement, gratitude, and disbelief that I stayed on the “Gesticulate Wildly” step for a long time.

howdoiexcited

In THE NIAN MONSTER, a clever girl named Xingling tries to outwit the ravenous Nian monster with her culinary savvy. She doesn’t have a flowchart to follow and yet she perseveres. I didn’t follow the traditional path to publication – I got “the call” when I was least expecting it and before I had an agent. And yet, everything worked out, better than I could have hoped. Although I know that this is not the end of my chart – that there is a long arrow winding its way from the “Book Launch!” step all the way back up to “Write a (New) Book” – and I’ll probably still send lots of cringe-worthy emails, next time I’ll put aside the flowcharts more often and just go with the flow.


 

Andrea WangAndrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published on December 1, 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before becoming a writer, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang. What’s the “Y” stand for? Take a guess!

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Dreams Come True, Introduction, Panic, Picture books, Thankfulness, The Call

In the Nick of Time

Years ago, I used to pride myself on working ahead of time. I used to see some kind of deadline off in the distance and plan out how I would try to get it done a little early–a paper, maybe, or grading some essays, or a reading assignment for a class.

Okay, it was a short phase.

Maybe a year at most.

But I loved it. I loved the feeling of walking to my teaching post, or driving in to a night class, feeling somewhat rested and thinking, yup, that was done a little early. Finished. Finalitisimo. Nada more to do!

And this small bit of excitement gave me a real hunger for more of it (as well as for flour-based bakery items such as: blueberry muffins, banana bread, banana muffins, and blueberry bread).

Even though the phase was short lived, that feeling was pretty amazing.

Fast forward many years, and the reality is very much the opposite. (However, the flour-based bakery items still come along for the ride.) Now, I find myself rushing to complete any task: grading the essays, working on that revision, starting the first draft, getting to the copy edits, putting the kids to bed, putting myself to bed, putting an idea to bed, laying off the flour-based bakery items, and doing the paper for the night class.

All of it happens, pretty much, in the last minute.

Or the last second of the last minute.

For a while, I mourned the loss of the getting-things-done-early kind of life (eating copious amounts of flour-based bakery items was crucially helpful in this stage.)

Then, for another while, I worked vigilantly to get that done-early mentality back (in which case flour-based bakery items were fuel for the drive, pricing energy and courage and chutzpah!).

Finally, I came to a deep acceptance, sat for long periods of time realizing that such a life was not to be had (at least for long time) and proceeded to eat copious amounts of flour-based bakery items to console my heart and stomach regarding this fact.

(Didn’t someone incredibly wise–like Mozart or Oprah or Einstein–remind us of this fact with the immortal words: IF YOU CONVINCE YOUR HEART AND STOMACH OF SOMETHING, THE MIND IS SURE TO FOLLOW THEREAFTER; IF IT DOES NOT, YOU ARE EATING THE WRONG KINDS OF FLOUR-BASED BAKEY ITEMS. BUT THAT IS OKAY BECAUSE ALL OF LIFE IS ABOUT SECOND CHANCES. RETURN TO THOSE FLOUR-BASED BAKERY ITEMS IN THEIR SPLENDOROUS GLASS-SHIELDED DISPLAY CASES AND CHOOSE YE AGAIN!)

So, I am happy (resigned?) to now report that I am coming to a place of peace (giving up?) on getting things done ahead of time and then proceeding with calm confidence towards the due date.

I am coming to an acceptance that, in certain stages of life (maybe thirty or forty years?), getting things done in the nick of time is okay. It is fine. It is fun! The adventure of rushing! The joy of jovial justice that such things still actually DO get done is cool enough! Right on! Right…on? Right?

Or maybe something bigger is at play. Maybe the reality is that all of the goals we make, and all of the hopes and dreams that we seek to accomplish as writers, cannot be completed in a single burst. So we work diligently, we consume our flour-based bakery items, and we pray that we’ll make it on time.

And when we do–instead of feeling guilty for the nick in which we finished, maybe we should eat another banana blueberry muffin bread item and whisper a pray of thanks that we even had the chance to pursue it in the first place. Or, to use much better, more refined words that do not mention anything at all about flour-based bakery items, hear it from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Yes, that sounds much better and saves an awful lot of space.

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Writing, Writing and Life