Category Archives: Faith

Singing Your Book’s Song

Happy New Year! I’m relieved to report that it’s now 2018. Do you know what that means? Well, for me it means when someone asks when my picture book Babymoon will be published, I can reply, “Next year.” Those two words have been a long time coming. Who would ever believe that 180 words could take years and years of thought and effort?

I know who would believe it. Another writer. Probably you.

Babymoon is my heart-of-hearts book. Its message—that new families deserve quiet time to bond and fall in love—is deeply important to me. It’s been my job to steadfastly believe in this message, to sing the song of it to myself and to others, as I worked to give Babymoon its chance at publication.

Only you can sing your book’s unique song. You understand its melody and meaning better than anyone else ever could. It’s your job to steadfastly believe in it, and if you can, to make others believe in it too. This could take a long time. Many years. A lifetime, even.

But what could be more important? The possibility of singing something into existence reminds me of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind In The Door. Have you read it? It’s about naming and being named, letting love guide us to our truest selves, and singing our own irreplaceable song. 

Whenever we write or engage in any creative endeavor, that’s what we’re doing. We’re naming. We’re letting love guide us. We’re singing a new song born of imagination and inspiration. With time and lots of work, each has the potential to manifest into something real, like a book.

So let’s welcome 2018 with lifted voices. I’ll be listening for yours.

 

 

 

 


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book Babymoon, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 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. Girl Versus Squirrel, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

 

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Faith, Inspiration, Picture books, process, Uncategorized, waiting

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Last week, Facebook reminded me of a memory. On September 29, six whole years ago, I posted that I had just finished a first draft of a chapter book.

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Less than a year from now, on July 11, that chapter book, Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, will be published by FSG. Not only that, but a second book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, will also be released at the same time. AND, there are two more books in the series.

When I finished that first draft, I had no clue how long it would take me to revise and then sell that book. I accumulated many many rejections over the years. I share details of that journey here: The Long Bumpy Road. It’s more than a dream come true to have a series!

Since signing the contract with FSG, I’ve been working with my editor, the fabulous Grace Kendall. Let me tell you, it was well worth the wait to partner with Grace because not only does she love and understand Jasmine, Grace makes me a better writer.

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This journey has been heady, exciting, and thrilling with so many pinch-me moments. Since spring of 2015:

  • Received editorial letter and completed revisions with Grace
  • Found out that the talented Elizabet Vukovic is the series illustrator
  • Viewed rough sketches of Jasmine and her family
  • Completed copyedits of Mochi Queen
  • Viewed spot illustrations of Mochi Queen
  • Received draft of the cover art of Mochi Queen (kudos to designer Kristie Radwilowicz who did an amazing job)

I’m still in awe. I sometimes can’t believe that any of these things are happening. In fact, I’ve welled up with tears of joy at each and every step. I can’t wait to share illustrations and the cover art. I love Elizabet’s drawings of Jasmine and her family. As a not-very-visual writer, I had a vague idea of what Jasmine looked like. It wasn’t until I saw Elizabet’s illustrations that I knew what Jasmine looked like. Does that make sense? Now I can see Jasmine and her family and friends in my head.

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As soon as I’m able, I will share illustrations/cover art here!

I’m currently waiting to see the spot illustrations and cover art for book 2. I’m giddy! And soon I’ll be revising books 3 and 4 with Grace’s fabulous and wise feedback. I am seriously loving each and every step of this journey. I might sound a bit “Pollyanna” about this process, but believe me, prior to making this sale, I had plenty of doubts, plenty of bad days, plenty of down days. I’m truly grateful to be where I am now. I am looking forward to the next steps on this path!


web_edit6xx8t3624Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her rabbit, Aki, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux on July 11, 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books.

Before she started writing as her career, Debbi worked at a pet store, volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator, interned as a zookeeper’s aide, taught fifth grade, and was the Associate Curator of Education for a zoo.

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Editing and Revising, Faith, joy, Thankfulness

Purposeful Patience

We each see the world through our own very particular lens and use our inclinations and experiences to help us make sense of life. Most people, I find, have distilled these influences into a sort of personal metaphor, something that can be held up for comparison  to everything else.

I have two such metaphors. I can make anything connect in a logical, natural way to either:

Horses    

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or Childbirth

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Today’s a childbirth kind of day.

When the idea for a book is…um… conceived by a writer, all things seems wonderfully possible. The future book is soft-focused, as if seen through a dusting of talcum powder and hope. It’s a maybe-baby. chinchilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

But unless the writer has the remarkable talent and good fortune to be an author-illustrator, a picture book cannot be born until it has complementary artwork made by someone else — an illustrator who will create a visual counterpart to the text and bring the whole into glorious being.

In other words, the writer’s adorable book-baby is going to have another parent.Bird gif

I think embracing this truth is one of the first steps to becoming a serious picture book writer. The sooner you understand that both the process and the end result are a shared enterprise, the better. No matter how much time you have put into crafting your (under 500 word) story, when it’s bought by a publisher, it’s only halfway finished.

Illustrations can take — I’m just going to say it — years. That can feel like a long time to wait. Breathless gif

It’s critical to remember that the chosen illustrator has only just begun to nurture the manuscript. To them, it’s still a maybe-baby and needs a lot of time and attention to come to full fruition.

Some things are worth the wait. Like babies. And picture books. As I wait for BABYMOON, I trust the process. Everyone who has taken an interest in my manuscript has its best prospects at heart. I will be purposefully patient. I will keep working. I will wait in talcum powder hope for a happy book-birthday. It will arrive when it’s ready, and I’ll be waiting with open arms.

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Enjoy the day!

Hayley


 

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Advice, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Editor, Faith, Illustrators, Inspiration, Patience, Picture books, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized, waiting, 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

Living Life Looney ~ Let’s Welcome THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT!

First order of business: To announce the winner of Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT launch-week giveaway. Congratulations Rachel, you’re the lucky winner! To claim your fabulous reward, please e-mail Penny directly at penny.klostermann@gmail.com – and do it soon, or a dragon may swallow you. 

And now, drumroll please… We’re kicking off yet another fantastic EMU debut! Last Tuesday, Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel hit the shelves – and this week, we’re celebrating!

THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT is a remarkable book. Here’s a little about it, from Luke’s web site:
LOONEY EXPERIMENT coverAtticus 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.”

Mr. Looney knows – and so does Luke Reynolds – that being true to yourself takes a special kind of courage. To honor that courage, we EMUs have looked back on our own lives for moments when we have lived life “Looney” and taken personal risks in order to be true to ourselves.

Janet Fox confesses that her biggest Looney leap…

VCFA“was when I decided to go back to school for my MFA in writing (from Vermont College of Fine Arts). Why looney? I had a teenage son, a husband who traveled all over the world, and no income to pay for those two years. My sweet friend Kathi Appelt said, “Do it. The money will follow.” Well, it did: my dad, who I thought had only enough left to live on, gave me a legacy gift that covered the whole thing. Bless you, Dad. Bless you, Kathi. And – leap of faith!”

Carole Gerber lived life Looney when…

OhioState“I left a secure teaching job to return to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio State. At that time, the job market for journalists was flat. Fortunately, I received a graduate assistantship that paid my tuition, and I earned a small stipend writing press releases for the OSU Department of Communications. Thanks to the contacts I made and the experience I racked up, I was also able to find a job in my field immediately after graduating.”

 

Jason Gallaher tells his tale of a recent risk…

Brony2“The biggest risk I took to be true to myself actually happened just a few short weeks ago at our annual EMLA retreat. In front of all my writing sisters and brothers, I finally came out of the closet as a Brony—a grown man who watches My Little Pony—by wearing an adult-sized My Little Pony onesie (it was of Rainbow Dash, for those of you familiar with the show). I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, and now I can express my Brony ways with pride! Neeeeeeigh!!!!”

Penny Parker Klostermann reflects on making her Looney dream a reality…

There Was an Old Dragon cover“I think taking the leap into getting published was my Living Life Looney. I dreamt of it for years but made excuses for not being true to my dream. I know that had a lot to do with fear. Probably the biggest step I took was sending my work to my now critique group when they were searching for a new member. That was scary but it made me feel like I was taking a serious step. After being accepted I knew I’d made a commitment to other writers and not just to myself. There was no looking back!”

 

Laurie Thompson knows that going for what you want can feel pretty Looney…

ThisIBM“When I was in college, one of my best friends got an internship at IBM. When I heard about what she would be doing there, I was so jealous. I hadn’t planned on going on an internship that semester, but it sounded like the perfect job. I called directory assistance to get the manager’s home phone number, and called him–at home on a Sunday–to tell him how much I wanted the job and why I’d be the perfect candidate and to beg him to consider hiring me, too. He refused to look at my resume or check my references or anything. He said that anyone who wanted the job that badly and had that much chutzpah was an easy hire, even though he could only think of a few months’ worth of work for me at the time. Shortly after I arrived, however, one of his full-time employees had to go on extended medical leave for most of the project, and I was there to step in to some degree and help keep things on schedule in her absence. I ended up staying a full year, and it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It was also a valuable lesson in not being afraid to ask for what you want!”

Maria Gianferrari gets Looney when animal safety is at stake…

2787614567_3fbd79a560_b“Writing is probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken—rejection is scary, so I’m proud that I continued to persevere. But I can think of an incident, perhaps not the biggest risk, but another that I was proud of myself for when I was in 5thgrade. My mother had to drop something off for a church event at a classmate’s house, and two of my male classmate friends were in the yard preparing to move from shooting targets with a BB gun, to shooting some birds and squirrels. I was a shy, non-confrontational kid, but as an animal lover, I was not going to let them harm anything while I was around, so I kept shooing them away. They were so mad at me, and kept yelling, but I didn’t care.”

Finally, Tamara Ellis Smith’s wise words on Living Life Looney…

MFA“Probably one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken was deciding to go back to school.  I had two little kids at the time, so making the commitment to take two years to get my MFA in writing for children and young adults, was a big decision—for me and my whole family.  I had this deep intuition, though, that it was exactly what I needed to do, and I am forever grateful that I chose to listen to that.  (I am also forever and beyond grateful to Derek, my husband, for being so supportive of my choice too.) It felt like a big risk to spend all that time (and take out all those loans) on something I wanted so intensely.  The stakes were high, you know?  It also felt like a big risk, socially.  Until then, I had avoided situations that would place me with new people in new environments because my social anxiety was so great.  Deciding to go to grad school was one of the first times I recognized that my desire could be bigger than my fear.

The other thing that ended up being so cool, and magical—I had no idea how I would go away for two weeks every semester for the residencies. How would I find childcare so that Derek could continue to work? How would I afford that?  A few months before my first residency I re-connected with my best friend from my hometown. She was looking for a way, in essence, to restart her life. She wanted to come back to Vermont. She wanted to ground herself there. But she needed to figure out a way to get back.  She ended up coming to live with us, and she watched the kids during those two weeks over the two years I was in school.  It was amazing. She had a place in which to hunker down, my kids had the best “fake mom” ever, Derek got to know this dear friend of mine, and we got to reconnect.  She ended up living with us for over five years!

Identifying your deepest desires and taking those risks—you never know what magical things will come!”

Join the Looney ranks! Comment below and share a time when you were courageously Looney, and you’ll have a chance to win a signed copy of Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel: THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

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:

Amazon, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Faith, Launch

BE A CHANGEMAKER: Celebrating with Quotes!

Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann ThompsonWe are continuing the celebration for Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut Be A Changemaker, which will be published on September 16. Inspirational quotes are peppered throughout the book, and so we Emu’s decided to share quotes that have been meaningful and motivating to us. We’d love to hear your favorite quotes too!

And remember, comment on any post this week and be entered to win a signed copy of Be A Changemaker!

 

 

From Donna Bowman Bratton:

This quote by Ben Franklin has been posted above my computer for years. It obviously speaks to the writer in me, but it hints, too, at taking conscious actions for change.

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 I love this quote by Charles Lamb because it so simply speaks to the heart of any good deed, large or small.

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Of course, the ultimate quote for any changemaker comes from Mahatma Gandhi:
 
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From Jennifer Chambliss Bertman:

This quote reinforces my belief that even our smallest actions can make a difference, even though we may never witness the impact, and reminds me that I want to be someone who brightens the day for others, rather than tarnishes it.

 

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From Christine Hayes:

You can probably see why, as a writer, I find this quote inspiring. 🙂 I usually substitute “people” for “men” in my own mind, and I’ve seen that done all over the web as well, but I’m guessing the version below is the correct one. On the days when I feel especially short on talent, this quote keeps me going.

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From Amy Finnigan:

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From Penny Parker Klostermann:

Dr. Seuss is kind of my go-to guy for a laugh or for a quick reminder that I’m in charge of doing the work it takes to reach my dreams.

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From Lindsey Lane:

What I love about this quote is that Goethe was born in 1749 and I’ve experienced the ‘truth’ of his observation time and again. If I don’t begin, nothing happens.

 

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From Mylisa Larsen:

Usually when you see someone making something look effortless, it’s because they spent thousands of hours mastering whatever they’re making seem simple and inevitable. This is a quote that gets me back to my desk to put in some more hours.

 

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From Joshua McCune:

This quote adapted from Emerson’s poem “Merlin’s Song” reminds me to not just live life to the fullest, but to live it as myself, to open myself to new experiences, and to do it with joy. It’s that last part that’s hardest for me. Scowl, and the world scowls at you. Smile, and the world smiles with you. The world could use more smiles.

DTWA

 

From Megan Morrison:

This idea is at the marrow of my personal belief system. Success requires two things: a clear vision and the will to carry it out, and this is true whether you want to change your wallpaper or change the world.  The first part is tricky, because it requires that we are honest with ourselves about what we want and what we are willing to do. The second part is grueling, because it requires consistent action over a long period of time, and that action must be sustained even during times of doubt and lack of inspiration. But commitment is its own reward. Nothing is more satisfying than to look back after many months and years of climbing a personal mountain to see how far you’ve really come.
 
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From Rebecca Van Slyke:
I like this quote because I was so, SO close to that ‘give up’ point, but a friend sat me down and pointedly told me that I needed to keep going, fire my current agent, pursue a different agent, and keep writing. A few months later I had 4 books in contract.
 
 
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From Dana Walrath:
 
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You can get your own copy of BE A CHANGEMAKER from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Simon & SchusterPowell’sB&N, or 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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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Creativity, Discipline, Faith, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Patience, rejection and success

The Journey

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

by | September 4, 2014 · 6:41 am

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

Two Brains, Tulips

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

 

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

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

Tamara Ellis Smith and The Call (and a few hundred others)

I’m lucky today. It’s my turn to talk about the call.

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Yeah, this was me alright…

For me, as is true for many writers, I think, the call was a part of a much longer process. My agent sent out my middle grade novel manuscript at the end of February 2014. By the second week in March we had high interest from one editor. She made an offer a few weeks later. Then a few days after that we had another offer. So that meant that the manuscript was going to auction. Whoa. On April 3, 2014, after many emails back and forth, as well as a few phone calls with my agent, I had a book deal. My the call was from my then-brand-new-to-me editor, who phoned me literally minutes after we sealed the deal. That moment was all about my heart racing, my breathing loud and dog-like pant-y, and my vocabulary instantly limited (Oh my gosh, Oh wow, Oh man, Oh oh oh…). It was spectacular.

But it isn’t what I really want to talk about here. I want to talk about, not the call but, instead, the calls. Plural.

It took seven years for me to get that aforementioned call from my editor. Seven years of revising, sending the manuscript out, revising again, sending it out again. Seven years. This is not long in the grand scheme of life, I know this, and it is not an atypical time frame for a first book deal either. But regardless of these facts each year, each month, each day, and, truly, sometimes each minute was filled with the deafening sound of the clock ticking and—this sense of longing.

eldon-dedini-oh-filled-with-hopeless-longing-and-you-new-yorker-cartoonMy longing took up residence inside me, somewhere near my heart, lodged against the curve in my ribs. I felt it in my heartbeat, I felt it when I breathed. I’ve written about it before (here and  here) so I won’t go on and on, but I do want to say that after a lot of contemplation and conversation, I finally figured out how to be with my longing. Much easier said than done, but so profoundly worth the effort. Because, in the end, longing is not a bad thing. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world (think a slightly-too-sharp object stuck under your rib), but if it is given a place to call home, longing kind of smooths itself out, and is even kind of sweet looking as it rests there. Longing lets us know what matters in our lives. It keeps our dreams in focus. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.

It also reminds us, plainly and simply, that we are human. Each one of us feels longing after all. And if we choose to, we can share our version of it, listen to other people’s versions of it, and connect. Writers spend a lot of time alone, right? Of course, right. We need it to do our work. We even like it. But our secret, in my humble opinion, is that we desperately need our connections with other writers, and other people too. For me, this connection—and especially the one centered on longing—became, quite literally, a lifeline during this long process.

Image

One of my friends made this bed for my longing so that I didn’t have to hold it inside anymore!

Those connections happened on a regular basis, in the form of calls and emails with my grad school-mates, my agent, my agency-mates, my local friends here where I live, my husband, my family, and even my kids. These amazing and generous souls kept me afloat as I worked and waited and worked some more. They offered me advice, ideas and critiques. They gave me support, empathy and energy. On more than one occasion, I lost faith in my ability to do this—this thing that I so deeply longed to do—and they told me: You don’t need to hold faith right now, I am holding it for you.

And after the call—oh my gosh—well, then there were more calls and more emails from those same folks who had held my hands, offered me their shoulders, and looked me sternly in the eyes, only these were full of congratulations, affirmations, and amazement that I had finally done it. I don’t quite know how to articulate this clearly and strongly enough, but these calls gave me a breathtaking understanding of the ways my writing, my community, my daily life and my very self are woven together. For all of those seven years that I had been working on my manuscript, I had also been building a life.

This epiphany brings me to my knees.

 


 

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 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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Filed under Faith, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized