Category Archives: joy

Come Along for the Ride

I’m so ridiculously happy to be introducing myself to you today. Hi. I’m Christina. I love to read and I love to write. And after I rode my bike across the United States, I’ve never been the same.

If I hadn’t pedaled from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco over the span of one crazy summer, I bicycle-girl_smallnever would have become an adventure tour guide, taking other people bicycling and hiking all over the place. If I’d never become an adventure tour guide, I’d never have decided to pedal down the entire span of the U.S. Pacific Coast with one equally intrepid (and equally unemployed) tour guide pal.

If my pal and I had never decided to ride down the Pacific Coast, I’d never have submitted an article about the experience to a magazine, and they never would have published it, and I never would have become a professional freelance writer scribbling and bibbling about the wonders of bicycling.

If I’d never published lots of bicycling articles, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to sit down and write a middle grade novel called THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE about a 12-year-old who pedals from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. Or the confidence to send it out to agents until I found one who believed in it like Ammi-Joan Paquette. (And who was tickled to find out big chunks of it are true, based on the real places and people I’ve met on my own rides.) And to have Ammi-Joan’s help to find an editor and publishing house who want to share THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE with the world.

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No, I wouldn’t! I would be someone else. And I’m so glad and grateful I’m me today.

Author Bruce Weber wrote in Life Is a Wheel, “Novelists will say that one reason their work is so agonizing is that no one out here is waiting for what they do; they have to create their own welcome in the world…a cross-country bicyclist feels the same way.”  I can’t tell you what it means to me that I’ve found a welcome in the U.S. many times as a cross-country bicyclist, and now I’ve found a welcome in the world as a children’s novelist.  My BICYCLE will be riding into kids’ hands and homes one year from now.  Whoa.

In case I’m making it sound like the life of a debut children’s author is all kittens and rainbows, let me assure you it resembles my cycling career in many ways: I often gasp for breath and want to give up while others around me seem to be surging ahead. Steep hills appear for me to climb that weren’t on my map. And just when I think I’ve hit smooth sailing, a pack of territorial farm dogs show up.

But today, I’m not complaining. Today, the farm dogs feel far behind. Today I get to introduce myself to you as a debut children’s book author. Hi! I’m Christina. This looks like it’s going to be one heck of a ride.


christina-ussCHRISTINA 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 January 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books. Wheee! Visit her at http://www.christinauss.com.

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Filed under joy, process, Thankfulness, Uncategorized

Friendships Can Be Just LIKE MAGIC

The launch of Elaine Vickers’s LIKE MAGIC continues! LIKE MAGIC is a story of friendship, so to go along with that theme, us Emus are sharing some of our friendships that have brought magic and joy to our own lives!

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Katie Slivensky: A friend who changed my life…probably my childhood best friend, Carolyn. We were both kind of awkward nerdy kids, but through her I grew confident in myself and my interests. She always lifted me up, rather than pushing me down. She lived “just over the hill” behind my house, and we grew up together. I was older than her by two weeks, but she was always a foot taller than me as kids (she was tall for her age and I was short for mine), so we got weird looks a lot. Together, though, we didn’t care! It’s so valuable to a kid to have a friend who raises your confidence when you don’t quite “fit in” in the world. We’re still good friends. Fun fact: she is actually the photographer for my author photos!

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Katie and Carolyn, Age 5

 

Terry Pierce: The one true friend who changed my life is my husband, Mark. I met him when I was in the eighth grade (he was in the ninth), so we were still kids. We were friends for a year and then dated for four more before getting married. Forty years later, he’s still my BFF. I say he changed my life because he’s been my rock through all the ups and downs that happen in one’s life. We forged a mutual path together with love and respect, so I know that if Mark wasn’t in my life, it would be very different, and I’m guessing not nearly as fabulous, exciting or fulfilled. I guess I’m lucky that I married my best friend!

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Terry and Mark Then

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Terry and Mark Now

 

Andrea Wang: I didn’t meet Lisa until my thirties, but it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer without her. We were both enrolled in the same online writing class, but it was Lisa who figured out we lived in neighboring towns and reached out to me. From there, we bonded over books and writing. She welcomed me into her critique group, encouraged me to apply to an MFA program (which we went through together), and cheered me on (and up, too) every step of the way. Her friendship helped me give myself permission to pursue a writing life.

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Lisa and Andrea, March 2016

 

Debbi Michiko Florence: A friend who has changed my life: Lynn Bauer – We met in line for the last Harry Potter book, in 2007. We call each other Anam Cara – Soul-Friend, because we are that tightly bonded. We started out talking about books and writing, but since then it’s as if we’ve known one another forever. We’ve seen each other through the worst of times and the best and, without her, I’m not sure I would be the person I am today. She props me up, cheers me on, and supports me no matter what, and I do mean NO MATTER WHAT. She’s always on my side and I can count on her anytime, every time. (And I do have to mention Anne Marie Pace as someone who has changed my life because without her telling me that morning to line up for wrist bands for the book, I wouldn’t have gone to the book store early that morning and wouldn’t have met Lynn!)

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Debbi and Lynn

 

Jason Gallaher: I have to say one of the most magical bonds I share with anyone on this planet is with my cousin, friend and spirit animal, Andie. We are 8 days shy of a year apart, but I feel like we are twins. I bash my shin and Andie calls me with pains in her leg. Andie has been there for me through every monumental moment in my life: births of new family members, deaths of cherished loved ones, coming out, identity crises, and pretending to be mermaids in Thailand. She brings so much magic to my life, which typically manifests in tears pouring down my face from laughing so hard. An-DAY (read like Whitney Houston shouting, “Bob-BAY!”), I love you!

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Jason and Andie, Age Adorable

 

Hayley Barrett: When my children left for college, I gave them lots of advice. One thing I told them was to not expect their friends to remain the same. To imprison people with old memories and stories is unwise and unkind, and efforts to hold people to who they “used to be” invariably fail. The best way to preserve friendships, I said, was to welcome change, even if it meant letting a friendship fade. Doing so leaves hope for it to someday flourish again. I only have a couple of dearest, oldest friends. I won’t single any one of them out, but they have something in common. They’ve all been willing to let me, and in fact have helped me, to become a more fully developed, nuanced person. They’ve been willing to let our friendship wax and wane and wax again, as circumstances changed over the years, without fuss or consequence. I hope I’ve done the same for them. A forbearing and flexible approach is the best recipe I know for truly loving and long-lasting friendships.

 

To read about more magical friendships, pick up Elaine Vickers’s LIKE MAGIC, available now! You can find Elaine’s book at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller!

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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. He would also describe a magical friendship as the one he and Anjelica Huston have yet to forge. 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 Book Launch, joy, Launch

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

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

Who, Who’s Excited?!

Ooooh, it’s happening! It’s finally happening! I can officially announce that my debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, will be released by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster in the summer of 2017. Here’s the announcement:

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You can’t believe how hard it’s been not to scream and shout all about this. Trish called me about this deal one year and three days ago (I may or may not have been counting). The anticipation to spread the news has had me like this:

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But now I finally get to be like this:

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Let me take you back to the time when I got the call. It was early in the A.M., and I was doing my usual morning reading routine in my fluffy white robe embroidered with a gold “J” (similar to the get-ups Laverne and Shirley wore).  It takes me a bit to wake up, so reading helps me get all my juices a-flowin’. I was still in my semi-groggy reading state when I get a call from “Tricia Awesome Agent Lawrence” (this is how I have Trish listed in my cellphone). The call instantly made me perk up.

Me: “Gooooood morning!”

Trish: “Guess what?”

Me: “What? What? What?”

Trish: “We just sold WHOBERT!”

Me:

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Needless to say, I was Ex. Ci. Ted.

Here’s to many more robe-wearing, yelling-so-loud-your-throat-gets-hoarse good news for all us EMUs (and all writers everywhere!) in the future!

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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 between Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas. He loves creating punny names for cars and dogs, and often goes for midnight rides in his Fiat, Sofiat Vercara, with his Pomeranian, Pom Brokaw. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. If you know Anjelica Huston, please contact him immediately. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

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Filed under Celebrations, Happiness, Introduction, joy, Picture books, The Call, Uncategorized

The Long Bumpy Road

learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. — BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert

Like many writers, I have been writing stories since childhood. I have always been passionate about stories. I first decided to write fiction for kids and teens as a career path in 2001. I joined SCBWI, received the gift of a mentor in Cynthia Leitich Smith, found critique groups (I moved a lot), went to conferences and workshops, read every craft book available to me, discovered an amazing community on LiveJournal (in 2004), found my writing/critiquing soul partners, wrote and wrote and revised and revised and queried and submitted, and accumulated a healthy pile of rejections.

I had some close calls for different manuscripts — a phone call from an editor (kind and encouraging, but a rejection nonetheless), revising out of contract, going to acquisition, “good” rejection letters. This went on for over a decade. I admit to bouts of extreme sadness, many tears, frustration, and thoughts of giving up. In the meantime, I had two nonfiction children’s books published that I am proud of, but the dream has always been to write/publish fiction. One evening in 2008, after yet another “encouraging” rejection, I decided to quit. I was going to quit writing, quit submitting, quit dreaming of publication. I cried long and hard. My heart was broken. I think I cried for well over an hour. I decided to distract myself with a movie, August Rush. Within the first 10 minutes of viewing the movie, I was struck with a story idea. I ran upstairs, grabbed a legal pad, and wrote out ten pages of a scene. Such was my commitment to quitting. My love for writing stories was stronger.

Flash forward to 2014: I have long admired the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I was flattered when a dear and talented friend referred me to her agent, Tricia Lawrence. Tricia requested a full of my MG novel and then I waited. While I waited, I kept writing and kept querying/subbing. Around the same time, I received a request for a full of my chapter book from editor Grace Kendall at FSG, and then I waited. While waiting and writing, I had an opportunity to write four books for an early reader chapter book series and jumped at the chance. I had a fabulous time writing these stories. In fact, I was having a (mostly) fabulous time writing all my stories.

And then…in April of 2015, Grace emailed to say she wanted to take my chapter book to editorial, and then acquisition! I reached out to Tricia and told her I had a YA novel and a chapter book. She requested both. Within days of each other, Tricia offered representation and Grace wanted not only my chapter book, but three more books for a series! My story Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen about headstrong Japanese-American third grader Jasmine Toguchi and her quest to join in on the family tradition of making mochi, and three more books about Jasmine, are going to be published!

I am filled with overwhelming gratitude and joy and excitement and glee! I am grateful to Tricia and EMLA, and Grace and FSG, and to this incredibly supportive children’s lit community – many of you have been cheering me on from the very beginning. I’m grateful to my husband, Bob, and my daughter, Caitlin, for their unwavering belief in me, their firm support of my writing, and to my family and non-writer friends who even if they didn’t fully get “it”, they got me.

My road to “the call” meandered with many obstacles and detours, but I am glad I stayed on the path, on my path, because the journey is different for each person. Along this path of mine, I’ve met some warm and talented people I now call friends. While there’s no guarantee of publication, the only way you can be sure of never getting published is by quitting. If you love writing, if it brings you joy, if you can’t see doing anything else, keep writing, keep learning, keep growing, and stay the course. Enjoy the journey and the process of creating. Have fun. Believe, even when it’s hard. (And surround yourself with support and love!)

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Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her dog, Trixie, 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 in Spring 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 Discipline, Dreams Come True, Happiness, Introduction, joy, Patience, The Call

Exchanging Doubt for Joy

Heart PicIt’s my turn to leave the nest. It’s cozy and safe and I don’t WANT to leave! But a new generation of debut authors remains, poised for greatness. They are talented and wonderful and the blog will be in capable hands.  I am filled with gratitude for the support and personal growth I’ve experienced during my time as a member of EMU’s Debuts.

This past year in particular has been a study in contrast for me, filled with extreme highs and lows. It was a dream come true seeing my book in print. But there were doubts, expectations, and worries too—issues that snowballed and eventually resulted in a diagnosis of severe depression. I mention this because I had anticipated only joy, and considered it a personal failure when the joy did not materialize exactly when and how I imagined it would.

Thanks to my incredibly supportive spouse, I finally stopped blaming myself and sought proper treatment. I am doing so much better now! And I realize that I waited way too long to ask for help.

So many of us fight a daily battle of doubt vs. joy.

I started playing the flute when I was ten years old. A few great teachers and a lot of practice helped me develop a skill that brought me happiness and made me feel like I was good at something. I played all the way through college and even started out as a performance major with the hopes of joining a professional orchestra someday.

Then doubt got in the way. There were lots of talented flute players. What were my chances of competing? It was too hard, I had to practice too much every day, I’d never make it into an orchestra and if I did I’d never make a living at it. I talked myself out of it, and destroyed the joy it used to bring.

I graduated with a generic music degree and a decision to turn my attention to children’s literature. I don’t regret the choice to write, but I do regret making that choice out of fear, and will always wonder “what if?”

Of course, the path to publishing is fraught with opportunities to doubt ourselves. Even after signing with my agent, even after my first publishing contract, there was still plenty of fear and doubt nipping at my ankles like a ferocious little dog. We learn to power through it, don’t we? We school ourselves to stay on the path, because perseverance is often the one trait that makes the difference in this industry.

But at what cost? All too often the joy gets trampled along the way.

1382268243_f3c1242184_bLast year we attended a performance by the Piano Guys. The cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, is the absolute picture of joy when he plays. If you’ve never seen him, I urge you to look him up on YouTube. His tone is perfection, his technique jaw-dropping, but it’s his body language that captures my attention: eyes closed, face lifted to the heavens, a peaceful smile on his face. This man loves what he does. Can I say the same? Not always. But I’ve set a goal to experience that type of joy more often, because I do love to write and I believe it is a worthy pursuit.

I’ve resolved to write just for fun sometimes, for the sake of pure creative expression. Sometimes I’ll crank up a movie soundtrack to full volume while writing an action scene, or take my notebook outside to write in the park. Other times it’s a slog and I just have to make deadline, one impossible word after another. Life can’t be fun all the time.

And the doubt? Oh, it’s still there–corrosive, insidious. Yap, yap, yapping for attention. But there are steps I take to quiet it down: making my mental and physical health a priority; spending more time outside in the sunshine; seeking big-picture perspective while resisting the urge to draw comparisons to other people’s lives; and striving to be more compassionate toward myself and others.

In short: Go. Write. Chase the joy. Spread it around. Let it show on your face, and on the page. The world needs it. You deserve it.

We all do.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter: @christinenhayes or at christinehayesbooks.com.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, Farewell, Happiness, joy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Writing