Category Archives: Patience

And They Persisted

As an aspiring author, getting to read the success stories of others – about what it’s like to get the out-of-the-blue (and life-changing) call from an agent or editor that says “yes” – was like candy. They gave me hope.

Except after years of reading those stories and believing success was right around the corner (only to find that it wasn’t), I started to need a different kind of story. I needed stories about persistence. So, to all of those who are persisting in the querying and submission trenches, this is for you.

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The first manuscript I wrote was cringe-worthy. It was short – just 28,000 words – but I had written it one-handed while my baby boy nursed, so it was pretty darn long considering. I wrote it having no idea whether I could write a novel and no idea how you actually publish one (like knowing an appropriate word count for a MG novel.) But it made me realize that I COULD write a novel. Of course, once I immersed myself in figuring out the process for getting published, it quickly became clear that this manuscript wasn’t going to cut it. I started writing manuscript #2.

Manuscript #2 had a snazzy title (SWIMMING WITH TCHAIKOVSKY – it makes you pause, right?) and a good concept. Out of the 100+ queries I sent to agents, I got 30 requests to read the full manuscript. But none of those requests turned into an offer. Looking back I can understand it more clearly now why: the main character was too passive, the plot was complex in certain ways, but too thin in others. I had more work to do as a writer.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t query Manuscript #3 too soon. This time, I would make sure the meat of the story was as good as its concept—an all-girl science club (Sciencetastic Supergirls) that basically has to save the world. Plus, by this point my time in the querying trenches meant I had developed wonderful friendships with other aspiring MG authors who had become invaluable critique partners. And this time, everything came together. To test the querying waters, I entered my first page one of Miss Snarks First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest (http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/) and not only did I love the agent’s feedback on each of the entries, and not only did she end up choosing mine as the winner and requested a full manuscript BUT she was Tricia Lawrence, an agent at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This was an agency

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I even have my very own Emu that sits prominently in our living room. Hence, the extra longing.

I had been pinning after since the beginning. A month later she wrote me an email that used the word “love” SEVERAL times. My growing son had been waiting for me to go for a walk in the woods when the e-mail came in. Then, he had to wait more and it started to rain. But then, I was ready and we ran together through the woods with the rain on our faces, and he didn’t quite get why his mama was screaming with happiness, but it sure made for a fun time.

The supergirl manuscript went on submission, and over the course of a year it got a request from an editor to revise and resubmit, but it didn’t end up leading to an offer. But in the meantime, I had learned from my previous manuscripts that the only way to stay sane when submitting work is to be starting something new. As my next manuscript (#4) took shape I could see that it was far bolder than anything I had written before. In part this came from the amazing, intangible benefit of having an agent who believed in me, and in part because in another area of my life I was becoming the leader of the gun violence prevention movement in Vermont, a role that was teaching me I was far stronger than I originally thought. I decided I want to stop submitting Manuscript #3 and focus instead on the new stories I was writing (Manuscript #5 was similar in that dove deep into issues people didn’t necessarily want to talk about – but needed to).

But…. neither of Manuscript #4 nor #5 found a home. Even though they both got very close to big deals – and I was on the edge of my seat, eating absurd amount of chocolate for months expecting to hear the good news any day and even showing up at social events holding a ROCK in one hand because I needed to squeeze something to keep myself from exploding—it didn’t happen.

Thankfully, before I hit that emotional roller-coaster, I found the space to start writing Manuscript #6. When I started it not only did I have an agent who believed in me, but I was fully convinced that I would have an editor by the time it was done. I was sure that this would be my second book and that it didn’t need any shiny jazz hands to grab someone’s attention. Instead, it could just be honest.

I bet you can see where this is going.

A year later I had spent a whole lot of time building up a protective wall around my emotions when it came to the submissions process. I had read the wise Tamara Ellis Smith’s words about longing and how to sit beside it rather than letting it consume you. But still, the best I could do at the time (if I wanted to keep my sanity intact) was to try to sit on top of it. When Tricia told me she was sending out this novel on sub, I had no reaction. Those were just words. The e-mails would go out. Rejection and silence would come back.

But then, a month later, I was driving home from a daylong board meeting (during which I hadn’t managed to find time to pee), late for school pick-ups, scrambling to find someone to pick up one of my kids, hightailing it to pick up the other, and oh-my-goodness did I have to pee. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye an e-mail come in on my phone. It was from Tricia and it had the words “offer” and “love.” Even now, my whole body goes numb just remembering it. I was like a zombie picking up my daughter from pre-school. I even ran into a friend who is an aspiring author himself, and when he asked me if I was okay (because I must have look like someone died), I told him that I really needed to pee. And then cautiously I told him about the e-mail. He, in turn, cautiously said (still looking my somebody-died-face), “But that sounds like a really good thing.” I swallowed. “It does, doesn’t it?”

It took me about a month and many conversations with my writer friends for it to sink in that this story rooted in simple honesty was going to become an actual book. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is about a 12-year old girl at the edge of poverty who has to find her voice. There are no bells and whistles. Instead, it is seeped in the realities of the class divide, the gun debate, and complex family relationships. It is about finding hope and pushing forward no matter how much the odds are stacked against you.

And isn’t that what we all need to do?

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About Ann Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which successfully got gun violence prevention legislation passed. She also helped found the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. She is a former middle school social studies teacher. Ann’s debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus comes out in September 2018 from Sky Pony Press. The novel is a close, personal look at life on the edges of society, through the eyes of one girl just trying to find her way forward, recommended for fans of Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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Filed under Inspiration, Patience, Persistance, Query Letters, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call

The Surreal, the Sublime, and the Journey Itself

The time has come for me to leave the Emu nest, and I’d like to end my time here with three quick vignettes:

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First, the surreal. Many Emus use their introductory post to talk about getting The Call (wherein their agent tells them they have a book deal). I decided to save my story of The Call for my farewell post, not knowing that the post would appear exactly two years after that life-changing day. So here’s my story:

On December 5, 2014, I had been on submission for almost two years with three different manuscripts, and I had convinced myself that I loved writing for writing’s sake and it was okay if I was the person who always came close but never quite got a book deal. Some days I even believed this. I had taken a full time teaching job partly because I needed to feel like I was contributing again, rather than just writing stories that would likely never find readers. On that fateful Friday, I taught my last lectures of fall semester, came home, and made myself a plate of nachos as a reward. (This is literally the first time since high school that I had eaten nachos as an after-school snack.) I had just sat down when my seven-year-old daughter came running in with my phone.

“Mom,” she said. “It says it’s..Ammi-Joan Paquette?” (She would have known who was calling if it had just said “Joan.” 🙂

I had hoped for that call for so long that the hope had faded, almost entirely away. I’d dreamed that dream so long that it seemed impossible for The Call to be anything other than a dream, an oasis on the horizon that recedes with every step. It was truly surreal. And yet, there I was, crying into my nachos. It happened, folks.

The second story is of the sublime. I had many teachers who inspired and nurtured me and helped me grow, but none more than my first grade teacher, Kathryn Ipson. She helped me write and illustrate my first story, The Big Bad Pig. She sensed that I needed a challenge and got a computer in our classroom (at a time when nobody had a computer in the classroom), taught me to type, and set me free. We stayed in touch through the years, and when I visited her as a college student and told her my plans to get a PhD and become a professor, she said, “That’s wonderful. The most important thing is to find a job where you’re helping people.” That one statement lingers with me still, and although it didn’t change my professional plans, it changed my priorities.

On October 18, my first book, Like Magic, was published. I had a launch party at our local independent bookstore, and at times the line snaked to the back of the store. The most accurate (if cliched) way to describe that night is a dream come true. But perhaps the most sublime and wonderful moment of that night was when the crowd parted and there was Mrs. Ipson, standing in line with a copy of the book. I showed her her name in the acknowledgments. We hugged and cried a little. A few days later, Mrs. Ipson found me on Facebook and said that she had finished reading and she expected my book would win the Newbery. Okay, I suspect it won’t, but to have someone who has believed since I was very small that I was capable of anything–someone who continues to believe it–well, that is incredibly meaningful.

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Mrs. Ipson finds her name in the acknowledgments of Like Magic (photo by Brooke MacNaughtan)

There have been other moments that have been almost this magical–many, in fact. Signing books in the gorgeous Salt Lake City Library, where my characters spend much of the story. Receiving my first starred review. Finding out that the book had sold in Scandinavia, and that this story was about to find its way into other lands and languages. Meeting and hearing from bright and diverse readers who have connected with the story. Beautiful, unforgettable moments.

If you’re a writer, and you don’t give up, you will have these moments too–even if it feels like you will always be stuck in the spot where you are right now. But the more I think about this whole debut experience, the more moments of joy I see in the journey itself. Evenings gathered with my critique partners. Time spent in workshops when I’m taught something that sparks an idea inside me. Moments at the computer, alone with my characters, when I struggle and struggle and finally get that scene or sentence just right.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

-Jenkin Lloyd Jones

The last few years have been unforgettable and exhausting, yet I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. Thank you, thank you, to the Emus and to all who have shared this journey with me. And for all of us, no matter what stage of the expedition, may we find joy and be truly thankful for the ride.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Advice, Book Launch, Dreams Come True, Farewell, Happiness, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized, waiting

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

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

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… A Book

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

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

"It's REALLY happening!"

“It’s REALLY happening!”

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

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

"It's FINALLY happening for her!"

“It’s FINALLY happening for her!”



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

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

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

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

Things are happening behind the scenes!

Things are happening behind the scenes!


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

It’s truly a labor of love.

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

Enter the Sophomore EMU, with Wild Eyes and Frothy Spittle

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The original EMU’s Debuters: Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Natalie Lorenzi, L.B. Schulman, Jeannie Mobley, J Anderson Coats, Cynthia Levinson (not pictured, Mike Jung and Michelle Garson Ray)

It’s been about four years since I first got the idea of creating EMU’s Debuts We started out as eight writers who had all sold our debut books close in time, and wanted to band together through the debut experience and share it with the world. But after our debut books came out? Well–we weren’t really thinking that far ahead four years ago. We were all still reveling in the glorious glow of that first book sale–of passing through the golden gate of We Made It and All Our Troubles Are Over Now.

It's no wonder each step is a surprise when I'm walking around on these weird dinosaur emu feet.

Walking the path together is always better when you have a mob of emus walking it with you.

We all gained a fringe benefit we hadn’t counted on with the blog. We became a strong support group for each other as we entered the forests of Oh My God, What Am I Supposed to Be Doing?! found just on the other side of the golden gate. Together, we traversed the You Want the Revisions When?! Mountains, and passed through the desolation of the Waiting For Reviews Wastelands. And of course, we were all there together with aid and confetti for the Who Knew A Book Release Was this Much Work?! stretch at the finish line. And that turned out to be really, really good support to have.

Where our reasoning broke down, however, was in the belief that there was, in fact, a finish line. In the confusion between whether the debut book release was the finish line, or the starting line. Because after the first book, there is–hopefully–a second book, and then–hopefully–a third book, and so on. And none of those book deals are necessarily easier than the first. That’s right. That gold on the gate? It’s just spray paint.

Searching for Silverheels, by Jeannie Mobley, Margaret K. McElderry Press, September 2014

Searching for Silverheels, by Jeannie Mobley, Margaret K. McElderry Press, September 2014

So, here I am, back to celebrate the release of my sophomore book, and wondering why we didn’t set up a sophomore book blog, or a…Um. What is the third book? Junior book blog? That sounds odd.

There aren’t many blogs that talk about those second book deals, which is a shame, because several people have told me that around the second to third book is when it gets really rough–when a lot of authors find themselves in a convoluted morass that threatens their careers and sanity. I didn’t really believe the people who told me this. Some of them, I suspected, were just looking for an excuse to slip the word “morass” into a sentence. Others had that wild look in their eye or that weird tic at the corner of their slightly frothing mouths that rendered them, in my opinion, a bit untrustworthy.

But here’s the truth. The second book is hard. Just like the first book is hard. And also, in totally different ways to how the first book is hard. There. I said it, and very little foam escaped my lips when I did. So you can trust me on this.

The truth is, this is a hard industry, and the minute you let yourself think, “I made it! It’s going to be a cakewalk from here on out!” you’re in for a heap of trouble and disappointment.

Me, trying to convince family and friends that I wasn't a total failure, despite evidence to the contrary, at the Katerina's Wish release party in 2012.

Me, trying to convince family and friends that I wasn’t a total failure, despite evidence to the contrary, at the Katerina’s Wish release party in 2012.

I learned this lesson on the afternoon before the release party for my debut novel, Katerina’s Wish. I was less than 24 hours away from having a whole crowd of friends and family at the library celebrating my rising star as a novelist, when I got the email to let me know that my editor was rejecting both of my next two manuscripts. Two manuscripts that, to me, felt so much stronger and better than the book that was coming out. Manuscripts that I had already anticipated would set up my future. When Katerina’s Wish had gone out on submission, I had no reason to believe it would be acquired. Now I had a great relationship with an editor, and two new manuscripts in which I had incorporated all I had learned from the first book. I was sure they were the next big thing. I had made assumptions that I had some kind of “in” that was going to see my way to success. Now there I was, facing a release party where I had to smile and give everyone the impression my career was roaring forward when I had just slammed face first into a brick wall, and my career was a twisted wreckage around my feet.

That was my first lesson about the sophomore book. Assume nothing. Every book is unique in the acquisition process (unless you get one of those crazy multi-book deals, which can have its own pitfalls, including the high probability that I’m going to totally hate you for it.) Selling one book predicts very little about selling the second. Or the third, or probably the four thousandth. I’ll report back in about a million years and let you know for sure about the four thousandth.

As it turned out, however, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, probably cast by that bonfire of my vanities. Because a conversation with my editor a few weeks later about one of the two rejected manuscripts led to revisions, and my editor acquired the revised manuscript about four months later. And so the sophomore book process began, despite the terrible timing that had cast it all in such devastating light.

The difference between getting the second book out into the world compared to the first, though, was that the debut book was an adventure–a dive into the unknown. The second book, at least for me, was acquired, and then I felt like the main work was done and I needed to be looking farther forward. After it was acquired, I didn’t feel I could relax into the process of publishing that book. Revisions, copy edits, first pass pages–the whole process felt like something of an afterthought, because my focus moved immediately to what I needed to do to get the next manuscript out there. The crushing smack of reality that came with those rejections somehow reframed my thinking into a focus more on the career track than on the individual manuscripts. Which is not to say I was writing for the market–not at all. But I did become much more concerned with the struggle for survival as a published author.

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A metaphoric representation of the novelist after her debut. She’s the big cow, in case you were wondering. (Photo credit: Corinata, via Wikicommons.)

With the first book, there is a sense that you have been given life, that you are growing, thriving, coming into your own. After that, it’s just the tooth and claw struggle to survive in a dog eat dog world, where every scratch and bite has the potential to fester, gangrenous on your soul, until you rot from the inside out and

 

die

DIE

DIIIEEEE!!!!!

Oh, I’m sorry. Did I get a little frothy spittle on your face there? Let me just wipe that off.

Years ago, when I first decided to go from writing for a hobby to pursuing it as a career, I hesitated, afraid doing so would take the enjoyment out of the process for me. This is what I let overtake me in the years of my sophomore book.

I let myself bog down in the industry details, railing and storming against the walls and barriers and silent indifference that blocked my way forward. I struggled fruitlessly in the conflicts between my vision and the vision others have for my work. I got lost in the morass of difficulties that had nothing to do with the bottom line–me and my muse and the words on the page.

And that was my biggest error. I let the business of being an author overshadow the joy, the beauty, the story at the heart of being a writer. I forgot to play- with language, with my characters, with plot. I forgot that that is what matters, because that is all I can do, all I can control. All that will make me better, instead of bitter.

Playing the suffragist at the Searching for Silverheels release party, 2014.

Playing the suffragist at the Searching for Silverheels release party, 2014.

And so here I am, the sophomore novelist, having come through the fire–one that I no doubt stoked myself. Ironically, my second novel, Searching for Silverheels is the story of an innocent, romantically minded girl and a cynical old woman, a story of what feels a bit like the old me and the new me, although I penned it well before the events that would reshape me began. The book now feels somehow prophetic.

I hope to eventually have a third book, and a fourth, and eventually, a viable career. But in the mean time, I’m playing. I’m seeking joy. And I’m rereading my ending, where the cynic and the romantic find a peaceful, secure path forward together. And I’m wishing every writer out there, debut or otherwise, the good luck and good sense to find their way through, or better yet, around the morass. Because, seriously. It’s an awesome word, but you can find other ways to slip it into a sentence.

Relish the joy, and the celebration of every book, published or otherwise.

 

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About Searching For Silverheels

by Jeannie Mobley

Searching for Silverheels, by Jeannie Mobley, Margaret K. McElderry Press, September 2014

Searching for Silverheels, by Jeannie Mobley, Margaret K. McElderry Press, September 2014

In her small Colorado town Pearl spends the summers helping her mother run the family café and entertaining tourists with the legend of Silverheels, a beautiful dancer who nursed miners through a smallpox epidemic in 1861 and then mysteriously disappeared. According to lore, the miners loved her so much they named their mountain after her.

Pearl believes the tale is true, but she is mocked by her neighbor, Josie, a suffragette campaigning for women’s right to vote. Josie says that Silverheels was a crook, not a savior, and she challenges Pearl to a bet: prove that Silverheels was the kindhearted angel of legend, or help Josie pass out the suffragist pamphlets that Pearl thinks drive away the tourists. Not to mention driving away handsome George Crawford.

As Pearl looks for the truth, darker forces are at work in her small town. The United States’s entry into World War I casts suspicion on German immigrants, and also on anyone who criticizes the president during wartime—including Josie. How do you choose what’s right when it could cost you everything you have?

“An engrossing, plausible story of several unlikely feminist heroines with a touch of romance and intrigue.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Readers follow Pearl in her quest to learn the truth about the dancer nicknamed Silverheels, and they see her shed her complacence for a determination to do right, no matter the cost. Mobley uses the microcosm of Como to echo the broader issues of the day—women’s suffrage, the Great War, prejudice, and class divisions—yet she doesn’t overwhelm readers or the town with these themes.” (School Library Journal)

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Filed under Happiness, Launch, Patience, rejection and success, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

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.

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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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by | September 4, 2014 · 6:41 am

Two Brains, Tulips

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

 

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

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

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.

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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