Category Archives: process

After the Ecstasy, the Editing

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

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

Nope. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

 

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

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

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

Editing Kit Kats

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

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

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


Christina Uss

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


 

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

Answering the Question: “Why Did You Write This Story?”

Recently, I sat with my marketing team at HarperCollins and discussed different ideas for promoting my novel, The Poet X. People often ask me what my novel is about (which is a question I hate! I don’t have my elevator pitch down and I often hem and haw my way through every plot point only to wrap up with, “anditisaboutslampoetryandloveandfaithanddaughterhood.”) but at this particular  meeting my publicist asked a question I wasn’t expecting, “Why did you write this particular story?”

I’ve been sitting with that question. I think I wrote The Poet X because as a teen Afro-Dominicana, spoken word was a place that I found I could express myself and question all of the roles that had been impressed upon me by my culture, and neighborhood, and school; roles that sometimes felt like too tight clothing I couldn’t breathe in.

I’ve taught everything from 8th grade English to creative writing in adjudicated youth centers to the award-winning cohort of youth poets, the DC Youth Slam Team, and time and again I was moved by the realization that many of the young people in my classes and workshops found poetry as an outlet to be their full selves. So many of these young people were also trying to stretch into the person they wanted to be. At some point in their life they’d been told they were too big, or loud, or black, or brown, or accented, or poor, or incarcerated, or dumb; and so The Poet X is for them. A place where young people who are “too much” can see themselves reflected back; a reminder they exist and are worthy of every piece of literature.

Between when I began The Poet X and when it sold, I wrote two other manuscripts. One was an urban fantasy novel set in the Dominican Republic and the second one was magical realism centering a teen mom who aspired to be a chef. I loved both those stories and each one of them taught me how to become a better fiction writer. In my heart I knew that I wanted my debut book to be a story that set a strong foundation for my career and if it was the only thing I ever wrote, I wanted it to be something that reflected the values and experiences I hold dear. So for writers working on their first project, here’s what I’ve learned while trying to answer the “why” that I think led to my telling the story closest to my heart.

  • Write with blinders on. That doesn’t mean to be tone deaf to current events, but it’s easy to want to write in response to a trend. I think about all the writers who wanted to write vampires or BDSM after those subjects became trendy, and it was clear what stories had been mulled over for years and explored and writtend irrespective to what was “hot” and the stories that were quickly slapped together to fit the times. If the story doesn’t nag at you, or tug on your heart, or make your palms sweaty that lack of rootedness will show. Write the story that feels urgent to you. Don’t chase a trend because what the market wants will change in a second, but what moves you will move others. If you return to an idea, it’s because you truly love it.
  • Give yourself permission to meander. I had to write a lot of different things before I could finish to The Poet X. Like a first time dater, I had a lot to learn before I could fully commit. I needed to play with other storylines, and try different styles and genres, so that by the time I returned to X, I was smarter, a better writer, and had a clear sense of why this was the story I wanted to be working on and putting out into the world.
  • Allow your book to be a mirror and a window. In The Poet X, I was intentional about how I deployed slang, and non-standard English, and Spanish, and Latinidad, and slam poetry, and urban imagery; I was mindful that not all of my readers would be familiar with ways to navigate those different experiences, but I trust readers will still be intrigued enough to peek in and stay awhile. For other readers, I imagine this world will feel really familiar and I’m so happy they will find a comfortable place to rest their head. Negotiating what needed context clues and what might require the reader to do additional work, was a tough balance to find, but I stayed true to telling my most authentic story.

My “why” will probably change as the release date gets closer and I keep mining the myriad of answers that spring up every time I think about my book. The heart of my answer will probably always be: Growing up, I wanted to find a blueprint for myself in stories but struggled to find a girl like me in books. So, I decided to write her. And so my last piece of advice: write into existence the story you most needed growing up; your younger self will thank you.

20131031-dsc_7508-copyELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance experience, Acevedo has toured her poetry nationally and internationally. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC.

 

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Filed under Characters, Creativity, Diversity, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, process, Uncategorized, Voice

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

A Conversation with Vanessa Brantley-Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I’d like to start this post by noting that the subject of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, the late Audrey Faye Hendricks, was nine years old when she was imprisoned for her civil rights activism. She remained in prison—real prison—for a week. She was locked in a cell. Interrogated by adult strangers. She was in danger, both inside the prison and after her release. She is an American hero. As of this post, she does not have a Wikipedia page.

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“I’d never heard of Audrey Faye Hendricks,” says Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of over 75 books. vanessa-brantley-newton“When I read Cynthia Levinson’s manuscript, it broke me. It made me cry. I became fascinated by Audrey. I read the manuscript to myself and then had someone read it to me. Right away, I could see the pictures—that’s very important.”

Vanessa goes on to detail aspects of her research, “I read Cynthia’s previous book on the Children’s March, WE’VE GOT A JOB TO DO, and weve-got-a-jobwatched the PBS program on the event. I wanted my work to be emotional—to make it clear that Audrey was a child. As I worked, I listened to music from that time, songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” With one exception early in the process, Vanessa and the author did not actively collaborate on the project. “Cynthia wanted to see how I portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.—a friend of Audrey’s family—and once I showed her the sketch, we didn’t need to consult again.”

Like all of Vanessa’s work, THE YOUNGEST MARCHER glows with color and shimmers with texture. the-youngest-marcher“I’m a retro girl, heart and soul,” Vanessa says. “I love the colors of the sixties and seventies, the reds and oranges together.” She scanned vintage fabrics and included photographs in her collage work. Her use of marbleized paper adds swirling atmosphere to the image of a small, beloved child curled up on a prison cot.

Despite her age, Audrey’s bright-eyed conviction is made plain in Vanessa’s illustrations. As she heeds Dr. King’s call to fill the prisons, as she boards the police van in her starched skirt, bobby socks, and pink hair ribbons, she is full of hope and might as easily be headed to school or church. Although younger than the other marchers, she remains stalwart until the prisons are full to bursting and all are released. Hope intact, Audrey Faye Hendricks emerges to her parents’ arms and a changed world, one she helped to create.

“I hope that people can be inspired by my work,” Vanessa says. “As a child, I never saw children of color in books. We have this wonderful ability as authors and illustrators to tell stories that encompass what children go through so that kids feel included, like someone has captured their real world.”

I’d like to thank Vanessa for her time and for all of her efforts to bring Audrey Faye Hendricks and her story to vibrant, visual life. I’d like to thank author Cynthia Levinson for writing the story of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. I’m glad and grateful to know about this remarkable story of courage.


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

 

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Filed under Activism, Book Launch, Celebrations, Character Development, Characters, cover art, Creativity, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Research, Uncategorized

Catching Inspiration: An Interview with LIKE MAGIC Illustrator Sara Not

All this week, the EMUs are celebrating the launch of LIKE MAGIC, a middle grade novel by Elaine Vickers. In their starred review, Kirkus calls the book “an endlessly endearing story of three girls’ pursuit of friendship and the beauty and challenge of what it means to be 10.” But you don’t have to read the review to know that — one look at the cover by Italian artist Sara Not says it all. Isn’t it exquisite?

like-magic

Since the cover is one of the first things you see when you pick up a book, I thought we’d start off our festivities with an interview with Sara. Sara worked in Milan and Paris before settling in Trieste. She has created book and magazine illustrations for many international clients, including Vanity Fair, Gioia, Myself, RCS, Pearson Italy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Random House. Please welcome Sara to the Nest!

 I am so impressed that you read the entire manuscript even though English is not your native language! Do you typically read the entire texts of books or magazine articles before beginning illustrations for them?

Yes, I do prefer reading the entire book manuscript, especially when the main subject is inspiring me on the spot, but often I do not have the time to do so due to very tight deadlines. In these specific cases, I can only read some chapters, characters descriptions, key elements of the story provided by the publisher. For magazine illustrations, of course it is different. Magazine articles are shorter so I always read them.

Coming back to LIKE MAGIC I would like to add that it was a real pleasure to read it all (and a very good exercise for my English) because the story was great and reading it all during my seaside holiday was a plus. I simply loved it.

 I love the dreamy quality of the cover and the hopeful expressions of the girls. When you first sat down to create the cover for LIKE MAGIC, what did you envision? How did you evoke a sense of the book through your art?

LIKE MAGIC made me remember when I was a little girl, with all my fragilities, doubts and insecurities but also with this great strength and immaculate purity that adults unfortunately often lose along the way.

I tried to give this sense of alliance, complicity and harmony among the girls: they are together; best friends and they look far to the stars. The stars are paper stars, a key element of the book, but here they become their aspirations, their dreams.

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That’s wonderful how you incorporated symbols from the book into the cover. What is your artistic process? Please tell us a little about the creation of this illustration.

I usually read the manuscript and let the words be on my mind for a while. The images begin to appear and I let them get out through my pencil. During the artistic process, I can draw many sketches or produce only one. It all depend on the project and inspiration of the moment. I think that an art creation is always LIKE MAGIC (smile).

For LIKE MAGIC, I initially created many concepts, selected four sketches and sent them to the Art Director.

When the final decision was made, I then applied the ultimate line (in this case a simple pencil, elsewhere nib and ink or brush) and, for last, the coloring in Photoshop.

Can you share any of the other sketches that you were considering for the book cover? How did you choose the final cover design?

Sure. Below are the four proposals for the final cover. As you will notice, the one that I had not colored yet was the publisher’s choice. The idea of the three girls on the swoosh was used for the back cover illustration.

schermata-2016-10-22-alle-10-11-22 schermata-2016-10-22-alle-10-11-41schermata-2016-10-22-alle-10-11-13 schermata-2016-10-22-alle-10-11-33

 

 

 

 

Those covers are all so beautiful. I would have a hard time trying to decide which one to use! You also create illustrations for many different magazines. How is working on a children’s book cover different from a magazine illustration?

Magazines and Children’s Books are obviously targeting two different readers markets. When I work on an illustration for a women’s magazine, I have to be versatile and able to speak a different language but always keeping in mind that my style should be recognizable. Often for magazines, you have only few days to give your art, especially if you are working for a weekly magazine, while for children’s book covers usually you can take your time. I find myself very fortunate to work with different environments because it can only be beneficial to my creativity and artistic evolution.

Speaking about your creativity, LIKE MAGIC is about three girls who find inspiration in each other’s precious objects. What do you draw inspiration from?

From the text first of course. I love words and the power they transmit. Everything I see, everything I read, everything I listen to also inspires me. Other times inspiration comes from an instant of my life, from my sons, from Mother Nature or from the colors that I see around me. Inspiration is all around you and you just need to catch it. My own personal “know-how” is an important factor but a big part of magic in every creative process is essential.

Thank you so much for joining us on EMUs Debuts today, Sara! It’s really fascinating to hear about your artistic process and what went into the cover for LIKE MAGIC. I especially love how you said, “Inspiration is all around you and you just need to catch it.” 

Catch some inspiration by seeing more of Sara’s artwork on her website and by reading LIKE MAGIC, available now at your favorite indie bookstore, Amazon, IndieBound, or B&NRelive the magic of new friendship all over again! 


andrea-wang-author-photo-2016
Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, THE NIAN MONSTER (Albert Whitman, December 2016), is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. 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. Now she sits at her desk, but she’s still happiest surrounded by piles of books. Andrea is a former environmental consultant who helped clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog. She loves trying new foods and named her dog Mochi, after one of her favorite desserts.
You can find Andrea online at her website, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, cover art, Creativity, Illustrators, Interviews, Launch, process

Practical Obsession

I am sure I am not alone when I say I love office supplies. Post-Its, pens, Sharpies, folders — I love them all. But my favorite thing of all are notebooks. I cannot get enough of notebooks. I used to buy them willy-nilly, but after over 15 years of buying/collecting notebooks, I’ve figured out what kind I like best.

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The bottom row are Studio Oh! notebooks with canvas covers. They lay flat when opened, and are not so small that I can’t scribble freely and not so large that they intimidate with too much open space. They are my notebooks of choice. The two on the top row are different brands, but will be used lovingly as well. The other thing I love about the Studio Oh! notebooks are the endpapers. Check them out:

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Gorgeous, right? Okay, so yes, pretty things attract my eye. But, what good is an obsession if I can’t use them to fuel my love for writing? Fortunately, I have figured out a system. One notebook per project. Ideas, notes, character names, brainstorming, timelines, everything having to do with that project goes into one notebook.

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I date the notebook and any new entry. It ends up being a journal of the journey of my WIP. Anytime I have a new idea, I start a new notebook. Sometimes I fear I get new ideas just so I can use a new notebook!

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These are all the notebooks that are currently in use for different projects. There are A LOT! But I never have to dig through a bunch of notebooks, flip through pages of notepads, or shuffle through loose paper or scraps to find notes for a WIP. If I do scribble something pertinent for a WIP on a scrap paper, it gets transcribed into the proper notebook.

Recently, at my local indie bookstore, I discovered these gorgeous notebooks by Bindewerk, a German company.

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They cost more than I normally spend on notebooks, but I couldn’t resist. I loved the cover art, and the pages are thick and luxurious. I knew I’d save them for something very special. And that something very special happened. The one on the left is for recording all my conversations/communications with my editor. The one on the right is for recording all my conversations with my agent. This way, I have everything in one place should I need to recall when a certain something happened or what was said specifically about a draft, or even more importantly, when I need encouragement and a reminder that my editor and/or agent really do like my work, my writing. It’s easier than having to scroll through a ton of emails. A bonus was getting to use the special bookmarks I bought during my last trip to Paris, for these notebooks.

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Ah, but my bookmark obsession/collection is for another blog post. Happy writing!

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authorDebbi 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 an early reader chapter book series, Dorothy & Toto (Picture Window Books/Oct. 2016).

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


 

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Filed under process, Writing and Life