Category Archives: Thankfulness

Pinch Me

My new puppy, Kiku, is joining in on the celebration!

Today, my debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi launches with the first two books: Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth. This is the culmination of over 15 years of writing, learning, growing, revising, querying, submitting, and collecting rejections. Having my chapter books published is a dream come true.

I’ve talked about my journey on this blog and elsewhere so I won’t rehash it except to say, for Jasmine, it’s been seven years from the spark of an idea to book release. And it’s been a little over two years since my wonderful editor, Grace Kendall, made the offer to publish Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, not as a stand-alone, but as a series. It’s been a truly wonderful experience working with my editor Grace, my awesome agent Tricia Lawrence, talented illustrator Elizabet Vukovic, and the FSG team. I feel so fortunate.

I’ve revised, copyedited, and proofread (with the help of the sharp eyes of professional copyeditors and proofreaders). I’ve reviewed and loved the art. Jasmine Toguchi is part of a Macmillan bookseller campaign called “Got Character?” that features six series. Jasmine is on a poster! The reviews (all good, thankfully) are in. Mochi Queen is a Junior Library Guild fall selection and a pick for Amazon’s Summer Book Club – New Favorite Series for Kids. I’ve been interviewed by some awesome bloggers. I’ve stumbled upon Twitter conversations and Instagram posts about Jasmine. And I’ve held the actual books in my hands. I’m giddy!

So when does it feel real? This still feels like a dream. A very wonderful dream but, still, a dream. I can’t believe that a book I wrote with characters I conceived is really going to find its way into the hands of readers. Perhaps that is when it will feel real – when a child reads my books.

Pre-launch, so much energy and focus is on getting the words and the art just right, on waiting for the reviews to come in, on planning events, on promotion and marketing. All of this is, of course, relevant and important and fun. But during all that, sometimes it’s easy to forget why I wrote the story in the first place, for whom I wrote the story – for a child. When I started my writing career over 15 years ago, I didn’t know about Kirkus or School Library Journal, or the effect of sales numbers or earning out, or how important it was to get parents and educators on board. All I thought about was the child who might pick up my book, read the story, connect to the character, and fall in love. And today, I’m remembering that. I can’t wait for readers to meet Jasmine and, I hope, fall in love with her.

Art copyright Elizabet Vukovic

Maybe that’s when it will feel real. When a child reader says, “I read and loved your book.” That is the review I’m holding my breath for.

In the meantime, I am celebrating this dream come true. I’m pinching myself to make sure this is really happening. I’m grateful to everyone who has supported me along this journey, who has believed in me, who has talked up my books, and who has helped make Jasmine and her stories come alive. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And extra special thanks to my awesome agent Tricia Lawrence, to my amazing editor Grace Kendall, and to my husband B0b and daughter Caitlin!

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Enter to win Mochi Queen and Super Sleuth! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. Enter by midnight EST, Sunday July 16. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Good luck!

 

 

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Launch, Thankfulness

Embracing the Imperfect

Our lives are set up around milestones: memorable, noteworthy events that we mark with rituals and celebrations. In my own life, I can recall events that mark those big occasions: important birthdays, graduations, weddings, my godson’s baptism. There was a set moment for each of those, a moment that I can look back at and say, “Oh, yeah. I’ll never forget where I was and what I felt when that happened.”

For many writers, the journey to publication is marked with the same joyful celebratory dinners, champagne toasts, and group hugs as any of the more traditional life milestones. I love hearing friends’ stories of getting that agent phone call and bursting into tears, their families beaming with pride beside them. Their stories are beautiful, and my own heart bursts with happiness to cheer and celebrate all of that magic. But what if your own journey looks different?

Through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, my own first book milestones have been bittersweet. That heart-stopping call from my agent? I was on my way to work, and my husband was 3000 miles away on a business trip. He happened to fall asleep that night without charging his phone, so I carried my bottled-up joy to work with me. I finally couldn’t keep it in anymore, so I eagerly spilled the beans to my ten-year-old student, who could not have been any less impressed or interested. Humbling, to say the least.

A few weeks later my deal announcement appeared in the trades; seeing my photo and name in there made everything feel so real, and it meant I was finally free to share the news publicly.  However, just minutes after I saw the announcement, my husband called to tell me that his dad had been diagnosed with cancer. As our family worked together to help my father-in-law navigate the complicated world of cancer treatment, celebration couldn’t have been further from our minds. And now that he has successfully completed chemotherapy, his improved health and happiness feels like a much more special milestone for our family to mark.

I am incredibly lucky to have a publishing deal, and I am beyond grateful to have the chance to earn money as a writer. But, much as it pains me to admit it, when I remember these first Big Author Moments, while there is joy and gratitude in those memories, there is also loneliness, worry, and disappointment.  I have a book deal and a supportive circle of friends and family, but I still can’t help but wish that those first moments had been a little different. And then I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for wishing that. It shouldn’t matter, I think. I am a jerk for caring about this.

Every writer I know has worked incredibly hard to get this far, and we all remember the wistful feeling of seeing other writers ahead of us, hitting those milestones. And while everything might look rosy and golden from a distance, there is no doubt that up close, everyone’s road is littered with frustrations and slights and missed opportunities.

So, and I’m saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone else, the journey toward publication is magical and thrilling and awesome and inspiring. But a lot of it can also be kind of sucky. That’s OK. Embrace the suck.  The disappointing, difficult, exhausting moments mean that all of this is actually happening. Living the Dream doesn’t mean turning your life into a dream; it means you’re turning your dream into real life. Your very own messy, imperfect, glorious life.


Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her wonderful father-in-law lives nearby. They are planning a massive celebration when the first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You’re all invited. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Guilt, Happiness, Inspiration, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Let Nature Nurture You, and Wash Your Spirit Clean

Readers of Terry Pierce’s cozy MAMA LOVES YOU SO will encounter many poetic images of nature nurturing the young, reminding us that nature has room to nurture us at any age.  mama-loves-you-so-coverTerry will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. Enter by leaving a comment below, and she will enter your name into the giveaway (up to one comment per day.) Read on to see how nature nurtures Terry and some of her fellow kidlit writers.

Terry has always found solace in nature, going back to her childhood. “For hours, I could sit cradled in the branches of a tree, or perched on a rock watching the woods. Anytime I’m feeling restless, worried, or at a breaking point, if I can get out in nature I’m instantly calmed and can put things in perspective. And I love writing in the woods! I carry a waterproof journal and pencil in my backpack because my muse often appears in nature. In fact, I wrote MAMA LOVES YOU SO outside, inspired by the grandeur of the mountains.

 

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The place in nature that nurtures me the most are the Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether I’m sunning on a boulder, climbing, hiking, listening to a stream, or watching wildlife (hopefully with a camera in hand), I’m at peace in the mountains. I once spent five weeks hiking from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

John Muir, one of my favorite writers, once wrote, ‘Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. So true! My hope is that MAMA LOVES YOU SO will inspire parents to take their little ones outdoors so they can learn to love nature and feel its benefits, too.”

 

Author Debbi Michiko Florence finds, “Whenever my mind gets too busy or I feel overwhelmed by my Things To Do list, all I need to do is step outside. I have two ducks (Darcy and Lizzy) and at least twice a day I have ‘duck time.’

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I let them out of their coop to wander the yard and I sit there, watching them, listening to bird song (and duck quacks), breathe the fresh air and watch the clouds roll by. My mind settles and I get present with what is. Duck time is meditative for me and nurtures me like nothing else.”

 

 

Author Hayely Barrett appreciates animals too. “As much as I love people, I’m deeply thankful that humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet. Life on Earth is spectacularly varied, and whether I watch a video of a jaguar slinking through the rainforest or spot a fisher slinking through my yard, I am cheered.

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Hayley and Munchkin, fully themselves

I enjoy the company of non-humans, horses and dogs especially. They are fully themselves—unchanging and at peace—and spending time with them helps me to remember who I am too.”

 

 

 

 

Author Katie Slivensky shares,

bluejoyNature calms me by giving me something to focus on that is external. I was stuck on some summary work during a snow day in February, and then a paused and spent an hour taking pictures of blue jays outside. That took my mind away from my book troubles, and when I came back around to work on those summaries later, I had a much easier time.”

 

Author Megan Lloyd’s debut picture book celebrates kids in nature, and she finds support there herself. “When I find myself getting anxious, with my heart racing and my thoughts swirling, going outside for a walk, or just taking a minute to sit in the sunshine, centers me. It helps me let go of my problems and instead feel absorbed in the beauty around me. And then I’m ready to take a deep breath…and return to my challenges (writing and otherwise), with a renewed sense of perspective and focus.”

Author and agent Ammi-Joan Paquette knows where writers can find an ever-present boost beyond their writing chair, saying, “Nature is nurturing because it is always accepting, always peaceful, always there. It’s like a personal magic kingdom that lies in wait for whenever you need it.”

And wherever any of us are in the writing and publishing process, there’s not one of us who couldn’t use plenty of that.

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Filed under Book Launch, Inspiration, Nature, Thankfulness, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

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

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

When is it okay to call yourself a writer?

You hear authors say “I’ve been writing all my life” or “I’ve been writing since I was a little kid.” But for many of us I think the moment we actually label ourselves a “writer” can represent a significant step in this journey we’re on. This was true for me. In one of my early journals I wrote the following –

IMG_0152I couldn’t spell (thank the gods for spell check), but I obviously knew I wanted to write. I wrote all through high school, won a statewide poetry award, but then life got in the way. I wasn’t confident that I could make a living writing. I got interested in environmental issues and went a more scientific path. Even so the sneaky writing muse was watching out for me. I didn’t end up in a lab, I became a planner and project manager with significant responsibilities in, you guessed it, technical writing. But the writing I do for work is as far from creative writing as you can get while still using words.

For years I thought I couldn’t write creatively and do the technical work I was making my living at – then after a while (and I mean a decade or two) my thinking shifted. I give huge credit to my parents, they always remembered I was a writer when I forgot, and this helped me admit that since there were always four or five stories gamboling about in my head, I might as well write them down.

For a while it was my little secret. I didn’t tell family or friends. Then over time when people asked “what’s new” I would shyly admit that I was doing some writing on the side. It was well into my second full manuscript, that I realized two fundamental truths. First – if I called myself a writer, not only would others take me more seriously, but I would feel more grounded in the responsibility of putting butt in chair and getting the work done. Second, I’d been hesitant to call myself a writer because I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t published, but in fact I was a writer. I was putting the words down, reading, honing my craft skills, and becoming active in this amazing world of other writers doing the same thing. So, if you are in that place between “doing some writing” and “being a writer” I urge you to take that leap. Honor your skills and the hard work you’re doing by calling yourself what you are. Print up business cards. Put it on your Face Book page. Then enjoy the journey.

P.S. if you want more in this vein, run don’t walk to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC. Empowering – I promise.

DarceyHighResDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in spring of 2017. KEY TO HEAVEN, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

Find her on Facebook or Twitter @Darcey_r

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Filed under craft~writing, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Happiness, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

Of Cracked Ribs and Dreams Come True

It was a Saturday in July when I got “the call”.

Actually, missed “the call”.

Actually…*coughs* ignored “the call”.

I was recovering from pneumonia (brought on by severely overworking myself at my day job) and at my biweekly kidlit critique group meeting. One of my crit partners had driven me, because I was in no shape to drive myself. I faded in and oheyarnoldsickut over the three hour meeting, clutching my pirate pillow that I was using to brace my ribs. I’d coughed so hard over the two weeks prior that I’d fractured them. At one point, my phone buzzed and I saw a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it.

See, I’d been on sub for a while with the manuscript that got me my wonderful agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. She’d mentioned that someone was expressing interest and might take it to an acquisitions meeting that week, but my head was too full of fog to ever think that this could mean I’d get an offer. We’d been close before. We’d been on sub for what felt like forever. I had a new manuscript turned in that we were prepping to take out next, with the unspoken understanding that it meant shelving the old one for the time being. And there was the whole…103 degree fever for a week straight thing. The ol’ synapses were not exactly firing properly.

I fell asleep for a good chunk of my critique group meeting. I was in a haze as I was driven back to my apartment. So when I looked at my email, squashed in the front seat with my pillow wrapped securely around me, at first I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

It was an email from Joan. Asking if I was around to talk. She said she’d tried to get in touch with me, but was overseas and using a number I wouldn’t recognize.

My friend Tara was driving, with my other friend Annie in the backseat. Both published authors themselves, I immediately asked them what they thought of the cryptic message. I don’t think either of them thought it was cryptic–neither would come out and say that it probably meant I had an offer, but the implication was there.

…That’s when it hit me. The reality of what might be happening.

bugsbunnycrazyIt was the oddest sensation. I had zero energy, but I still flooded head to toe with adrenaline. Imagine being buried in sand with a caffeine IV drip buried next to you, pouring into your veins.

I wrote Joan back and told her (probably fairly incoherently, given my mental state) that she could call at anytime. Seriously. Any. Time. However, she’d made it clear in her first email that she was likely going to be busy the rest of the day. I was shaking, and not from a fever anymore.

My friends dropped me off, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I was too sick to go out and distract myself with anything, so I put in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and watched that.

Until my phone rang at 5pm.

I. Had. An. Offer! It was official! Joan (seriously, bless her) called me from Europe to tell me I had a two book offer from HarperCollins Children’s. Erica Sussman wanted to be my editor.

All I could say was, “Ohrdomigosh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!”–followed by intense periods of ugly coughing/hacking. I wanted to run. Jump. Scream. Dance. But all my body could manage was this odd sort of speed-shuffle around my apartment with my pirate pillow in tow. Both my cats flew around like maniacs, clearly knowing something was up. I called my parents. I cried.

A book deal! My lifelong dream come true, with cracked ribs.

Joan and I got back in touch when she returned to the States that following week, and we formally accepted. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.

I’ve recovered from the pneumonia and the fractures, thankfully.

…Still working on recovering from the shock.


 

Katie Slkatiemarsivensky’s debut Middle Grade novel (title TBD) tells the story of a 13 year-old robotics whiz who is thrilled to be chosen to train for an international mission to Mars, but soon finds herself and her fellow cadets in a situation far more dire and deadly than any of them could have imagined. Publication is set for Summer 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. With an academic background in paleontology and zoology, she only began dabbling in astronomy when she joined the Museum in 2009. It soon became a major passion, and spilled straight over into her writing life.

Katie lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Visit Katie on Twitter (@paleopaws) or on her personal blog, Discoverific.

 

 

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Happiness, Introduction, Thankfulness, The Call, Uncategorized

Going with the Flow

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

 

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

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

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

howdoiexcited

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


 

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

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

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

 

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

Another Kind of Good-bye

It is my turn to say good-bye.

     *      *      *      *      *

Historically, I haven’t much liked good-byes.

roller coaster

whatwillimiss whatwillimiss whatwillimiss…whoa!

I used to have this really strong knee-jerk reaction to them. This wavy feeling in my belly, like I was riding a roller coaster. And this thought in my brain: What will I miss if I go?

 I had that reaction for a long time. And it was connected to this ancient fear of mine of not knowing. Do you know that fear? For me, it was always about wanting to be on top of things; wanting to know what everyone needed at all times and trying to accommodate those needs. It was also about feeling ridiculously uncomfortable with the idea that something might happen without my knowledge.

Ummmm. Yeah.

Lots of things happen without my knowledge.

Of course that’s true, and there’s no way around it—and no need for a way around it—but I fought it so hard for so long. I stayed past the time I should have stayed at places, I kept my eyes open too wide, my brain going a mile a minute all the time.

What will I miss if I go?

What will I miss if I don’t go? This is real question. Or even more to the point: What will I miss if I don’t let go?

 Because I have finally learned that holding on too tight, and needing to know too much, actually limits me in very profound ways. (Not to mention the fact that it annoys—at best—the people onto whom I am holding!)

Many parts of my life have taught me this over the last decade or so – try holding on too tightly to your teenager, for example! – but the process of writing, publishing, and, now, promoting Another Kind of Hurricane has probably taught me this the most.

I can point to so many lessons, but I will only talk about two here.

PRE-PUB

Bear with me while I explore my experience with Tropical Storm Irene one more time. Like a spiral of wind and water goes round and round, I come back to it again and again, looping around again, but moving into new learning each time. rainbow spiral

Some of you know this part of my saga with Irene. We lost almost all of the contents of our basement when it flooded. At one point during the process of hauling stuff from the basement, someone gave me a box. I opened it. It was filled with photographs – a picture of my siblings and me at my wedding, a picture of my sister the first time she made my son, Luc, laugh, a picture of a camping trip with friends. The photos were soaking wet and covered in mud. I knew there were dozens of similar boxes, still in the basement. I knew I had to throw them all away. But I couldn’t do it. Not yet. So I went back to filling the dumpster. Hours later, as the sun was setting, I took a break and walked to the lawn at the side of my house.

What I saw took my breath away.

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A photo of my sister Callie and my son Luc (who is now that teenager I have to let go of!), among others.

People I didn’t know—were saving all of my photos. Someone meticulously peeled them apart, someone rinsed them in a shallow bin of water, and someone hung them on a clothesline to dry.

It was one of those moments that shines a light. Instead of focusing my attention on that box of photos, I let it go. And in the process I left a space for these people. Without realizing it, I had allowed there to be this vibrant, full-of-potential space. A space, it turns out, spanning those amazing people and me.

And inside of that space, those people and I—we were forever changed; we became friends.

POST-PUB

When Hurricane was just beginning to get some public attention, I wanted to center myself; to try to find a way to be grounded while on this public journey, because this story had been just mine for so long, you know? And I knew I could easily get mired down in watching and waiting for and fretting over those reviews. I asked both my editor (Annie Kelley) and agent (Erin Murphy) for their philosophies on reviews. They are wise, Annie and Erin. They both told me almost the same exact thing, and it really stuck with me.

They said that it’s important to remember that the book is out of my hands now. I have to – wait for it, wait for it – let it go. It “belongs” in a sense, to the people who read it.  That rang so true to me. It is very humbling to imagine my book—my ideas and words—becoming a part of someone else’s life, part of a reader’s thoughts and perspective. But it also makes a lot of intuitive sense. I can vividly remember the books that I felt were written just for me when I was a kid.

And what I have come to believe, both based on my own reading as a kid and my own research on reading as an adult, is that there is a space created when you read. A space between you and the book. Sometimes it is sort of window-shaped – where you learn about new things; sometimes it is more mirror-like – where you see yourself; and sometimes it is like a map with a thousand creases – pointing you on a journey.

Annie and Erin also told me to remember that so many readers who have a positive experience with my book—librarians, parents, teachers, and mostly kids—are people I will never, ever hear from. There is something magical about that.

If I let go. If I leave space.

The magic of space, for me, is the landscape—or maybe people-scape—where the alchemy of one person connecting with another unfolds.*

BEYOND-PUB

Emu’s Debuts has been a place of so much alchemy and so many connections. I can’t even begin to thank those of you who have graced this blog, and those of you who will. Just please know how much you have touched me, comforted me, taught me, changed me. I am on-my-knees humbled by you and hands-outstretched-to-the-sky honored to know you.

     *      *      *      *      *

calvin and hobbesI still don’t like good-byes. They still scare me, to be perfectly honest. But I respect them. And value them. And thinking about them as letting go and leaving space – for other people, for other ideas, for magic – makes it infinitely easier…

…to say…

…good-bye.

 

 

 

*I can’t write about the alchemy of connection today without thinking of the so many refugees who need a place, a space, to call home. This is a smart op-ed piece about moving forward together.

 

 

tamara_ellis_smith_bio

Tamara 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 was published by Schwartz & Wade/Random House in July 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 and on Twitter @tsesmith.

 

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Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness