Category Archives: The Call

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

The Call… (And It’s Lovely to Meet You!)

Many EMUs have introduced themselves by sharing their experience of getting “THE CALL.” I think all writers have visions of how “the call” will happen but the fact is you never know when it will come. The good news is that no matter when it happens it is A-MAZING and a bit surreal, like flying into a rainbow and sliding into a pot of gold unicorns dusted in purple and green glitter.

To give a little personal backstory (this is my first post, after all. Hello! I’m Terry. Nice to meet you!), before I signed with EMLA, I had sold 18 manuscripts on my own. But when the economy collapsed in 2008, so went my career. It was harder to sell my work so I decided to up my game and go back to school to earn an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Two years after graduation, I signed with Trish Lawrence and EMLA. For another two years I toiled away, writing and revising manuscripts I hoped Trish could sell.

Fast forward to November, 2015. Two days before Thanksgiving, and I was in vacation mode. You know that place where you’ve mentally checked out and the last thing on your mind is your career? My husband and I had settled down for the evening in our cozy mountain home, snowflakes gently falling outside, a warm fire burning, hot drinks in hand.

Suddenly, my phone broke out with the chorus of Pharrell Williams’s song, “Happy.” I instantly recognized it as Trish’s ringtone. But wait—it was Thanksgiving week. Oh nuts! She must’ve accidentally butt-dialed me, I thought, because surely two days before Thanksgiving she was also in vacation mode. I answered the phone, “Hi…Trish?” Well, the ringtone fit because she was happy to tell me that Simon & Schuster had made an offer on my manuscript, Mama Loves You So. Because my husband was right there, I started squealing, “We got an offer on Mama! We got an offer on Mama!” I can still hear Trish’s laughter in the background (that moment will stay with me forever :)). Once I calmed down (because this is how I was feeling…)

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…she explained that Little Simon wanted to publish my manuscript as a board book for a new line of Little Simon books called, Stories to Start (first stories for parents to share with babies). Wowieee!!! I loved the idea of being part of a new book line and perhaps even more I loved the idea that I’d written a board book (who knew? I thought I wrote a picture book!). My writing goal, after all, is to turn young children onto books to begin their journey as lifelong readers.

Fast forward again to two days ago (eight months after “the call”) and I was delighted to see Mama Loves You So listed in Publisher’s Weekly “Spring 2017 Sneak Previews.” Yippeeee! I can finally tell people that Little Simon is publishing my book, a story that’s close to my heart (I first thought of the idea—using nature metaphors to reflect a mother’s love for her baby—when my son was an infant—he’s now 32!).

Back to the point of this post, you never know when “the call” will happen or when your story ideas will come to fruition. So don’t ever count yourself out and always embrace the unexpected!

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About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a  middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!).

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Filed under Introduction, The Call, Uncategorized

Who, Who’s Excited?!

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

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

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But now I finally get to be like this:

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

Me: “Gooooood morning!”

Trish: “Guess what?”

Me: “What? What? What?”

Trish: “We just sold WHOBERT!”

Me:

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

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

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IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases in Summer 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips between Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas. He loves creating punny names for cars and dogs, and often goes for midnight rides in his Fiat, Sofiat Vercara, with his Pomeranian, Pom Brokaw. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. If you know Anjelica Huston, please contact him immediately. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

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

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.

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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

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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author

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

From the Journal of Susan Vaught (Who is Not Afraid of Walruses), Plus a GIVEAWAY!!!!

I asked my friend Gisele to interview me for this article, so I could be like my main character, Footer Davis. Gisele rolled her eyes a lot, but in the end, she surrendered. I knew she would.

Why am I interviewing you?
Because interviews are fun. And because my latest book has a lot of interviews in it.

I’m only doing this for brownies. You know that, right?
Yes, I know.

Brownies and cake.
Got it.

What do you do for a living?
By day, I’m a neuropsychologist who works in a haunted monolith I call the Old Asylum. By evening and night and wee hours of the morning, I make up worlds and people and all manner of chaos. I try to paint with words. I live and write in that strange hinterland between psychology and creativity, between seeing patterns and laboring to describe them.

Did being a psychologist help you write your latest book?
Sometimes my two lives intersect, and my stories include characters who have mental health issues. That’s definitely the case in Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy, coming in March, 2015 from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books. Footer’s mom struggles with Bipolar Disorder, and Footer lives with the fear that she’ll wind up battling the same illness. That doesn’t stop her from exploring a big mystery, trying to save some missing kids, and working on her upcoming career as a journalist. She’s decided she can’t be an artist since she can’t draw–not that lack of talent stops her from illustrating her own story, especially when she wants to annoy a stodgy teacher, show somebody what snake guts look like, or explain her walrus phobia. Some things, like mutant alien rock monsters and mysterious sneakers, just work better in pictures.

Alien mutant rock monster, drawn by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, not me, because I can’t even draw stick figures.

Alien mutant rock monster, drawn by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, not me, because I can’t even draw stick figures.

 

I was able to ask Jennifer Black Reinhardt, the book’s illustrator, a few questions, so, bonus!

Me:     What does it feel like to be able to draw something other than a stick figure? Because I’m way envious. Even my stick figures stink.
Jennifer:     I’m not sure if I’ve always loved to draw because I was good at it? Or, if I got good at it because I loved to draw? I think it might be the latter. I can remember being very little and having an idea and being absolutely consumed with hurrying to finish my bath so I could go draw. I would spend hours drawing different noses on a person in profile and was mesmerized by how just that one line could transform a darling little girl into an evil witch. But I did have that love and passion for it at a very early age.
Me:        Envy       

Me:           I panicked when I heard they were getting a real artist to draw Footer’s sketches, because like me, Footer can’t really draw! You did such an awesome job of making wonderful pictures that weren’t perfect–and yet were, in every way. How hard was it to draw like Footer?
Jennifer:     I did have to think about how to do them, but it was really fun! Are you sure Footer can’t draw? Because the fact that she liked to document some rather odd/difficult things with her drawings seemed to indicate to me that she thought she could succeed? I looked through some of my daughter’s old sketchbooks from about that time to get a feel for what Footer might do. I thought Footer would spend some time on them. So, I didn’t want to make them as quick as single line. I kind of wanted Footer to think she did a good job.
Me:         love  

Me:     What are you working on now? Where else will readers be able to see your masterpieces?
Jennifer:     This very moment I’m doing sketches for “Yaks Yak” a word play picture book by Linda Sue Park published by Clarion. And right before that I finished final art for a book by Suzanne Slade, published by Charlesbridge  about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. So I’ve gone from non-fiction inventors, to a possibly crazy Footer Davis, to definitely wacky animals! I love being an illustrator!
Me:     You are awesome. Thank you for bringing Footer’s pictures to life. (And, get this, Gisele, she didn’t even charge me brownies for the interview…)

 

Now back to our regularly scheduled questions.

Are you afraid of walruses?
No. That’s Footer.

Suuuuure it is.
Really. I’m not afraid of walruses.

I want oatmeal raisin cookies, too.
FINE.

Have you ever written a middle grade book before?
Footer’s tale is my first published middle grade story, after years of writing for adults and young adults. Writing middle grade fiction is something I’ve always wanted to do . . . well, that and picture books, but the whole picture book thing—yeah. Still working on that (see above re: stick figures). Despite my issues with drawing anything other than ugly blobs, I started this story by sketching a really awful doodlebug, and labeling its parts and looking up its scientific classification. Footer Davis CvrFooter researches doodlebugs as part of a paper where she’s supposed to explore the origins of her town, Bugtussle. Bugtussle got its name from its surplus of doodlebugs, and Footer thinks that’s pretty freaky, but not as freaky as her mom shooting a snake off the pond in their backyard with her dad’s elephant gun. That’s how Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy begins, and it’s how my third grade summer began, too. My mom really did that. I don’t think the elephant gun left any permanent scars on Mom’s shoulder, but it definitely left its mark on the snake. The snake Mom shot was a copperhead, just like the one Footer’s mom removes from the land of the living. The snake ended up on the book’s wonderful cover. I really love the cover, and all the  little bits of Footer’s story tucked into it.

So, how did you get “the call” about this book?
This book sold at auction, so I got several calls from Erin Murphy across the day. When she told me Footer had a home with Sylvie Frank at Simon and Schuster, I was thrilled.

Does your new editor know you’re scared of walruses?
I AM NOT SCARED OF WALRUSES! Besides, Sylvie is completely wonderful and she wouldn’t care.

When you’re not writing or working at the Old Asylum, what do you do with your time?
I spend time with my family, including my adorable new grandson Anthony. I also spend time with my pets–too many dogs, a few cats, some chickens, a peacock, and a parrot.

No walruses, eh? I rest my case. Are the brownies ready yet?
Time to end the interview…

 

Thanks so much, Susan!! Susan is giving away THREE copies of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy, leave a comment and be entered to win!

You can also purchase Susan’s book here:

The Flying Pig Bookstore

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

 

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Filed under Illustrators, Introduction, The Call

Maria Gianferrari’s Calls …

wings

As I stretch my Emu’s debut fledgling wings, I remember not “the call,” but several calls that kept me fluttering and striving for flight toward my goal of becoming a published author.

Call #1 came on the evening of May 29th, 2008, as I was reading to my then six year old daughter. I quickly checked the caller ID; I didn’t recognize the name, so I let it go to voicemail. After my daughter was tucked in bed, I listened to the message. The caller was Susan Goodman, a nonfiction writer and judge for PEN New England’s Susan Bloom Discovery Award. I knew I hadn’t won the award—the winners had recently been announced—what could it be? Susan told me how much she loved my submission, a nonfiction picture book called Terrific Tongues. She thought its strength was its structure, a form of direct address that had an engaging, kid friendly voice. And then came the surprise: it had been a contender for the award, but the deal breaker was its too technical ending. We then had a conversation about how to make the ending more organic, and a pleasant conversation about writing in general. Though this was technically a rejection call, it gave me hope. Susan had taken the time out of her busy schedule to give me encouragement, and that’s exactly what I needed.

dandelions

 

Fast forward nearly one year later: I revised and revised and revised Terrific Tongues, and re-submitted it for the Discovery Award in 2009. Call #2 came on March 23, 2009. This time when I saw “Susan Goodman” on my caller ID, my stomach began flipping and flopping—could it be? As I picked up the phone and said hello, Susan happily told me I was one of four winners (along with the fabulous Anna Staniszewski, another EMLA member!) I couldn’t believe it! I was overjoyed and terrified: I would have to read my manuscript aloud along with the other winners at the awards evening. That evening came late in May, and I was thrilled to be reading it along with the help of my daughter, now 7. Afterwards, I greeted old friends, and met new ones, one in particular who would become most instrumental in my journey toward publication: Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Joan had also been honored with a Susan Bloom Discovery Award, I came to find out. She congratulated me on receiving the award, and asked if I’d ever considered getting an agent. We exchanged information, and met for coffee. At the time, I had only two submission ready manuscripts, both of which were nonfiction picture books. The timing wasn’t quite right for representation, but Joan was kind and thoughtful and hopeful about my work, encouraging me to keep in touch, and re-submit once I had more completed projects. So I wrote and re-wrote; drafted and revised.          LJIZlzHgQ7WPSh5KVTCB_Typewriter

 

Fast forward again: May 2011. I met Joan briefly at the NE-SCBWI conference, as I was waiting for my critique. She said a hearty hello, and invited me to submit my manuscripts. After a trip x-country, the end of the summer arrived, and I submitted multiple manuscripts to Joan. I obsessively checked my email. A couple of months later Joan’s name appeared in my in-box: she was very interested in my writing and asked me to do some revisions. Hooray! We emailed back and forth as I worked on revisions. Call #3 came on precisely August 27th, 2012: Joan wanted to represent me! She was so excited about my work that she sent out some submissions before I had even returned the signed contract! Woo-hoo!

 

oldphone    Valentine’s day 2013 arrived, and so did the so-called “call.” I had just returned home from picking my daughter up at school, when I heard a voice on the answering machine: Joan’s! I picked it up mid call: she had received an offer on my picture book, then called Penelope, Untalented, from Cynthia Platt at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! This is what the conversation sounded like on my end:

Me: “Oh my God.”

Daughter: “What, mom? Who is it?”

Me: “Oh, my God!”

Daughter: “What is it?!”

Me: “I can’t believe it! OH MY GOD!”

Daughter: “Mom!”

At some point, Joan asked me if I wanted to sit down, she then told me that we had an offer for a two-book deal debut! The best Valentine’s day present ever! After a thousand thank-yous, and a happy dance with daughter and dog, it was time to make calls of my own, to my husband and mother, and eventually, to my family and friends to thank them for their encouragement, and for believing in me and my work. The years before these calls were long, lonely years of hard work and rejection, but they were also filled with cheering and bolstering my writing friends as they cheered and bolstered me.

 

Now my dream of being a published author will soon be here! My debut picture book, now titled Penny & Jelly: The School Show, will be released in July 2015, and the second Penny & Jelly adventure will arrive in Spring  2016.             9780544230149_lres

I think it’s fitting that we call ourselves emus—we are flightless birds now ready to take wing. Hope is, after all, the thing with feathers.        flyingbirds

 

 

Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015, with a second Penny & Jelly book to follow in Spring 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press,  Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website: mariagianferrari.com, or visit Maria at Facebook.

Photos of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.           Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under The Call

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

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

shutterstock_58184632

Yeah, this was me alright…

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

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

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

This epiphany brings me to my knees.

 


 

ImageTamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com andwww.smithwright.blogspot.com.

 

 

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Filed under Faith, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized