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ACKNOWLEDGING THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In the months leading up to signing with my agent, I got in the habit of flipping to the acknowledgements page of middle-grade books to peruse who the author thanked and how fervently they thanked them.  I didn’t realize how much the tender, earnest gratitude other writers pledged towards their supportive spouses and children was making me sweat until I saw the acknowledgments page of Scott Seegert’s VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. Here, after dedicating the book to his own glorious self, Vordak refuses to commend the contribution of others to its publication, observing, “A herd of bison would have been more helpful.”

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I felt a thrill of YES and VORDAK, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME.  Then I found a quote from Franz Kafka telling his fiancée, “You once said you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I would not be able to write at all…one can never be alone enough to write…” Oh, Franz, I hear you, too, dude.

 

My husband and I worked out a plan last summer whereby he’d be the family breadwinner, and our kids would be the family bread-eaters, and I would try being the family writer. In planning, however, we failed to acknowledge that I already have a couple of full-time jobs managing our household and parenting two intense little people who want nothing more than to spend their day talking to me, negotiating with me, playing with me, squabbling near me, and lying down on various parts of me and asking me to read to them. In addition, my husband is pretty introverted and many days, I’m his only social outlet.

We’ve tried various methods of preserving a quiet, protected daily writing space and time for me.

writer at work

 

I’ll be frank, though: bit by bit, I’ve been disintegrating. I’ve always been unusually sensitive to disturbances in the Force around me, which my doctor is now calling generalized anxiety disorder. When I’m out of balance, I develop really odd anxieties. (One fun example: after my twins were born, I developed a fear of my home’s mailbox.)

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And I’ve found that even with a regime of medication, supplements, meditation, and therapy, if I don’t get enough alone time, I’m neither a good writer nor a good member of our family. Instead, I hide in bed and fantasize about:

  • digging a moat around and bricking up the doorway to our home office
  • finding a way to become the sound-hoarding Soundkeeper from THE PHANsoundkeeperTOM TOLLBOOTH
  • inventing reverse hearing aids that allow you to turn silence up or down as needed (better than ear plugs, we’ll call ‘em Hearing Thwarts, $19.99 per pair plus shipping and handling. Stock up for the holidays!)

It’s not easy. Nevertheless, when my editor asked for my own dedication and acknowledgements pages, I did thank my family. It’s understated, but it’s there. While there’s a mailbox-fearing creature ready to hijack my hippocampus pretty much whenever, I’m not a jerk nor an evil overlord at heart.

It’s worth noting, however, that my kids’ school summer vacation begins tomorrow. So if you hear I’ve disappeared, please do me a favor – don’t tell the authorities that I’ve likely taken my laptop to sit amidst the nearest herd of bison to get some peace and quiet.


Christina UssCHRISTINA USS has never found a frilled lizard in her mailbox, but there’s always a first time. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Tweet her if you know of a herd of bison seeking a Writer in Residence @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Families, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

The BLUE SKY WHITE STARS All-American Author Interview! Plus a Recipe!

Cue the marching band! Light the fireworks! It’s time for an All-American Author Interview! 

I asked Blue Sky White Stars author Sarvinder Naberhaus  about her favorite American foods, pastimes, and traditions. Here’s the scoop:

The 4th of July is coming, and you’re invited to my backyard barbecue bash. What tasty treat should I grill up for you? A hot dog? A hamburger? Something else entirely?

A grilled hamburger is good, but so is a grilled hot dog. It’s probably a toss-up, but I’d top either of them with barbecue sauce. 

Barbecue sauce on a dog or burger?! That’s some American ingenuity, right there. I’ll forgo my usual ketchup-mustard-relish-onions combo next time and try it. 

Batter up! We’re headed off to enjoy America’s favorite pastime — a baseball game. When the snack vendor comes our way, do you want peanuts or Cracker Jack?

When I was young I’d walk to Pammel Grocery and buy Cracker Jack. I only bought them for the prize. I would eat them, but never really liked them. I lived for the prize. 

Here you go, Sarvinder. All the prizes just for you.

Happy Thanksgiving! Do you choose a slice of apple pie or pumpkin pie? And what’s your favorite side dish?

Definitely pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Favorite side dish? French Silk Pie! 

Pie on the side? That takes the cake!

My kids love my pumpkin bars too, so I’ll share the recipe at the end of this post. 

Have you ever visited Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian museums? Which was your favorite? 

The Air and Space Museum. I’m fascinated with the stars and wanted to be an astronaut, hence the ending of Blue Sky White Stars. 

Readers will have to rocket to their nearest library or bookstore to see BLUE SKY WHITE STAR’s spectacular ending. Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are stratospherically stunning. 

It’s a perfect summer night with exactly zero mosquitoes. I’ve packed the station wagon with snacks and pillows. Let’s go to the drive-in! Which classic American film should we see? *crosses her fingers for JAWS*

My favorite movie is THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but for the drive-in, I say GREASE. 

Speaking of summer blockbusters, I’ve revved up the DeLorean’s flux capacitor. Let’s time travel! Which famous American would you most like to meet? 

There are lots of people in BLUE SKY WHITE STARS that I’d like to meet, but I’d have to say Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Great choice! I’d love to hear Half Pint’s stories first-hand. Can you imagine getting writing advice from her? Amazing. 

Nothing is more American than a… In that spirit, it’s time for the speed round. Hold on to your 10-gallon hat, Sarvinder!

 

Fireworks or fireflies?

Definitely fireflies on a warm July night, millions blinking over the fields of Iowa. A sight to behold. 

Jazz or Country? Country. My favorite singer is Amy Grant. 

Nascar or rodeo? Nascar.

Coke or Pepsi? Neither. Dr. Pepper!

On that appropriately independent note, I’d like to thank you, Sarvinder Naberhaus, for participating in this All-American Author Interview. And now, for the grand finale:

Sarvinder’s Famous Pumpkin Bars With Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease a 10 x 13 ” pan. Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 c. sugar
2 c. pumpkin (1 15 oz. can)

Then add:

1 c. vegetable oil

Next add:

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Spread batter into pan. Bake 20 minutes. 

Frosting:

Soften 4 oz. cream cheese and 3/4 c. butter (1 1/2 sticks)
Blend cream cheese and butter with 1 tsp. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 3/4 c. powdered sugar until smooth. (Frosting recipe can be doubled. Freeze half for another day.)

Frost cooled pumpkin sheet cake and cut into bars. 

Enjoy while reading BLUE SKY WHITE STARS. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

(Vendor photo: Apr 5, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Ballpark vendor Chico Sakulsky sells peanuts and Cracker Jack before the Pittsburgh Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

 

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Filed under Celebrations, Inspiration, Interviews, Uncategorized

Blue Sky White Stars, the book journey

Blue Sky Cover w text

Front Cover

BLUE SKY - BACK COVER

Back Cover

My journey with this book started with getting my agent. I had given Joan several of my manuscripts and was excited when she called and took me as a client. 

Blue sky civil march

       She wanted me to add more people and Americana

She sent Blue Sky to my editor, and when Lucia saw this manuscript, she asked if she could call me.Of course I was very excited!  I had just gotten a few rejections and I was planning on revising it. Lucia had a vision for this book right from the start. It was really her vision that brought it all together.

Of course that vision included Kadir Nelson as the illustrator. When I went to his website and looked at his artwork (this was before I knew who Lucia had in mind), it hit me that he was the perfect artist for this book, with his rich blues and deep browns. He has also done books that contained several of the subjects in my book, such as baseball and Abe Lincoln, and space.

When Lucia spoke with me on the phone, she asked me to revise. She wanted me to add more people and Americana to the text. So of course I brainstormed for months, thinking about the flag and words that describe it, that could also describe people.

When I write, I ask myself a lot of questions, so I asked myself, “Where else has the flag been?” And the answer was immediate. To the moon! And I knew I had my climax, even though this was a concept book. I had always wanted to be an astronaut so this was the perfect ending.

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            LINES out August 21

For me, space is always the perfect ending for my books (see my upcoming board book, LINES). 

Dial did decide that they were going to be doing special 4th of July displays around the country with this book, so I got to sign 2000 copies ahead of time, putting my signature alongside Kadir’s. IMG_2632

The only thing was, I got the books late, so I only had 4 days to do so.

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Here I am signing some of my 2000 copies the first time

Then, later on, it ended up that the ink stuck on the previous pages, and so we had to resign 2000 copies all over again!  IMG_2633

I doubt my small hometown will have the display at my local bookstore, but I hope people will send me photos if they run into one.
I also ended up doing quite a lot of backmatter, that the editorial team wanted me to do, last minute. So I had less than a month to research and write the backmatter for all the topics of this book. Non-fiction research takes a lot of time because there are contradictory facts and you have to dig deep to find the truth. In the end, they forgot to tell me that they had cut it. I found out when I got the final pdf, right before being sent off for printing. In the end, I think the current end pages match the tone of the story much better.  I told my editor this would make for a good story someday! 

So that is a little about this book and how it came into this world. Thanks for sharing my special day with me!

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Can I Really Be An Author?

ed7fec70-79c7-0134-cdfe-0aec1efe63a9.pngToday, my first-ever novel is officially out in the world. It’s real. It’s published. It’s in hardback. This has been my dream ever since I was very little. It always seemed clear to me that the best possible job was to be an author. Getting to make up stories for a living? Sign me up! I’ve always loved books as physical objects, and reading has been my favorite activity since I was in grade school. I always idolized my favorite authors, fantasizing about the awesome, creative lives they must lead.

Today I can really say it: I am an author. But it’s funny how even now, now that there is official proof, I still don’t quite believe it. It’s hard to even write that sentence without a reflexive little voice that goes: “Oh really? Who do you think you are?” 

I never used to think I’d doubt myself as an author. I thought if I published a book I’d feel worthy, and that was that. I never expected that sneaky imposter feeling to arise. As I wrote about in my last post, throughout the creative process of this book, I constantly questioned whether I could actually do it. I sort of felt like I was pretending the whole time. When people would say, “You’re writing a book?” I’d brush it off. “Well, I’m attempting, anyway,” I’d say. I sort of always had this feeling that it didn’t count. I was just lucky, I’d tell myself. I was in the right place at the right time. Or, they think I can write a book but really I can’t. 

But as we wrapped up the final rounds of editing, I felt something shifting. After reading and re-reading the manuscript so many times, being so close to it for so long, I finally realized something seemingly obvious: this is real. This is not a drill! This is a real book. It’s not pretend. It’s not a meaningless Word document. It’s meaningful to me, and so much work has gone into it, and it will soon exist in the wider world.

In that moment, I realized that even though I didn’t always believe in myself as an author, I did believe in the story of the book. I do believe in Ivy, the book’s protagonist, who in many ways is a version of my younger self. I believe in the emotions that Ivy feels, and I believe in her journey. She is very real to me. So for her sake, I must believe in this book. I must believe in myself.

I will always have moments of doubt– of thinking, can I really be an author?– but I will always strive to tell stories that are important to me, because writing and reading stories is still my absolute favorite thing to do. I will have countless more day jobs, and a million unglamorous moments, and unfinished drafts, and plenty of creative self-doubt, but I won’t deny what is now true: I’m an author. I think my little self, curled up alone reading all day, would be very pleased.

Lily Myers is a writer, feminist and witch from Seattle, Washington. Her debut novel, This Impossible Light, is out today from Philomel. She blogs about self-love and feminism at The Shapes We Make.

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Better

I’m going on 2 years here on EMU’s Debuts. I’m going on 8 years of working towards being a professional author. And I’m going on 32 years of being a writer.

And I have to say: I’ve gotten better at my craft.

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It doesn’t always feel like I’ve improved. A lot of the time, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m one giant faker. But stepping back, looking objectively at my writing, the kind of notes I get from critique partners, my agent, and my editor…

I’ve gotten better.

This is a really important thing for me to state publicly. I struggle with Imposter Syndrome at levels higher than I can possibly sum up in a blog post, but as I know so many other authors who struggle with it, too, I want to share this sentiment.

I’ve gotten better. And you’ve gotten better. (And you! And YOU! And YOU!)

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You’ve all gotten better, I swear. You’re doing great. And you’ll keep getting better.

I’ve written in the past about the stress of turning around a second book super fast after my first one, and how I felt like I could never live up to the writing in my Book 1 with such little time to work with. But honestly, upon reflection, going through some of the final rounds of edits on Book 2… it’s a pretty darn good story. I don’t know if it lives up to Book 1, but it’s startlingly well put together for how little time I’ve had to devote to it. A few years ago, I never could have written something at this level this fast. (Don’t get me wrong–4 years winning NaNoWriMo straight certainly taught me to write fast, but to write well fast? That’s a different story.)

I’m not writing this post to brag about my Book 2. Honestly, I have no idea how it will be received. I just know how I feel about it. And right now, I feel like it’s still kind of a mess. But a proud mess. With lots of good parts. A mess that can be cleaned up into something I’m reasonably happy having published–and something I never could have written a few years ago.

So take pride in your messes. They’re coming together in ways you never could have dreamed about in your past, no matter how sloppy they feel to you in the moment. There’s so much rejection and criticism in this business, that sometimes, we have to be reminded that we have things to celebrate, too. And one of those things is the simple but crucial fact that we’ve all gotten better.

Way to go, us!

celebration mlp.gif


Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) 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 August 1st, 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. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Visit Katie on Twitter (@paleopaws) or on her website, www.katieslivensky.com.

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After the Ecstasy, the Editing

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

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

Nope. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

 

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

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

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

Editing Kit Kats

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

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

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


Christina Uss

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


 

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

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


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

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My Baby is Real!

As you can tell from a lot of our posts on Emu’s Debuts, the path to publication is a long one. It’s been over two years now since my debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, sold. The release is almost upon us (July 18, 2017). For the past six months or so, however, I entered a state of disbelief. When people asked if I was excited for my book to come out, I felt like Miranda on Sex and the City when people asked if she was jazzed to have a baby boy, and she would have this awkward pause, then squeal, “Boy, am I ever,” because she thought that was the right response, even when she wasn’t sure if that’s how she felt.

I told people at the beginning of this year that it still didn’t feel real yet that a book with my name on it would be in bookstores. Since it’s been a while since that call from Trish about our first sale, I didn’t think it would really hit me until other people were reading WHOBERT that the book would actually be out in the world. Well…that moment finally happened, and now I can’t stinking wait for WHOBERT to be among us. I feel like this:

The moment when I finally realized other people were reading the book came in the form of a review from Kirkus. When I saw an email from my editor saying Kirkus had taken a look at my book, I was immediately nervous. My stomach catapulted into my throat. I think I shouted to my partner, “THE REVIEW FROM KIRKUS IS IN WHAT DO I DO?” After his ears stopped ringing from my banshee shriek, he replied, “Um, read it.” So I did…

I pored over that thing. I think I was holding my breath the entire time. Here was real life proof that WHOBERT is actually going out into the world and that other people are going to read it and have thoughts about it. I am so, so happy with what Kirkus had to say (they used phrases like “witty wordplay” and called it “a cracking whooooo-dunit”), but what really hit me is that my baby is about to enter the world. After years of gestating in the womb that is Simon & Schuster, being cared for by so many loving hands, little WHOBERT is going to say “who, who” to the world and people are going to respond. So now when I’m asked if I’m excited, I can legitimately say, “I’M FREAKING OUT!” without a hint of Miranda hesitation.

____________________

Jason 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 on July 18, 2017, from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. Despite his connection to Miranda in this post, experts agree he most closely resembles Charlotte, but he’d prefer to be likened to Anjelica Huston. Jason is a tried and true Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

 

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Writing Through Doubt: How This Impossible Light was Born

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My debut book’s path to publication was an unusual and lucky one. During my sophomore year of college, as part of the Wesleyan University slam poetry team, I performed my poem “Shrinking Women” at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. The poem discussed the way girls learn to shrink, both physically and metaphorically; how we learn not to take up space, learn from the women who came before us that, as women, we must be small. It’s about watching our mothers shrink and learning to mimic them.

While I was studying abroad the following fall, the video went viral. I remember my surprise at returning from a trip to the North Argentinean desert, reconnecting to the internet, and seeing that my poem had more than a million views on YouTube. Soon after that, I heard from Liza Kaplan, an editor at Philomel, who was interested in speaking. We spoke several times, and after she attended a poetry performance of mine at the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute in New York, she offered me a contract for a yet-to-be-created novel.

I was, of course, ecstatic. I’ve wanted to write books my whole life. I’ve been a voracious bookworm since teaching myself to read at age four, and my dream career has always been author, but I never quite dared to believe I was capable of doing it. After all, it’s scary to believe you’re capable of your dream, right? ‘Cause then you actually have to go for it.

This was the constant question in my mind in the two years following, during the writing of This Impossible Light: Am I capable of this? Can I write a book? Sometimes, I thought so; other times, I was positive I sucked at this and Liza had made a huge mistake and the book would be a flop. I doubted myself through every round of edits, but I put in the work because I also loved it. And I wanted to prove to myself that I could.

I also needed to tell this story. Ivy’s story is her own, but it is also my story: the story of a girl, in the middle of adolescence, whose family dissolves before her eyes, who is left to her own devices, who takes out the resulting pain on her own body. This is the story of This Impossible Light, and it’s the story of me, and I wanted to tell it, so I had to work through the doubt.

It wasn’t until the book was officially done that I felt pride. That I re-read the novel and felt Ivy’s pain, her loneliness, and her hope, and I cried. Because her hope was my hope. And I’d proven to myself that I could do it. Regardless of how the book is received, I am proud of the way I’ve told this story.

I’m thrilled that come June, This Impossible Light will be a physical object in my hands, that I can point to it in a bookstore and whisper to my younger self: You did it.

 

LILY MYERS is a writer, feminist and witch. Her debut novel, This Impossible Light, is out June 6 from Philomel. She lives in Seattle with her baby corn snake, Calliope H. Danger.

Lily Myers Headshots -81

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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