Category Archives: Writing

The nuts and bolts of getting the words on the page.

Finding Perfect Gets a Cover!

Today is THE day.  The day the cover for my debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, sneaks past the gate and shows itself to the world. The day I’ve been waiting for.

So. Here. It. Is.

FindingPerfect_Final

 

I am so grateful to Kristi Radwilowicz of FSG, the force behind my cover, for her thoughtful creativity, and Angie Chen, my editor, for her unending editorial wisdom, and the entire FSG team for their continued support.

When you read the book, you’ll be amazed to see how many story elements Kristi was able to weave into my cover! Now, for a bit about the book:

To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is:

  • The number four
  • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil
  • A crisp white pad of paper
  • Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are sometimes broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Poetry Slam Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with white tablecloths. Molly is sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?  

But as time passes, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

In this fresh-voiced debut novel, one girl learns there is no such thing as perfect.

Stay tuned. FINDING PERFECT hits shelves October 2016! Until then, thanks for letting me share my cover and my excitement.

 

****

IMG_9825

Elly Swartz loves writing for children, and not long after she began writing, she got a sign that, indeed, this was the right path for her. She opened a piece of Bazooka Joe gum and wrapped around the sugary, pink delight was a fortune that read, “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.”  She keeps her fortune tacked next to her desk in her office.

Elly’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT comes out on October 18th, 2016 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. FINDING PERFECT is a middle grade story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, betrayal, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two tall and loving, twenty-something sons and one-year-old beagle named Lucy.

You can visit Elly on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

 

 

Advertisements

24 Comments

Filed under Book Promotion, Happiness, Writing

Filled with Turkey, Pie and Gratitude

With just a few weeks to go until my house is wonderfully overflowing with family, the smell of turkey cooking, and the sweet scent of strawberry-banana-cream pie, I’ve been thinking much about all I am grateful for. I think about Molly, the main character from FINDING PERFECT, and how grateful I am that she stuck in my head long enough that I couldn’t NOT write about her.  I think about Olive, the mc from my work-in-progress and how lucky I am that she, too, has proven to be stubborn and persistent. That’s what writing is really about, right? The character, the story nugget, the crystal of a place or idea that feels so real that it just can’t be ignored. I am grateful for those moments that find their way into my brain just long enough to take hold.

But, the list of things I am grateful for happily doesn’t stop with the characters and the stories that I get to bring to life.

I am grateful for my amazing husband of 25 years, and my 2 incredible sons. Grateful for family on both coasts. To me, family is truly what it’s all about!

I am grateful for the people in my life who taught me to never stop dreaming, to never give up, to never stop asking, Why not me?

I am grateful for my girlfriends who are like the sisters I never had.

I am grateful for my EMLA family. Who knew signing with my amazing agent Trish was a package deal complete with the Erin Murphy’s Dogs and an entire writing community of talented, supportive and all-around awesome people?

I am grateful for the gifts of those no longer with me. My mom who taught me how to love unconditionally and color outside the lines. My father in law who taught me to be fearless. My Gram, who taught me strength comes at any height (she was 4”10 at her tallest) and any age (she died a month ago, just shy of 102).

IMG_4458

I am grateful for Angie Chen, my awesome editor, and all the talented people at FSG who are making FINDING PERFECT come to life.

I am grateful for Twizzlers, my happy dance, my little Lu, and being able to write every day.

20150405_131952

So, as I sit with those I love watching football on Thanksgiving, I will be filled with more than just pie and turkey. I will be filled with so much gratitude.

**********

 

IMG_9825

Elly Swartz loves writing for children, and not long after she began writing, she got a sign that, indeed, this was the right path for her. She opened a piece of Bazooka Joe gum and wrapped around the sugary, pink delight was a fortune that read, “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.”  She keeps her fortune tacked next to her desk in her office.

Elly’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, is coming out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on October 18, 2016. FINDING PERFECT is a middle grade story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, betrayal, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two tall and loving, twenty-something sons and one-year-old beagle named Lucy.

You can visit Elly on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

24 Comments

Filed under Happiness, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

In the Nick of Time

Years ago, I used to pride myself on working ahead of time. I used to see some kind of deadline off in the distance and plan out how I would try to get it done a little early–a paper, maybe, or grading some essays, or a reading assignment for a class.

Okay, it was a short phase.

Maybe a year at most.

But I loved it. I loved the feeling of walking to my teaching post, or driving in to a night class, feeling somewhat rested and thinking, yup, that was done a little early. Finished. Finalitisimo. Nada more to do!

And this small bit of excitement gave me a real hunger for more of it (as well as for flour-based bakery items such as: blueberry muffins, banana bread, banana muffins, and blueberry bread).

Even though the phase was short lived, that feeling was pretty amazing.

Fast forward many years, and the reality is very much the opposite. (However, the flour-based bakery items still come along for the ride.) Now, I find myself rushing to complete any task: grading the essays, working on that revision, starting the first draft, getting to the copy edits, putting the kids to bed, putting myself to bed, putting an idea to bed, laying off the flour-based bakery items, and doing the paper for the night class.

All of it happens, pretty much, in the last minute.

Or the last second of the last minute.

For a while, I mourned the loss of the getting-things-done-early kind of life (eating copious amounts of flour-based bakery items was crucially helpful in this stage.)

Then, for another while, I worked vigilantly to get that done-early mentality back (in which case flour-based bakery items were fuel for the drive, pricing energy and courage and chutzpah!).

Finally, I came to a deep acceptance, sat for long periods of time realizing that such a life was not to be had (at least for long time) and proceeded to eat copious amounts of flour-based bakery items to console my heart and stomach regarding this fact.

(Didn’t someone incredibly wise–like Mozart or Oprah or Einstein–remind us of this fact with the immortal words: IF YOU CONVINCE YOUR HEART AND STOMACH OF SOMETHING, THE MIND IS SURE TO FOLLOW THEREAFTER; IF IT DOES NOT, YOU ARE EATING THE WRONG KINDS OF FLOUR-BASED BAKEY ITEMS. BUT THAT IS OKAY BECAUSE ALL OF LIFE IS ABOUT SECOND CHANCES. RETURN TO THOSE FLOUR-BASED BAKERY ITEMS IN THEIR SPLENDOROUS GLASS-SHIELDED DISPLAY CASES AND CHOOSE YE AGAIN!)

So, I am happy (resigned?) to now report that I am coming to a place of peace (giving up?) on getting things done ahead of time and then proceeding with calm confidence towards the due date.

I am coming to an acceptance that, in certain stages of life (maybe thirty or forty years?), getting things done in the nick of time is okay. It is fine. It is fun! The adventure of rushing! The joy of jovial justice that such things still actually DO get done is cool enough! Right on! Right…on? Right?

Or maybe something bigger is at play. Maybe the reality is that all of the goals we make, and all of the hopes and dreams that we seek to accomplish as writers, cannot be completed in a single burst. So we work diligently, we consume our flour-based bakery items, and we pray that we’ll make it on time.

And when we do–instead of feeling guilty for the nick in which we finished, maybe we should eat another banana blueberry muffin bread item and whisper a pray of thanks that we even had the chance to pursue it in the first place. Or, to use much better, more refined words that do not mention anything at all about flour-based bakery items, hear it from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Yes, that sounds much better and saves an awful lot of space.

7 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Writing, Writing and Life

Finding (and Protecting) the Why

emu whyI may be an Emu with a debut coming next fall (!!!), but I’m already a published author. Oh, yes. I am the author of five articles about molecule-based magnets, published in national chemistry journals. They are every bit as riveting as you’d imagine.

Why did I write them? Not for fun, I promise you that. I wrote them because I wanted to teach, and to do that I needed a graduate degree. Those papers were a necessary step in proving that my research was valid and valuable so that I could earn that degree.

But here’s the thing: nobody really asked why I was going to grad school or writing these papers or why I wanted to teach. People somehow seemed to understand. That has not been my experience with the writing I’ve done the last few years.

Why do you write books for kids?

Somebody asked me this recently, and it was hard for me, in that moment, to come up with an answer that satisfied either of us. Even when they don’t ask directly, I feel the why so often, like the vaildity and value of the type of writing I do now are being called into question. If I were a real writer, wouldn’t I be writing for adults? Or writing something academic? There are definitely people who get it, but there are so many who seem totally baffled by the why.

The bigger problem comes, though, when we begin to lose sight of the why ourselves. When we’re faced with that question in another’s eyes or words, as I was, and come up with an answer that’s far short of satisfying, as I did.

So if you haven’t done it yet, or if it’s been a while, take some time to really think about your why. I tried to really articulate mine here, but answers will definitely vary.

Your why may be the stories inside you that just have to come out. The characters who won’t leave you alone until their story is told.

Or the love you have for the craft of writing.

Or the wonderfully supportive kidlit community that you love being part of.

Or the legacy of amazing children’s literature that you want to add your voice to.

Or the kid you once were, or the kids you know now, and the stories you want to share with them.

Whatever your why, take some time to actually put it into words. Then protect it and nourish it and remember it. And whatever your publishing path may throw at you, don’t you dare let go of it.


View More: http://morgansladephotography.pass.us/vickersfamily

Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) 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. 🙂

13 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Writing, Writing and Life

Exchanging Doubt for Joy

Heart PicIt’s my turn to leave the nest. It’s cozy and safe and I don’t WANT to leave! But a new generation of debut authors remains, poised for greatness. They are talented and wonderful and the blog will be in capable hands.  I am filled with gratitude for the support and personal growth I’ve experienced during my time as a member of EMU’s Debuts.

This past year in particular has been a study in contrast for me, filled with extreme highs and lows. It was a dream come true seeing my book in print. But there were doubts, expectations, and worries too—issues that snowballed and eventually resulted in a diagnosis of severe depression. I mention this because I had anticipated only joy, and considered it a personal failure when the joy did not materialize exactly when and how I imagined it would.

Thanks to my incredibly supportive spouse, I finally stopped blaming myself and sought proper treatment. I am doing so much better now! And I realize that I waited way too long to ask for help.

So many of us fight a daily battle of doubt vs. joy.

I started playing the flute when I was ten years old. A few great teachers and a lot of practice helped me develop a skill that brought me happiness and made me feel like I was good at something. I played all the way through college and even started out as a performance major with the hopes of joining a professional orchestra someday.

Then doubt got in the way. There were lots of talented flute players. What were my chances of competing? It was too hard, I had to practice too much every day, I’d never make it into an orchestra and if I did I’d never make a living at it. I talked myself out of it, and destroyed the joy it used to bring.

I graduated with a generic music degree and a decision to turn my attention to children’s literature. I don’t regret the choice to write, but I do regret making that choice out of fear, and will always wonder “what if?”

Of course, the path to publishing is fraught with opportunities to doubt ourselves. Even after signing with my agent, even after my first publishing contract, there was still plenty of fear and doubt nipping at my ankles like a ferocious little dog. We learn to power through it, don’t we? We school ourselves to stay on the path, because perseverance is often the one trait that makes the difference in this industry.

But at what cost? All too often the joy gets trampled along the way.

1382268243_f3c1242184_bLast year we attended a performance by the Piano Guys. The cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, is the absolute picture of joy when he plays. If you’ve never seen him, I urge you to look him up on YouTube. His tone is perfection, his technique jaw-dropping, but it’s his body language that captures my attention: eyes closed, face lifted to the heavens, a peaceful smile on his face. This man loves what he does. Can I say the same? Not always. But I’ve set a goal to experience that type of joy more often, because I do love to write and I believe it is a worthy pursuit.

I’ve resolved to write just for fun sometimes, for the sake of pure creative expression. Sometimes I’ll crank up a movie soundtrack to full volume while writing an action scene, or take my notebook outside to write in the park. Other times it’s a slog and I just have to make deadline, one impossible word after another. Life can’t be fun all the time.

And the doubt? Oh, it’s still there–corrosive, insidious. Yap, yap, yapping for attention. But there are steps I take to quiet it down: making my mental and physical health a priority; spending more time outside in the sunshine; seeking big-picture perspective while resisting the urge to draw comparisons to other people’s lives; and striving to be more compassionate toward myself and others.

In short: Go. Write. Chase the joy. Spread it around. Let it show on your face, and on the page. The world needs it. You deserve it.

We all do.

______________________________________________________

ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter: @christinenhayes or at christinehayesbooks.com.

29 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, Farewell, Happiness, joy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Writing

My Happy Dance

Hugs. Champagne. Tears. Happy Dance.

Maybe not in that order, but all those things happened on December 17, 2014. After thirteen years of nothing/nada/nope/not yet, that was the day I got my yes.  I had replayed that moment a hundred times in my head. Every time I finished a draft, hit send and waited, my mind filled with images of my yes moment. Fireworks? Dance music? Singing? Nope, not singing – my voice is way more dead frog than canary.

But let’s be honest, after thirteen years of writing, revising, tossing, writing, revising, shelving, deep down I knew the path to yes was not going to be direct. While I had a great conversation with the amazing Angie Chen of FSG, there were so many more people who had to fall in love with Molly and FINDING PERFECT for yes to happen. And that meant more waiting and Twizzlers and finger-crossing and not sleeping.

Finally, THE meeting was to happen the week before the holidays. I was on vacation with my boys and husband. That day, I made sure my phone was charged and dragged it with me to the gym at 7am (as if I was ever getting a call at 7am which actually was 4am for Trish, my agent), dragged it with me to breakfast, the pool, while attempting to read, lunch, and then finally to cards with my family.

 cards boys   cards all 4

We were playing Continental and I was losing, perhaps not as badly as my husband, but it was close. It was 3 and to say I was distracted would be a horrible understatement. By 4 I was certain it was a no and Trish just didn’t know how to tell me.

Then at 4:30 my phone rang. My boys and husband looked up at me and my heart dropped to the floor. This was it. THE moment. The one I had been imagining all those years.

What would it actually sound like?

“We’ve got a deal. They love FINDING PERFECT.” That was Trish’s wonderfully joyous voice telling me what I longed to hear for thirteen years. Angie and FSG loved my book and wanted to buy it.

Finally, I knew what YES sounded like.

So what did I do?

I cried. A lot. Happy wonderful tears. (My husband later shared how different his business calls are from mine – he’s a lawyer).

Hugged my boys and my husband, beyond grateful they were with me to share this moment. Popped champagne and toasted to dreams coming true.

champagne

Took a selfie to memorialize the moment.

selfie 4

And did the happy dance. This dance is still in full swing.

 

********************

IMG_9825

Elly Swartz loves writing for children, and not long after she began writing, she got a sign that, indeed, this was the right path for her. She opened a piece of Bazooka Joe gum and wrapped around the sugary, pink delight was a fortune that read, “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.”  She keeps her fortune tacked next to her desk in her office.

Elly’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, is coming out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on October 18, 2016. FINDING PERFECT is a middle grade story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, betrayal, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two tall and loving, twenty-something sons and one-year-old beagle named Lucy.

You can visit Elly on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

 

41 Comments

Filed under Dreams Come True, Happiness, Introduction, Writing

Our First-Draft Selves…Our Tenth-Draft Selves

When I first heard the news that a second Harper Lee novel was going to be released, I did an actual jig. Even though I am not much of a jig-dancer, I did. (I created my own jig, which probably would have made the Riverdance professionals hang their heads low in embarrassment on my behalf.) Yet, as journalistic reports and media coverage of Lee’s hotly-anticipated second novel, Go Set a Watchman, came out, I began to view the release with a certain sense of ethical dread.

Was this what Ms. Lee wanted?

Was it about money for those involved on her behalf?

Why was the novel only being released after the death of Lee’s close confidant and handler in all legal issues, her sister Alice Lee?

But as the release approached, I knew that I would have to read the book. My first thought: I’ll put my name on the library waiting list so I don’t have to necessarily support the whole money-possibility-scheme, etc…

So I put my name on the list, and BAM! There I was: 298th in line for our town of Acton, Massachusetts.

But I was resolved to wait it out.

Until I wasn’t. I was on my way home from the library one day and my car kind of drove itself to our local indie store, Willow Books. There, I purchased a copy of Go Set a Watchman, went home, and promptly read the thing as fast as possible.

Like many readers who once idolized the heroic and calmly brave Atticus Finch, I cringed as I read about him in this semi-sequel. I finished the book, and I almost as though it was my own father who had been pretending–and many years later I had found out who he really was, what he really believed.

And I mourned–for a little while–the fact that I had even named my own character in The Looney Experiment after him: Atticus Hobart! An eighth-grader who learns what real courage is all about. I saw the “new” Atticus through the eyes of my own Atticus, and I could hear my character asking, WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT ME!!??

I tried to calm him down, let him know that everything was going to be okay. That his courage is still courage. But when I read an article about an actual couple changing the name of their seven month old baby after Watchman was realeased because they no longer wanted him to be named Atticus, I admit I lost some sleep.

After all: I couldn’t change the name of my eighth-grader! And he certainly felt like a real son to me.

And then I proceeded to devour every news story released about the saga. And my heart kind of flooded over with a certain gratitude when I read about Tay Hohoff, Lee’s editor for To Kill a Mockingbird. From all evidence gathered, The New York Times did an incredible job of painting the scene: Mockingbird had been the EVENTUAL draft–the final draft–of Lee’s masterpiece. But Watchman had been the first foray. It was only through Hohoff’s extensive revision requests and effusive encouragement that Lee was able to get to many drafts later and the masterpiece we have come to know.

In essence: First-draft Atticus Finch was not the man that later-draft Atticus became. And it was only through the insight, counsel, and support of an astute editor that we came to meet the real Atticus Finch.

I began to think about this in terms of my own character, Atticus Hobart. And I realized that, at the start of The Looney Experiment, he is definitely his first-draft self. He is terrified of life: of speaking up in class, of talking to AUDREY HIGGINS, or being real with his Dad, of using his voice in any way to speak his truth.

But Atticus Hobart doesn’t stay there. His first-draft self is not his real self.

And then I began to think about myself, too. And about the people I love. And I realized that we all long to grow from our first-draft selves. We try things, we get it wrong. We try again, we get it wrong again. We make mistakes, mess up, miss opportunities, remain silent when we should speak, speak when we should remain silent, attack when we should repent, repent when we should attack–and so on.

We all mess up, and were life a courtroom drama, I suspect we’d all be found guilty of a jury for all of the above. For our missed moments and our unkind actions. But the thing is, life is more a novel than a courtroom drama. We get to see our first-draft selves and then we’re not stuck with them. We get new chapters, new revisions, new drafts–and we get the chance to create second-draft, third-draft, fourth-draft…tenth-draft selves.

And the truth is, this process of getting to out next draft-selves is a lot easier if we’ve got someone supporting us. We can’t do it alone. Just as Lee had her editor, Hohoff, to help Atticus Finch become his best-draft self, we too need others to love us, challenge us, hold us, push us, see us, and–especially–see what we can yet become.

Sometimes, I remind my character, Atticus Hobart, of this fact. Atticusyou don’t have to be like anyone but yourself. You are free to become the best-draft of yourself that you can be. 

And I sometimes remind myself of this, too.

We are all masterpieces–classics of a sort–waiting to become a new draft that is just a little bit stronger, a little bit bolder, a little bit braver. And we all need someone to help us along that road.

In this way, I see Atticus Finch in a new way. No longer do I view him as a perfect model of sensitive strength. Instead, I view him as a draft–because now I know where he began in Watchman, and how far he came along to get to Mockingbird.

I too have a long way to go and a long way to grow. Atticus Hobart does. We all do. And the good news is, that’s a journey worth taking. That’s a journey worth talking about, writing about, and believing in–no matter how long it takes.

20 Comments

Filed under Editing and Revising, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

Heading Back, Trying Again

4209645736_4121bae310_b

Tejas

Last week, my husband and I took our young son down to visit his relatives in Texas. We flew into Dallas first, then boarded another plane to fly way down south to McAllen. Air travel is tedious in the first place. Add a small child to the mix and it becomes a high-energy challenge to make sure said child is kept busy enough not to annoy everybody else on the plane. When we began our final descent into McAllen, we were relieved, to say the least. Our uncomfortable slog was almost done. Soon we would collect our bags, check into the hotel, and start the vacation.

We were flying over the landing strip – we could barely see the runway beneath us, through a thick mist of low clouds – when the plane pulled sharply up and began to climb. The captain’s voice crackled over the PA. “They’re telling us not to land, due to weather conditions. We’re going to try to divert to Corpus Christi. Don’t worry, folks, we have plenty of gas.”

Ugh.

We got to Corpus. Same thing again. Bad weather. Couldn’t land. “We’re going to have to head back to Dallas and try again later.”

Malcolm

My son, four years ago, immediately after his very first long plane ride. “That was really stupid, Mommy,” his adorable face seems to say.

NOOOOOOOOOOO.

The plane turned around. My son, who had believed he was about to escape from confinement and get sneaked lots of pieces of early Easter candy by his loving relatives, now had to sit through not one but two more plane rides. He threw himself to the floor in front of his seat and cried “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO DALLAS!” (Since this was exactly how every adult on the plane wanted to react but could not, nobody minded the display.)

The reason I share this story is that, right now, I have to revise a long novel in short order. I’ve already revised this sucker a couple of times, but it still requires some pretty extensive rebooting, and frankly? I don’t want to go to Dallas. I didn’t anticipate that I would have to go all the way back to Dallas. Corpus Christi, sure, a quick diversion – but back from whence I came? NOOOOOOOOOOO. *throws fit on cabin floor* See, to me, the story seemed to be landing beautifully. I could see the runway fine. I didn’t know there was a problem. But as it turns out, there’s some bad weather, so if I really want to reach the destination, then there’s just nothing for it but to circle back and try again.

The worst part is, now that the bad weather has been pointed out to me, I can see it. There it is. Yep. I do have to go back to &*$#ing Dallas. And while I’m sure that, deep down, I do have enough gas to get me there, it doesn’t feel like it right now. My debut is coming out in two weeks (insert ONE MILLION HOORAYS!), which is a huge and exciting big deal that has me completely off kilter. I’ve found it impossible to keep up my usual levels of productivity.

1419016087843 (1)

A Christmas gift from one of my students, since I am always after them to revise. Lately, every day, this thing mocks me from the cupboard.

Luckily, there are other people with me on this flight. Just seeing them there and knowing that they understand exactly how I feel is enough to keep me sane. The lovely and talented Tara Dairman, whose debut novel launched last year, was in Seattle a few weeks ago, so a few of us EMLA folks in the area met up for dinner. Being out with Tara, Laurie Thompson, Jeanne Ryan, and Trish Toney Lawrence was delightful and bracing. At one point in the conversation, I admitted that I’m just not writing the way I usually do, and it’s really scaring me. Tara (who is now working on the third book in her series) replied, “That’s normal. On the Fourteeners board, there was a whole thread about how none of us could write anymore, now that our first books were launching. It’ll pass, you’ll be fine.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I know that she’s right. Just yesterday, I found myself mentally problem solving some of the manuscript’s biggest issues, and I was excited about the possible solutions. So while it might be uncomfortable and tedious, I’ll get there. Sure, I might have to go back and sit in the airport. Eat a soggy, twelve-dollar sandwich. Stay a night at the Ramada and then climb back into the same clothes again tomorrow.

But I’ll get there.

HiRes_Morrison_6814_crop Megan Morrison is a mom, a middle-school teacher, and the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, due out April 28 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. Visit her at meganmorrison.net.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Editing and Revising, Writing

Quit the Chicken Job, You Must

KFC BucketWhen I was 16 I got my first job with my first real paycheck, working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I only lasted for five months. It wasn’t the low pay or the terrible hours that drove me to quit, or even the fact that I came home every night smelling like poultry.

It was the sensory overload that did me in.

More than once, when a line of hungry, impatient people snaked all the way out the door, I ended up in the back room, crying and flustered. It was just too much. Looking back, I realize I took the job way too seriously. I wanted everyone to be happy, wanted to do a good job. But it was just chicken. I wish I could go back and give 16-year-old me a hug and tell her that: “Girl, it’s just chicken.” I’d still encourage her to quit, though. To have enough confidence in herself and her skills to go find something better. Calmer. More in line with her interests and talents.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and I’m actually doing what I love! The book debut looms just three short months away. And I’m back in panic mode. Am I establishing an online presence? Am I doing enough to prepare, to network, to suddenly become outgoing and eloquent? Will any of it make any difference in the long run? It’s that queue of impatient customers all over again, all clamoring for their bucket of chicken.

I’m the first to admit that social media often sends me into a spiral of anxiety. I’m not witty or interesting or invested enough to keep up. Some days I try. Many days I don’t. Sometimes just having unanswered email feels like an unbearable source of noise and clutter. It can even dictate whether or not I have a productive writing day. I’ve read lots of articles about how much authors should be doing to promote themselves online.  They range from do everything to do only the things you feel comfortable with. Our very own Megan Morrison wrote a wonderful, sensible post along those lines here.

YodaBut what about the days when I DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH ANY OF IT?!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say: that’s okay too.

You might be familiar with Yoda’s famous line from The Empire Strikes Back: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” An inspiring quote for most any situation, right? But at the risk of alienating my fellow Star Wars fans, I’d like to propose an alternate philosophy when it comes to book promotion and social media: “Do, or do not. Or try, if you want. But if it stresses you out, or interferes with your writing, then don’t worry about it.

I will say that I’m starting to get the hang of Twitter. I think I’ve been signed up for almost two years now. Needless to say, it’s very, very, verrrrrry slooooow going for me. But that’s the pace I’m comfortable with, and I have noticed my brain gradually absorbing bits and pieces—enough to keep me from giving up. So I will continue to try.

I totally think Yoda would get on board with that.

_______________________________________________________

ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter: @christinenhayes.

20 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Book Promotion, Panic, Promotion, Social Media, Time Management, Writing, Writing and Life

The Practical Side of Longing

I threw a party when I sold my book, and my husband, Derek, surprised me at it by gathering everyone and giving an impromptu speech. It was sweet and teary, and he thanked my friends for all of their constant support and encouragement. But he also asked them, with a devilish look in his eye, did they know that we had been living with an extra member of the family for the last few years? Derek, me, our three kids (five chickens, two dogs, three cats) and…my longing. As though it was a living, breathing thing!

Ummmm….yeah. He was right. Not only had I been wrestling with my longing, but the rest of the family had too. Derek laughed and said he had to admit that, as much as he respected it, he was kind of ready to show it to the door and give it a shove. (We only have a queen bed, after all, and it’s kind of small…)

Illustration from A Monster Calls

See that longing trying to get back in the house? (Illustration from Patrick Ness‘ A Monster Calls.)

Yeah, I got that. I felt the same way too. See ya later, longing. Ciao. Don’t let the door hit your big ole full-of-desire derrière on the way out.

Except, maybe not.

Because longing is a useful thing. And not just in those emotional and psychological realms that I explored in my last post – how longing lets you know what matters in your life, how it confirms your human status, and how it offers a point of connection with other people – but also in a very practical realm too. And so I thought it might be helpful to pull together 5 ways longing is a functional and sensible tool. Actually, after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that what I had come up with was more of a progression; steps that deepen both a sense of self and the work. So here is what I stumbled into, and I humbly offer it here:

1.  Let longing be. Longing is one of those emotions that is so easy to transform into some other emotion, something more manageable, like self-pity or jealousy. Seriously, it is so much easier to spiral down the rabbit hole of I’m not good at anything, I’ll never succeed ever or lob an I want what she has so bad I can taste it in HER direction. But don’t. Sit with the feeling. Let it teach you to be still and present. It is stubborn, but you can be more stubborn. Let it teach you just how much courage and resilience you have.

meditation

Cartoon by Maria Scrivan.

2. Let sitting with longing become a practice. Then take it a step further. Like yoga, or running, or meditation, or whatever else you do on a regular basis, let being aware of your longing become something you connect with regularly. Watch it, touch it, be curious about it. Get to know it. You know that super cool thing that happens with rituals? The simultaneous subconscious quality it takes on, where you don’t have to even think about it anymore AND the insane eagle-eyed focus on details it allows? Let that happen with your longing.

3. Sit with other emotions too. Once you can sit with your longing, practice sitting with your other emotions too. Let that become a ritual too. The same cool thing will happen. Plus, a side benefit? You will reduce those times when you really wish you had thought for another minute before opening your mouth. (At least I have….ummm…anger management, anyone?!)

4. Sit with characters’ emotions. So this is where you segue your focus from self to work. The most amazing thing is that this progressive practice translates onto the page. Once you can sit with your own emotions, you can sit with your characters’ emotions too. This is big. At least for me, it was. I was finally able to – not just see, but – truly feel my characters’ emotions. Part of that was due to my developing skills at being still and present, and part of that was because I was becoming an emotion expert.

image-via-toonpool.com_

An added benefit of this practice? Much less Writer’s Block! Image from toonpool.com

5. Write deeper, more authentic characters. For me anyway, as I learn to stay present with what I am feeling, when I get to know, in my bones, the nuances and underbellies and depth and details (especially the details) of my own emotions, I can find the same landscape within my characters. And I can translate all of that into the tiny gestures and words and moments that make emotion come colorfully, wildly, passionately alive on the page. I can deeply know the arc that an emotion travels, and I can match my characters’ journey along that arc to specific plot moments in my story. For me, this was the difference between a very good story and one that felt…different.

Take this, or leave it. I am sure – absolutely sure – that for many of you this is old news. Or maybe something you do intuitively. But for me, it was an epiphany. (Or a series of epiphanies, really.) I was one of those kids (and then one of those teens, and then one of those young adults) that got things the first time around, academically, socially, emotionally. Everything was a quick learn; an instant success…except for those things that weren’t. But those things got put into an if I can’t succeed at this right this minute then it must be something I’m not supposed to do category. The process of facing that, and my fears around being my authentic self, is a subject for another post. But once I did, I had to learn how to make mistakes, try again, try a 100 more agains, and…face my longing.

GoDogGo3

From Go Dog Go by PD Eastman.

And it’s not going away. Yes, I’ve sold my first book, so that particular longing has left me, and left the house. But, boy oh boy, there is more. So much more.

Sorry, Derek. Maybe we need to get a bigger bed.

6 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Faith, Helpful or Otherwise, Writing