Tag Archives: inspiration

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.

—————————————————————————————————————————

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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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

Border Collies and Babies—It’s Never Too Soon To Start (plus a giveaway!)

The story I’m about to tell is relevant to Terry Pierce’s MAMA LOVES YOU SO. I promise.

mama-loves-you-so-coverYears ago, my brother got a beautiful border collie puppy. I remember how excited Warren was, and I remember the solemn advice the breeder gave him. It was this: Show the dog everything he’s ever going to see within the first six months of his life. In short, it was Warren and his family’s responsibility to quickly give intelligent, impressionable Comet the information he’d need to thrive.

*presses pause on dog story*

My first professional, if unrequited, love is midwifery. Permit me to geek out for a bit.

The importance of verbally communicating with babies—and I mean from about 6 months gestation onward—cannot be overstated. Auditory function in the human fetus is complete at 7 months. Not only do they hear and respond to outside noises, research suggests babies learn intonation and can develop a basic recognition of words before birth. After birth, newborns rapidly form brain synapses that correspond with their birth language. In fact, studies have shown that young children who leave their birth language behind through immigration or adoption retain an enhanced ability to relearn it. Cool, huh?

Now let’s talk about MAMA LOVES YOU SO. This book, meant for the tiny ears of the tiniest of people, employs exquisitely rich and melodic language. It describes a world that is sparkling, stony, and ablaze. These are words an adult would be happy to use on a given day. MAMA LOVES YOU SO is crammed full of such delicious and nutritious words. It’s a brain-building buffet for babies and a boon to the brave souls who care for them. Baby and Book

Babies are exhausting. I know. I’ve had two babies, and two aren’t many at all. My in-laws had ten. My parents had five. Have I wondered if  I’m a slacker in the baby department? Yes. But that’s not my point.

Babies require mountains of back-breaking, laundry-making, sleep-taking care, and that’s just to keep them alive. We’re also supposed to educate, encourage, and entertain them. While all forms of communication nourish babies’ language readiness, including singing and everyday conversation, it’s challenging to know what to sing or say to a baby all day, every day.

I ask you, how are sleep-deprived people, wracked as they are with desperate love and stabs of anxiety, supposed to dredge up words like ablaze? They need books. They need books to give them words when they are too tired or overwhelmed to think up their own. Their children are primed to quickly learn millions of discrete, dynamic words, and optimally, they’d possess this treasure trove before starting school.  Where language acquisition is concerned, variety isn’t the spice of life, it is life. Books like MAMA LOVES YOU SO are a sure and happy route to that variety.

We must encourage caregivers, all the caregivers, to talk to babies early and often. Encourage them to talk to the belly, to sing to it, explain stuff to it, and for the love of literacy, to read to it. Encourage them to talk to the newborn. To sing. To explain. To read. We can smile at them benevolently when they do all of this in public. If we get the chance, we can give the caregiver a minute to shower and eat something while we talk, sing, explain, and read.

It might be possible to show a puppy everything it’s ever going to see in six months, but it’s impossible for a human newborn. Luckily, we have opposable thumbs, and opposable thumbs are great for making bookstores and libraries. That’s where Terry Pierce’s beautiful and important MAMA LOVES YOU SO can be found, ready and waiting to offer intelligent, impressionable young people information they need to thrive.

*presses play on dog story* 

Comet lived a long and happy life. He understood his world and how to conduct himself in it, thanks to purposeful attention to his formative experiences. May we do the same for each new child. We have longer than six months to accomplish it, but we don’t have forever. It’s never too soon to start.

 

Terry is giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make this week—and please comment only once per day—she’ll enter your name into the giveaway.

Additional resources:

http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/book-mom

Valerie Garfield, Simon & Schuster editor of MAMA LOVES YOU SO, blogs about reading to and with children.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

https://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/about-us/mission-statement/


Enjoy the day,

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

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Inspiration, Picture books, reading, Uncategorized

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

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

audrey-faye

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

We’re All Crazy Busy, So I Kept This Short.

394 words, to be precise. Here goes:

We are each pulled in a million different directions. Someone or something is always clamoring for our devotion, our time, our finite energy. How are we to balance our responsibilities, our commitments, and our creative needs? How are we to lay claim to the time and space required for writing?

There is only one hope and it’s not easy—core strength.

pilates-gif

Balance, after all, isn’t the product of stasis. It’s born of movement, moment-to-moment adjustments that maintain equilibrium. The muscles required for physical balance are deep within our bodies, particularly our core. They don’t get truly strong unless we make them strong.

It’s the same with our creative energies. The qualities—determination and commitment come to mind— essential to finding the balance between our busy lives and our creative work are found deep within. They are at our core, and they won’t get strong unless we make them strong.

How? You already know the answer. Practice.

When the world wants us to do literally anything other than write, we need to dig deeply into our core, to what we know matters. We need to assert that creative work is essential for ourselves and, incidentally, the continued progress of humanity. We are the purveyors of story, after all, the Pied Pipers of literacy. Our work is a source— a bubbling, life-giving spring—of connection and challenge, hope and healing. The more that we affirm creative work’s importance to ourselves and others, the stronger it will grow.

But don’t try to force balance, hanging on for dear life until you tip over and chip a tooth. It won’t work. It never works. We have to constantly find and re-find balance. Don’t fear the unexpected shifts. Expect to wobble and make necessary moment-to-moment adjustments.

Go to your creative work when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a treadmill, set yourself a laughably manageable goal, say 5 minutes of focused activity, and see what happens. You may find that 5 turns into 20. You may find that you begin to take this prioritized time seriously, and if you do, others will.

So deliberately engage. Choose the deep muscles of purpose and passion and use them with intention. If this is hard, good! You’re getting stronger.

back-to-work-gif

Enjoy the day,

Hayley


About Hayley Barrett

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 of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

 

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Sentiment and Stakes

I was in New Orleans this past weekend visiting my son and continuing my quest to find the ideal plate of shrimp and grits. The August air was swampy, but the city was packed with what I first thought were tourists. Then I looked again. I saw families sporting brand-new shirts with matching baseball caps. I saw younger kids trailing behind an apparently aloof older sibling.

Aloof

The moms would gaze at my son and turn to me with a small, sisterly smile, eyes often brimming with tears.

Mom crying

The dads were generally hale and hearty as they lugged huge duffles around, but I wasn’t fooled.

Crying

You guessed it. It was freshman move-in weekend at Tulane.

This is a familiar autumnal scene. Whether it’s kindergarten or university, parents dust off and put on their brave faces and launch their children toward growth and change. Hopes and fears alike accompany them. There’s a great deal at stake. After all, lots of time and endless hard work go into the making of a person, and all that time and hard work offer no guarantee. Sorry.

Harry Potter Goodbye

Writers must know about stakes too. There’s a old blacksmith saying that says, “No hoof, no horse.” Well, writers could just as easily say, “No stakes, no story.” Without stakes, a story simply won’t hold the interest of the reader. The genre doesn’t matter. Tiny children know how to care about what a character stands to gain or lose. They know enough to throw a boring book across the room too. A carefully constructed setting peopled by well-developed characters and a masterfully layered plot are all helpful, but stakes—life, death, hello, goodbye, friendship, enmity—are what make any story worthwhile.

If your aim is to pack up your story, to oust it from the cozy confines of home and ship it out into the world, be sure you know what’s at stake for it. Your characters must face step-by-step choices with real consequences. Will they go to the Social Justice barbecue? Or will they swarm en masse like thirsty locusts to the campus bar instead? In the case of Tulane, it’s called THE BOOT. I wish I were kidding. (See? Stakes!)

The Boot

When you’ve done all you can to challenge your character, to test their mettle, to compel them to change and become who they are, when you’ve finally pushed them out of the nest with a quick tap on the “send” button, Wipe your tears and be good to yourself. I recommend a nice plate of shrimp and grits.  You’ve surely earned it.

Shrimp and grits

 


Hayley's Author Photo

About Hayley Barrett

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.

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Words

FullSizeRender (2)

It’s no surprise that I love words, and more specifically, I love words that inspire. In my Word Nest where I write, I have surrounded myself with many, many items of inspiration. I could probably do a whole series of posts about the trinkets I’ve picked up from my travels, photos of friends and family, gifts I’ve received from loved ones, art created by my daughter, and so many bird and elephant figurines.

On the wall in front of my laptop are sticky notes of quotes and cards from friends and family to inspire and motivate me.

I currently have four sticky notes of quotes that I look at daily before I start writing and while I write.

1. Love is always an act of courage. — Alice Hoffman

This reminds me to be brave as I write, to risk digging deep and to risk being vulnerable. Even now as I draft this blog post, insecurity runs rampant within as I worry about sounding trite or insincere. As with anything I write, blog post or stories, I wonder, will anyone care? And so, writing as with love (and love of writing) is truly an act of courage. Be brave!

2. Is it true yet? — Jo Knowles

Long time writing partner, talented author, and dear friend Jo shared this with me years ago. Jo first heard this from author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and she asks this of her own drafts as she writes. I ask myself the same as I write, and when my answer is “not yet,” I continue revising and digging and exploring and writing. It forces me to take my time, to not rush to be done, to write what’s true to me and to my heart.

3. When I’m writing a book, I’m writing 95% for myself and 5% for my best friend. — Ann Patchett

Recently, an author friend asked a group of writers whether or not we keep the audience in mind when we write. It was a good question and the answers were varied. I am distinctly aware that I am writing for young adults or children, but while I write, I’m not thinking specifically of the audience. If I did that, I think I’d become paralyzed with fear of meeting expectations. Instead, I write the story I want to tell. I definitely try not to think about the “market” and whether or not it’s going to be a best seller or award winner. I try to write the book I want to write, I try to write the book that’s true, and I try to write the book that requires courage.

And finally, the last quote/s on my wall:

IMG_9942

Emily Spring by Kevin Slattery

The art of Emily Dickinson is by Kevin Slattery, a friend who passed away just this year. Almost up to the day that he died, he continued creating. While I miss him and am so sad he’s gone, I’m comforted by his art, hanging here on my wall, keeping me company, reminding me that life is precious and not to squander this gift of time. The quote from the artwork:

A light exists in spring.  –Emily Dickinson

I love her poems and this one in particular. I won’t go into what the poem means to me, here, but I will say that this one line helps me get through dark times, including the down times when I lose confidence and faith in my stories and writing. It reminds me that even in darkness, light will come.

And the last sticky note that is stuck right below Kevin’s Emily Spring:

4. I live in possibility.  –Emily Dickinson

This one reminds me that dreams can come true – and that one of my own dreams has, with the sale of my chapter book Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen to Grace Kendall at FSG. Not only that, but dreams can be surpassed, as I now have a contract to write three additional books about Jasmine. I’m still in the process of writing these books and I am very grateful to have such a smart and fabulous editor to help guide me.

What quotes and words inspire you? I’d love to hear yours! Happy writing, happy reading. Keep believing!

 

 

——-

authorDebbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her dog, Trixie, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux in Spring 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of 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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The Perils of Letting Children – and Books – Out Into the World

Pat Zietlow Miller was an EMU’s Debuts member when her picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, was released in 2013. Now, she’s happy to be back to talk about her second picture book, WHEREVER YOU GO, which just released Tuesday.

Wherever you go

When my oldest daughter was starting to crawl, a dad with grown children gave me this warning:

“Parenting gets harder when your children get mobile,” he said. “When they walk. When they drive. When they leave for college. You lose some control and have to help them while letting them go.”

As my daughter grew, I saw the truth in his words. So while she was still in school, I started thinking about what I wanted her to know before she ventured out our door. You know, mushy stuff. Like:

Your choices control your destiny, so you should choose wisely.

You should celebrate your successes but forgive your inevitable failures.

Worthy goals are hard to achieve, but you’ll always be glad you tried.

There’s value in seeing what’s around the bend in the road, but it’s good to remember your home.

And life goes more easily with the right group of friends.

Those thoughts, and my love, became the inspiration for my second picture book, WHEREVER YOU GO. And the timing of its release – two days ago – is perfect, as my daughter graduates from high school in less than a month.

But I couldn’t just write book that blatantly said, “Hey, you’re leaving, so listen up.” That would surely have elicited eye rolls. Plus, my daughter isn’t stupid. She’s a very smart, very kind, very capable person. But … but … she’s so young. So inexperienced.

Fortunately, I realized that a manuscript I was writing about roads and all the places they could take you would benefit from a little subtext. A little heart. So my advice got woven into a story that you could take at face value or get misty about. And my daughter’s eyes haven’t rolled once.

This story also taught me something important about publishing. Its subjectivity. I knew this in theory, but submitting this manuscript taught me it in practice.

I liked the story. So did my agent. So she sent it out to some editors. One responded promptly and said something like: “I can totally see the illustrations, but I think the writing is clunky.”

Not what I’d hoped to hear.

Barely a day later, another editor responded saying, “I LOVE the writing. But I’m having a real problem picturing the illustrations.”

Now I was just confused.

Fortunately, two other editors liked the text and could visualize illustrations. They both made offers, and the book sold at auction. Interestingly enough, when I talked with each editor before making a decision, they had distinct views of how the book could be edited and illustrated.

I’m very happy with the results, but this scenario does show how a manuscript that’s just right for one editor might not work for another at all. And it shows how much an editor’s vision contributes to the book’s final look.

In fact, a lot of the advice I want my daughter to remember is stuff all writers should keep in mind as they pursue publication. As I said:

Roads … remember.
Every life landmark, the big and the small.
The moments you tripped,
the times you stood tall.
Where you are going, and where you began.
What you expected. What you didn’t plan.

So as my daughter and my book head out into the world, I hope they’ll both find their footing and make their mark – wherever they go.

And for your enjoyment, the amazing book trailer.


Pat photoPat Zietlow Miller got 126 rejections before selling her first picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH. Since then, she’s sold eight additional picture books. Two of them are coming out in 2015 — WHEREVER YOU GO from Little, Brown in April and SHARING THE BREAD: AN OLD-FASHIONED THANKSGIVING STORY from Schwartz & Wade in August. Pat has also won the Golden Kite Award for picture book text and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor.
Learn more about Pat on her Website.

 

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When Your Idea Gets Published By Someone Else First

Writers, does this scenario strike fear in your heart? You’re working on a project, you’re invested in it, excited, feeling confident that finally, finally, FINALLY you’ve hit on an idea that’s really clicking for you. And then *screeeeeching brakes*: A book is published with a too-similar premise.

If you relate to this, or worry about it happening, then I have a story you might like to hear:

51ysrNDhV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I started writing Book Scavenger in 2003. The beginning seed of my idea was this image of kids finding a mysterious book in a BART station, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I thought maybe the book they found would be special because the characters could come out into the real world. Yes! I got really excited about this idea. It seemed cool and original–and then I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. If you’re not familiar with Inkheart, read it, it’s fantastic, but it has a similar premise to my initial idea and I lost all confidence in myself being able to do something similar.

But I was stch_book1till stuck on this image of kids finding a book in a BART station and having an adventure in San Francisco. I switched gears and latched onto a new puzzle mystery direction, and came up with the idea for this website/real world bookhunting game . . . In 2004, there was still a big divide between the internet and publishing. Terms like “multiplatform storytelling” and “transmedia” weren’t being thrown around for books back then. I was sure I had latched onto something original and fresh–and then I heard about a new series Scholastic would be launching the following year called 39 Clues with Rick Riordan heading the first book. There would be ELEVEN books, each written by a big name author, with the characters on a worldwide scavenger hunt for clues, and there was also a website/game tie in.

I was crushed. While it wasn’t my exact idea, it shared enough similarities that I no longer felt confident mine would stand out.

9780316003957_p0_v1_s260x420My grand vision deflated like a balloon, and the only thing that kept me moving forward with this now floppy idea of a book was a one-on-one session I had with an editor at a SCBWI conference. She had read the first ten pages of my draft and her written feedback was a short paragraph that began “This is really cool,” and ended with, “Would you send me the whole manuscript? I’d love to read it!”

Wonderful, right? It was, absolutely, but the problem was that I had less than 40 pages written. Not only that, but the idea I had in mind for this book felt too ambitious for my writing skills at the time. I wasn’t sure I could execute it, and definitely didn’t think I could execute it quickly. What if I invested all this time writing this book only to find out I couldn’t pull it off? Or what if I invested all this time and did pull it off, only to have editors and agents point to 39 Clues and say, “Too late. Been done.”

What it bpuzzlingworldoiled down to was this: If I turned down the dial on all the noise–the industry gossip, what else is being published, what do editors want/not want–if I just thought about my characters and my story, I was still incredibly passionate about my idea. I still wanted to understand the mystery behind the book these kids had found in the BART station. I still wanted to see if I could create a Goonies-esque story set in San Francisco. The personal challenge was worth it to me, even if one of my worst-case scenarios came true.

So I kept going with my book. I’d be lying if I said from that moment on I was a fiery ball of confidence that could not be extinguished. But I kept going. I think I was on my third re-write 9780061214509when The Mysterious Benedict Society was published and became a bestseller. There was also The Gollywhopper Games series and the Winston Breen puzzle mysteries, and too many more similar-sounding middle grade mysteries to keep track of.

The summer I sold Book Scavenger in a three-book deal, ALL eleven of the 39 Clues books had been published as well as the first few books of a second 39 Clues series. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was published and has gone on to be a long-running NY Times bestseller.

Fast forward to today16054808, my publisher is including Book Scavenger on a read-alike poster for libraries which says “If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, try Book Scavenger.” (They were going to use Mr. Lemoncello, but that title was included on their poster the year before.) And Jody Feldman, who writes the Gollywhopper Games series, was kind enough to blurb my book. I’m friendly with Eric Berlin, who writes the Winston Breen series, and we share the same agent.

In short, I think a lot of the early success Book Scavenger is now finding could be partly attributed to the path paved by these similar books that came before. I didn’t have to fear the familiar. Every title I mentioned here would likely appeal to the same reader, but they are each unique stories. There is room on the bookshelf for us all.

It can be hard to find that balance between looking to what others are doing for inspiration, but then not letting what others are doing deter you from something. It’s important to remember that it is your spin that will set something apart. Don’t let news of a comparable book knock the wind out of your sails. Just look at it as a challenge to make sure you’re digging deep and tapping into the YOU essence of the story. And keep going.

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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BE A CHANGEMAKER: Celebrating with Quotes!

Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann ThompsonWe are continuing the celebration for Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut Be A Changemaker, which will be published on September 16. Inspirational quotes are peppered throughout the book, and so we Emu’s decided to share quotes that have been meaningful and motivating to us. We’d love to hear your favorite quotes too!

And remember, comment on any post this week and be entered to win a signed copy of Be A Changemaker!

 

 

From Donna Bowman Bratton:

This quote by Ben Franklin has been posted above my computer for years. It obviously speaks to the writer in me, but it hints, too, at taking conscious actions for change.

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 I love this quote by Charles Lamb because it so simply speaks to the heart of any good deed, large or small.

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Of course, the ultimate quote for any changemaker comes from Mahatma Gandhi:
 
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From Jennifer Chambliss Bertman:

This quote reinforces my belief that even our smallest actions can make a difference, even though we may never witness the impact, and reminds me that I want to be someone who brightens the day for others, rather than tarnishes it.

 

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From Christine Hayes:

You can probably see why, as a writer, I find this quote inspiring. 🙂 I usually substitute “people” for “men” in my own mind, and I’ve seen that done all over the web as well, but I’m guessing the version below is the correct one. On the days when I feel especially short on talent, this quote keeps me going.

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From Amy Finnigan:

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From Penny Parker Klostermann:

Dr. Seuss is kind of my go-to guy for a laugh or for a quick reminder that I’m in charge of doing the work it takes to reach my dreams.

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From Lindsey Lane:

What I love about this quote is that Goethe was born in 1749 and I’ve experienced the ‘truth’ of his observation time and again. If I don’t begin, nothing happens.

 

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From Mylisa Larsen:

Usually when you see someone making something look effortless, it’s because they spent thousands of hours mastering whatever they’re making seem simple and inevitable. This is a quote that gets me back to my desk to put in some more hours.

 

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From Joshua McCune:

This quote adapted from Emerson’s poem “Merlin’s Song” reminds me to not just live life to the fullest, but to live it as myself, to open myself to new experiences, and to do it with joy. It’s that last part that’s hardest for me. Scowl, and the world scowls at you. Smile, and the world smiles with you. The world could use more smiles.

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From Megan Morrison:

This idea is at the marrow of my personal belief system. Success requires two things: a clear vision and the will to carry it out, and this is true whether you want to change your wallpaper or change the world.  The first part is tricky, because it requires that we are honest with ourselves about what we want and what we are willing to do. The second part is grueling, because it requires consistent action over a long period of time, and that action must be sustained even during times of doubt and lack of inspiration. But commitment is its own reward. Nothing is more satisfying than to look back after many months and years of climbing a personal mountain to see how far you’ve really come.
 
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From Rebecca Van Slyke:
I like this quote because I was so, SO close to that ‘give up’ point, but a friend sat me down and pointedly told me that I needed to keep going, fire my current agent, pursue a different agent, and keep writing. A few months later I had 4 books in contract.
 
 
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From Dana Walrath:
 
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You can get your own copy of BE A CHANGEMAKER from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Simon & SchusterPowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

And please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

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BE A CHANGEMAKER: Words of Wisdom

changemaker_jacket_r3.inddThis week, we’re celebrating a powerful new arrival on the youth nonfiction scene: Laurie Ann Thompson‘s BE A CHANGEMAKER, a guide for young people who want to make positive changes in the world. Laurie’s book grants its readers two great gifts: first, the courage to believe they can be agents for change, in spite of all apparent obstacles, and second, a practical roadmap to making that belief a reality. That’s inspiring stuff in a world that so often tells us we’re crazy for trying.

Inspiration is a funny thing; it has to be genuine in order to move our hearts and make us strive, and yet we know we won’t reach our goals if we sit around waiting around for it to strike. Instead, we have to learn how to tap in to inspiration every day. Since that’s not easy, it helps to have a few pearls of wisdom stored away for the days when we need a little extra fuel to keep our fires burning.

And so, to honor BE A CHANGEMAKER, the EMU mob has decided to share the things that help us to get inspired, stay inspired, and keep striving no matter what.

Great Advice

First, here’s some of the advice we’ve come to rely on:

 

Motivational Quotes

Next, some of the quotes that empower us:

 

The Advice I Wish I’d Gotten 

Finally, Christine Hayes gets real about the things she wishes someone had told her, at the beginning of the journey:

 

I loved putting this post together, not only because I am passionate about telling everyone how great BE A CHANGEMAKER is, but because watching and editing these videos has given me an inner glow that’s going to last for weeks. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, EMUs – and thank you for sending your tremendous book out into the world, Laurie Ann Thompson. Congratulations on your launch. You are an inspiration.

Please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

 

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