Tag Archives: Introduction

Breezy Battles and Baseball Bloopers, Plus a HUGE Giveaway!

I left you (and Sly Stallone) hanging yesterday, but now I’m back to give you exactly what I promised and more!Cliffhanger 2

Yesterday, GOOGLE IT! author Anna Crowley Redding gamely answered questions about her past work as an investigative television reporter.  I saved an extra-special, best-for-last anecdote for today’s post.

Anna, what is your funniest memory from when you were on TV?

There are a lot, but one comes to mind. I was asked to throw the first pitch out for Charlotte, NC’s minor league team. I did not grow up playing sports, so I was secretly VERY nervous about this whole proposition. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I really just wanted the ball to make it to the plate.Anna Baseball 1

I get to the ballpark, they call my name, and I head out there to get ready. But I was in big trouble immediately. What I did not prepare for… was the catcher. He was so handsome! I mean, he looked like he had just walked off a soap opera set . . . and he smiled at me just as I started to throw the ball. Anna Baseball 2I don’t even know where the ball went, but certainly nowhere near the plate. To say it was embarrassing is an understatement.

Even worse, I had to anchor the news the next morning for three hours. My co-anchor had video of the whole thing and played it over and over again, and every time, I turned from serious journalist into this puddle of giggles. Oh, Lawdy! That was a doozie.

As we wrap up this interview, Anna, I have to ask you the question that’s on everyone’s mind. What is the weirdest, wackiest, most way-out topic you’ve ever…Googled?

Most of my random Google searches come from my boys (ages 6 and 9), and it goes like this “Hey, Google! Tornado vs. Hurricane. What happens?” And luckily, we always get a solid answer!

 

That’s one big-time battle of the breezes!

Anna’s Google search highlight is way more exciting than mine, but I happen to know that if you Google “Squirrel Expert,” Squirrel gradyou’ll find one. I did!

Many thanks, Anna, and congratulations on your debut book, GOOGLE IT! IMG_8310

GIVEAWAY ALERT! To celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google,  Teachers and Librarians have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

 


About Hayley BarrettHayley's Author Photo-2 MB-JPEG

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 fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Interviews, Launch, middle grade, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Of Cracked Ribs and Dreams Come True

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

Actually, missed “the call”.

Actually…*coughs* ignored “the call”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until my phone rang at 5pm.

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

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

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

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

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

…Still working on recovering from the shock.


 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Rules of the Game

hands_inWhen I’m not at home writing, one of the best things I get to do is visit schools, after-schools, and libraries through my enrichment business and work with groups of kids from all over. Well, I call it work. Really, we play games and share stories. But let’s pretend it’s work. The IRS does.

The first thing I do when I settle in to work with a new group is go over the rules for our time together. The rules vary from visit to visit, depending on the program I’m doing. But the last rule I share is always the same. Have fun!

Now, anyone who works with kids will tell you that you need to be prepared to revisit rules a fair bit. That’s true. But the ‘have fun” rule? That’s the one I generally expect to revisit the least.

As I begin this journey from deal to debut, though, I am surprised by the frequency with which I have to remind myself to “have fun.” I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It makes sense. The intimate relationship I’ve had all along with my story is about to change. Once it goes to publication, it’s not going to be me and my book anymore. It’s going to be me, my book, and everyone else. That’s a scary thing. What if everyone else doesn’t enjoy my story? It can be hard to have fun when you’re scared.

But rules exist for a reason. And “have fun” is one rule that deserves to be followed, especially in this case. Because this thing I get to do, that I suspect almost everyone reading this blog does—writing for children—this is the best thing ever. It doesn’t matter where we are on the road to publication. We are all absurdly lucky. I write for children in large part because it’s a way for me to express the love I feel for the books that shaped me as a child. What could possibly be more fun than that?

So I thought I’d take this opportunity in my first post for Emu’s Debuts to revisit the “have fun” rule. It’s a great reminder for me, and if anyone out there reading this is in a place where they need a reminder, too, then all the better. I’m excited to be part of this community and I’m looking forward to doing a great deal of rule-following with everyone in the days ahead!

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Filed under Introduction, Writing and Life

The Call…yes…THE Call!

Please indulge me while I sing a bit and skip down the yellow brick road. I promise I will get to The Call.


Now my rendition.

If I’d Only Get The Call

Why if I’d get The Call I could…

♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪
I could weather a tornado
while cooking shrimp Alfredo
and knitting up a shawl.
Though the house would be whirling,
I’d be polishing my sterling
If I’d only get The Call.
♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪

Well, I did get The Call. The day was clear and sunny. No tornado in sight. Thank goodness because I wouldn’t have time to cook shrimp Alfredo or knit a shawl or polish my sterling while my house was whirling. That’s because this call, although very promising, was all about revisions. I thought I had revised the heck out of that manuscript. But the editor’s notes were genius. I knew my story would be stronger. It was just a couple of lines…but the lines were key to my story. The lines were in rhyme. The lines were repeated.  And I knew The Call of my dreams would melt away like a witch doused with a bucket of water if I didn’t come through.

It was nerve wracking. I wanted to work with this editor so badly that at first I got a case of…
Flying-Monkey Brain. Translation: Rush or it will be too late!
“Hurry, Penny, hurry or the flying monkeys will carry you away to the castle where you’ll never get to email your revisions because there is no way the witch will give you her Wifi password!”



Then I got a case of…
Wicked-Witch Brain. Translation: It’s too scary.
“She’ll reject you, Penny. You and your dragon book, too.”



Then I got a case of…
Lollipop-Guild Brain. Translation: Speak Munchkin, eat a big lollipop, and shake your booty in that Lollipop Guild sort of way.
“Hey! I think I want to go with this one!”



But in the end, I didn’t need anything from Oz. I knew if I was going to get The Call that I would have to use my brain, write with my heart, and have the courage to send off my revisions.

The editor loved them.

Then it happened. Tricia called one evening to tell me we had an offer. Even though I felt The Call was coming due to our positive email communication, it was completely awesome to actually hear the words. I’m still waiting for it to sink in…
…my book…
…MY book!
In bookstores…
at the library…
being read at bedtime!

And the dream that I dared to dream really did come true!

_________________________________
penny3Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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Filed under Introduction, The Call

And So Our Story Begins . . .

by Amy Finnegan

When I vacationed in Scotland a few years ago, I was crazy excited to visit this wondrous country with its towering Highlands, history-making castles, and beautiful Loch Ness (if I were a sea monster, I’d live there, too). But the site I was most eager to see was a little cafe in Edinburgh called the Elephant House.

Trip to the UK 2010 040_2

As a writer—and especially a reader—it was #1 on my globetrotting bucket list. And this is why:

If you have eight extra minutes, watch that video. If not, here’s a summary: This is a very early interview with J.K. Rowling, filmed at the Elephant House. She often worked on the Harry Potter manuscripts at this cafe before . . . well, before she simply couldn’t step out of her home for fear of being kidnapped and forced to reveal the contents of the next book.

Here are just a few magical things in this video that make me smile:

1) Check out her awesome frazzled-author hair (Is she a Weasley or what? And I mean that as the highest compliment in the world! Okay, I’ll get serious now).

2) She is totally ecstatic at this point about HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE selling over thirty-thousand copies in the UK (the series has now sold over 500 million copies worldwide).

3) I love her agent’s warning that she wouldn’t “make much money in children’s books.”

4) She says that the unprecedented American acquisition of the rights for the first book “scared the hell” out of her. She became “panic stricken” halfway through writing the second book, and was then very self-conscious about her writing. Just imagine how she felt later on.

5) When Rowling is asked to describe her plot, she can hardly get a coherent sentence out. Classic writer’s stage fright.

This has totally happened to me too . . . #5 that is. And #1.

My point is, everyone—superstar authors included—starts somewhere, and it’s always, always at the beginning.

Rowling says in this video that she worked on the first Harry Potter book for seven years before it sold. According to various sources, it was rejected by at least nine editors during her year-long submission process. Then she finally got an offer for it . . . with a £1500 advance. (Don’t all of you debut authors feel really good about your advance now?!) That, my friends, was her beginning.

When I first started writing, I thought my career would go something like this: I would finish a book every two to three months, send it off to a publisher, then a few weeks later, they would send me a big check. Then I’d write the next book, and the next, and the money would keep rolling in. I’d be a mega hit.

It’s incredibly embarrassing to admit how naive I was, but there it is. ((I might’ve also had a daydream or two about getting a call from Oprah because she loooovved my novel. Don’t even try to tell me that you haven’t done the same thing.))

Then about a year into writing my first novel, I finally started attending conferences that taught me about craft, and an absolutely devastating thing happened: I realized I sucked. SUCKED.

I out-sucked all of you, I promise.

mean-girls-2The thought of submitting a single sentence of what I wrote was suddenly horrifying. I imagined the cast of Mean Girls standing around a publishing house water cooler and reading my manuscript aloud for their afternoon entertainment. “OMG, did you see this? We should publish it as The Dictionary of Clichés!” Then Mean Girl Editor #2 would say, “I was thinking more like, Pathetic Teen Angst for Dummies!

Cue (size zero) belly laughter.

After a few more years of working twenty to thirty hours per week on learning the actual craft of novel writing—writing, revising, tossing out a few manuscripts . . . writing, revising, burning through a few laptops—I finally gathered the courage to start submitting.

I didn’t exactly get laughed at, but a line penned by Robert Munsch comes to mind: “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.”

Long story short, after that glorious experience, I didn’t submit again for three solid years. During this period, I seriously questioned all the sacrifice, all the time away from my family, all the money spent, all the lunches I’d turned down with friends because I had to revise my novels. And for what? I felt humiliated. I now did everything possible to avoid discussing my writing. I didn’t tell anyone new in my life that I was a writer.

I dreaded hearing this same thing, over and over again: “You should self-publish instead. My brother’s boss’s wife’s second cousin just self-published a novel which is now #1 on Amazon. And she wrote the book in just thirty days while her triplets crawled around her ankles. You, too, can be a published author!”

(Okay, thanks. Clearly all I needed was some triplets!)

I said a lot of naughty words in my head during this time, while speaking to perfectly lovely, well-meaning people.

Trip to the UK 2010 045And now we come full circle, back to Edinburgh, Scotland.

This particular trip began on Interstate I-Suck, and ended in . . . oh, forget it, a map metaphor would be plain stupid here (see, I have learned a bit about craft). I’ll just say it straight: I had a life-altering moment while sitting at a table in the Elephant House.

I realized I was about seven or eight years into my dream of getting an offer from a traditional publisher, the same amount of time it took J.K. Rowling to first get noticed. Had she ever had similar thoughts of doubt? Of course she had. No one works on the same novel for seven years without questioning their ability as a writer, otherwise Rowling would’ve finished it up in six months and mass-submitted to every agent and publisher in the UK. Surely, she had also wondered, “Will all this work be worth it? What if I never get published? Why am I doing this?”

This last question really got to me as I took in a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle, framed perfectly by a large cafe window . . . sitting high atop dark craggy cliffs . . . mysterious and magical . . . and I was reminded of another castle I knew. A castle where I had spent so much time, I could’ve navigated the hallways and moving staircases in the dead of night, with or without the Marauder’s Map. A castle that had made me fall deeply in love with not only children’s literature, but with the idea of creating characters who others would want as their best friends, and fictional worlds that readers would wish they could live in.

Trip to the UK 2010 044_2Hogwarts cast an unbreakable spell on me (and I know I’m not the only one).

I traced it all back, right there at the Elephant House. In the beginning, it was the power of a beautiful story that gave me the desire to be a writer.

So during those long years of doubting anyone would ever find my manuscripts worthy enough to publish, I didn’t write because I still had lofty dreams of becoming a famous author; I continued to write because I’d grown to love it. Writing had become such a significant part of my very being that I couldn’t have let it go if I’d tried. My motivation for improving my manuscripts then evolved into an unshakable desire to create stories about characters who seem real, people who experience genuine joy and pain, heartbreak and love, just like we do. It now came from deep, deep within me.

This difficult period of doubt taught me that good writing doesn’t happen when we type the words, it happens when we feel them.

As I sat in the Elephant House that fateful afternoon, I recalled how Rowling had written on napkins when she ran out of paper, so I wrote something on my own napkin. I was too embarrassed at the time to show anyone what I wrote, but I’ll reveal it now. It simply said, “I am a writer.”

It was about time I at least admitted that to myself.

37005_407814900269_7365337_n

Crazy enough, all those years of hard work and patience actually did pay off. My debut novel for young adults—NOT IN THE SCRIPT—is being published by Bloomsbury, just like J.K. Rowling’s debut.

For me, it’s a perfect beginning.

((Disclaimer: Don’t read too much into this—I do NOT expect Rowling’s success, nor am I truly comparing myself to her. #ha! #keepinitreal #stillsendingmynoveltoOprah))

Has anyone else out there also had long periods of doubt? If so, how did you get through them? And . . . the all-important question, what/who inspired you to write in the first place?

_________________________________

IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

Just for fun—check out these messages I found on a stall door at the Elephant House (warning, big time plot spoilers here):

Trip to the UK 2010 048_2

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Introduction, Patience, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

The Long and Winding Road

daydreamerYou know how you picture something in your head, something really amazing that you desperately want, so you plan it all out down to the last teensy detail and then it goes nothing like you planned but somehow it turns out great anyhow?

My countdown to The Call was a lot like that.

My fascination with books and writing had blossomed by age four, but the goal of writing for kids didn’t come into focus until I took a college course in children’s literature nearly 20 years later. It was like rediscovering a cherished childhood treasure.

envelopes

The practically prehistoric submission method known as “snail mail.”

Somewhere in between marriage and kids and jobs and a move overseas, I wrote Book #1. I figured out pretty quickly (and by quickly, I mean not quickly at all, unless you’re measuring in Publishing Standard Time), that I needed the help of an agent. I still have a huge box of manila envelopes in my desk drawer from the days of submitting actual, printed material to publishers and waiting a year before getting that dreaded form rejection in the mail. Back then agents were just starting to accept email queries, and I took advantage of it. What a time saver! I queried with abandon. I still have the 50+ rejections to show for it. And although I did get one agent call, it wasn’t The One. 

Book #2: To soothe the hurt feelings of my lonely, unwanted novel, I wrote it a nice little sequel. It never went further than my computer’s hard drive, but it served as a form of therapy, allowing me to eventually move forward with a new project. What’s one more year in the grand scheme of things, right? Okay, so it was a pretty wasteful form of therapy, but also a valuable lesson learned.

Book #3: I was excited about the characters and concept for this one. My grasp of voice and point of view had improved. Still, when several agent queries yielded mild interest but no offers, I finally got wise and asked for help. A writing blog posted my query letter and offered tips for improvement. Cue the Halleluiah choir, because the incomparable Ammi-Joan Paquette saw the query and requested pages. We spoke on the phone, she suggested revisions. I revised. She read the manuscript again, we spoke on the phone, she suggested revisions. I revised again.

And then, one the magical day of 1-11-11, I got The Agent Call. She offered representation. Now, every time I see a series of 1’s anywhere, I smile. It makes me feel hopeful and happy and reminds me to get back to work.

My beloved book #3 didn’t sell, even after a few more rounds of revisions. Maybe it will someday. But I had another book idea in the wings. In fact, I’d written 30 pages and then neglected them for over a year. At last, in the fall of 2012, I knew it was time to move on. My husband even told me, “I think you need to finish this book.” (Thanks honey!) I wrote like a woman possessed, finished it, polished it up, and sent it to Joan on Dec. 31.

After a quick revision, we sent out the first submissions in late February. Deirdre Langeland (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan) read it right away and wrote to Joan to say she loved it. Two weeks later, her mention of the phrase “acquisitions meeting” triggered an epic battle of hope and denial in my brain, also known as “Team Happy Dance” vs. “Team They’re Going to Hate It and Laugh in Your Face, via Email.”

I actually had a call with Deirdre to confirm that I’d be willing to revise the opening chapter. Three more weeks went by. The wait was brutal. I didn’t think I could survive another disappointment. But at last, on an evening in April, I got The Call from Joan—we had an offer! I happened to be in a restaurant at a work meeting with 20 other women; I had to step outside when the phone rang. I shook, I stammered, and may have shed a tear or two, but I returned to the meeting with a huge smile that wouldn’t leave my face. My super-supportive husband was out of town, so I had to settle for texting him three wonderful words: “It finally happened!”

winding road

This. This right here.

That’s my twisty path to my first book deal, many years in the making. THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE is due out spring 2015. It will have illustrations! I’m still pinching myself to make sure I didn’t suffer a mental break and imagine the whole thing. Then again, I don’t think I could have pictureed a more unpredictable journey if I tried.

I’m Christine, I write middle grade fiction with paranormal elements, and I’m SO THRILLED to be here, rubbing virtual shoulders with such talented debut authors.

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Filed under Introduction, The Call

How I Became a Real Writer

Hello, internet friends. Newly hatched Emu Adi Rule here, optimistically flapping my vestigial wings. Bear with me, as I’m still learning which forms to fill out, where the cafeteria is, and that a “Wordpress” is NOT a type of helmet that squishes brilliant drafts out through your eyeballs.

Image

Line edits HURT SO GOOD.

Last year around this time, I was asked to be on a panel at a high school. Answer questions about Being a Writer. Judge student work. Free sweatshirt.

So I went. And I talked the talk. Query letters this and protagonists that and blah blah critique groups, whatever. But little did the students know that, unlike the poet laureate on my left and the successful author on my right, I was an IMPOSTOR.

Shocking, I know.

I grew up in a writing household. My friends and I were more likely to be found at a reading than a roller rink, not necessarily by our choice. My mom taught fiction at a nearby university. Sometimes I would go with her and draw dinosaurs on the blackboard.

Image

An ancient beast that struck fear into the hearts of small creatures everywhere. With a tyrannosaurus rex drawn on it.

As a kid, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Poems, short stories, my own NASHNUL NOOSPAPR (“TODAY AT THE RULES HOWSE, BABY DUCKS GROWD BIGR”). My first play was produced at my elementary school when I was 13, and garnered rave reviews from everyone’s parents, who were probably just relieved it was only 17 minutes long. (After all, you never know what sort of Hell an elementary school gymnasium will hold.)

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Dante and Virgil just wanted to support the arts. Two cacophonous hours later, GO FOR THE THROAT.

At 13, my road to writerdom seemed reasonably assured. Then more plays, more prose, a novel, an MFA, a blog, and two more novels. And four cats, who are lousy editors.

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Seriously. Look at them. Dipsticks.

So what was my terrible secret, a year ago, at that high school writing panel?

I wasn’t published.

It’s true. I’d had several plays produced, but not published. And I’d just gotten a short story accepted, but the anthology wasn’t out yet. I had no agent, no other contracts, no shiny books to sign and sniff and make piles of in the yard to roll around in (that’s what authors do, right?).

So every time a student asked, “What’s the matter with adverbs, really?” a small part of my brain squeaked, “Don’t answer that. You know nothing about adverbs.”

Fast-forward a year — or, um, skip ahead? Do we say “fast-forward” anymore? — to this past October, and I’m at the same panel. Sitting in the same chair. Eating the same doughnuts. Only now I’m represented by a fabulous agent and I’ve got a two-book deal at a bighuge press. I’ve gotten The Call.

Sparkles and rainbows and ponies and sunbeams and puffy stickers!

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My life after The Call.

My induction into the Writers’ Guild was glorious. One humid July day, Joan met me at the airport, and we flew first class to a secret location. I was, of course, blindfolded, which did ruin the in-flight movie (Thor), but I sensed we were going north.

Two flights and a helicopter ride later, we began our trek into the heart of a dense forest. Imagine my surprise when, after several hours, Joan stopped before an unremarkable tree and fitted her signet ring into a knothole to reveal a secret door. We had arrived!

All the real writers were there, each one wearing a glittering tiara sized to represent their commercial success (J. K. Rowling and Stephen King couldn’t even stand up under the weight of theirs, and had to lie in a corner conversing softly). The evening was a blur of toasts and speeches and ritual sacrifice. Particularly touching was the moment when William Faulkner impaled himself on his National Book Award as a tribute to the bleeding souls of writers everywhere.

And then it was my turn. I received my tiara (very small), drank from the Cup of Ink (minty), and groveled at the feet of the Writer Queen (identity protected), who smiled with refined condescension. And when she touched her gilded scepter to my nose, I became a real writer!

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Ah, the majesty of tradition.

Actually, I’m lying.

What can I say, it’s the only thing I’m good at.

What I wish my 2012 panelist self could have told my 2011 panelist self is that publication does not make you a writer. The hours you spend with a keyboard under your fingers or a book in your hand do that. Believe it or not, you will know exactly as much about adverbs the day you sign your contract as you did the day before.

And you were a real writer then, too.

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Filed under Anxiety, Happiness, Introduction, School Author Visits, The Call, Writing and Life

I Kissed a Dragon, and I Liked it.

If there be a devil, one of his concubines is surely Big Lady Doubt.

She first introduced herself to me in 8th grade. I’d applied to this science & tech high school. Figured I was a shoo-in. My brother had gotten in a few years earlier, and if he could do it, pshhh, please. Plus I was a math nerd. Game over. Thing was, I wasn’t a very dedicated math nerd. And there was also this English component to the entrance exam. English and meI weren’t on good terms then.

Man, talk about getting knocked off a pedestal. BLD told me to lay low and accept my lot at my regular school, but no matter how low I hunkered, the bullies found me. At that special school, I might not be special, but at least I’d be safe, and perhaps even normalish. So I rededicated myself to nerdiness, learned some big words, and tried again the next year. Got in.

The excitement did not last long. My peers were brilliant. 21 perfect SAT scores, a quarter of the class attending Ivy league schools, one guy even patented an invention.

BLD told me I couldn’t compete. You’ve already climbed halfway up the mountain. Don’t want to fall off it by aiming too high, do you? Nope, definitely not. Didn’t take any risks. Not with school, not with friends, and most certainly not with girls.

One thing BLD couldn’t touch was my writing. Why? Because I was awesome, duh. With my arsenal of big words (ambagious, marmoreal, casuistic… bam!), I could not be stopped. That, and I never let anybody but my mother read anything I wrote. She was completely unbiased.

In college, BLD told me to switch from an English/Physics double-major to something practical (mechanical engineering). Kept writing though. I was 300, 000 words into my epic fantasy and it was bound to be a best-seller.

Eventually, I discarded my unicorn dreams and got serious. An 81,000-word MG about a clan of warrior squirrels (there was a basset hound and a lemur involved, too). Serious stuff. I even mailed a query to South Africa, where the story was set.

Rejection. Shocking, I know. But this was my first go and I was just figuring out things. Nothing to worry about. Honing the craft and all that.

Round 2. A story about Gods playing games with kids (kind of Rick Riordan meets THE NIGHT CIRCUS). Got my first request. This is it. She will be wowed by my brilliance. Sorry, the story didn’t really go anywhere. Whatever. She knows nothing.

Then I got seriously serious. Writer’s Market, blogs, a thousand variations of a query (one which got mauled by Janet Reid on Query Shark), even revision. Wrote another story. My best one yet. With action and emotion and even theme. Sent out dozens of queries. Requests came in. Partials, fulls. Got so close. So damn close.

Then I heard laughter. BLD had entered the room. Knocked down the door. Refused to leave.

She laughed louder at my next story. A war story. With romance and darkness and consequence. And dragons? Seriously? Yeah, with dragons. Closing my ears to her noise, shutting my eyes to her sneer, I entered one of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s critique sessions.  25 words to hook a reader. If it sucked, so what? They didn’t know me from Adam. That’s why I used an alias. If they liked it, well, maybe BLD didn’t know everything.

Most everybody was hooked. This gave me a rush of confidence. Then an agent contacted me out of the blue asking for pages. Ammi-Joan Paquette. Me: Who?! BLD: Scam alert!

Unlike my astute agency mates, I was mostly unfamiliar with EMLA when Joan’s email arrived in my inbox (I knew it was a closed agency and I’m a wee, shy thing when it comes to conferences & networking – bad author). Did a quick check around the web and instantly realized how fortunate I was (understatement). This agent, this agency. Oh, hell yeah.

At the time, I was only about 14k into what was then titled KISSING DRAGONS. I was more pantsing than plotting at that point and wondered if I could keep riding the tailwind that had garnered her initial approval. BLD: No chance. You’re hosed. I powered on, if for no other reason than to spite her.

More good fortune struck in June, when one of my scenes from the story co-won* Nathan Bransford’s action-writing contest. Another confidence injection to propel me to the finish line. Sent it to Joan. Figured there’d be a long wait. BLD: followed by a short rejection.

Joan got back to me a day later to arrange a phone call. BLD was at a loss for words. Me: This is it. This is really it.

No. Joan wanted a revision. Why? Because the second half of the story was nutsoid (my word, not hers). I revised, sent it back a month later, ignored BLD’s smug look the best I could.

Another phone call. No, still a little bit crazy. But – and it took me a long time to realize this – the biggest issue was that I tried to wrap up everything a little too prettily. The ending was rather fantastical and shifted the tone from the gritty, realistic feel (her words, not mine) of the first half.

So I scrapped the back half completely, outlined (the horror), and rewrote. I went darker, because in that darkness was truth. Through that darkness was hope, however painful. That’s what I told myself at least.

BLD told me I was an idiot. It’s too dark for YA. She’ll despise this new version. What does she see in you anyway? This rejection could be the end of you.

So be it. Send.

I waited. Joan had gotten back to me on the other revisions super fast.

One month passed. Agents are busy people, I reminded myself almost daily. And they hate incompetent writers, BLD reminded me even more often.  Two months. BLD mated and multiplied. I prepped myself for rejection.

Another month trudged by. Then April came. A week before my birthday she emailed. As much as I expected another dashed dream, I still had that evil worm of hope slithering through my heart. It took me a very long time to open that email.

Loved it. Called two days later. I rambled incoherently, yet this did not dissuade her. Agented. Happy Birthday, Joshua. We did minor touchups and went on submission.

I figured it would be awhile (BLD: Forever). I’d been on the query carousel for more time than I care to admit.

A week later we had our first response from Greenwillow. Is this a trilogy?

A week after that, the offer came in. A trilogy. A gritty, realistic (yes, with dragons) trilogy about how the lines between good and evil blur and fade and sometimes disappear (BLD: maybe it’s just a story about dragons, kid). The first book, TALKER 25, will be released early 2014.

I’ve never particularly cared for the aphorism about life being about the journey and not the destination, but this journey has helped teach me that if you’re gonna kiss a dragon, don’t half ass it.

And, perhaps more importantly, I’m no longer afraid to tell Big Lady Doubt to suck it. At least every once in awhile.

* about a month after T25 sold, the other winner, Josin L. McQuein, also had her book picked up by Greenwillow.

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Filed under Agents, Introduction, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call

Historical Fiction? Tell Me Another!

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Baby Adolf?

When my debut novel comes out next year, it’s probably going to be categorized as historical fiction. Understandable. The story takes place in the 1930s so, yeah, it is historical. And I do love history, but history wasn’t the driving force behind my writing the book. Fiction was. And family.

Consider the photograph at left, supposedly a snapshot of Hitler as a baby. (Cute, ain’t he? Gads, no.) This photo was making the rounds back in the 1930s (way before anyone had heard of Photoshop or Internet memes, or WWII for that matter.) It’s a fake, of course. A fiction. It’s doctored. Were people fooled? Yes. Would you have been fooled?

OK, here’s a true confession: If I had been around in 1938 and had seen this photo, I would have been fooled, I just know it. ::blush:: As a kid, I thought the articles I read in my grandmother’s National Enquirer mags were 100% true. I know, I know–I was a doofushead, but I was under the impression that newspapers wouldn’t dare print lies. After all, that’s against the law.

Well, folks, let me tell you, for this gullible girl the world was quite a strange and fascinating place, thanks to those far-out articles in the pages of the tabloids. Later, when I learned the truth about their fake stories and air-brushed photographs, I felt tricked and betrayed–and embarrassed–and I didn’t like that one bit. Consequently, as an adult, I’ve developed a sort of fascination for the ways in which people persuade, manipulate and fool others. I love a good hoax, just as long as I’m not caught up in it.Image

And that’s where my as-yet-untitled middle grade novel (Holiday House, Fall 2013) comes in. It’s the tale of a girl who sneaks off to work for a radio station with hopes of landing a role as an actress. When she finally finagles her way into the recording studio, she ends up becoming part of what some still call the greatest hoax ever unleashed upon the American public.

Seventy-four years ago last week, thousands of radio listeners were misled by actor/director Orson Welles’s dramatization of H.G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds. True story. My father-in-law was one of them. While a young man living in Newark, New Jersey, in 1938, he was one of many CBS listeners on the Sunday night before Halloween who became convinced that Martians had invaded Earth and were marching toward Newark. Little green men were reportedly on a course heading directly for his family’s apartment on South Orange Avenue.  He panicked. Lots of people panicked.

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South Orange Ave., Newark, New Jersey in 2006. That’s my character’s building there, the gray one in the middle. 🙂

Orson Welles’s so-called “panic broadcast” of 1938 is an extreme example of what can happen when people believe an authoritative voice without question and react before having all the facts. I loved the War of the Worlds story as a young adult. When I found out later on that my own father-in-law had experienced it, I knew I had to write a story around this extraordinary event.

That’s what I set out to write–a story that hangs upon a true event in history. So, yeah, it’s historical. And it’s fiction. But it’s not historical fiction, not to me. It’s my way of exploring hoaxes and lies, belief and deception. And it’s my way of honoring my father-in-law, Henry Brendler, a great storyteller in his own right, who died in 2009 at age 90, when I was in the middle of working on this novel.

The panic broadcast wasn’t history or fiction to him–he had lived through it. Many of the details in the story come directly from his memories of Newark as a kid. I wish I could present him with a copy when it comes out. It’ll be 75 years after the fact. I think he would have enjoyed it–a slice of his true story, written as fiction.

As my character would say, “And how!” I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands. Thanks, Pop.

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Filed under Introduction, The Call, Writing

I’m Pat Zietlow Miller. And, I’m a book geek …

I’ve always been a book geek.

When I was young, that involved walking to the bookmobile and trying to convince the librarian to let me check out more books than the rules allowed.

It also involved visiting the public library whenever my parents could take me. That’s where they got me an adult card rather than a child’s so I could take as many books as I could carry home with me.

But I didn’t just read those books.

I read everything I could see. Magazines, newspapers, brochures, cereal boxes, junk mail. In fact, the first time I had to do a demonstration speech on a hobby, I loaded my backpack with all these items and shared my passion for the written word.

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t invited to more parties.

But I honestly didn’t care. Who needed parties when there were words? I remember having to put books down and stop reading because I was so in awe of how the writer had turned a phrase or constructed a sentence.

And, sometimes, I’d laugh out loud. Not because the sentence was funny, but because I especially liked a particular combination of words on the page.

Eventually, I started writing myself.

In fourth grade, I wrote awkward stories about a cat named “Salt” and a dog named “Pepper.” (Guess what colors they were?) Around that same time, I wrote terrible songs about sisters named Madeline and Adeline. I read “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?” and then tried to write essays that sounded like Erma Bombeck. All I remember is that one of them made my mother mad.

But in fifth grade, I wrote a poem about a yellow duck on the run from the law that made my teacher laugh so hard he cried. And in sixth grade, I wrote a paper about my grandmother’s swishy, swirly, square-dancing skirts that another teacher said gave her chills.

When she asked me how long it took me to write it, I answered honestly — about a half hour. Everyone in my class gasped. That was the first time I realized that writing wasn’t easy or fun for everyone.

Then one day, I was flipping through the school library’s card catalog when I realized something. Every book in there was written by somebody. A real person. And maybe someday, I could write a book too.

I flipped to the Zs to see where my name would fall.

Well, my name will probably never be in a card catalog. I’m not sure any still exist. But it just might be on amazon.com and goodreads and in the Library of Congress.

If all goes well, my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, will be illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf and published by Schwartz & Wade in the fall of 2013. And I find that — almost — too cool for words.

Here’s how it happened:

  1. Four years ago — after writing newspaper articles and a wide variety of technical memos to pay the bills — I decided I wanted to write books for children. No, I did not quit my day job.
  2. Instead, I started spending three hours each night after my kids were in bed writing manuscripts. They weren’t as bad as my songs about Madeline and Adeline, but they were far from lovely. Miss Clavel of MADELINE fame might have said, “Something is not right.”
  3. So, I brought piles of picture books home from my new public library and read them. I read everything Kevin Henkes has ever had published. Everything by Mem Fox.
    Everything by Judith Viorst. Everything by Kari Best and Jill Esbaum and Dori Chaconas and Mo Willems. Plus a ton of stuff by authors whose names I don’t recall.
  4. I went to my my first SCBWI conference and hid in the back row hoping no one would realize I didn’t belong and ask me to leave.
  5. I joined two critique groups and got feedback on my stories.
  6. I kept writing. I kept reading.

Then, I cautiously began sending out submissions.

Lots of form rejections. Lots of silence. Then, one day, a little blue card with a handwritten note. “Cute, but not quite right for us.” I almost had it framed. A real, live editor thought my story was cute.

As I kept writing, I got enough tiny bits of encouragement in between the rejections to keep me from giving up. More personalized rejections. A story that sold to Highlights magazine. An honorable mention in a writing contest. A few requests to revise and resubmit.

But always, ultimately, a rejection.

Until my phone rang almost exactly a year ago. The area code said “212,” and the caller ID said “Random House.” And the voice on the other end said, “Hi! This is Anne Schwartz. You probably don’t remember sending us SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but …”

That was the fateful moment that led to my being part of this EMU’s Debuts blog. I’m so excited to count down to my book release — and those of my talented agency-mates — with all of you.

Because a confirmed book geek like me can never have too many books.

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Filed under Celebrations, Introduction, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call