Tag Archives: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

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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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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Evidence for Connection

In one of his lectures on the craft of writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, the great Tim Wynne Jones said that the only place for a coincidence in a story is at the very beginning.  Random events, coincidences—fate—can set a story into motion. But to bring in a coincidence to resolve the unruly details of a complex plot is a cheap trick. That is unless a book’s theme is built around over the top coincidence as in Uma Krishnaswami’s brilliant The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. By chance, or was it design, Lindsey Lane, was in the room listening that day. In her fantastic debut, Evidence of Things not Seen, Lindsey finds a novel way to use coincidence, fate, and random connection: as the premise of a novel, in which a chance event connects a series of lives that might not otherwise be intertwined.

Evidence of Things Not Seen by Lindsey Lane

To celebrate the role of fate and coincidence, we’ve gathered up coincidences that have shaped our books and our lives. Where books start and life begins is not always clear as this coincidence story from Megan Morrison demonstrates:

A long time ago, I co-founded a Harry Potter web site. After a few years of running the site, I became less involved and rarely posted anymore – until one day, when I saw a post written by someone whose username I’d never noticed before. The post was snarky and hilarious; it was something I’d been dying to say, but as a founder of the site, I felt that my saying it would be inappropriate. Still, it was so satisfying to see someone else give voice to my schadenfreude that I privately messaged a thank-you note to the snarky stranger – something I had never done before. Now, the internet is a big place… but what do you know? It turned out that the snarky stranger lived just a few subway stops away from me, in Brooklyn. So we met up for a drink on July 30th (Neville Longbottom’s birthday, for you HP nerds). Nine happy years and one son later, I’m pretty glad that I randomly replied to that post!

Donna Bowman Bratton also found her partner though literacy and coincidence:

I once replied to a two week old casting call for a mystery fundraiser to benefit our local Literacy Council. There was to be a play. On a stage. Now, I’m sure my parents considered me a drama queen, but I had never been in theatre. Yet here I was, in my twenties, answering this ad. What the heck was I thinking? Lo and behold, all parts were cast, except one, the director explained by phone.
      “You wouldn’t happen to be in your twenties,” she asked. “And, by any wild chance, do you have long blonde hair?”
      “Um, yeah,” I stammered, In the most theatrical voice I could muster.
I showed up for rehearsal and learned that my character, Lotta, was to be murdered, strangled, by her “husband” over a winning lottery ticket. Between rehearsals and performances, I died at least thirteen times, falling to the floor with a flourish. And, each time, my gentlemanly “husband” ensured that my skirt didn’t billow up to reveal too much of, um, me. That last part is what got me.
        A few years later, I married my murderer. Yep, falling in love was murder.
Fast forward a few years and we had all but given up hope of having a baby. Until one very memorable day when, in an hugely unexpected way, I discovered I was pregnant. It was Valentine’s Day!

Friends matter every bit as much as partners. Jennifer Chambliss Bertman believes that fate brought one of her best friends into her life:

I’m never quite certain about the difference between coincidence and fate, but I suppose I could chalk one of my best friendships up to coincidence. Katherine and I knew each other peripherally as undergrads. Then, by chance, we attended the same small MFA Creative Writing program—so small, she and I made up 25% of our class! I initially worried that we wouldn’t get along. I am quiet, introverted, and not comfortable with all eyes on me. Katherine is vivacious, talkative, and not self-conscious about being loud. I didn’t think we had much in common, which is hilarious to me now, given how much it turns out we actually do have in common. We both double majored in English and Dance. We’re both from northern California. We both have brothers. We’re both crafty. We have a similar sense of humor. We have both spent a lot of time working with kids. Of course we both love to read and write. We both have a lifelong love of children’s literature. Our MFA program was challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and I don’t know if I would have hung in there that first year without Katherine’s friendship. And that was just the beginning of one of the most enduring and meaningful friendships of my life. Now that’s a coincidence to be grateful for.

Coincidences give us faith. They are signs that we are on the right path as Tamara Ellis Smith found with marbles:

So I signed with my agent, Erin Murphy, primarily for the middle grade novel that became my debut, Another Kind of Hurricane. At the time it was called Marble Boys, because a big part of the story is that one of the main characters, Henry, has a lucky magic marble that he trades back and forth with his best friend…and then loses…and goes on an adventure to find. Shortly after we began working together Erin sent me an email that went something like this: “You’ll never guess what happened! I was digging in a new garden plot, and guess what I found way down deep in the dirt? A marble! A magic marble! A sign!”

Since then, this has happened a few more times with kids in my neighborhood. They have found marbles in their gardens too! I don’t know, but I’m thinking magic marbles grow, like sunflowers or irises…

Laurie Ann Thompson shares how coincidence brought her book to life!

Many coincidences resulted in my third book, My Dog Is the Best, coming next June. After workshopping it for a couple of years, I learned that people either loved the manuscript… or hated it. When I submitted the manuscript that became Emmanuel’s Dream to agent Ammi-Joan Paquette in 2011, she replied saying she liked it and wanted to see what else I had. I sent her the manuscripts that would become Be a Changemaker and My Dog Is the Best. She responded with an offer of representation! We quickly got to work getting Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream ready for submission, but she never said anything about My Dog, so I just assumed she hated it. Two years later, Janine O’Malley happened to casually mention to Joan that she was looking for a cute dog story. Joan remembered filing My Dog away for just the right editor—one who would love it—and she sent it to Janine. Janine loved it! She had a particular illustrator in mind who turned it down, but a few days later author/illustrator Paul Schmid just happened to be in New York handing out postcards, one of which landed on Janine’s desk. She thought his style was a good fit, and he got the job. This book truly wouldn’t have come together without the numerous coincidental intersections between Joan, Janine, Paul, and me. It feels like it was meant to be!

Coincidence and fate shaped my book life too. In August of 2012, on my way from my home in Vermont to spend the year in Yerevan, Armenia my flight from Newark to London was cancelled. As a result, I was sure to miss the once a day flight from London to Yerevan. The folks at United suggested that I just stay put in beautiful Newark for the next 24 hours and take the same evening flight one day later to London. But to be sure not to miss the flight again, I insisted instead that they put me on the early morning flight to London. I was completely unaware that the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) annual meeting was just wrapping up in London at that very moment. I arrived well into the evening, got some take out Indian food, and a decent night’s sleep. The next day, I boarded the tube to return to Heathrow. At the tube stop after mine, a woman struggled to board the train with a number of heavy bags. I helped her get in and settled. Her modest dress, beautiful dark eyes and high cheekbones made me wonder if she, like me, might be heading to Armenia, so I asked her. It turned out that Sahar Tarhandeh, was the Bookbird Correspondent of the Children’s Book Council of Iran and a juror for the Hans Christian Andersen Prize. She had come to London to attend IBBY. Our friendship began with an hour-long magical conversation about children’s literature and the power of books to transcend political boundaries and to promote peace and connections across the globe. A few months into my stay in Yerevan, when Ammi-Joan Paquette sold my verse novel, Like Water on Stone, to Delacorte Press, it was especially sweet to know that Sahar cheered me on from a land just to the east of where my story is set.

In Armenian we say that our fate, jagad a kir, is literally written on our foreheads. Do we write this ourselves or do these events just happen? Whether they are about marbles, books, long lasting friendships, or love, these events, like Lindsey’s Evidence of Things Not Seen, affirm our fundamental human connectedness.

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Gone Revisin’

Wasn’t Tara Dairman’s launch party week fun? And lucky me, she and I are neighbors, so I was able to join in the festivities in person at her launch party in Boulder. I sampled Tree-nut tarts, homemade hummus, and gajar ka walwa, three recipes inspired by All Four Stars. Tara (and Gladys!) charmed the crowd, and the party ended with a long line of readers eager to have their book signed.

 

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And a lucky one of YOU is the winner of a signed copy of All Four Stars! And that winner is:

leandrajwallace!!!

Congratulations, Leandra!

*     *     *     *

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I wanted to write a funny post for today about receiving my first-ever, under-contract, editorial letter from my editor, and the excitement of that moment. (I may have kissed my letter).

 

 

I wanted to write a post about how receiving that letter makes everything feel real, and how you have all these fluttery feelings about your dream being realized, and you read the letter in a state of almost disbelief and wonder . . .

 

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Approximately what I looked like upon receiving my editorial letter.

 

. . . and then the panic sets in when you realize this is for real-for real, and strangers are going to be reading your book, and these revisions are one of your last shots to make your book as good as can be, and–AAAAAGH!

(Just a minor panic attack. Excuse me for a minute while I hyperventilate into a paper bag.)

Okay, I’m back.

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My desk pre-revisions.

 

My plan had been to write this post in diary format, like I’d gone missing while doing revisions and the diary entries would show me progressing from enthusiasm to panic to determined resolve to the voices taking over and me going crazy . . . I don’t know, it was hilarious in my mind. But that’s the thing about writing, right? It’s all brilliant in our minds. Who would ever sit down and dedicate priceless hours, weeks, months, years to craft a story with the intention of having flat characters and a derivative plot and clichéd dialogue? We are all trying to tell good stories to the best of our abilities.

 

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My desk during revisions. . .

 

But I couldn’t pull off the super-duper funny (no-really-it would-have-been) (probably) diary format post idea because my brain is totally fried, you guys. More fried than eggs at a roadside diner. More fried than a bucket of KFC.  More fried than all the food combined at a state fair.

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Mentally speaking, this is about the phase I’m at right now with my revisions. So things are going well . . .

 

But what I do have for you today are links to some great posts on revision that have helped me along the way in my own process. I’m including snippets that give you a taste, but if you are revising or will soon be revising, I highly recommend reading all of these in full. Without further ado:

From Anna Staniszewski‘s blog post “Lessons from the Revision Cave”:

“. . . since I didn’t have time to let the manuscript sit in order to gain some perspective on it, I read the entire manuscript aloud. This got me to really focus on it again, instead of just skimming over what I’d read a hundred times before, and notice things that still needed work.”

From middle-grade author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford‘s post “How to Respond to a Manuscript Critique/Editorial Letter”:

“Confronting a revision can be extremely daunting because of the Cascade Effect: when you change one plot point it necessitates two more changes so that the plot still makes sense after the change, which prompts still more changes and more and more. Ten or more changes can cascade from a single change, even a minor one.”

From author Lisa Schroeder‘s post, “Monday Motivation on Revision”:

“For me, when I’m deleting old scenes and writing new ones, I’m often scared I’m making the book worse instead of better. And it’s so messy – all that deleting and moving things around.”

From author Jeannine Atkins‘s post “Building and Wrecking Walls of Words”:

“Revision means going back to dredge through what we first came up with. Kicking holes while asking new questions, which lead to still more questions, which stage greater messes, demanding we again haul out the trash and finally tidy.”

From Maggie Stiefvater‘s “On Characters, Knowing Them”:

“I need to know what they want out of life so I can deprive them of it. I need to know what their mortal flaw is so they can struggle to overcome it. I need to know who they love so I can turn that person into a wolf and laugh meanly.”

From Jennifer Hubbard‘s “Avoiding Info Dumps”:

“People around us don’t stop to explain every little thing, every piece of their history, every allusion they make. We are used to gathering information and piecing it together ourselves.”

From Nathan Bransford again, this time on revision fatigue:

“The best way to deal with revision fatigue is to trust in your heart that it’s a very useful and necessary feeling: what better time to turn a critical eye on your book than when you think it is an affront to humanity?”

And from the Emu’s Debuts archives, a post by Lisa Schulman “Real Life: The Nemesis of Revision”:

 “No one ever warned me that the pre-publication revision stage would result in Foggy Brain Syndrome, which gives another disorder I suffered from, Pregnancy Brain, a run for its money. Life has somehow become the dream, and the world of my book-in-progress, reality. I am not fully functional in the noggin’, and I can’t quite explain why.”

 

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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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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Deadlines, Editing and Revising

The Perks of Research

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Today—maybe even at this very moment that you are reading this—I’m experiencing an exciting first: My first post-book-deal school visit.

The visit came about in an unusual way, which is probably often the case for an author who still has another year to go before her book is out. My novel is set in San Francisco, and bits of it take place in a contemporary middle school. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have lived most of my life there, including in the city itself. But I went to a suburban middle school about a half hour outside the city, not to mention, it was snarfmumblehum years ago that I was in middle school, and so I don’t exactly feel like an expert on the contemporary San Francisco middle school setting.

I don’t need to be an expert to write the school scenes in my book. They are generic enough that I could imagine my way through them, and the story would probably be fine. Doing my research about contemporary San Francisco middle schools has helped me, not only get ideas, but feel confident about what I’m writing. Having the opportunity to experience at least one school firsthand will help me be a better sensory writer, and will help ensure I don’t get things way wrong.

I reached out to a Language Arts teacher at a school that is in the general vicinity of my fictitious middle school, and asked if I would be able to tour her school and/or talk with her or some students. Not only did the teacher respond warmly and enthusiastically, but, as luck would have it, they were having professionals come in to talk about their careers and didn’t have anyone scheduled to speak in the Language Arts arena. So I agreed to talk about being a writer, and in turn I’ll get to hang out with a bunch of middle schoolers and observe their world. I know there are people out there who would be terrified of voluntarily spending their day with middle schoolers, but I’m super excited. (Okay, maybe slightly terrified, but mostly excited.)

One of the things I plan on talking about at my school visit is: why does research matter if you are writing a fictional story?

As a reader, books often feel like magic. Whole worlds come alive. I still think about book characters the way I think about old friends. As a writer, I don’t want to break the magic spell for a reader, if I can help it.

I saw a movie once where the characters drove to the airport from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s impossible. I know the movie-makers wanted to include the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in their movie, but as someone who was born and raised in the area, it bugged me. Another movie had a cable car running down a street that cable cars don’t run on. Instead of being invested in the characters and their conflicts in these movies, I was pulled out of the moment and distracted. I don’t think these things were errors as much as “creative license”, but it’s important to know when you’re taking creative liberties, versus just not doing the background work. I don’t want to make assumptions about a setting or experience, and get it wrong.

We have creative license when writing fiction, and can bend things to suit our needs. But if you manipulate too much, or bend without intention or, worst of all, out of laziness for getting it right, readers will know and be disappointed. Sometimes even angry. So that’s where research often comes in for me: drawing on firsthand experiences to deepen the writing and suspend the reader’s disbelief that they’re immersed in a made-up world.

To the other writers out there, what kind of research have you done for fictional works?

 

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_2001843-122Jennifer 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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Choosing Writing

IMG_4561The hardest thing for me about writing is not the writing itself, it’s writing through everything life throws your way. Every writer I know–each one of you reading this, I imagine–is not simply a writer. We are daughters and sons, siblings, parents, grandparents, spouses. We are friends. We are pet owners. We work full time, we juggle three jobs, we are struggling to find a job. We are in college, we are going back to school. We are planning a wedding, a vacation, a birthday party, a baby shower. Our cars break down, a tree falls on our house, our basement gets flooded. We get sick, we get injured, our friends and family get sick or injured. We have serious health complications. Our loved ones have serious health complications. We endure loss, both unexpected and long-time dreaded. We are grieving. We are coping. We are exercising, we are moving to a new house, we are seeing the world, we are going home to see old friends, we are having a night out on the town, we are addicted to Breaking Bad, we are walking the dog, we are doing laundry, we are coaching little league, we are keeping up on the news, we want to sleep.

To be a writer, you have to prioritize writing above other choices, through the varied weather of your life, and you have to do that, if not consistently, often enough that you’re moving forward instead of treading water or falling behind. To be a writer, you have to choose writing.

Even in the happiest moments of your life, this is a juggling act. But what about our lowest moments?

In my post “Resolutions, I’ve Had a Few”, I mentioned 2009 was a difficult year for me. I refer to it as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. The bad stretch began with a sick dog and ended with losing my uncle to cancer after a surprising and short battle, with a lot more painful losses and grief and a lawsuit and broken appliances and car trouble and other sucky things thrown in the middle. I’ve experienced challenges and heartache in my life, but never so many difficult things in such close succession. It was the first time I really understood the metaphor of feeling like I was drowning in my own life. Wave after wave kept hitting before I had a chance to fully come up for air and rest from the last one. Once you’ve been hit by a few waves, a mental repercussion can take hold and you begin to fear the next wave, when it will happen, and how big it will be.

2009 could have been the year I gave up on writing. In the beginning, I assumed each wave would be the last, and more often than not I didn’t choose writing. Sometimes because I absolutely couldn’t, and sometimes because I thought, “I’ll just get through this tough spell. I’ll wait until this is resolved. There is enough stress right now without having to stress out over fixing a broken plot.” The problem was, that reprieve I’d been waiting for never came.  I hadn’t written for weeks, then months. There were times I’d sit at my computer, determined to get back to my writing, and I’d feel so distant from where I’d last been with my story. Who were these characters again? What had I been trying to do? It was overwhelming, frustrating, daunting. How did other writers manage this? Maybe I didn’t have the capacity to be a novelist after all.

I sought out advice from anywhere I could get it. What I heard over and over was to write through the difficulties. Keep that butt in that chair. Show up and do the work. This is what professionals do. This is what writers do.

Yes, yes, I’d nod. I’d sit down and face the knotted mess of my novel, determined to get the problems unraveled and everything in order, and another wave would hit and I’d stop writing again. And sometimes there was no wave, only my despair and frustration with myself, and I’d lose myself to a Gilmore Girls binge.

I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud calling myself a writer. I’m here on Emu’s Debuts writing this, so obviously the story has a happy ending. But I want to share this for those of you out there who are struggling to choose writing, who are dealing with that guilt, who might feel like frauds, who might feel like you’re not good enough to be part of the writer club. To any of you in that position I say:

You’re not a fraud. If you want to be a writer, you are a writer. Screw that butt-in-chair, write-every-day advice. You will get your butt in the chair when its good and ready.

In the meantime, here are the things that kept me tethered to the writing boat while the waves crashed on top of me.

  1.  Show up and try. I didn’t show up every day. I didn’t show up every week. Sometimes I showed up but stared at a blinking cursor, or typed a paragraph and then deleted it because it was crap. But I kept showing up and I kept trying, and eventually things got better. Even if it’s been months or even years, it’s never too late to start showing up and trying.
  2. Surround yourself with people who will support your dreams and encourage you to choose writing. The main reason I didn’t abandon my novel is because I had family and friends who believed in my story even when I didn’t, and who believed in me as a writer when I didn’t. And the flip side of this, if a person or environment feels toxic, cut ties or distance yourself. Occasionally there are unsupportive people in our life who we can’t distance ourselves from. Accept those people for who they are and appreciate them for the other roles they play in your life. Don’t expect them to suddenly be supportive of your writing when they’ve never played that role before. Find your support elsewhere.
  3. Stay connected to the writing community. If you’re not currently involved in the writing community, this is actually a great time to put yourself out there. (And by “putting yourself out there” I don’t mean try to work a room. You can be an observer and learn a lot and gain a lot of inspiration from what others say and do.) The writing community can be a very healing place if you seek inspiration rather then shortcuts and connections. This is where organizations like SCBWI or Lighthouse Writers, writing friends, critique groups, and author blogs can be a godsend. (But not all organizations and critique groups and blogs are created equal. Participate in the places that leave you feeling lighter, happier–or at the very least, that don’t bring you down or add to your troubles.) I went to writing conferences, I took classes. Something I did quite often–and this is free and simple and entertaining and gives back to the writing community–is attend author readings at bookstores. So many times when I was feeling at my lowest failure/fraud point, I’d hear an author speak or read a blog post and they would say something that resonated in such a way that it gave me just enough pep to choose writing for one more day.
  4. Read, but read to refuel your creative tank. I read books on craft (The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes and Write Away by Elizabeth George were particularly helpful during this time). I read in my genre. I read my favorite authors in any genre. I only read books that grabbed my attention or entertained me. When life is stressful, reading should be an outlet of fun or relief. Don’t let reading turn into a burden.
  5. Recognize that you are writing even when you’re not “writing”. I may not have made much progress on my revisions in 2009, but I was always writing in one form or another. Anything you write–emails, blog posts, your holiday newsletter, Facebook updates, Tweets, journal entries–you’re exercising your writing muscle. Deliberate your wording, whether you’re painting the right picture, the best way to deliver a joke. Writing doesn’t have to be about daily word count goals, and it’s good to recognize that.
  6. Pay attention to your mental well-being. Get exercise and sleep. Talk to people when you need to. Be gentle with yourself.

Choosing writing isn’t always about typing words on the page. It’s about committing yourself to a goal and not giving up on it no matter the obstacles placed in your way.

Choose writing.

 

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_2001843-122Jennifer 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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Filed under Advice, Writing and Life

The Call

Last summer was a whirlwind for me. In June, our house sold and we had to be moved out by the end of July. We couldn’t move into our new house until October, so in the meantime we would move into my in-laws’ basement. This meant packing up ten years’ worth of stuff and dividing it into necessities and storage. If you are a book lover (hoarder), imagine having to limit yourself only to the books you will want to have on hand in the next two months. And if you have been a first-time parent of a one-year-old, imagine trying to decide what essentials might be needed for your ever-growing and changing child. If you are anything like me, trying to predict these needs will bring on hyperventilating and quaky hands over the anxiety of making these decisions.

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“Seriously man, pick the right sippy cup or your life will be tantrum hell.”

In the middle of all of this, my book went on submission. My novel had been a labor of love for the past nine years, and so having it finally and officially on submission was thrilling and a huge relief. And the timing was great because I was so wrapped up in preparing to move, I didn’t have any energy to spare on worrying about how the book would be received by editors. I knew it might be some time before I heard anything back, so I did a little happy dance for being on submission and got back to moving things into my essentials piles, then changing my mind to the storage piles, then moving them back to essentials.

Within a week, my agent, Joan, emailed. An editor had already read my book and loved it. She would be taking it to acquisitions in two weeks. I couldn’t believe it.  I must have read that email over a dozen times. Having your book taken to an acquisitions meeting is no guarantee of anything–I was very aware of that. But an editor had read my book and loved it. An editor I am familiar with and have a lot of respect for read my book and loved it. That was surreal and validating, to say the least.

The weekend passed, a flurry of packing and moving preparation and trying to savor our last moments in our first home together.

Monday morning arrived. We had one week before we had to be out of the house. My husband had to go away on business for most of the week. My in-laws were on vacation so I would be doing the solo mom thing, sans babysitter. My carefully thought out and anguished over packing strategy had blossomed into a panicked frenzy of shoving things into boxes and hoping for the best.

The phone rang. The caller ID showed it was my agent. My immediate thought was that the editor must have changed her mind over the weekend. I tentatively answered, and Joan said, “So, I have some more news.” Her tone was calm and subdued. My happy balloon was about to be popped, I was sure. I gathered my professional wits about me so I wouldn’t sound too disappointed. “Okay,” I said. And then Joan told me two more editors had expressed interest and one was prepared to make an offer but wanted to know if I was working on a sequel. I think my exact words were, “Wait, what?”

I was in my old office while Joan and I had this conversation, surrounded by empty bookcases and half-packed boxes. My one-year-old son quietly played in the background while I sat, stunned, and listened to Joan talk. I was so absorbed in what she had to say that I didn’t realize until halfway through the conversation that my little angel had been so quiet because he’d been very concentrated on pulling random papers from my filing cabinet and flinging them around the room. I have never been happier to see my son make such a huge mess. I let him fling to his heart’s content.

After the phone call, my husband joined my son and me for a happy dance amidst the towers of moving boxes and strewn paper before he had to rush off to the airport. (In hindsight, I’m realizing my son probably interpreted that as our enthusiasm over his wonderful mess.)

That week ended up being a flurry of crazy, exciting “holy cow, I can’t believe this is really happening” moments. For the editor who was considering making a two-book offer, I drafted up a list of six sequel ideas and Joan and I went back and forth revising a one-page summary of the stand-alone middle-grade mystery that was my current work-in-progress. I wanted to convince this editor I would be worth the gamble.

Things went down to the wire moving out of our house. So much so, we realized at the closing meeting that we’d forgotten to unload the dishwasher. We went back to our old home with the new owner and he had to unlock the door that had been ours only hours earlier. We left with an odd assortment of colander, cheese grater, mugs, and silverware in our arms.

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One door closes. And then reopens, because you forgot something inside, and then closes.

The next day, our first day living in my in-laws’ basement, I got The Call. This time when Joan’s name showed up in my caller ID, I was nervous but an excited nervous. With her tone still calm and subdued, Joan told me that Christy Ottaviano was making a pre-empt offer for a three-book deal: my novel Book Scavenger, a sequel, and my stand-alone middle grade mystery work-in-progress.

I said, “Three books? She knows I haven’t written the other two yet, right?”

Now we’re settled into our new house, the chaos and uncertainty of last summer behind us. I’ve finished the first draft of the stand-alone mystery, I’m plotting the sequel, and I’m awaiting revision notes for my first book from my editor.

My editor. Boy, do I like the sound of that.

 

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Jennifer Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, The Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). The 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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Filed under Celebrations, Happiness, Introduction, Thankfulness, The Call, Writing, Writing and Life

Resolutions, I’ve Had a Few

A newly hatched Emu here, wishing you all a happy new year! In Laurie’s last post, she asked, “Do any of you do any kind of year-end self-review or forward-looking career planning?”

I’ve always been a resolution maker. Since my teenage years, I have started each year with a list of goals for myself. The questions that frame my list are “Where do I want to be this time next year?” and “What steps can I take to get myself there?”

Looking over the past five years of resolutions, you might notice a trend with my professional goals. I’ll make some notes on whether or not I met my resolutions in each year.

2009:

  • Finish revision of Book Scavenger. Nope.
  • Find an agent. Nope.
  • Sell a book. Nope.

I refer to 2009 as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. It was a really bad year. It was the kind of year that tries to break you, and I’ll be honest, it did for a while. I got very little writing done that year, much less met any of my resolutions.

2010:

  • Finish revision of Book Scavenger. No.
  • Find an agent. No.
  • Sell a book. Hahahaha–no.

Although I didn’t accomplish any of my resolutions this year, I did get my writing mojo going again. Because of the scope of the revision I was undertaking–really re-writing the book when it came down to it–I could tell it was going to take me a while to get my story where I wanted it to be. This realization was a bitter pill to swallow, especially because there was a wonderful editor who had expressed enthusiasm for my book premise and writing four years prior.  Several writing friends encouraged me to send my current draft so I didn’t lose out on this editor’s interest. There were many good bits in that old draft, but it wasn’t working together as a whole, and what was on paper didn’t match what was in my head. I knew if I couldn’t execute my premise in a satisfying way, it wouldn’t matter how good the writing was. I stuck to my guns and kept plowing forward.

Summarizing my resolve like that makes it seem simpler than it was. That point in my writing journey was filled with frustration and self-doubt. To distract myself from that and give myself a positive outlet for engaging in the children’s literature community that I love so much, I began an interview series on my blog called “Creative Spaces”. Doing this was daunting, fun, inspirational, and in retrospect I think it played a crucial role in keeping me moving forward with my book and pursuing my dreams of being a children’s book author.

2011:

  • Finish revision of Book ScavengerYes!
  • Find an agent. No.
  • Sell a book. Yeah, no.

I finished my second draft in January, and man, did that feel great! I knew it still needed work and after getting feedback from critique partners I started on Draft 3.

And while I didn’t find an agent, I did receive a lovely surprise email from Ammi-Joan Paquette, who had visited my blog and was intrigued by the pitch line I’d posted about my novel: “The Westing Game meets Goonies at a slumber party thrown by Edgar Allen Poe.” I told her I was revising the novel but had a picture book manuscript that had been very nearly accepted for publication twice. Joan loved the picture book, but didn’t sign clients unless they had at least 2 or 3 picture book manuscripts ready to go. I had two others in pretty good shape and was going to send them to her, but had a picture book conference that weekend. I figured the picture books would be better after I received feedback on them at the conference, so I held off and in the meantime sent Joan the first 50 pages of Book Scavenger. After the conference, I was toiling away on the picture book revisions when Joan sent me an incredibly enthusiastic email about what she’d read of my novel. I scrapped my plans to revise the picture books and poured all my writing time back into Book Scavenger.

2012:

  • Finish revision of Book ScavengerYes!
  • Find an agent. Not yet.
  • Sell a book. Not even close.

I finished my third draft of Book Scavenger and sent it to Ammi-Joan Paquette. She loved it, but wanted me to cut it down from 75,000 words to 50,000.

2013:

  • Finish revision of Book ScavengerYes!
  • Find an agent. YES!
  • Sell a book. YES!!!

I finished my 4th draft of Book Scavenger, following Joan’s suggestions, and brought the final word count in around 50k. Joan loved what I did with the 4th draft and she signed me as her client this past March. I did another revision mainly focusing on the ending, and after ten years in the making, Book Scavenger finally went on submission in July. Not only did I sell Book Scavenger, but my publisher bought a sequel and a third stand-alone middle-grade mystery on proposal.

So as you can see, using the past five years as a guide, I fell flat on my face as far as accomplishing resolutions were concerned about 90% of the time. But I don’t consider them failures. Why? Because I continued to move forward and I continued to try. That’s what makes the difference between a resolution and wishful thinking. I can resolve to lose twenty pounds but not change anything about the way I eat or exercise. As long as I take steps forward, whether they are drastic (cut out sugar and join an exercise boot camp) or subtle (resolve to eat one healthy meal a week and go on more walks), I’m proactively changing the trajectory of my arc.

This year when I sat down to make my list as usual, a funny thing happened. I drew a big, fat blank. At first I worried that something was wrong with my goal-oriented sensibilities. But then I realized that 2013 had rushed by in a blur of life-altering, goal-achieving moments. Not just professionally but personally too. My husband and I bought our first home together and we celebrated our son’s first birthday. Like my writing goals, those were long sought after aspirations, and I’m not ready to move on to the next thing yet. I want to sit and savor where I’m at, what I’ve accomplished.

So my resolution for 2014 is to enjoy the moment. This time next year, my son will be a chatterbox and I’ll be thinking about things like preschool and T-ball. This time next year, our house will be a home–more lived in, more unpacked, more of our life and personality stamped onto every room. This time next year, my edits for Book Scavenger will be done. I’ll have completed a draft for my second book–possibly even a revision. I’ll have a game plan in motion for the Book Scavenger sequel. Holy cow, I’ll be preparing for the launch of my debut novel!

Everything I am experiencing right now is fleeting and once-in-a-lifetime. My son will only be 20-months-old once. This house will only be new and a blank slate once. I will only be in the post-book deal/pre-published author limbo once. Instead of focusing on what else I hope to accomplish and where I want to go next, in 2014 I want to embrace what is happening right now. Appreciate what fills my life right now.

It occurs to me that this is true of all moments in time. Every moment we are living is fleeting, whether it’s good, bad, or somewhere in between. Everything is temporary and it all goes by so fast in retrospect. It would probably be wise of me to keep this resolution for all years to come and combine it with my forward-looking goal-oriented approach. Dream big and make plans to move toward them, but appreciate the journey along the way.

But that’s for next year. For 2014: Savor the moment.

 

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Jennifer Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, The Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). The 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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