Tag Archives: persistence

AN OCTOPUS IS BORN

The Benefits of Being an OctopusWe Emus are fluffing our feathers in proud excitement to announce that Ann Braden’s MG novel The Benefits of Being An Octopus will celebrate its book birthday tomorrow, September 4th.  If only we had tentacles to wave in joy as well!

Read on to learn more about the book’s amazing author and her axe-shaped necklace, about how teachers can’t wait to use it to help students expand their empathy, and how librarians can advise patrons on its appeal factors. We’ll also have a whole ‘nother post about the benefits of being an actual octopus!

 

An Interview with Ann Braden

by Anna Redding

Anna: This book is written in first person. To do that, you really have to know your character.  Zoey’s voice comes through crystal clear, illuminating her world

and way of thinking right out of the gate. It’s so well done, I have to ask, was that something yVersion 3ou focused on crafting or did Zoey’s voice come to you with this kind of clarity?

Ann: Zoey’s voice came to me like that. It’s hard to describe, but in my heart I was Zoey when I was writing the book, so I just wrote down what I knew she would say or think.  For me, it wasn’t about craft, it was just about listening.

Anna: When we first step into this incredible story, we step into a Zoey’s fascination with Octopuses (which we learn from her, doesn’t have to pronounced octopi, thank you very much). What is so brilliant, is that you suck us right into her irresistible curiosity, her enthusiasm, her lovable personality. The connection between reader and Zoey is immediate and as deep as when you bump into a new true best friend. Which is important, because this makes it possible for us to really go “there.” And, in this case,you are illuminating a story that often goes untold in America. Tell me about your decisions in crafting this aspect of the book.

Ann: When I was in the very early stages of conceptualizing the book, I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and I was utterly captivated. I loved that octopuses were so much like us –they form relationships,have different personalities, and are super intelligent – yet they had evolved in such a different way. I think there are parallels of that amongst people, too: we all have different experiences growing up (some vastly different), but at the end we’re all trying to do the best we can. And the more I explored the connection between octopuses and Zoey, the more she became just as obsessed with octopuses as I was. 

Anna: At the same time, this story will be familiar to many readers who see themselves and their families in these pages… and yet their lives and experiences are often not on the subject of books. Have you heard from readers or teachers about what an important story this if for readers to be truly ‘seen’?

Ann – Yes. For kids growing up outside of the white, middle class culture, books that also take place in that culture can be an extra reminder that they don’t belong. (And of course, on the flip side of this, kids who are growing up in that culture can too easily ignore the range of other experiences if that’s all they see.) When I was teacher myself, I taught in several different schools, and I knew that there were kids like Zoey in every single one of them. My gut told me this had to be true on a broader scale, and the feedback I’ve been getting from teachers has confirmed that. And too often those kids have become so good at making themselves invisible that they fall through the cracks. But when we have books that discuss the issues that are central to their lives (but are rarely talked about in school) we are creating an opportunity for those students to see themselves as valued and to potentially connect in a way they hadn’t before. And EVERY SINGLE STUDENT deserves to feel valued and connected. 

Anna: I loved what School Library Journal had to say about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS in their starred review: “Heartbreaking, beautifully written…Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of fun violence.” That is such a powerful summary of a powerful book. What do you hope readers will take away from the pages of your book?

Ann: I hope that they come away recognizing their own strength (even if it’s not something that can be seen by others)and realize that how much money someone has has nothing to do with how hard they are working. And that no matter how powerless you feel, you always have the power of your voice.yelling emu

Anna: This is a ‘must-read’ for schools and classes. How can teachers tie this into curriculum and for students, who are inspired to take action in their own communities, what ideas do you suggest or resources can you point them to?

Ann: I’m really excited about the conversations this book has already started. And since the book brings up topics that aren’t often discussed, it can be good to have supports in place. Here is an Educator’s Guide that I put together in partnership with Equity Solutions, a non-profit focused on leading powerful conversations about economic class with people from all kinds of class backgrounds. Besides discussion questions, it includes extension activities, such as analyzing a budget of someone who only gets paid minimum wage and working to find the common ground of a controversial topic in the community. I also created a Flipgrid where educators can reflect on key questions in the books and discuss. Plus, the introductory video on the Flipgrid highlights a few key ways to make sure that discussions of the book are empowering for kids. 

Anna – Lastly, sometimes in life, in the most difficult of circumstances, you can see a lifeline emerge from the fog. For Zoey, it’s joining the debate club. What would you say toreaders about paying attention to those unexpected lifelines?

Ann – We never know where a choice will lead us, and it’s amazing what can happen when we say “Yes” to things. Even a small step forward can shift the ground beneath us in the best of ways. Still, sometimes if your head is down and you’reworking as hard as you can, no matter how many steps forward you try to take it seems like nothing will ever change. That’s when we need to be able to rely on allies who are ready to listen and those who are ready to team up and work to change the  underlying systems that make it so hard for some to make end meet. We all have to look for the opportunity to be lifelines for each other. Because when you’re in that fog, it’s often not possible to do it on your own. We have to remember that we’re all in this together.

Anna – Okay, one more question. For all readers (of all ages), there is a message about taking hold of your own potential, which is why this book is hopeful. What would you say to us about this idea of claiming your own power as your hope?

 Ann – Our own power is the tool that is ALWAYS with us, whether we can see it or not, and it’s up to us whether we wield it. When I was about two years into leading a movement in support of common ground gun laws in Vermont, something that I had never thought I would do and something that taught me I was far stronger than I had thought, I was catching my breath in the midst of months of 60-hour weeks. And in that quiet moment I was reminded that way back in middle school I had also discovered that I was stronger than I thought because that was when I first got into chopping wood. In that moment, I splurged on a small axe charm and I hung it around my neck because I knew there were many more steps I needed to take to help get gun laws passed, and I wanted to make sure I always remembered my own strength – and most importantly, remembered to wield it.Silver-Axe-Accessory

 I kept that necklace around my neck in am-packed statehouse committee rooms and when I was the target of online bullying. And those people who were trying to intimidate me into silence weren’t able to. Because at the end of the day, my eyes were focused on the kind of civil discourse I believed the issue deserved and I had faith in myself that I could help make that happen. That’s why I had hope, and, ultimately, landmark legislation was able to get passed. Zoey’s situation is similar. She had hope because she had memories of what her mom used to be like, and she found a way to keep her eyes focused on what she loved. And when that hope was combined with her courage to use her voice, it shifted the ground beneath her. Maybe all kids get that same chance to find their voice and use it.

 


The Realities Students Face: A Discussion with Teachers

by Kat Shepherd

Ann Braden’s long-awaited debut, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, is a powerful read that is sure to be a staple for schools and libraries for years to come. It received a starred review from School Library Journal, and it’s gone into a second printing before it’s even been released. Following the story of seventh-grader Zoey, it is a deftly-told tale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Octopus highlights struggles faced by students living in poverty, and takes an honest and compassionate look at how those struggles play out both inside and outside the classroom. Zoey’s teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, plays an important role in Zoey’s life, so I decided to invite some educators to share their thoughts on this beautifully-written novel.Octopus123

Q: When I read Zoey’s story I so wanted her to have that fairytale ending where everything works out perfectly, but the ending of this book, while hopeful, isn’t that perfect fairytale. Why is it important for kids to have books that don’t always have the perfect happy endings we want for characters?

Erin Varley: There are so many books out there that already have the fairy tale endings, so it’s just as important to have a lot of books that don’t have that ending. Life isn’t fairy tale perfect and kids figure that out really fast. In fact, for kids like Zoey, they figure it out too fast. For a kid to see that life, while not perfect, can still offer hope, well that’s just as important. Kids know when they are being lied to, and sometimes fairy tales can seem like that. They don’t buy the lies. Books like Octopus offer an alternate path that still is positive, but also realistic.

Kristin Crouch: I love the ending and agree that it not being perfectly wrapped up is a strength of the novel. In my school, I have so many fifth graders in transition. I’ve taught children in shelters, children who’ve moved several times through a year, children who move in with friends (resulting in 14 people in one two bedroom apartment), children in houses that have been condemned, children living in hotels until a new apartment is found (and those are just housing transitions!). Ending the book with Zoe in transition shows my students that transition is not, in and of itself, an ending… It proves what the teacher tries to convey to Zoe~ that she is not the product of her circumstance. She can, and will, make more of her experiences, but that doing so is not a quick, easy fix. It will take years of working hard to overcome her challenges.

Jennifer Druffel: I loved that it was not a fairytale ending! Kids need realistic books that mirror their own lives and see characters that can be strong despite their circumstances. Also, for kids who have never experienced such hardships, it helps them put themselves in someone else’s shoes and be less judgmental about their peers’ circumstances.

Cassie Thomas: Real life is not perfect, in any way. It’s so important for kids to be able to relate to stories, and if every student just reads books where everything turns out good in the end then in their life they may feel defeated and unsure. Every year I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson out loud to kids and the ending is not happy, it’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it leaves my students with jaws dropped and questions. Then they realize that in life they don’t get happy endings for every single thing. It’s a great message to have discussions over.

Q: Many adults have concerns that books dealing with issues like poverty and domestic violence are “too adult” for children to be exposed to. As a teacher, how do you respond to those concerns?

EV: Well, first I like to make sure each parent is heard. To be honest, I defer to the parent. If a parent tells me they don’t want a certain title being read by their child, I respect their wishes. However, I don’t remove the book from my library. Just because the book isn’t right for one certain child, doesn’t mean the same thing for every child. There might be another child in that same class that finds that book to be a lifeline, as I know Octopus might be.

KC: While I’m on the bandwagon that yes, these topics and concepts are too tough for kids, the fact is the kids who are exposed to it must know they are not alone. They are not invisible, they should not be hiding, and they will get through it.

JD: I would never force a student to read such a book. And if a parent is concerned, I’d ask them to read it first before they let their child read it so they can be the judge for their own child, but NOT for other people’s children!

CT: I teach 5th grade, and this comment irks me in a lot of ways. These students are SO mature and they truly know so much already. If they don’t, they are so eager to learn. When discussing social justice last year I had some outside people say this exact same thing, and my response was Do you know what your child is watching on TV? On their iPad? What the lyrics in their music actually say/mean?  Because they do, they totally know. They are smart and they want to be treated like an adult, especially at this age. I make sure I choose my words wisely, but we do have discussions. The reality is that some kids in class ARE experiencing that life, who are we to act that it doesn’t happen when it is reality for some.

(Name Withheld): When I read Octopus I immediately said… “THIS is what my kids deal with.” Honestly… this book is exactly what some of my kids go through on a daily basis. The trailer park, watching their younger siblings, new boyfriends/girlfriends all the time. Not that this makes any of the parents bad people or bad parents, and I know that everyone is doing the best they can, but I know that some of my students deal with a lot and have a lot of responsibility that I never had as a kid. Which makes this book even more important to include in my library!! It is the first book I’ve read that I really felt MY student’s struggles come through.

Q: When you read this book how did you envision it as a teaching tool in your own classrooms?

EV: I’m not sure I plan to read this book as a read aloud, but def as one to include and book talk in my classroom. I thought perhaps an excerpt would work as a discussion tool. Many tough topics are written with grace and hope, and kids need to see that tough times are not the end of the world, that things can get better, and that sometimes people need help or are doing the best they can in that moment.

KC: I was hoping to use this book to spark a discussion about verbal abuse. What it is, what it can sound like, and how it can affect your own thoughts about yourself and your abilities. From there, I was hoping to discuss negative and positive self talk as well. Even the character of the boyfriend’s father who lived in the house added to the stress. While he was less insulting toward the kids, they were living in a home in which people didn’t adore them~ they barely tolerated them. This affects the psyche, and I want my students to be able to recognize it so they can try to protect themselves any way they need to.

JD: I would book talk this book to my classes and then students can choose to read it if they wish!!

CT: As an educator I can’t even begin to explain to you the quiet importance that Ms. Rochambeau plays in this story. This will be a book that will not only be a very vital window for students to look in, but also a mirror to know they aren’t alone. Ann has touched on topics that I know for a fact students experience, or something similar, on a day in, day out basis, but are not quick to speak up. I feel as though all middle grade students and teachers need to read this book, and soon… One of our school wide behavior expectations is empathy and this book provides the opportunity to teach and understand empathy in Zoey’s life.

Q: I love that Ann views books as means of bridging the divides between people, as is evidenced in her excellent podcast with Saadia Faruqi. One thing I loved about Octopus is that it delves into the the complexity of issues that are often painted as simple black-or-white answers in the cultural narrative. What can educators do to help students find the complexity in these hot-button issues?

JD: It would be awesome to have a book club of students discuss this and their opinions on those issues!

CT: A way that I foresee us bringing up the complexity is giving multiple experiences and then having discussions, constantly. Everyone’s story isn’t the same in real life and Zoey’s story is one that some may relate to in SOME ways but not all ways, or the entire way. Another way is that I love for students to start figuring out solutions. What could we do as a community to help make these situations better.

Q: My husband, who grew up poor, talks often about how profoundly his life was impacted by a teacher who encouraged him to apply to a free Jesuit high school in Manhattan. He is still moved when he talks about what it meant for him to have an adult see him and believe that he had something great to offer the world. Jarrett Krosoczka still remembers being in school and having an author visit from Jack Gantos. Jack complimented Jarrett’s drawing of a cat, and it’s part of what encouraged him to become an author/illustrator. Zoey has Ms. Rochambeau. Who were those adults in your lives that encouraged you, and how do you see your role as teachers in helping kids reach their potential?

Octopus123 EV: I think about coaches first, actually. I was so involved with swimming and my coaches were the ones who stick out in my mind. They believed in me and saw potential in me that I didn’t always see. Encouraging kids and helping them see their good and their successes are what I try to do as a teacher. Always staying positive and helping develop a growth mindset are also things I try to encourage.

JD: I strive to let EVERY child I teach know they are valued for who they are. I notice strengths in each child and point them out often. I listen to let them know their voice is important. I can only hope that this will make a difference!!

CT: One of the educators who played the biggest role in my life was my middle grade creative writing teacher. I was going through a lot. Bullying was unbearable (to the point where we moved my 8th grade year), but Mrs. Ward helped me learn to write, how to escape that reality that I was dealing with and get thoughts out on paper through poetry. I was published. I was proud. I was finally happy. I knew that at that moment I wanted to be that light for students. There were a lot of teachers who weren’t there for me because they were friends with the parents of the students who were being ugly, so they just brushed my stresses aside. I knew then what I did NOT want to be as an educator. I feel that it has helped me significantly in building relationships and also with helping place that heart print book in the hands of a child who needs it. I don’t ever look at myself as a “savior” but an extra mom so to speak. I have told them I wear many hats as a teacher and I want nothing more than our classroom to be a safe place for them. So far it has proven to be just that.

Many thanks exceptional educators like Erin, Kristin, Jennifer, Cassie, and others for taking the time to chat with me and celebrate the debut of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. We are so excited to help welcome this wonderful book into the world!  For teachers who want to join this discussion, please visit Ann’s Octopus Flipgrid.


The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus

by Christina Uss

Let’s not forget how librarians are going to get this tender, tough, many-tentacled story into the hands of readers. I was lucky enough to get some training as a library assistant last year and learned about successfully matching a reader with their next read as a reader’s advisor.  One of the keys to advising wisely is ferreting out a book’s APPEAL FACTORS, which turns out to be way cooler than solely recommending titles by t

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he same author or the pushing the newest thing in the same genre. Thanks to the metadata librarians at NoveList, we’ve got a whole list of potential appeal factors, and I consider it an honor to be the first to point out to all librarians how they might describe The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus:

  • Character – the main character is believable, relatable, courageous, likeable, spirited, strong, and well-developed. Kids are going to wish Zoey was their big sister, especially those who already know all about the eight-armed juggling that comes with taking on caregiving tasks for siblings (and sometimes parents) at a young age.
  • Writing Style – candid, compelling, engaging, with well-crafted dialogue. The book satisfyingly fills our minds’ eyes with rich details that make Zoey and her friends and family come alive (and our minds’ mouths with the comforting scrunch of Easy Cheese and crackers.)
  • Pace – intensifying. Will everything work out for Zoey and her family? How??
  • Storyline – both plot- and character-driven, mixing uncertainty in plot with Zoey’s determination
  • Tone -often intense with an emotional edge, moving from heartwarming to heart-wrenching, hopeful, sobering, eye-opening, thought-provoking, with a strong sense of place.

I can’t wait until Tuesday when my library system will load in its first copies of this fabulous and I can start advising readers to check it out!


Ann Braden writes about kids struggling to find their voice despite the realities of life, and about cultural divides and possibilities for bridges across.  She writes because even when life is throwing the entire kitchen at you…there is HOPE.  Come chat with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Ann's schedule

 

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Interviews, Launch, middle grade, Persistance, Reaching Readers, Uncategorized

And They Persisted

As an aspiring author, getting to read the success stories of others – about what it’s like to get the out-of-the-blue (and life-changing) call from an agent or editor that says “yes” – was like candy. They gave me hope.

Except after years of reading those stories and believing success was right around the corner (only to find that it wasn’t), I started to need a different kind of story. I needed stories about persistence. So, to all of those who are persisting in the querying and submission trenches, this is for you.

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The first manuscript I wrote was cringe-worthy. It was short – just 28,000 words – but I had written it one-handed while my baby boy nursed, so it was pretty darn long considering. I wrote it having no idea whether I could write a novel and no idea how you actually publish one (like knowing an appropriate word count for a MG novel.) But it made me realize that I COULD write a novel. Of course, once I immersed myself in figuring out the process for getting published, it quickly became clear that this manuscript wasn’t going to cut it. I started writing manuscript #2.

Manuscript #2 had a snazzy title (SWIMMING WITH TCHAIKOVSKY – it makes you pause, right?) and a good concept. Out of the 100+ queries I sent to agents, I got 30 requests to read the full manuscript. But none of those requests turned into an offer. Looking back I can understand it more clearly now why: the main character was too passive, the plot was complex in certain ways, but too thin in others. I had more work to do as a writer.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t query Manuscript #3 too soon. This time, I would make sure the meat of the story was as good as its concept—an all-girl science club (Sciencetastic Supergirls) that basically has to save the world. Plus, by this point my time in the querying trenches meant I had developed wonderful friendships with other aspiring MG authors who had become invaluable critique partners. And this time, everything came together. To test the querying waters, I entered my first page one of Miss Snarks First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest (http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/) and not only did I love the agent’s feedback on each of the entries, and not only did she end up choosing mine as the winner and requested a full manuscript BUT she was Tricia Lawrence, an agent at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This was an agency

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I even have my very own Emu that sits prominently in our living room. Hence, the extra longing.

I had been pinning after since the beginning. A month later she wrote me an email that used the word “love” SEVERAL times. My growing son had been waiting for me to go for a walk in the woods when the e-mail came in. Then, he had to wait more and it started to rain. But then, I was ready and we ran together through the woods with the rain on our faces, and he didn’t quite get why his mama was screaming with happiness, but it sure made for a fun time.

The supergirl manuscript went on submission, and over the course of a year it got a request from an editor to revise and resubmit, but it didn’t end up leading to an offer. But in the meantime, I had learned from my previous manuscripts that the only way to stay sane when submitting work is to be starting something new. As my next manuscript (#4) took shape I could see that it was far bolder than anything I had written before. In part this came from the amazing, intangible benefit of having an agent who believed in me, and in part because in another area of my life I was becoming the leader of the gun violence prevention movement in Vermont, a role that was teaching me I was far stronger than I originally thought. I decided I want to stop submitting Manuscript #3 and focus instead on the new stories I was writing (Manuscript #5 was similar in that dove deep into issues people didn’t necessarily want to talk about – but needed to).

But…. neither of Manuscript #4 nor #5 found a home. Even though they both got very close to big deals – and I was on the edge of my seat, eating absurd amount of chocolate for months expecting to hear the good news any day and even showing up at social events holding a ROCK in one hand because I needed to squeeze something to keep myself from exploding—it didn’t happen.

Thankfully, before I hit that emotional roller-coaster, I found the space to start writing Manuscript #6. When I started it not only did I have an agent who believed in me, but I was fully convinced that I would have an editor by the time it was done. I was sure that this would be my second book and that it didn’t need any shiny jazz hands to grab someone’s attention. Instead, it could just be honest.

I bet you can see where this is going.

A year later I had spent a whole lot of time building up a protective wall around my emotions when it came to the submissions process. I had read the wise Tamara Ellis Smith’s words about longing and how to sit beside it rather than letting it consume you. But still, the best I could do at the time (if I wanted to keep my sanity intact) was to try to sit on top of it. When Tricia told me she was sending out this novel on sub, I had no reaction. Those were just words. The e-mails would go out. Rejection and silence would come back.

But then, a month later, I was driving home from a daylong board meeting (during which I hadn’t managed to find time to pee), late for school pick-ups, scrambling to find someone to pick up one of my kids, hightailing it to pick up the other, and oh-my-goodness did I have to pee. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye an e-mail come in on my phone. It was from Tricia and it had the words “offer” and “love.” Even now, my whole body goes numb just remembering it. I was like a zombie picking up my daughter from pre-school. I even ran into a friend who is an aspiring author himself, and when he asked me if I was okay (because I must have look like someone died), I told him that I really needed to pee. And then cautiously I told him about the e-mail. He, in turn, cautiously said (still looking my somebody-died-face), “But that sounds like a really good thing.” I swallowed. “It does, doesn’t it?”

It took me about a month and many conversations with my writer friends for it to sink in that this story rooted in simple honesty was going to become an actual book. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is about a 12-year old girl at the edge of poverty who has to find her voice. There are no bells and whistles. Instead, it is seeped in the realities of the class divide, the gun debate, and complex family relationships. It is about finding hope and pushing forward no matter how much the odds are stacked against you.

And isn’t that what we all need to do?

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About Ann Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which successfully got gun violence prevention legislation passed. She also helped found the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. She is a former middle school social studies teacher. Ann’s debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus comes out in September 2018 from Sky Pony Press. The novel is a close, personal look at life on the edges of society, through the eyes of one girl just trying to find her way forward, recommended for fans of Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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Filed under Inspiration, Patience, Persistance, Query Letters, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

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

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

Correct:

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

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

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

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

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

Luka's Quilt

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

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


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

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

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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This Woman Is So Neurotic, You Won’t BELIEVE What She’ll Do to Avoid Revisions

Sorry for the silly title. I read an article this week about the people who write those dramatic headlines for Upworthy. The drama taking place in my head right now seemed to warrant a sensational title of its own.

As you may have guessed, I received the revision notes for MOTHMAN not long ago. There’s a lot to fix, but that’s not what’s tripping me up. I’ve revised projects before. Many times. Many, many times. The difference this time is that the project is under contract. Someone actually plans to give me money for this. Every change I make feels live-or-die important. I fret that each page will be scrutinized, criticized, analyzed–not just by my editor but by eventual, real-life readers. It feels so real this time, because it is.

ruler

Striking fear into knuckles everywhere.

Let me first reassure my kind, patient editor if she happens to be reading that I’m making progress (no, really!). But never have I so badly needed my own personal schoolmarm to rap my knuckles with a ruler when I stray off task. Or avoid being on task in the first place. I suddenly discover urgent errands to run, closets to reorganize, correspondence to catch up on. I’m simultaneously frustrated by and grateful for interruptions. I tear apart and rebuild the same sentence ten times, then convince myself it was better before I messed with it.

Is there a name for this crippling revision syndrome? For those of you who’ve conquered it, what’s your secret? Fear of failure is an excellent motivator, so I’ll tuck that away and call it Plan B if nothing else proves helpful. But I’d rather learn to work through this like a healthy, teachable human being. Because every once in a while, I’ll polish up a sentence and pat it on the head and send it on back to the paragraph its shares with its brothers and sisters, and lo and behold: it’s pretty good! That’s a great moment. I can actually feel myself grow as a writer, with the proof right there on the page. At least until I read through it again the next day and realize how terrible it is.

MountainPic

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Maybe the key is simple persistence. Stubbornness. Refusal to yield. Like every other step in the publishing process. We claw our way up the mountain until we reach the next peak. We take a moment to celebrate and shout words of encouragement to the people still climbing. And we hum, loudly and rather off-key, pretending not to see that next impossible peak stretching ahead into the clouds.

In other news: Congratulations to Amie Norris, winner of FAIR COIN by E.C. Myers, from Tara Dairman’s book giveaway in last week’s post. Yay, Amie!!!

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May Arboretum 027Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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