Tag Archives: Susan Vaught

What Seeds Do We Plant?

As writers, we love to see stuff blossom. Anything, really.

Flowers? Yes! We want to see those colors, see those shapes, see that–aah, wow, yes!–stunning growth from what was once a tiny seed.

Kids? Yes! We want to see our kids–whether those we parent, those we teach, or those for whom we write–grow into confident, bold, kind, and wise human beings.

Stories? Yes! We want to see the characters about whom we care so deeply, the plots into which we pour our minds, and the conflicts through which we split open our hearts all grow, develop, and yield something beautiful.

And because we are writers, we know that stories need endings. We know that planting a seed–starting something off–can be satisfying in its own way, but were we to always stop at the Starts, we’d feel somehow aloof, adrift, maybe even…angry. (For more on anger, read Susan Vaught’s remarkable post on the emotion here.)

But as writers, our desire for strong finishes, redeeming denouements, blossoming finales leaves us, well, kind of with our hands tied when it comes to one issue: publication. We can create and craft and revise and submit to our heart’s delight, but we have no control over the endings. None.

And if you’re anything like me, this kind of hurts to admit. It feels powerless, scary, and confusing.

So when I found a line from Robert Louis Stevenson that spoke directly to that fear, I wrote that line in my journal, posted it on the wall by my desk in the classroom where I teach 7th grade, put it on a sticky note inside my wallet, texted my friends with the quote, and pretty much repeated it to anyone I met. Even grocery store cashiers.

Stevenson wrote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

About five years ago, my wife, Jennifer and I decided that we were going to give away most of what we owned, and bring our two-year old son abroad to live in England for three years. She would work on her PhD, and I would be a stay-at-home dad and write. I thought that some of the many seeds I’d planted as a writer would blossom at some point during our three-year excursion, helping us to have a little  more income other than the student loan on which we were going to live.

And I planted a lot of seeds during those three years. I wrote drafts of four middle grade novels. I wrote drafts of 50 picture book manuscripts. I wrote proposal packages for three non-fiction books. I wrote two drafts of literary fiction-esque novels. I wrote a slew of poems.

And then I revised many of these projects, trashed many of them, rewrote many of them.

Hands in dirt! Planting seeds! Going deep!

Dirt in fingernails! Still planting!

And I woke up each morning with that magical thought bubble: Hey, you know, well, yeah…THIS COULD BE THE DAY. 

But it never was. And as we watched electric bills pile up, “Rent Due” notices gather, and as we marked on the calendar when each student loan installment was going to come–itching for that student loan disbursement day with hopeful fear–another thought bubble began to form: Maybe this isn’t going to work. Maybe this was crazy.

And so I looked for a “real” job while my son was in preschool. I applied to janitorial jobs, substitute teaching jobs, grocery store clerk jobs, secretarial jobs.

Hey, more dirt! Digging! Fingernails dirty with job applications! Yeah!

But none of those job applications yielded, well, JOBS. In fact, none of those seeds even yielded an interview.

This went on for a long time, and eventually the only job I could find was to deliver newspapers. So I delivered newspapers. And I was a little angry about it some mornings. (Again, thank you Susan Vaught for your incredible post!) And some mornings I managed to listen to music and see the bright side of it: it was teaching me to wait, to struggle, to hope, to be looked at like I was insane by the tweens delivering newspapers, to appreciate my wife and son who did the route with me some days, hleping me feel like I really wasn’t a complete failure as a father and a writer.

To shorten what may already be becoming a belabored story: nothing happened. All three of those England years yielded no blossoms that would help us make rent, no successes to which we could write home about. And we flew back home humbled, yes, but also more together as a family. More aware of the actual journey of a writer. More ‘okay’ with failure. And more able to be honest about those emotions inside that aren’t always happy and glad and smiley (yup: again, a nod of gratitude to Susan!).

Now, looking back, those three years in England sometimes take on a resplendent glow. When books are under contract and coming out, it feels easier to look back at those three years and say, See! They were all worth it, all leading up to this point! The planting MATTERED! Dirty fingernails, huzzah!

But that would be a mistake. More than a mistake, I think it might be downright wrong–the absolute opposite of what Stevenson meant by his quote. I don’t think the planting is worth it ONLY if / because it reaps a harvest. Instead, the planting is worht it because that’s what good writing and good living are all about.

We cannot control outcomes. We cannot control blossoms and harvests. And if we see seed-planting as worthwhile only because a harvest is reaped, then I think the point of seed-planting is lost. If I go back to those years in England and reconnect with what mattered there, I would see that it was the turning on of the computer after another rejection. It was the delivery of the morning paper after another late bill. It was the relationships that formed between my wife and I, and with our son.

Those were the seeds.

And if a harvest or a blossom ever comes, in a weird way, it carries with it the danger of losing touch with seed-planting, and focusing more on the harvest. If I’m being honest? Right now, that’s my struggle. I need help from friends to go back to the turning on of the computer–to WRITE, not to CHECK on stuff. To plant seeds, not to see what kind of harvest might be reap-able.

If I don’t end each day with dirty fingernails, then am I really living? Am I really writing, after all?

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We Have a Wiener! Err.. A WINNER!

Sable says, “WE HAVE A WIENER!!”

images (4)

(I think she means, “We have a WINNER!”)

Actually, we have THREE winners!

No, Sable... Three WINNERS!

No, Sable…
Three WINNERS!

But before we announce the winners, we want to thank all of you who stopped by to celebrate the release of Susan Vaught’s book, Footer Davis Might Be Probably is Crazy.

I'm just crazy about this book!

I’m just crazy about this book!

And if you didn’t win, you can always order a copy from The Flying Pig BookstoreIndie BoundBarnes & Noble, or Amazon!

And now…

 

Congratulations to

 

SUE HEAVENRICH,

CARLEEN M. TJADER,

And WINEMAMA!!!

This book will make your tail wag!

This book will make your tail wag!

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From the Files of FOOTER DAVIS (and Friends)

Susan Vaught’s disarming, delightful, devourable middle-grade debut features a trio of young people who are truly worth spending time with. Luckily, in FOOTER DAVIS MIGHT BE PROBABLY IS CRAZY, we get a chance to know these wonderful characters intimately, as Susan lets us peek inside their journals. We get to read Footer’s school papers, complete with doodles, tangential thinking, and teacher commentary. We watch over her shoulder as she lists and crosses out information that’s key to her uncovering the truth about the fire. We keep track of Peavine’s detective journal, where he faithfully records all suspect interviews and makes his personal observations in the form of stage directions. We even get glimpses into Angel’s astronaut journal, when she puts her oar into the investigation.

Susan so deftly uses these devices to draw us ever deeper into the world of Bugtussle that it got us thinking: What other books do we love that make use of characters’ journals and notebooks as central elements of the stories?

From the nifty notebook of Penny Parker Klostermann:

I loved THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson. The main character, Lennie, writes poems on scraps of paper, lollipop wrappers, to-go cups, etc. The poems are interwoven in the story to give readers a glimpse of Lennie’s emotional journey as she deals with the untimely death of her sister. The inclusion of the poetry is powerful and moving.

In EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN by Lindsey Lane, main character, Tommy, disappears. We learn about Tommy from other characters that answer the sheriff’s questions and speculate about his disappearance. But Lane also includes excerpts from Tommy’s journal which add to the mystery of his disappearance.

From the dangerous diary of Mylisa Larsen:

One of my favorite uses of a notebook in a book is Vida’s (“My public calls me Velveeta.”) letters to Calvin in Bluefish.  You’ll have a couple chapters of narration and then you’ll read one of Velveeta’s letters and getting to see what happens to Vida from the outside (narration) and the inside (the letters) is fascinating.

From the marvelous missives of Megan Morrison:

Right now, I’m rereading MONSTER, by Walter Dean Myers – a powerful book about a young, black male who is on trial for murder. The protagonist, Steve Harmon, deals with the surreality of his situation by setting down every word and action of the experience as if it’s happening in a film. The book flips between the courtroom scenes, which are formatted exactly like a screenplay, and Steve’s personal journal, scrawled in his messy handwriting. The journal is where Steve becomes vulnerable and emotional, processing the horror of his situation on a more personal level. The journal is where he deals with the fact that, after court is finished each day, he has to face the realities of jail, where he might well be stuck forever.

From the fabulous files of Maria Gianferrari:

One of the most ingenious ways I’ve seen visuals incorporated into a story, literally, is in Jennifer L. Holm’s Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff. As the subtitle suggests, newspaper clippings, to-do lists, report cards, post-it notes, school assignments, even police blotters about garden gnomes and wheelchairs gone missing (thanks to Ginny’s older juvenile delinquent brother) are woven into the fabric of the story.

I also love the way Abigail, the protagonist in Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s Always, Abigail narrates the story through a variety of letters, both sent, and un-sent as well as her favorite to-do lists. Cavanaugh also does a similar thing to great effect in This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, where homeschooled Ratchet tells the story in journal form where she writes poems and completes her school assignments, making it an emotionally engaging and fast-paced read.

From the authorial archives of Laurie Ann Thompson:

The first one that comes to mind for me would have to be the delightful Ellie McDoodle series, starting with Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel, by Ruth McNally Barshaw. Here’s a bit of that first book’s description:
Twelve-year-old Ellie McDougal, aka McDoodle, is a prisoner. Sentenced to a week-long camping trip with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, she is determined to hate every single minute of the experience. Thank goodness she at least has her sketch journal, in which she records all the excruciating details. Mosquito bites and trips to the Fred Moose Museum she can handle, but how will she keep her journal from falling into Er-ick the Enemy’s hands? And what will happen if-gasp-she actually starts having fun? Part graphic novel, part confessional journal, part wilderness survival guide, Ellie’s story is a treat for young campers, vacationers, or any kid looking for a great summer read.
I loved it, my sketchpad toting kid loved it, and everyone who has met Ruth can’t help but love her, too, so this one will always have a special place in my heart.

 

And finally, from the lyrical letters of Tamara Ellis Smith:

I second Ellie McDoodle!

And we all second, third, and fourth FOOTER DAVIS!

Footer Davis CvrWelcome, FOOTER, to the ranks of these unforgettable books.

 

Don’t forget, to enter the drawing for a free copy of FOOTER DAVIS MIGHT BE PROBABLY IS CRAZY, please comment on any post this week! 

You can also buy your own copy of Footer Davis at The Flying Pig BookstoreIndie BoundBarnes & Noble, or Amazon!

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Let the launch party (and book giveaway) begin. FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY is here.

This week it’s our great pleasure to introduce you to Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy. It’s funny, it’s got heart and it has characters that feel so real that if I met them at the grocery store, I’d just think, “Huh, there’s Footer and Peavine” and wave. To introduce this fabulous book, we have an interview with author Susan Vaught.

Footer Davis Cvr

One of the things that I loved about Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy is that there’s a strong visual component. In between the narration, we see copies of Footer’s homework, some of her drawings, interviews from her friend Peavine’s notebook, Footer’s lists, photos, emails, all kinds of stuff. All of which is really fun. Is this how you imagined the book from the start? Or is this something that developed as you went along?

Susan: This was how the book started! Before I had any other piece of the story, I made the drawing of the doodelbug and that homework sheet involving how Bugtussle–the town in the story–got its name. Footer’s voice came to me as I worked through that, a strong, funny girl who wanted to draw, loved to draw, really really STUNK at making art, but insisted on doing it anyway! After that, I just drew out or photographed or created any little bit of the story that Footer would want illustrated. Perhaps the funniest moment came when I decided to make a photo of the mysterious shoe in the woods, and I swiped my son’s tennis shoe for the picture. I can still remember his confused, worried voice following me out the door: “Mom, that’s my shoe. Hey, Mom, where are you taking my shoe? Have you lost your mind? Moooo-ooommm . . . !”

Hey, Mom?

Hey, Mom?

Was the title of this book always Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy? If not, whose idea was that very funny title? And who is responsible for this fabulous cover design?

Susan: I never get keep my original titles, so no. My lame initial title was, The Bugtussle Chronicles: Serial Killers Don’t Wear Plaid. I’ll have to give my brilliant editor, Sylvie Frank, credit for the very funny and much better version. The cover design belongs to John Hendrix. I loved it the moment I saw it!

Now, the book’s quirky inner art and sketches–the things Footer draws herself–were done by Jennifer Reinhardt, who was given the impossible task of drawing like an 11 year-old who can’t draw! 🙂

Something that I love about this book is the wholeness of the characters. Too often, when I’m reading a book that deals with difficult issues, I feel like the characters can become these cardboard cutouts, kind of role players who are just there so that the author can educate me on something they apparently feel I need to be educated about. It makes me a little cranky, because I suddenly start feeling like I’m reading a pamphlet in a doctor’s office instead of a story. And I signed up for a story.

Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy deals with all sorts of difficult things. It’s also hilarious. And the characters felt like real human beings to me. It’s life—funny, sad, happy, scary, everything all jumbled together and we’re watching the characters try to make sense of it. Since most of the people who read this blog are writers, I wonder if you could talk briefly about how you go about creating these kinds of characters.

Susan: The first component in the realness of my characters is that many of them carry some bit of my own experience, or the experiences of people I’ve worked with over decades of being a mental health professional. “Write what you know” rings true to me in this respect, that knowing many family members and other people who have bravely faced struggles and kept right on living beautiful lives, gives me many ideas, and lends a touch of reality to characters in my story. The second and even larger component of writing characters, for me, is voice. I have to have the voice of a particular character to move forward, and I tend to write in first person, which allows me the reality of that character, and how that character perceives his/her world. That has benefits and drawbacks, for sure, but for me, it allows the character to have a life of their own as I’m working through the writing.

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught

We’ll be celebrating Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy all week on Emu’s Debuts. To enter the drawing to win a free copy, please comment on any post this week.

And if you can’t wait that long, treat yourself to your own copy right now at Square Books Jr., The Flying Pig Bookstore, Barnes and Noble or at your own favorite bookstore.

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