Tag Archives: The Call

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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Version 3

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

Of Cracked Ribs and Dreams Come True

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

Actually, missed “the call”.

Actually…*coughs* ignored “the call”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until my phone rang at 5pm.

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

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

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

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

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

…Still working on recovering from the shock.


 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Tamara Ellis Smith and The Call (and a few hundred others)

I’m lucky today. It’s my turn to talk about the call.

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Yeah, this was me alright…

For me, as is true for many writers, I think, the call was a part of a much longer process. My agent sent out my middle grade novel manuscript at the end of February 2014. By the second week in March we had high interest from one editor. She made an offer a few weeks later. Then a few days after that we had another offer. So that meant that the manuscript was going to auction. Whoa. On April 3, 2014, after many emails back and forth, as well as a few phone calls with my agent, I had a book deal. My the call was from my then-brand-new-to-me editor, who phoned me literally minutes after we sealed the deal. That moment was all about my heart racing, my breathing loud and dog-like pant-y, and my vocabulary instantly limited (Oh my gosh, Oh wow, Oh man, Oh oh oh…). It was spectacular.

But it isn’t what I really want to talk about here. I want to talk about, not the call but, instead, the calls. Plural.

It took seven years for me to get that aforementioned call from my editor. Seven years of revising, sending the manuscript out, revising again, sending it out again. Seven years. This is not long in the grand scheme of life, I know this, and it is not an atypical time frame for a first book deal either. But regardless of these facts each year, each month, each day, and, truly, sometimes each minute was filled with the deafening sound of the clock ticking and—this sense of longing.

eldon-dedini-oh-filled-with-hopeless-longing-and-you-new-yorker-cartoonMy longing took up residence inside me, somewhere near my heart, lodged against the curve in my ribs. I felt it in my heartbeat, I felt it when I breathed. I’ve written about it before (here and  here) so I won’t go on and on, but I do want to say that after a lot of contemplation and conversation, I finally figured out how to be with my longing. Much easier said than done, but so profoundly worth the effort. Because, in the end, longing is not a bad thing. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world (think a slightly-too-sharp object stuck under your rib), but if it is given a place to call home, longing kind of smooths itself out, and is even kind of sweet looking as it rests there. Longing lets us know what matters in our lives. It keeps our dreams in focus. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.

It also reminds us, plainly and simply, that we are human. Each one of us feels longing after all. And if we choose to, we can share our version of it, listen to other people’s versions of it, and connect. Writers spend a lot of time alone, right? Of course, right. We need it to do our work. We even like it. But our secret, in my humble opinion, is that we desperately need our connections with other writers, and other people too. For me, this connection—and especially the one centered on longing—became, quite literally, a lifeline during this long process.

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One of my friends made this bed for my longing so that I didn’t have to hold it inside anymore!

Those connections happened on a regular basis, in the form of calls and emails with my grad school-mates, my agent, my agency-mates, my local friends here where I live, my husband, my family, and even my kids. These amazing and generous souls kept me afloat as I worked and waited and worked some more. They offered me advice, ideas and critiques. They gave me support, empathy and energy. On more than one occasion, I lost faith in my ability to do this—this thing that I so deeply longed to do—and they told me: You don’t need to hold faith right now, I am holding it for you.

And after the call—oh my gosh—well, then there were more calls and more emails from those same folks who had held my hands, offered me their shoulders, and looked me sternly in the eyes, only these were full of congratulations, affirmations, and amazement that I had finally done it. I don’t quite know how to articulate this clearly and strongly enough, but these calls gave me a breathtaking understanding of the ways my writing, my community, my daily life and my very self are woven together. For all of those seven years that I had been working on my manuscript, I had also been building a life.

This epiphany brings me to my knees.

 


 

ImageTamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com andwww.smithwright.blogspot.com.

 

 

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Filed under Faith, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized

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

A Different Kind of Call

I got a voice mail from my mom a few weeks ago—just 10 seconds long, saying “Call me when you get this.”

My heart plummeted. For a year, I’ve been getting messages like these, and they almost always mean that my mom is back in the hospital. Or, at the very least, that she took a trip to the ER and was sent home once she’d stabilized. It’s the kind of information you don’t really want to leave—or receive—in a voice mail.

But over these past couple of months, things really looked like they were taking a turn for the better. Mom had not needed any emergency hospital trips for weeks. She’d slowly weaned herself off of supplemental oxygen, and her once-enormous trach tube had been swapped for a smaller size. She was getting out and about town, and was even talking about starting to drive again. A year after a string of medical procedures had left her intubated and fighting for her life on a ventilator—half a year after she’d basically relearned how to walk after months in a hospital bed—she finally seemed to be making real progress.

That’s why I didn’t want to return her call.

I didn’t want to hear that she’d been rushed back to the hospital, unable to breathe—that recovery was, once again, slipping out of her grasp.

My fingers shook as I hit the buttons on my phone. Mom answered on the second ring, but then told me to hold on for a second. As I held, I heard coughs rack her lungs, and I knew that when she came back on the line, the first words out of her mouth were going to be “I’m in the hospital.”

But they weren’t.

“I’ve been up until two in the morning every night this week—” she started, and after a millisecond of elation (she’s not in the hospital!) my heart sank again. She can’t sleep. She’s been up coughing. She has bronchitis again, or pneumonia. But then she finished the sentence with “—reading your book.”

“And it was wonderful!” she went on brightly. “You know I’m a slow reader, but I just couldn’t stop reading the story to go to sleep. And the ending is so good, it just left me wanting more. So I just wanted to call and tell you how much I loved it.”

ALL FOUR STARS arcsSuddenly, I was the one who could hardly breathe. This wasn’t a bad-news call at all. It was a great-news call. When I had visited my parents earlier in the month, I’d left them with an advance copy of All Four Stars, my first novel. My mom had read a draft years earlier, and given how long it had taken her to get through the manuscript that time, I’d expected that it would be months before she finished this version. But she’d blasted through it in a matter of days, and was now excited to talk about the changes I’d made and how she could help recruit friends to attend the New York launch party I’m starting to plan for its release.

That release will be just a few days before my sister’s wedding, and if I had to pinpoint a day this year when my mom’s health really seemed to take a turn for the better, it was the day that Brooke got engaged. Suddenly, instead of dwelling on the struggles of this past year and discomforts of the present, Mom had a concrete reason to look forward to the future. And it seems that now that she’s read my book, there’s an extra something to look forward to.

For writers, the year before your first book comes out is filled with exciting milestones. You do final edits, see the pages get designed and laid out, see your cover, hold advance copies in your hands. But the one thing that has surprised me most about this past year is how my book has brought me closer to various members of my family. I’ve reconnected with cousins and in-laws who have middle-grade-aged kids and grandkids. I’ve come to rely on my foodie aunt more and more as both an early reader of my drafts and a final reader (she has a great eye for typos). And now I’ve gotten my mom a little more excited about the book’s launch.

As my debut year—with all of its obligations and stresses—starts to pick up steam, I’m sure that I’ll find myself at times to be in desperate need of clarity and perspective. In those moments, I’m going to try to look back to this call with my mom. To remember what kind of impact the right story, at the right time, can have on a single reader; and to remember that, no matter what reviewers or Goodreads users have to say, my book has already done a little bit of good in this world.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014, everyone.

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under ARCs, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

The Call

TheCallSmall

When I got the call, I sent it to voicemail.

This is not because I am made of stone.  It’s because I was in the middle of teaching.  I had left my phone on – which I almost never do, but that day I made an exception – so I heard the call. I knew what it was. The first book in my series had gone to acquisitions that morning. The answer was imminent.

I had been working on the series for a few months shy of a decade.

I went to my phone, saw my agent’s name glowing there, and made what was possibly the most difficult finger-swipe motion of my life.  I put my phone away and turned back to my class.

“Ms. Morrison, are you okay?” asked one of my 7th graders. “You’re all white. Are you sick?”

Later, once the deal was public, I would tell my students what the call had been, and what it had meant.  At that moment, however, I had no idea whether my agent was calling to tell me “Sorry, let’s try again with someone else,” or…

Or something I couldn’t even let myself fully articulate yet.

I was FREAKING OUT.

I finished teaching the class.  How, I don’t know.  I have no memory of it.  Kids might have been swordfighting; I can’t be clear on that.

When class ended, my half-hour lunch period started.  I picked up my phone.  I swallowed.  I called my agent, Joan. She answered.  There were some words – hello, morning, acquisitions, more information later, but –

“Scholastic is making an offer,” Joan said.

I haven’t written about this moment before.  I couldn’t post about it on my blog or share the news anywhere else at the time, because the deal wasn’t official yet.  Now, with several months’ distance, I realize that I barely remember any details. It was system overload.

I choked.  I seized sort of weirdly; I bent over like someone had jumped on my back.  I said, “Really?” in a very weird, high pitched voice.

Then I mostly remember crying, and laughing, and saying to Joan “This must be the best part of your job, breaking this kind of news.” And then the bell rang, and I went back to teaching as though nothing had changed, though everything had changed.  My book series was no longer maybe, one day, I hope.  It was real.  Cheryl Klein, my editor at Scholastic, really wanted it, and it really made it all the way through acquisitions.  A two-book deal.  A summer 2015 publication date.  Honestly, I still don’t believe it.

So that’s how it was when I got the call.  If there’s a lesson in this story, I guess it’s for my students.  Any phone call can wait half an hour, you guys.  Trust me.

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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The Call…yes…THE Call!

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


Now my rendition.

If I’d Only Get The Call

Why if I’d get The Call I could…

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

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

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



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



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



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

The editor loved them.

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

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

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

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Filed under Introduction, The Call

The Long and Winding Road

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

My countdown to The Call was a lot like that.

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

envelopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

winding road

This. This right here.

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

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

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How I Became a Real Writer

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

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Line edits HURT SO GOOD.

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

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

Shocking, I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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Seriously. Look at them. Dipsticks.

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

I wasn’t published.

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

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

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

Sparkles and rainbows and ponies and sunbeams and puffy stickers!

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My life after The Call.

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

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

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

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

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Ah, the majesty of tradition.

Actually, I’m lying.

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

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

And you were a real writer then, too.

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

I Kissed a Dragon, and I Liked it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So be it. Send.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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