Tag Archives: Vermont College of Fine Arts

Faith Redux

Last month, I wrote a post about faith, which told a recent story about a particular act of faith in my journey as a writer. This post addresses an earlier time in my journey. It is for writers who haven’t had The Call and might not have an agent. It is for all of us who sit down, face the blank page and keep going.

A few years ago, friend and fellow EMLA client Liz Scanlon sent me her annual family Valentine’s card. It was a picture of her girls about ready to climb onto to a zip line in Costa Rica. The phrase underneath the picture said, “Leap and the net shall appear.” I kept this card on my fridge for a long time. Everyday, as I made my tea, before I went to sit down at the computer, I would look at it. I didn’t have any cognitive thought about it. But on some level, I think the thought comforted me and guided me as I took a leap each day as a writer.

No agents were knocking on my door. No editors were reading my manuscripts. At the time, I think I was enrolled at VCFA and I leaped every time I sat down at the computer unsure of what to write, but writing just the same, page after page because that’s what I had signed up to do. That’s what was expected. That’s what you do as a writer every time you face the blank page. Leap.

But I couldn’t do it without faith.

Faith is what gets me to sit down with the blank page. Faith gets me to leap with the smallest wing of an idea or character. Faith that what I have to say matters. Faith that the words will come. The story will come.

I am in the middle of that act of faith now. Prewriting and finding my way into a story and its characters. I have some ideas but I am resisting the ideas and listening to the characters instead. For some darn reason, one is writing poetry to me. What I notice about the poems is that they have energy and I feel energetic when I write them. I have no idea if they will remain but their spareness is working right now. And they help me stay away from the idea of the story. Yeah, ideas get a little preachy and ponderous. For now, I need to stay inside the skin of the characters and write from there.

Faith. The blank page is such a bold move. Only by putting the words down do we create the net. Only then can we see what the heck we’re trying to get at, and find, as per Tim Wynne-Jones, the gems that have washed up on the shores of the page. In his book ON WRITING, Stephen King says the first draft is telling yourself the story. After that you can look and see what’s there. Right now, in this prewriting phase, I have to have faith that I will get to a first draft.

Leap and the net shall appear.

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Filed under Creativity, Faith, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

FAITH

Okay, I swear this happened.

I am driving to Spec’s to buy a really expensive bottle of champagne to share with Gail Allen, my friend and employer of fifteen years, because we were finally going to celebrate my book contract.

That’s what you would have seen if you were recording my movements with a video camera: a woman driving, parking the car and going into a store.

What you couldn’t see was the debate going on in my mind: I am wondering if it is time to leave this job in order to devote myself more fully to the job of being a writer. For more years than I can count, I have juggled three part-time jobs plus being a single mother plus writing. One part of me said this contract was a huge yes and adding it to pile of things I did might not be in my (or the book’s) best interest. Another part of me countered with how I had added in pursuing my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts successfully so I should be able to add in launching a book and writing the next one, right? It was a ping pong match in my head. Should I let it go? Should I stay?

After purchasing the champagne, I got back in the car and, in an effort to tune out the mental gymnastics, turned the radio on. A man with a French accent was speaking:

“I leave the balancing pole. I approach the edge. I step over the beam. I put my left foot on the cable. The weight of my body raised on my right leg, anchored to the flank of the building. Shall I ever so slightly shift my weight to the left, my right leg will be unburdened, my right foot will freely meet the wire. An inner howl assails me. The wild longing to flee. But it is too late. The wire is waiting decisively. My other foot sets itself onto the cable. Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.

“It’s interesting, because when I put one foot on the wire, I have the faith, the certitude that I will ppactually perform the last step. If not, I will run away and hide in cowardice, you know. So you cannot have a project, a goal if you don’t have faith. If not, it will be like, oh, I hope one day, you know, the success will fall from the sky and, you know, I’ll be there to receive it. It doesn’t work like that, in my opinion.”

Philippe Petit talked to me the entire drive to Gail’s house.

By the time we uncorked the champagne and held the glasses towards each other, my foot was on the wire. Gail toasted my perseverance and dedication and told me how my journey is an inspiration. We took a sip. We hugged. She had been a single mother, gone to graduate school, created her own business. She knew what working hard toward a goal and reaching it means.

I said, “I have to stop working for you.”

My other foot left the flank of the building. Just as Petit had predicted, I heard the inner howl. “Take it back. Don’t leave.”

I kept silent. Gail and I looked at each other. The only sound was the bubbles fizzing in our glasses.

Holy crap. What had I done? Fifteen years, I had managed her practice. We had become friends. I didn’t want to leave her. The comfort of her practice. The steady income. I howled inside.

Then Gail laughed. I laughed. We cried. If someone had been running the video camera, they probably would have set it down in disgust and told us to figure out what scene we were playing. Or maybe they would have hung in there and taped every second of this most extraordinary of human moments: when we feel about fifteen emotions at once, when we get bigger because we feel so much, when we hold onto each other and know that whatever happens, if we expand, if we love, if we don’t contract in fear, all will be well. All will be well.

For next three hours, we laughed and cried. We danced on the wire between our old lives and whatever lay ahead.

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If you want to check out the full talk by Philippe Petit on the TED Radio Hour at National Public Radio. Click here.

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Waiting by Rebecca Van Slyke

Waiting

Lord, please grant me patience. And I want it RIGHT NOW!

 

Last month I wrote about getting The Call. As with most deals, I had to wait until it was official to be able to share my joy with my family and friends. When I could finally announce something, I got the same reaction over and over: “That’s WONDERFUL! You certainly have waited a long time for this to happen!”

Yes.

Yes I have.

I’ve been waiting to be a “real author” for a long time. When I was four years old, I discovered that books were made by real people. I wanted to be one of those magical people called “authors” and “illustrators.” So I wrote stories on my Big Chief notebook and drew pictures on typewriter paper.

Skipping ahead to college, I took an educational literacy class where the professor offered us this choice: write a research paper, or write a children’s book. That was a no-brainer for me. I spent happy hours writing and illustrating a picture book. The professor liked it so well that he gave me an A… and passed the book along to his publisher. Unfortunately, they did not publish picture books, but it was all the encouragement I needed. The next thirty-mumble years were spent sending manuscripts out. I started with the first story, but gradually added others. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I joined SCBWI. I learned. I wrote. I sent out new manuscripts. I read. I went to conferences, to classes, to lectures. I learned more. And I waited. Every time I sent out a manuscript I knew that this could be the time.  And it wasn’t. Again and again it wasn’t.

I just went back and re-read this last paragraph and realize how pathetic it sounds. Good gravy, what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I give up? Thirty years without a nibble? That right there is some special kind of stupid.

Except I was making progress, I could tell. I finally took the plunge and decided to do more than take an occasional class. By now I was a teacher, and I did what teachers do. I went back to school. I got a master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. That led to getting an agent. Now I was guaranteed to get an offer.

But the offers didn’t materialize. I watched classmates sell a book. Or several books. I had several near-yesses. I tried not to be jealous. I kept writing. I kept waiting.

A quote from Anne Lamott’s book, BIRD BY BIRD helped:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.

So while I waited, I watched and I worked. I cheered on my published friends. I became more involved in my regional chapter of SCBWI. I started giving talks on writing. I critiqued. I mentored. I didn’t give up.  And the dawn DID come. I switched agents, and, after still more waiting, I got The Call in June.

So now that the excitement has settled down, what am I doing? Waiting. Waiting on revision notes, decisions on illustrators, opinions and decisions on new projects.

I have several friends who are waiting to get The Call. They’re close, I can tell. I know because they’re showing up. They’re waiting, and watching, and working.

Some of you reading this are in “waiting for The Call” mode. I need to tell you not to quit. Keep waiting, but while you’re waiting, keep watching for the next opportunity. Will it be a class? A conference? A chance to help someone else on the journey? Keep working to improve your craft. Write. Read strong literature. Illustrate. Study. Read craft books. Show up. And never, never, NEVER quit. Because The Call could be waiting just around the corner for you, too.

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Education, jealousy, Rejection, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

The Call

loveYou know the story that a friend tells you about how she met her life-long partner the minute she stopped looking for her life-long partner? Like she was sitting at a park reading a book and this person sat down next to her and spilled coffee everywhere and then said something so self-deprecatingly funny that your given-up-on-love friend says something commiseratingly funny back and then they make each other laugh for the next twenty years. You know that story?

Okay, well, that’s sort of what happened the day I got the call.

It was Friday, May 10. I was sitting on my sweet little porch writing a long email to my agent Erin IMG_1859Murphy. I was updating her about what had been going on in my life, by way of explaining why I had been so out of touch that week. You see, Erin had sent my manuscript out to a list of editors that Monday, May 6. I think I responded by saying, “Yea.” Or something equally short. Twice during the week, she forwarded me emails from one editor in particular who was reading the manuscript and loving it. I responded smileywith a smiley face and a wahoo but returned to the task at hand: resolving a protracted two-year struggle with Board of Adjustment over my beloved porch. It was 14 inches into the setback and they wanted me to lop it off. I was getting ready for my last hearing and busy preparing for my Norma Rae moment when I would prevailnorma against the bureaucracy and persuade them that cutting off 14 inches of my porch did not make sense. By Friday, I felt ready for the hearing in three days so I sat down to update Erin on what was going on, comment on the list of editors who had my manuscript and expand on my delight about that one editor who had emailed. It was a cozy, pour-a-cup-of-coffee email. I think it was even raining which is rarity in Texas so it made the moment even more indelible. La. La. La. Press send.

You get the picture?

Two seconds after I heard the whoosh of the email being sent, the phone rings. It’s Erin.

“Hi,” I said, “I just sent you an email.”

“I know,” she said, “Did you get my email?”

“Umm, no, I was writing you.”

Then she reads me the email that editor Joy Peskin of Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers had sent her that morning, saying she was very interested in the manuscript and wanted to talk.

That’s when I started jumping up and down on my porch, followed by flopping into a chair, followed by squealing, followed by “omigod, omigod, omigod.” (Oh, btw, this is all happening on Erin’s birthday, which is omigod special too.)excited

Breathe.

Then Erin and I talked business. I said, “I think I should talk with Joy. I mean, I love that she loves my book but we need to be able to talk and work together and turn this manuscript into the best book it can be, right?” “Absolutely,” said Erin.

Exactly four hours later, my phone rang again and it was Joy. I had my list of questions ready, thanks to Erin and my VCFA pal and critique partner Anne Bustard. Here are a few of them:

  • What do you love about the manuscript?
  • What do you think needs to be developed?
  • What are your thoughts about making the manuscript longer?
  • How do you work with authors?
  • What is the acquisitions process at MacMillan/FSG?
  • What are some of your favorite books?

I remember Joy saying, “Great question,” every time I asked something and then she launched into her answer. I remember writing down the answers to her questions but mostly, I was listening to her voice. I liked the brightness of it and the tumbling energy I heard when she talked about books and characters and writers.

Here’s the thing about questions: They provide a framework for a gathering information but I love when the Q&A twists into a conversation that connects and meanders. So after I was done with my list, I asked her if she had any questions and she asked me where I got the idea of the book. I told her the whole story: from the dream that woke me up; to my graduate lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts; to the revisions I made in the last year.

And then she said this:

“You know, sometimes, when I walk around New York City, I’ll pass by an apartment building where I’ve lived and I’ll wonder if part of me is still living a parallel life in that apartment.”

That’s when I knew she understood the manuscript she had in her hands and me and that we would work together beautifully making it into a book.

So far, so great.

Lane_295webLindsey Lane’s debut young adult novel THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS UNSEEN will be published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers in September 2014. Her picture book SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN (Clarion, 2003) is now available as an app on iTunes. You can follow Lindsey on Facebook or find her at her website.

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