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THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE is Launched!

It’s the release date for the incredibly engaging and moving story, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss and the EMU’s Debut Group couldn’t be more excited! A novel about “a girl who loves her home in the Nearly Silent Monastery, but the pull of friendship leads her on a coast-to-coast cycling adventure, complete with hauntings, runaway stallions, lucky inventions, and a mysterious black-clad pursuer.”

Here is Elizabeth Acevedo‘s interview with the brilliant editor of BICYCLE, Margaret Ferguson.

Interview with Margaret Ferguson, Editor of THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE

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What was it about Christina Uss’ THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE that first got you interested in acquiring it and that made this book strike a chord for you?

Every once in awhile, an editor is lucky enough to have a manuscript come across their desk that seems unique and that’s how I felt about THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE. I loved that it was about someone who is an introvert and that it captured that special relationship some children have with their bicycles and all the freedom that goes with being able to get on a bike and go somewhere by yourself.  And I loved the sense of community and that so many people care and watch out for Bicycle on her journey.

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Would you say you were a big cycling fan prior to acquiring this book?

I will admit that I have never been a fan of cycling–it is a very time consuming sport and my husband spends a lot of time on his bike when I think he should be doing other things–but after I read THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE I came home and said, “I get it now.”

Who is you favorite character from the book and why are you drawn to them?

There are too many to pick from–but if I have to, it would be Griffin G. Griffin, the friendly ghost who haunts Bicycle’s bicycle for part of her journey. He is such a good friend–he sings when the pedaling gets tough, offers wisdom, and has her back. Those kinds of friends are hard to come by.

***

A book that reads and fast as Bicycle’s bicycle, Clunk, this is a fresh take on  an adventurous twelve-year old looking to find her place in the world. As the Kirkus
starred review claims: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and “pedal headfirst” into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.” Buy your copy here, or here, or here.

******

Thank you, for that fabulous interview, Elizabeth! And now the celebration continues with Hayley Barrett and a Bookish Bike Ride.

A Bookish Bike Ride

The Emus are celebrating with Christina Uss! Her debut novel, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE, follows intrepid cyclist and friend-finder Bicycle as she pedals across the United States.

From the start of her ride in Washington, DC on trusty, rusty Clunk to when she dismounts The Fortune, her whiz-bang, Inspector Gadget-style bike, in San Francisco, Bicycle’s determination and resourcefulness pave the way to her success. She pushes ever onward, through prairies and over mountains, despite challenges and troubles. Along the way, she helps and is helped by others, including a ghost named Griffin, an herbivore named Cannibal, a chef by the name of Marie Petitchou, and a big-hearted pie-fryer called Jeremiah. Finally, Bicycle victoriously concludes her two-wheeled tour of the USA surrounded by new friends and reunited with those who loved her from the start.

I enjoy biking, but unlike Christina, I’m no adventure cyclist. Reading THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE made me realize I’ve rarely pedaled more than a few miles. I wondered where I would go if I decided to try a longer ride. California was immediately out of the question. I needed a doable destination, someplace far but not too far, and because this ride was inspired by a book, someplace with a literary connection. The answer was easy:

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House!

For now, I’ll pedal there in my imagination. Let’s go!

Orchard House is two hour bike ride from home, but given my lack of experience, I’ll probably get there in three. I coast past my own childhood home, but I have to walk (and huff and puff) my bike up the steep Lowell Street hill. I remount and continue into Wilmington, Woburn, and Burlington. The roads are busy, but most drivers are courteous. I wave my thanks to those who slow down and give me space.

I spin through neighborhoods, past strip malls and industrial sites. After two hours, I’m in Lexington. The landscape gets greener here, with fewer houses, more conservation land, and almost no commercial areas. I have to hustle through Tophet Swamp to outrace the mosquitoes. (note to self: John was right. Remember bug spray next time!)

When I skirt the edge of the tree-hidden Air Force base, I know I’m in Concord. I pedal along the pretty country roads, listening to birdsong, and appreciating the shade offered by old, gnarled maples with soft, new leaves. I pause by the big farm near the Battle Road and admire their Highland cow’s sturdy calf. 

I go a little further, swing around the bend, and speed down the final stretch of Old Bedford Rd. At last, I reach the big brown house and dismount. I’m glad to see the parking lot across the street is full. A woman in a old-fashioned dress (Marmee?) greets a tour group at the front door. Kids on a field trip laugh and bump each other as they roll hoops on the lawn. I remember doing that with my friend Diane when we were kids.

I park my bike and take my lunch.  The gardens are in their summer glory. Bees zip around the swaying sunflowers and hollyhocks. I choose a spot beside Bronson Alcott’s church-like schoolhouse to enjoy my solo picnic. LITTLE WOMEN’s four March sisters loved to picnic, so I feel right at home. 

As I rest and eat my sandwich, I can almost hear one of Christina’s characters, Sister Wanda. She asks her usual question, “What have you learned from this?”

Here’s what I’d say:

Riding a bike is a great way to experience the world.

Know when to heed good advice about bug spray.

This land is beautiful from sea to shining sea and full of helpful, generous people, delicious food, sunflowers, and wonderful books like Christina Uss’s THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE.

Lastly, cookies rule! Good thing I brought some. I’ll need them for the long ride home.

****

Cookies, of course, are good both on and off the bike. You might want to go get some to munch on as you enjoy Anna Redding‘s interview of Christina herself!

Anna Redding’s Interview of Christina Uss

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle launches today and I have to say I was charmed THROUGH and THROUGH by this amazing middle-grade novel. And you will be, too. It’s one of those stories, the world is so richly drawn, the characters so lovingly crafted… that they come to live with you forever. You just find yourself thinking about these characters, their lives, long after you have read the last line.

I am so thrilled to be able to have a conversation with author Christa Uss about her novel, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.

Anna–  I want to start with a couple of questions about craft. From the first sentence of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I was swept away. Your world building and character development are so complete and rich, and yet effortlessly falls off the page. And into that, you’ve worked in marvelous pacing and tension. (Readers, I’m not kidding, wait until you open this book, better have a comfy seat!) I’m curious about your process. Was this book inside of you and developed that way? Was the conscious effort? Please, give us fellow writers some insight!

Christina –  This book literally began with its title. My husband was commenting on how I was doing a lot of freelance writing about bicycling while also reading all these books from my childhood when I wanted to relax, and he said, “Someday, you’re going to write a children’s book.” And I said, “Oh yeah? What will that book be?” And he replied, “It’ll be called The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.” I leapt out of my chair and said, “YES. I AM going to write that book. Why is she called Bicycle? What adventures does she have? I think she rides her bike across the United States.” And I ran upstairs and the story started pouring out of me. (This was before I had my twins, so I could write on a whim instead of having to schedule and protect writing time like I do now.) I wrote nearly every day for weeks, and edited for months. It was so much fun to dive into this universe that was balanced somewhere between reality and the way I wish reality was and ask my characters What Happens Next? And they always had an answer for me.

Anna–  Authenticity is an important aspect of any writing and it’s clear that you have some experience cycling! Was it fun to bring your own experiences into the book? And how do you mine your own experience to inform your writing?

Christina –   It was THE BEST to bring in my own experiences riding a bike across the United States into the story. I felt completely confident that everything I was writing about cycling was as true as I could make it – the thrills, the exhaustion, the chasing dogs, and especially the unstoppable kindness of people towards a two-wheeled traveler who shows up on their doorsteps. I faithfully kept journals from the two times I rode across the country (first east-to-west, then north-to-south), plus during my years working as an adventure tour guide all over the U.S., and I frequently went back to those journal entries to make sure I was capturing what I’d really felt, heard, seen, smelled, and tasted on my own journeys. 

Anna–  Reading The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I felt constantly surprised which is a rare gift for readers…surprise. Thinking about that, part of the surprise is the sweetness between your cast of characters, and unlikely friendships. There is a real love that comes through the pages of this book and fills you up as you are reading, even though there is still tension, even though we are marching forward. How did you do that?! Where does that come from?

Christina –  Awww, I love that you said this. I certainly hope kids feel the sweetness. Traveling by bike endlessly renews my faith in humanity. I and many other long-distance cycling friends experience so much surprising generosity whenever we pedal into the unknown – people giving us sandwiches! fresh peaches! cookies! ice-cold lemonade in the desert! a place to sleep! a place to shower! letting us borrow a car to watch fireworks! giving us lifts to the emergency room!  – finding those connections time and time again never stops being magical.  I wanted to communicate to kids that when you meet people face-to-face, especially if you’re perched on the seat of a bike, their first instinct is to help you. 

Anna– And on riding! Bicycle’s packing list for her backpack shows us what’s most important to her, the must-have’s before a top-secret cross country journey. What would you put in your own pack?

Christina –  Oooooh. My favorite riding clothes made out of space-age fabric that keep me warm even when I’m wet, as many snacks as I could cram in including lots of Trader Joe’s crunchy peanut butter and a big ol’ spoon, a credit card, maps from the Adventure Cycling Association, a book of Rumi poetry, and a nice thick journal and a pen. And postcard stamps. I would not bring a phone – I’d stop at libraries and email home when I could!

Anna–  I think the idea of having the freedom to find your own destiny, your own identity, and your own friends is so powerful. Has there been a moment in your own cycling where you touched that, an experience, a chance meeting, a decision that really formed you?

Christina –   I moved away from my home when I was eleven due to my dad changing jobs. (I remember telling my parents I wasn’t going to move with them, I was going to live with my best friend and sleep on her family’s couch for the rest of my life instead. Somehow, that plan didn’t materialize.) When I went in to the first day at my new school, the teacher showed me a seat next to a nice-looking girl with very long hair and said, “Nancy, you be Christina’s friend, all right?” And Nancy did just that – she not only became my instant friend, she made sure all of her friends became my instant friends as well. We’re still friends to this day. Something about that convinced me that if you’re open to the possibility, friendships can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone –  it it’s one of the beautiful mysteries of life.  

Readers, all I can say, is we all have some book shopping to do!

Enjoy!
Anna

****

To close out our celebration, here’s Ann Braden with Curriculum Connections.

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle: Curriculum Connections

Kirkus gave The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a STARRED review and said: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and ‘pedal headfirst’ into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.”

This will be a fabulous book to have on classroom shelves. Introverts especially will be able to connect with this AND imagine going on an amazing cross-country adventure. As we all know the imagination can be a wide open expanse in the middle grade years, and when we’re willing to tap into it as educators, the learning can be remarkable.

I still remember (in vivid detail) the project I did as a sixth grader for a unit on Canada. With three friends I got to plan our own cross-country trip across Canada’s provinces, determining where to stop and what to do there, driving distances, what to bring, etc. We kept a journal to document our (virtual) trip, and my memories are so strong it’s as though I actually went on the real trip.

Not only is The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a fun story, but it could be a great tool to prompt students to plan out their own cross-country bike trip. Where would they go? How long would it take to get from one place to another? What would they have in their pack? It brings it math, geography, and the all-important investigation into a student’s priorities and passions.

***

Here’s to The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle! And here’s where you can buy it: Indiebound (it’s on the 2018 Summer Kids Indie Next List!), Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!

Happy reading!

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Editor, Interviews, Launch, middle grade, Uncategorized, Updates on our Books!

Initiate Interview of Erica Sussman, Editor of THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY

I’m delighted to introduce Editorial Director Erica Sussman of HarperCollins. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for Emu’s Debuts as we celebrate author Katie Slivensky’s debut middle grade novel, THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY. 

To begin, Erica, can you explain what was it about THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY manuscript that made you sit up and pay attention? When during your initial reading did you decide to acquire it for HarperCollins?

“I was drawn into the story from the very first page. Miranda is an incredibly sympathetic and relatable narrator, despite the fact that she’s in a pretty crazy situation! I was never a science buff, but Katie’s story is so accessible that I didn’t get confused by any of the technical aspects of the space travel—I was too busy trying to figure out what would happen next! And Katie’s manuscript also made me cry – in the best and most surprising way – which is a pretty tough feat! She’s crafted the most wonderful friendship between Miranda and Ruby, a robot that Miranda built. There’s a moment of such heartbreaking sacrifice in the book (I won’t tell you what happens, don’t worry!) that is handled so deftly – when I read it I knew I had to get Katie’s debut novel on my list.”

Confession: I haven’t read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY yet. If I asked you for a book recommendation, how would you persuade me to drop everything and read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY?

Here’s what I’d say: If you’ve ever felt out of your depth, if you’ve ever had to make new friends, if you’ve ever had to step up and be brave, if you’ve ever had to stand up for yourself or a friend, if you’ve ever longed for an out of this world adventure…PICK UP THIS BOOK.

I’ve had to face situations like those, but always right here on terra firma. This book’s readers, on the other hand, will encounter such relatable challenges as they thrillingly zoom through space. Much more fun and interesting.

What were your favorite books when you were a kid? Does THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY have anything in common with them?

I had a bunch of favorites, but the one that stands out in relation to The Countdown Conspiracy is SpaceCamp, which now that I think about it may possibly have just been the novelization of the movie with Lea Thompson. It was about a group of teenagers accidentally sent up into space and I think I read it approximately a zillion times. There was a lot about Countdown Conspiracy that reminded me of it in the best ways: unlikely friendships, strong characters, a great sense of humor, fast-paced adventure, danger—and, thank goodness, a happy ending.

And with that, we are GO for launch. Editorial Director Sussman, in six seconds and six words, please commence the launch sequence for THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY.

Six…BRAVE

Five…KIDS

Four…HAVE

Three…THE

Two…BEST

One…ADVENTURES

I couldn’t agree more! I can’t wait to blast off with Miranda and Ruby. Thank you, Erica, for all you do to bring exciting, uplifting books into the world. THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY will surely encourage in its readers an enterprising spirit and a love of science and space.

You can purchase THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY at your local bookstore or here:

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062462558
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Countdown-Conspiracy…/dp/0062462555
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/…/the…/1124860410

To learn more about author and science educator Katie Slivensky, visit her website. https://www.katieslivensky.com

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About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is also coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.

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Filed under Book Launch, Characters, Editor, Interviews, Launch, Middle Grade, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized

Finding my balance between promotion and writing

On Thursday, Luke put up an honest, heartfelt post about the realities of being a writer (please go read it right now—all the way to the end!). There are often many years spent waiting—writing, revising, submitting, revising again, submitting again, writing something new, repeat—the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes. We long for that golden ticket, that recognition, that validation that will make all of that effort worth it.

Then, finally, success: we’re published! We think our new status will make things easier for us somehow, like we discovered the secret formula and can just apply it over and over whenever we need to produce a publishable manuscript. In some ways it does: people do take you more seriously when you’re published. But in many other ways, it actually makes things harder.

I’ve seen writers with a successful first book struggle with the second, fearful that it won’t live up to their previous work. Others want to write something completely different, but feel pigeon-holed in a single genre. An unlucky few are so stung by negative reviews that they have a hard time putting themselves out there for more. Still others spend so much time promoting the first book that they simply don’t have time to write another one!

My challenge was similar to Luke’s: It’s so exciting to check on the status of your book, so compelling to want to nudge it out into the world a bit more, so easy to pop in and do quick, light promotion. And there’s always more you can be doing pre- or post-launch to get the word out. You’re constantly wondering what else you should be doing, who else you should be talking to. It’s easy to completely lose yourself in the world of that first book.

It’s not so much that you don’t have time to write anymore. You really don’t have to do all of those things. It’s more that all of the checking, nudging, and promoting feels necessary. It seems important. In fact, it feels like a betrayal of your first book—and, heaven forbid, of that first publisher who took a chance on you and made all of your big dreams come true!—to do anything less. It’s exceedingly difficult to switch gears and go back to the waiting; back to the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes; back to the writing.

This was actually one of the scariest and hardest parts of the whole journey for me. For months after Be a Changemaker came out, I worried that I’d never be able to write again, never be able to get myself back into that mindset, back to the focus and discipline needed to dive into writing something new. It was part of the process that I wasn’t at all expecting, and it took me completely off guard. Fortunately, I had other author friends (mostly Emus!) to discuss it with. They all said things like, “Yep, the same thing happened to me. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”

And, you know what? I did. I’m back to writing, and I’m loving it. I still do promotion, and I’m loving that, too. But, I’m finally starting to find my balance, discovering ways to foster the creative beginning of the process with one project while at the same time managing the more analytical business end of the process on another.

As I told the kids at the school visit I did last Friday: “Writers write. Period.” And, eventually, we discover that the writing itself is what makes it all worth it. We realize that we can’t NOT write. And we get back to work.

Writers write


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, will be available June 9, 2015, from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Maybe then they’ll finally force her to retire from Emu’s Debuts, unless…

Please visit Laurie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Colleagues, Creativity, Discipline

So much for a quiet summer

Weekend break: out on Colorado's Grand Lake.

Summer weekend break: out on Colorado’s Grand Lake.

It’s said that summer is a slow season in the publishing industry. Offices release staff early for summer Fridays. Editors go on vacation. And everything just happens more slowly when it’s hot, right? So submissions idle longer, and the pace of progress on books under contract stalls out.

At least, that’s what I’d heard.

As it turns out, the summer of 2013 was anything but quiet for me and my debut middle-grade novel, All Four Stars (which comes out in summer 2014).

First, in June, the book formerly known as The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby (and, before that, Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake), got its official title—this after many months of brainstorming on the part of me, my editor, and countless other people at Penguin.

Then, in July, I received and reviewed copyedits.

I got first pass pages in August. First pass pages are a PDF of your book with pages designed and laid out as they will be in the print copy. For many authors (self included), this is the most exciting step of the entire editorial process, since now the book you wrote actually looks like a real book!

What happens when you forget the foot pump.

What happens when you forget the foot pump.

Seeing your cover for the first time is also a “whoa” moment for most authors, and—of course—that happened for me this summer, too. In fact, over the past three months, I’ve seen the cover evolve from a black-and-white sketch to a full-color masterpiece (which I adore and can’t wait to share!).

Hm, what else? I drafted jacket copy this summer; I filled out the detailed Penguin publicity questionnaire (this took days); and there was the excitement/anxiety of approaching a few authors I admire to possibly provide blurbs for my book.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, in July I got the green light from my publisher to start working on a sequel to All Four Stars! That deal was announced officially on August 8, and I wrapped up a first draft on September 11. (Yes, that is crazy fast for me—in fact, 96% faster than my drafting process for All Four Stars.)

Now it's fall. ARCs are coming. So are scary candy-corn-flavored snacks.

Now it’s fall. Bye-bye, inflatable kayak; hello, scary candy-corn-flavored snacks.

Looking back on everything I had to do this summer, I’m surprised that I don’t remember feeling more stressed. But believe it or not, I wasn’t. The fact that I got away from my desk every weekends—hiking with my husband, or trying out our new inflatable kayak—surely helped.

But I think I also recognized that this was the honeymoon period for All Four Stars. The heavy lifting of major edits was over, but the demands of publicity and the onslaught potentially soul-crushing reviews hadn’t started up yet. This was pretty  much the last time that my book would belong almost exclusively to me.

Now it’s fall. ARCs are coming. I need to revise and turn in Gladys #2. I’m going to be busy—but I think I can handle it. In fact, I may finally be getting the hang of this author thing.

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

Find her online at taradairman.com.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, cover art, Writing, Writing and Life

Wisdom from the 2013 EMLA Retreat

As Laurie Ann Thompson mentioned on Monday, some of us were lucky enough to attend June’s EMLA annual retreat, held this year in Big Sky, Montana. For as long as I’ve been with the agency, I’ve heard tales of the amazingness of this retreat—the friendships made, the wisdom shared, the inspiration inspired by late-night conversations (and the musical stylings of in-house client band Erin Murphy’s Dog!)—and I’m here to attest that the rumors were all true. It was an incredible weekend, and I’m already scheming to go back next year.

Every morning at the retreat, there was some kind of panel or group discussion, and I did my best to take notes. One session I found particularly helpful was the “Experienced Author Panel,” which consisted of clients who have published two or more books. For us debuters, it was great to get some advice from authors who have already been around the block a couple of times, and I thought that I would share some of my favorite pieces of wisdom from that panel here on the blog.

On dealing with edits:

The reason behind a suggested edit is more important than the actual suggestion.

If a specific change that your editor is suggesting for your manuscript doesn’t feel right, try to think about the reason behind that suggestion. What, exactly, isn’t working in the manuscript as it is now? You may be able to figure out a different change to make that will solve the problem just as well.

On reviews:

Don’t believe that the review is you.

This goes for both bad reviews and good ones. If you buy into everything that the good ones say, then the bad ones will devastate you when they come out. (And they will come out.)

On being comfortable with self-promotion:

The author is a spokesperson for an entire team.

By the time your book is published, it doesn’t just belong to you, but also to your agent, your editor, your illustrator (if you have one), and a slew of other people without whose hard work it wouldn’t have hit the shelves. So if self-promotion makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that you’re speaking not only on your own behalf, but for everyone who has worked hard to make your book a success.

On celebrating:

Celebrate everything good.

This is a piece of advice I’ve heard many times before, but I can always stand to be reminded. Goodness knows that this business comes with plenty of rejection and disappointment. So when something good happens, no matter how small, celebrate it!

 

And also:

Try harder.

You need more practice.

Always be working on something new.

Have a paper and pencil with you at all times.

Surround yourself with people who support your dreams.

Honor the times when you need to stop writing and have new life experiences.

And, my personal favorite:

If you’re not scared, you’re on the wrong ride.

 

Many thanks to the experienced authors who shared their thoughts–are they wise, or what?  🙂

Readers: Which (if any) of these pieces of advice resonate most with you? What’s the best piece of writerly advice you’ve received recently? Please share in the comments!

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

Find her online at taradairman.com.

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Filed under Advice, Celebrations, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Promotion, Writing, Writing and Life

The Swoonworthy Debut

I learned a new word recently. Swoonworthy: Eliciting tingly delight that may lead to light-headedness.

(As in, “Wow, the final cover of BLAZE is totally swoonworthy!” Did we mention BLAZE by Laurie Boyle Crompton is now officially out in the world? And that you can purchase a copy at a fine retailer near you? MOLLY FRENZEL, you won a copy of this swoonworthy book! Please email Lboylecrompton@gmail.com, and she’ll hook you up.)

Unlike Blaze’s fiery hair, my manuscript was lacking swoonworthiness. Easy to fix. An arresting gaze here, an electric touch there, and Swoon Ahoy!

OK, the fact that my brain thinks things like “Swoon Ahoy!” should have been my first indication that this was going to be harder than I thought. Maybe I didn’t have a good grasp on “swoonworthy” after all.

Swoonworthy?

Swoonworthy?

Part of the problem was that my teen years were spent with pretty un-swoonworthy books. Good books, but lacking in unattainable crushes, make-out sessions, and hot guys.

They Carried a Lot of Stuff

SPOILER ALERT: They did not carry Binaca or Axe Body Spray.

In fact, in reviewing my personal literary crushes, I wasn’t sure I was even qualified to read swoonworthy YA, never mind create it.

Zaeed

So dreamy.

But maybe there’s more to swoonworthiness than that. With my editor’s help, I eventually got it right. I hope. And I’m learning to appreciate all the swoonworthy parts of the debut process — a request for a full manuscript, a phone call, a contract, ARCs! (I don’t have ARCs yet, but I got to smell a friend’s this month. They smell like YAY.) Despite all the new challenges, worries, and fears, this is an amazing time.

What are your favorite swoonworthy moments, literary or otherwise?

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

The Power of Editing and Revision

Like Tara in the last post, I am one of those writers who is terrible at making up an on-the-spot story. I think it probably has to do with seeing how our work grows and improves over time through our own efforts and with input from others. We don’t want to be judged by our hot-off-the-presses ideas until they’ve had time to cool and gel and be served up in nice pretty little dishes with chocolate shavings and a sprig of garnish on top. It’s hard to share a completely rough draft with anyone, even our own families, when we understand the power of editing and revision.

By the time my book sold last summer, I thought I understood those powers. After all, I’d been working on that manuscript, among others, for seven years. During that time I’d met regularly with my amazingly talented and generous critique group (who graciously read it dozens of times), swapped manuscripts with other EMLA clients, sought out professional critiques at conferences, and intentionally sought out an editorial agent (whose advice, by the way, has been spot-on every. single. time.). I knew that an editor would, of course, want certain changes made. So I wasn’t all that surprised when I received my manuscript with notes all over it along with the editorial letter. (Okay, I was surprised by how quickly I got those, but not by their contents.)

My editor had a few things to do ahead of my book, so she gave me a big, comfortable deadline for those revisions. No problem, I thought. Her notes made sense to me. I agreed with them. I wrote and re-wrote, read and re-read. I made sure I’d addressed every point. I sent it back feeling confident and successful… until I got the second-round letter and notes.

Signs 004

She was too diplomatic to say so, but my reading-between-the-lines-interpretation of her kind and encouraging words sounded more like, “Wow, you totally missed the boat here.” I was crushed. I was scared. If what I’d thought was good work was so far away from what she actually wanted, I didn’t have any confidence I could ever deliver something that would be satisfactory. And this time, the deadline was short. I was sure she was going to cancel my contract.

Sign

But, what could I do? I dug in again, and this time I dug deep. She was asking hard questions, questions I didn’t know the answers to (and since this is nonfiction, I couldn’t exactly make them up!). I was getting down to the wire and was still missing key facts. I was in a total panic. The day before the deadline, I finally got all of the information I needed. Could I turn it around in one day? It turns out I didn’t have to. Hurricane Sandy barreled into New York, and my manuscript was the least of their concerns. Prying myself away from news coverage and checking Facebook for word from my East Coast friends, I went back to work. I wrapped it up a few days later and hit send.

This time around, there was no sense of accomplishment, only dread. Had I done enough? Had I made it worse? Was this the end?

Caution Tape

Not yet! I soon got another email from her. She apologized for asking me to do more work (to which I thought, “Yay! She wants me to do more work! I’m not fired!), and asked me to accept a few edits and to tweak the ending. Phew. I can do that… I think.

After one more relatively quick and painless round, you can imagine my delight when she told me yesterday that we are DONE, and the words–my words–are going off to copy editing.

Hooray for LOLcats
But I am so thankful that I got to go through this process with her. I thought I’d worked long and hard on this manuscript, but my editor taught me how to work much, much harder. She taught me how to ask the tough questions that would push it to become a better book—and pushed me to become a better writer.

This manuscript was pretty awful when I wrote that first draft seven years ago, and I’m so glad you didn’t get to see it then. But I’m happy to say… I feel pretty darn good about it now.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Thankfulness

Trust, Serendipity, and of course, Editors

Reading Cynthia’s wonderful post on Monday, in which she tells of her three day trip to Birmingham with her editor from Peachtree, I had to think how brave Cynthia was. Being a wee bit introverted, and a wee bit prone to giggling like a big dork in unfamiliar social situations, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to make such a journey. But Cynthia was. She put her faith and her trust in the process, and set out, and what an amazing experience she had as a result.

And here is the cool thing about writers. They are really trusting people. When you stop and think about it, there’s a whole lot of faith and trust required in this business. You have to:

Trust your pen and your characters to guide you through the story

Trust your voice and your creative vision

Trust your critique partners to be honest in their comments to improve your work

Trust your agent to circulate your manuscript to the right houses

Trust an editor to love your story and improve it

Trust a copyeditor to know more about commas than you do

Trust librarians, teachers, and booksellers to get your book into the right hands

Trust yourself to start the process all over again.

Whew. A lot of that isn’t easy, believe me. Fortunately, however, the universe likes to give us writers little signs when, entirely trusting to the unknowns of the process, we do the right thing. Ask any writer and they can tell you of at least one serendipitous occurrence surrounding their writing.  Like, for example, when I named a character who interviewed a real historical figure named Tom Lee. Later I discovered that the interview of Tom Lee at the Colorado State Historical Society Museum, was conducted by a man of the SAME NAME I gave my character! And it wasn’t a common name, either. Weird? Maybe, but if you write you are used to these little messages from the universe, reinforcing your faith and trust.

For me, I have never met my editor. And unlike Cynthia, I did not have multiple houses simultaneously interested in my novel, so I did not get to choose the editor that would be the best match for me.  I just had to trust that my agent had sent it to her knowing she’d be a good match for me. Blindly, I signed the contract, hoping that she loved my manuscript enough to do right by it.  No sooner than I did, the signs started.

Seriously, how many professional people from New York do you think come here on vacation???

It was late September when the folks at McElddery met and decided to acquire my novel. I was told that an offer would be made, but it would be delayed because my editor was going out of town for several weeks on vacation.  Turns out the vacation brought her to Colorado, where I live. She visited old mining communities and on a whim, the National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado.  My book is about miners in Colorado. Hmmm. Maybe a coincidence? Maybe my book inspired her vacation? I prefer to think of it as serendipity.

In early December, we had a conversation on the phone to discuss a first revision, in which she told me of her visit to the museum, and her concerns that the museum displays were out of date and poorly maintained. As it happens, I am involved with the museum community in my day job, and a few days later a job posting crossed my desk, for someone to renovate and improve the very exhibits we’d been discussing. Another coincidence? Or is it just possible that our conversation gave rise to enough good museum karma to get those exhibits spruced up?  I kind of regret now that we didn’t discuss world peace.

From her editorial comments and questions, I have learned so many interests we have in common, even bits of knowledge I built into my story that are things that impacted her Polish grandparents. Most recently she emailed to tell me the manuscript is headed off to copyedits. In the conversation I learned from her that she finds the rules regarding commas “particularly gruesome.”

Uuughh! Gruesome!

That was the moment I truly fell in love with this woman. I might have even swooned. In fact, we may be the very same person–except she’s got a really cool Eastern European name, and I just write about people with cool Eastern European names.

So I’ve never met my editor, but I trust her completely, and the universe backs me up on this. And I think the whole trust thing goes both ways in this business. So let me just say:

Thank you Erin Murphy for trusting me enough to represent me.

Thank you Karen Wojtyla and McElderry for trusting my book enough to see it to print.

And thank you, universe, for the magical coincidences that assure me my trust is not misplaced.

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Filed under Agents, Editor, Publishers and Editors

PLAYING WITH NUMBERS

An article in the paper the other day pointed out that the way numbers are conveyed can influence what they seem to mean. For instance, a doctor might tell a patient that the odds of contracting a life-threatening disease will be halved if the patient takes a particular drug. This sounds pretty exciting. Who wouldn’t sign on?! But, the article went on, if the doctor points out that the chances of getting the disease are only 2% to start out with, and by taking the drug, the patient’s chances drop to 1%, the patient might re-think it (especially if she or he watches the TV ads that list every possible side-effect). The doctor could also say, with equal accuracy, that only one out of 100 patients is likely to benefit from taking the drug. Again, the patient might think, “Forget that!”

In Michelle Ray’s clever and revealing post on May 30, her numbers told a story—one with a much happier ending than medical statistics. There are certainly times when I wish I could play with the numbers. But, it’s hard to figure out how to turn the 18 months that it took to sell my debut middle-grade book into anything other than a long trek. Since it was turned down by about (I’ve lost track) 18 publishers, I could try saying that I got, on average, only one rejection per month. But, at least one publisher rejected it more than once, so that doesn’t work.

Or, since the book is about four kids, I could try saying that I only got 4.5 rejections per person. But, the book is nonfiction; so, these are real people, and I wouldn’t want them to feel bad. They’re heroes; it’s certainly not their fault the book took a year-and-a-half to find a home.

Now that it does have a home (Peachtree Publishers), I realize that the revolving door of submission-rejection/submission-rejection is not just irrelevant: it turns out to have been fortunate. I can’t imagine getting more careful editing or more support for my book than I have from Peachtree. (More on this in a later blog-post.) I hope all of us writers feel that way. It’s not that one house is universally better than another. But, one house can be better than others for particular writers or for a particular book.

Goldilocks had to reject only two chairs, two mattresses, and two bowls of porridge. Maybe she was lucky. But, even though I was the rejectee rather than the rejector and even though I was bounced 3 times as much as the combined chairs, mattresses and porridge bowls, I ended up in the just-right place, too.

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Filed under Publishers and Editors, rejection and success

Zen-like Calm Still Eludes Me, but Ehh, Whatever

NO, my editor didn't use this on me - he's not a sadist, for crying out loud. I just wonder, shouldn't Jeannie Mobley own one of these, if only for the irony? Shouldn't EVERY archaelogist own one?

I am very fond of Jeannie Mobley, and not just because she’s an archaeologist and therefore can make jokes about Indiana Jones with a higher level of authority than the average bear. I also like that her blog post on Monday could (with the proper level of inattention) be mistaken for something that’s about ME instead of the challenges of responding to one’s first-ever editorial letter. I even respect her candor in saying that I’m more neurotic and uptight than she is about sending my editor a revision, because it’d just be silly to argue. I AM more neurotic and uptight than Jeannie about that, and probably in every other conceivable way. I’m possibly the most neurotic and uptight person currently taking up space on the surface of the planet Earth. Which also means that I handily beat Ruth McNally Barshaw for the title of EMLA’s Most Insecure Client, no matter what Ruth says. Victory! Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor