|Country Garden with Sunflower ~ Gustav Klimt|
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
When I was laboring over my first novel, I can remember being grateful for every word on the page, for every act of grace from my muse, for every moment of time I was allowed to do what I love. I am still thankful for these moments of the writing process, and now I can add the heartfelt gratitude I have for my readers. The ones who send me emails like this:
“The grief in Izzy's life caught my heart and stayed in my throat. As I read, I felt this profound sadness, sadness that I haven't dealt with in my own life, my eyes watered and stayed wet throughout the book. My journey through the story touched something bigger in my soul. I connected to my own grief that I'd pushed down just to survive my days. By the time I finished reading, I cried for the first time in almost two years. Thank you. “
Or this one from a young reader:
“I love your books i hope you liked my drawing Thanks for letting me take a picture with you that has always been my dream that really meant a lot to me thanks for your autograph”
How can I not feel something profound, something bigger than myself when I read these? And yet it is easy to feel gratitude when things are going our way. But what about when we receive rejection after rejection? Or when the blank page wins? Or when ...fill in the blank. How do we find gratitude then? For me, I always go back to these emails (and others) and without fail I am reminded of the power of books and that what we do has a greater impact than perhaps we know.
And that is certainly something to be thankful for!
Monday, November 28, 2011
This is a story about how grateful I am for my first editor...
Ever since I was little I always wanted to draw and write stories for a living. I wanted a chance to make great picture books and write awesome adventure comics about treasure and what not. After I finished art school my first goal was to first try and get work as an illustrator. I began to mail out postcards promoting myself (along with some other promotional things I came up with). If that worked out then I would try to get work writing AND illustrating. In the meantime I worked as a waiter in Philly.
After receiving many beautiful and thoughtful form rejection letters I began to wonder if I would forever be a waiter of food but then it finally happened. An editor from a big publishing house in N.Y.C. asked me if I would want to come up for a portfolio review. I was so excited that I actually seemed to mean it when I thanked my customers for their crappy tips.
The meeting was awesome at first. The editor liked my work, which meant we had a lot in common (I liked my work too). All during the fun meeting I was waiting for her to say, “I have a job I want you to do,” but it never happened. She actually told me that she did not have any work for me. I was devastated. “But,” she continued, “I have read the comics on your website and I would love to see what you would write for children!” I was no longer devastated. I had just been given a chance to show somebody in the biz what I could do! I happily told her that I would be sending her some stuff real soon. A month later I sent her my first picture book dummy.
‘My first Sale’ didn’t happen over night it took a bunch of months to even hear back and then many more months until I got the call that they wanted to buy my book!
At first I was excited. I got to skip the first step of my career game plan and go straight to writing AND illustrating a story but then I began to freak out. What if they realize that I’m an imposter and that I don’t know much about writing professional like stuff? I didn’t have time to re-learn all the years of grammar lessons I doodled my way through. I quickly learned that my first editor was extremely patient and was willing to work stuff out with me. Draft after draft after draft she took the time to help me understand what was wrong and what needed to be fixed until eventually it was done.
Her encouragement didn’t end there. She continued to send me books and notes saying stuff like ‘Hey, this book is up your alley, would you ever want to make something like this?’ and that was awesome. So, because of her light pushes and encouragements I continued to get to work (in both the picture book world and the middle grade world).
I still have a ton to learn about writing, making art, grammar, and the business side of those things but thanks to my first editor I get to learn by doing.
Thanks Cecile for your patience and exuberance and being the first to give me a chance,
Saturday, November 26, 2011
By Lucy Jones
We don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK, but I’ve always wished that we did. I think it’s important for us to press the pause button on our busy lives for a moment, and reflect on what we have to be thankful for, even if it’s just for one day. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to say what I’m thankful for as a writer. Because writing is a lifestyle, not just a job.
So here goes...
- An AWESOME agent, who took a chance on an unknown writer, and worked with me to make THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY ready for publishers.
- An AWESOME editor, who has spent the last year working with me to make it even better.
- A Wonderful family, who have supported my choice in career even though I don’t earn much, and even when I moan about what a terrible writer I am or that I have no idea how to finish the next chapter...
- My laptop. Yeah, I know it’s a lame thing to be thankful for. But I truly am. The thought of writing my book in freehand scares the c*@p out of me!
- Chocolate. Because let’s face it, every writer needs chocolate...
- A glass of white wine while reading revision notes. Reason? Does it need one?
- Online support from other writers. Because it’s great to know that you’re not alone in this mad quest of trying to write books for a living...
Friday, November 25, 2011
I know the thing lately is to write to your 16-year-old self and provide sage advice harvested from years of experience. You might still do that but, let’s be honest, if anyone needs your sage advice, it’s you right now. I know we’re running the risk of a bootstrap paradox but it’s worth it.
My advice to you is this: stop being a schmuck. No, really. Knock it off. I know writing is hard. I know there are times you sit at the keyboard, paralyzed with the inability to write. It doesn’t help when your Twitter feed is filled with people saying things like, “Knocked off 4, 876,114 words today. Taking a break and then going back to write more!!!” (Me, it’s totally OK to hate those people. Name evil characters after them. Then kill those characters in the most gruesome manner possible. That’s very cathartic.) Getting stuck happens to everyone.
You went through three years of an MFA program, a large portion of which was designed to help you figure out your process. Thankfully, as a result, you’ve got a pretty good handle on the optimal conditions that help you write.
So, why do you ignore it?
Why do you stare blankly at the laptop screen, determined to finish a scene/chapter that isn’t going anywhere? Especially when you know a scene that happens later in the book. Skip ahead. I give you permission. You used to understand that. You used to give yourself permission to do whatever it took to work around a blockage. Nowadays? Not so much. I don’t know where you skipped a track. But you’ve suddenly reset to factory settings and you’re using methods/techniques that didn’t work twenty years ago for you and don’t work now.
I hear you giving yourself permission to write a horrible first draft. I hear you reminding yourself to just write something with the knowledge that you can fix it later. Those work sometimes but not always. Mostly, you laze around, wallowing in self-doubt. Knock. It. Off. If the scene isn’t working, skip to the bit you know.
Recently, you started skipping. Congrats. Do you see how much more productive you’ve become? Two weeks and not a single word. Suddenly, you skip ahead and you’ve pounded out fourteen pages in two days. You’re feeling energized again. You feel like you’re accomplishing something. There might be hope for this book after all. Does this guarantee that when you’ve written every scene you know that you’ll instantly know how to handle the stuff you skipped over? Nope. Nothing’s guaranteed. But I’ll be willing to bet you figure it out. Because that’s what’s happened in the past. You skipped ahead, saw the big picture, and worked backwards.
It’s part of your process and you should know that. More than that, you should embrace it. Ignore what works for other people. You know what works for you, so do it.
Are we good to go? Got a handle on things? Super. Now, let’s grab a time machine and scare the crap out of 16-year-old us.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Man, it's easy to become a loner when you are a full-time writer! 2011 has slipped away from me. I have been working on edits for my forthcoming novel for months and haven't had the time for much else.
Early this year, I felt underwater. I was helping my mother deal with a vigorous round of chemotherapy and radiation. (She's recently been declared cancer-free.) I was sick a lot. I had sinus surgery. And started weekly allergy shots. In July, I tore some ligaments in my ankle and had physical therapy for weeks. (I will be having surgery in December to repair that ankle.)
I felt torn in a million directions. There were so many things to keep up with: Twitter, Facebook, Publishers Marketplace, the Blue Board, my reading pile, new writing, lots of edits, the family stuff, etc.
I made the tough decision to give up on my blog. Because I am not the kind of person who does things halfway, I went one step further and decided to separate my writing life from my personal life. After that, I withdrew from everything publishing related.
In other words, I pretty much dropped off the face of the earth.
Then, I wrote my acknowledgements for The Marble Queen. And remembered that I'm not alone.
There's a handful of fellow writers out there who are always keeping tabs on me. I've never even met a few of these special people who have checked in to say, "Hey, what's going on? Where are you?" These people prayed for my mom and my niece. They have held me up and encouraged me when I wanted to give up.
I'm so thankful to each one of these friends. Thanksgiving day is the perfect time to say it.
Much love and gratitude to:
Jennifer Duddy Gill
Amy Allgeyer Cook
Brenda Reeves Sturgis
Shelli Johannes Wells
C.K. Kelly Martin
(I hope I haven't forgotten anyone.)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Dylan Thomas wrote this poem about the darkness of death, but to me it has always been about the darkness of fall and winter.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
This year, I'm just really into the Thanksgiving vibe. For those of you who follow Smack Dab and my YA author blog, you know that both are featuring "gratitude" as the theme of the month.
Gratitude, it seems, is a little like these flowers I just found in my front yard—at this time of year, my yard's a giant patch of brown. But once I noticed these little spots of purple, it was suddenly all I saw. Start focusing on what you're grateful for, and all the brown, scraggly annoyances in life fade away, too.
This month, I've been rerunning the below post everywhere I can. Originally written for Tracy Barrett's Goodbye day job! blog, it turned out to be my favorite guest post of all time, because it gave me a chance to talk about all the insanely incredible support I've received while working to get my writing career off the ground.
I'm definitely lucky, as the post explains...but as I find myself saying a lot lately, we're all lucky, in our own ways. Here's to focusing on the bright spot of purple, wherever it happens to pop up in your own life!
ON GRAND DELUSIONS AND UNENDING SUPPORT:
When I got my master’s in ’01, my mom invited me to stay home and devote my full-time efforts to getting a writing career off the ground (my lifelong dream). I figured it’d take a year or so to write a novel, then it’d sell (I was lucky enough to have placed poetry, short fiction, and literary critique in journals when I was in college, and was under the grand delusion that selling a manuscript would be a breeze for me), and in oh, two years or so, I’d have money in the bank, and I’d be off and running.
Okay, seriously. You can stop laughing now.
The truth is that it took seven and a half years just to get my first acceptance. In that time, my friends from college finished up PhDs, started teaching, doing research, became professionals. I often felt like all I had was a deep gash in the drywall where I’d spent months upon months banging my head against it.
And, let’s face it: I had guilt.
I cringe at the stereotypical portrait of the kid who’s living at home: the slacker who lies on the couch, playing video games, letting Mom do laundry, mooching, no sense of direction to speak of. That certainly has never been my life. I feel that your family is your family, regardless of what it consists of: your spouse and your children, or your siblings and parents. I participated in everything going on in my home: the upkeep, the repairs, the lawn, the floor-laying, the painting, the grocery shopping, the meal-planning…My office butts up against the laundry room, and, yes, I’ve always done my fair share of the laundry, as well.
Still, though: the guilt. You aren’t a responsible adult without feeling the sting of not contributing financially (I did teach piano and guitar lessons, and everything I made went to paying off what few bills I had—I got out of college with no student loans). Still, though, no matter how much I contributed, I often felt it wasn’t enough. I butted heads with my mom about finding work out of the house (she always talked me out of it). Instead, I worked, as we’d agreed, on my manuscripts: I created a floor-to-ceiling stack of them in those seven and a half years.
During those years, I learned to balance my writing with the comings and goings of a household. I can fix a lawnmower with one hand and outline a novel with another. I also learned that my greatest first reader is also the same person who insisted I stay home to write in the first place (Mom’s a great titler, too—she was the first to suggest the titles for both my published books). And when the triumphs finally arrived—selling a book, seeing my first book on a store shelf, getting the starred review, receiving a few lit prizes—my mom and brother, who had been my support, my sounding board for project ideas, my first set of eyes, took pride in it, too. They had a hand in it.
Come on—getting started is beyond rough. Everybody has to have some sort of help when they set out to forge a writing career. Now, when I step inside a library or a bookstore, I think there’s not just one person behind each of those titles, but a whole group of them—in addition to the writer, there’s some combination of parent, sibling, partner, spouse, etc., who supported that writer as they got started. It’s pretty incredible, when you stop to think about it…
Monday, November 21, 2011
I was born into a sports family. My father played football for a local college called Carson-Newman, and later for the Air Force when he was stationed in Germany. Still later, he was a high school football coach for almost twenty years. My uncle played football for the University of Tennessee. My grandfather was a high school football referee. Even my aunt was a football cheerleader. When I was born, the assumption in my family was that I would grow up to be a football player.
Well, everyone assumed that except my father. While most football coaches drag their sons out to play catch as soon as they can walk, my father never pushed me into sports. Which turned out to be a good call--I'm about the most uncoordinated guy you'll ever meet. I have no talent whatsoever for sports. What I immediately took to was writing, and my father told me to go for it. I was never a disappointment to him, never a "failure" for not following in the footsteps of my football family.
I remember one family reunion in particular when some second-cousin once-removed came up and tousled my hair and said, "So this is the little quarterback!" He pinched my little brother's cheek and said, "And here's the little running back!" My father smiled and said, "Actually, Alan likes to write stories, and John is a musician." Our relative forced a smile and tried to say something sympathetic, then wandered away.
My father let me choose my own path, and for that I have always been extraordinarily thankful.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
- awesome librarians who take the time in their insanely busy schedules to organize school visits: coordinating with school faculty, booking hotel rooms for visiting authors, ordering tons of books, and all the rest.
- awesome teachers who find ways to get their students excited about books and reading.
- awesome kids who ask awesome, thoughtful questions (my favorite of the week: "What did you intend your readers to get from your books, and do you think you succeeded?").
- PowerPoint presentations that actually work, and tech guys who can fix them when they don't.
- marathons of The Next Iron Chef on the hotel TV to keep me company while I autograph one bajillion postcards to hand out to students during the week.
- diet coke.
- Twix bars.
- good conversations about good books.
- and planes that arrive ten minutes early.
Friday, November 18, 2011
What is the name of your publishing house/imprint and what is your official title?
I am an Assistant Editor for Scholastic Paperbacks.
What does a typical day at the job look like for you?
In the morning I like to read kid-lit blogs to see what other people are reading and talking about. After that, I like to break up my day into Big tasks and Little tasks—so I’ll work on editing a manuscript, or reading submissions for a chunk of time and then switch to doing a few less time consuming tasks like writing cover copy, running P&Ls, or concepting cover and interior art.
What sorts of books do you edit, and what are a few of the titles you’ve worked on in the past?I do a little bit of everything at the moment, from early readers to teen. I really enjoy getting to work on a variety of topics and age levels. I manage the early reader arm of Scholastic’s Rainbow Magic publishing program. The next one due out is The Fairy Treasure Hunt, in March. I’ve also edited the middle grade novel Winner Takes All by Jenny Santana, which is part of Scholastic’s Candy Apple line of books. I’m also working on some school based mysteries for next year.
What made you decide to become an editor? What was your career path?I’ve always loved to read, and after a brief flirtation with journalism, I knew I wanted to be in an environment that was all books all the time. I majored in English during undergrad and then got my masters degree in Children’s Literature at Simmons College in Boston. While there, I worked at the fantastic Children’s Book Shop (go visit and buy a book!) and interned at Charlesbridge Publishing. I eventually made the jump to New York and got a job at Scholastic.
What are your favorite aspects of your job? Your least favorite?I love editing a variety of projects. I love my co-workers. I love my favorite purple pen. I love talking about books everyday. I hate Excel. I hate getting behind on submissions.
I know that you work on some books that are generated in-house (i.e., not submitted by outside authors). Can you tell us generally how this works, and what the process is for creating and editing these books?Usually someone in-house will note a particular content area and/or age level gap in the market and decide there’s an opportunity to reach new readers. We’ll then come up with a description for a book or series—it might be anywhere from a paragraph to a few pages. After we’ve discussed and tweaked it in-house, we’ll approach an author/s we think would be a good fit for the topic and reading level. If they are interested, they’ll take our brief idea, make it their own, and expand it into a book outline. After the author and editor discuss the outline and modify it if need-be, the author will proceed to write the whole draft. After the project gets acquired, it gets edited and produced as usual.
What is your favorite middle-grade novel from your childhood?
I loved (and still love) Tuck Everlasting. I remember feeling entirely consumed by Natalie Babbitt’s writing. I also loved Paula Danziger and Babara Park as a middle grader. After my class read Park’s Dump the Chump as a group, I immediately borrowed it from the library so that I could take it home and read my favorite parts out loud to my mom. Yeah, I was that kind of nerd.
The giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our winner, Elizabeth!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
But, inevitably, it would happen. The teacher would ask one of my classmates to hand back our essays. I was always glad when she didn’t pick me, since I could never seem to remember my classmates’ names. I would sit with my fingernails between my teeth, breathing a little faster than usual, waiting for the classmate in charge of the essays to stop chatting with her best friend in the third row and make her way to me in row five.
Eventually, my essay would arrive at my desk, and it always took me a moment to look at it. Then I would get up the courage, flip the paper over, and see two things:
An A at the top. And red ink in the margins.
In fourth grade, I wanted everything to be perfect on the first try. At 30, I know that it’s the ink in the margins that proves I’ve done well. The ink (or in my editor’s case, pencil) in the margins means that a real, honest-to-goodness, talented professional thinks my novel is worth the time it takes to read over and over again, patiently making notes and asking questions in the margins.
In fourth grade, I was the girl with her head down, the girl who, by November, still hadn’t learned all her classmates’ names. I wanted to be by myself because I didn’t want anyone to see if I made a mistake.
Now that fourth grade is long past, I am grateful for the multitude of color in the margins, blue ink and black ink and even purple ink sometimes, and pencil marks, and scribbles and arrows and circles and question marks. Each mark in the margins is evidence of a team of talented people – my family, my critique group, my agent, my editor -- all applying their expertise to something that used to be just a rough draft, but that is going to end up the best novel it can be.
I guess there’s still a touch of fourth-grader in me, though, because I’m also grateful that none of those people happen to favor red ink pens.