Whimsies

Processing: quickest rejection yet

First, let me catch you up to speed a bit. I currently have about 10 picture book manuscripts that I’ve written in the last year. Two of these I have submitted a few places. I am unagented, and up till now I have focused my submissions more on editors, at first because it just seemed like a starting place, and then because I began to get good feedback. I went back and forth with an editor at a fabulous publishing house for a few rounds of revisions on one manuscript, and during that time I stopped submitting it (rookie mistake), even though I didn’t have a contract. Her feedback was immensely helpful and I have zero doubt that it made my story stronger. Ultimately after about six months, though, she passed. I stretched that manuscript every which way trying to improve it after that. But the stretch shows and the story is tired and I’ve tucked it away for the time being. A break will do us good, and I’ll come back to it in the coming months.

I have likewise received a couple of nibbles on the second manuscript I submitted; the encouraging not-quite-yesses and champagne rejections: editors that ask for revisions, dream agents that say not yet but to keep submitting to them. And in this business, when you get those responses, you, or at least I, do break out the champagne (okay, prosecco) to celebrate. I brought the second manuscript to Picture Book Boot Camp with me and to a critique at NESCBWI, and the feedback from both places launched a new round of revisions.

The story is ready for a new round of submissions and check-ins with the editors that asked for revisions. I began by submitting it to some agents that had been recommended to me this morning. Because of the short nature of picture book manuscripts, typically you either copy and paste the entire text within the body of your submission or attach it as a word doc or pdf. One of the agencies had me fill out a form and not include the text, though. It said something to the effect of if they were interested they’d request the manuscript. Again, this is unusual with picture book submissions.

Well I heard back from them in less than two hours that they were not interested in moving forward with representation. I.e. they didn’t even want to read the story! Oof! I guess it’s kind of a relief to hear back that quickly. In most cases it takes weeks and months to get a response, and in some cases you never hear back. But it also stinks.

What do I do after such a speedy, disheartening rejection? Well, I cut myself a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie (if you’re interested in my baking escapades you should follow me on Instagram), made a cup of tea, indulged in both. I wrote this blog post, because I promised I would include you in my process, and, as I expected, it’s already helping me.

And now I will get back to my lists and figure out who to submit to next. Onwards! 

Strawberry rhubarb pie

My imperfect but tasty pie came to the rescue!

 

 

Mother’s Day 2017

Almost two years after my mother’s death, Mother’s Day comes with a sting and a yearning. I still want to do something for her. On the Mother’s Day before she died (7/18/15), I gave her a poem I wrote for her. Last year, I shared some snippets of memories on Facebook. I thought that this year I would write for her again, and for me, too.

 

When I was 16 years old, Mom took me to Paris during my spring school vacation. I had longed to go to France for as far back as my memory would take me, possibly as a result of reading Madeline. Some French lessons from a family friend in first grade cemented my dreams. Mom loved to travel, did so fairly often for audiology conferences, and whenever she could beyond that. I was a lucky companion on many of these trips.

 

There are three things that I remember most about that first trip to Paris. I remember feeling overwhelmed and disappointed as we drove to the hotel. Paris was not the quaint city from Madeline (I did not watch much television as a kid, and my book knowledge was limited. I’m not sure I’d seen many images of Paris beyond Madeline). It had a largeness and in some parts a grittiness that I recognized from Boston and New York City, but the pictures I’d drawn in my head as I read stories about Paris had not included those identifying markers of cities. The surprise and sharp disappointment passed quickly, leaving me feeling foolish and much more grown-up now that I knew, but they left a distinct imprint.

 

The second thing was the concierge at our small hotel. Upon arrival my mom mentioned to him—a short, sturdy, middle-aged, dark-haired man— that I was learning French. From that point on, the concierge only spoke to me in French and insisted I respond in kind, a striking difference from many others who had no patience for my timid tongue. He made me realize I could speak French. That sounds silly, but my confidence before then had been nonexistent (except when given the chance to make fun of my mom’s attempts and accent. She never let me forget my meanness when it came to French either).

 

The third thing was the day Mom took me to Moulin Rouge. This was a month or two before the big motion picture by that title came out. I had read about the cabaret in French class. I asked Mom if we could go, and she said yes. So off we went to Montmartre and we took in an afternoon show. Mom and I were some of the only women at that particular performance, and I was, without a doubt, the youngest audience member in the building, a circumstance that Mom and I laughed about for years to come. Remember, I was the girl who, mere days before, had been shocked to find that things such as graffiti and business districts existed in Paris. I was the most naïve person I knew. So imagine my reaction to bare-breasted women dancing and swinging from acrobatic contraptions. And up till then, I had thought of Mom as conservative in her social views. She was my mom.

 

But that afternoon changed my understanding of her. At various points we laughed and oohed and clapped. Mostly we sat quietly in that loud celebration of music and tradition and beauty, of masculinity and femininity. I was acutely aware that I was experiencing something that, had I truly understood what the show would be like, I felt certain Mom never would have allowed. And here she was next to me, not insisting we leave. Indeed, having fun and elbowing me every now and again, but more than anything giving me room to react and process.

 

Afterwards, I didn’t feel ready to return to the hotel and read, or to some organized and guided activity. I wanted to keep exploring and discovering. “Can we walk?” I asked Mom. We were several miles at least from our hotel. “Sure,” she replied in her easy, agreeable, ready-for-an-adventure way.

 

We walked for hours, without a plan, sometimes talking, sometimes silent in that thoughtful way of silence that holds hands. Sometimes we walked arm and arm and sometimes follow-the-leader when the sidewalks narrowed and people hurried. The second my mood began to sour and my legs began to tire she sat me down at a café and ordered me a café au lait, herself an espresso, and elaborate desserts for the both of us. Then we continued. We walked until the sun went down and the lights came up. Then we went to dinner, and ate more dessert.

 

My mind was reeling from the day. My greatest discovery was my mom’s openness to letting me experience something completely new and outside my comfort zone, and welcoming my reaction, whatever it was, giving me the space to react. And yet, my reaction was informed by her good humor and enjoyment, too. I knew then that I wanted to some day be the kind of mother who would agree to her young teenage daughter’s request to catch a show at the Moulin Rouge, and be willing to ditch plans and wander.

 

Mom and I became even closer from that trip and through the years. And I still want and strive to be a mother like her.

Mom and me in 2008.

Mom and me in 2008, several years after our first Paris trip. Some day I’ll find the pics from that trip and post a couple.

Processing: an invitation

Spreading my wings at the Eric Carle Museum

In the last month I’ve attended Picture Book Boot Camp with Jane Yolen, spoken on a high school Creative Careers Panel, gone to NESCBWI Annual, and spent a day in Augusta at Reading Round-Up. In between I’ve worked on picture book revisions, and written some drafts of new picture books. I’ve also received notes from friends and acquaintances asking about next steps they should take as they write, prepare to publish, or think about marketing.

 

While I’m still processing all of these experiences, together they’ve made me think about how I tell stories. How I write my manuscripts, of course, but also how I write about my experiences here and on social media.

 

I noticed a common thread woven through the events of the past month, not a main theme, but a repeated sidenote: what we see of an artist’s experiences represents their successes. But even the most successful authors (and yes, I do mean J. K. Rowling), have faced loads of rejections and setbacks in their careers.

 

I’m at the beginning of my writing career, and I don’t have tons of books to celebrate. Maybe (hopefully!) someday, but not yet. I have one, and believe me, I continue to celebrate the heck out of it! The truth is I haven’t encountered the bulk of my rejection letters. The majority of them lie ahead.

 

And I think I’d like to share them with you.

 

The world of children’s book publishing is full of mystery, even to those of us in the thick of it. I have worked on both ends of it, and there remains so much I need to learn! At the same time readers, teachers, librarians, and other writers enjoy hearing about an author’s process and journey, especially the obstacles. After all, we share a love of stories, and any good story includes a good challenge. So while I can’t yet offer you news about my next book contract (I don’t have one), I can let you in on my process. I can include you on my journey. Maybe it will be useful to you. More likely it will prove helpful to me.

 

So let’s make it official: welcome. I am an unagented, traditionally published children’s book author, a librarian, a historian, and a mom. I’m scared to make public a path that includes sometimes personal and sometimes even bitter disappointments. At the same time one of the most important things I’ve learned so far in my career is that there are rejections worth celebrating, and closed doors that lead to open doors. We’ll talk more about those another time. For this next year I will try to offer you an honest glimpse of what it’s like to write, submit, revise, learn about a peculiar and secretive business, connect with readers, and find triumph in unexpected places. I invite you along on my steps and stumbles.* Here goes nothing!

photo of young boy on rock ledge at Acadia National Park

Braving the path. Okay, my kiddo, not me, but he’s much braver, anyway.

 

*I reserve the right to end this experiment at any time and hide back in my writing/waiting hole.

Pull out the verbs

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. To those who say #Neveragain but support the new White House administration, or to those who didn’t vote for it but don’t feel like it is their battle to fight or perhaps feel that it is too big a battle to fight, this is the moment to speak up. Arguably it is past the moment, but do not underestimate the amount of damage that can still be done, that is actively being planned, the amount of damage that we cannot even imagine yet, and that that “damage” includes death: not just lives lost, because we know where they are and can help, but lives deliberately cast aside and rejected. Refugee lives & American lives. Future American lives. It isn’t all DT & co. either although they are empowering the meanness & smallness in this country, ironically making them grow. Here in Maine our governor has announced that on March 4th our state will no longer provide aid or help resettle refugees. (*offering my hope now that on March 4th we Mainers march forth). Instead all responsibility will shift to Catholic charities. But our federal government has suspended even interviewing refugees right now. This. Is. The. Moment. Your voice matters. Do not doubt that. Call your congressmen and women, your local elected officials. Those calls matter. Get involved. Grow our kindness, our empathy, our compassion, our essential American qualities. Not our fear. Grow our courage. Grow our voice. It’s a moment to be loud. Do so with respect, but don’t doubt for a minute that you can do both. Call it damage control, call it activism, call it goodness, call it faith & practicing your religion, call it an American right and tradition. But call. If you don’t know where to start, pick one thing and call. Do. Act. Reach. Write. Rise. Pull out all those verbs. Now is a time for verbs.

A post on gratitude

It is almost Thanksgiving, and two weeks have passed since an election that made me feel less secure in this country. When I think about gratitude this year, these events cannot be separated.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for my immediate family. They keep me grounded, and make me smile and laugh every single day.

I am grateful for the friends and family in my life that are expressing their outrage over the president-elect’s dangerous appointments and calling their congresswomen and men to ask them to take a stand against individuals who represent prejudice and hatred.

I am grateful that people who voted for Trump number among these friends and family making calls to protest Stephen Bannon’s appointment, grateful that they mean it when they say they are concerned, they are listening, they are trying.

I am grateful that people who didn’t vote for Trump who said “let’s wait and see” number among these friends and family making calls, because they have seen enough and do not want to wait to see the policies that follow such harmful appointments.

I am grateful for government employees and members of congress who speak out against racism, xenophobia, religious prejudices, homophobia, sexism and the appointments that would carry representation for all of those prejudices into the White House. Who refute or dismiss those that say, “white privilege is imagined.” Thank you for being ready to fight for and with us.

I am grateful to live in a country where dissent is allowed, where it is tradition, where it is a right. I remind myself of the many places around the globe where this is not the case and appreciate the ability I have to speak out and be heard.

I am grateful to live in a country where the people have a say in the government. Yes, it’s a democratic republic, and not a true democracy, and no, the election outcome was not the outcome I wanted, and there is a lot of fear for good reason right now. But still, I am grateful to live somewhere that there is a process in which the people have the right to be heavily involved.

I am grateful to live in a community that cares. I spent yesterday speaking to over 20 businesses in Bangor, and almost all of them contributed to a care package to deliver to an individual, a person of color, who was assaulted last week. I am grateful to live somewhere that comes out in force to say, “This is not okay.”

I am grateful for theaters and performance spaces. Theaters have formed the safest of spaces in so many people’s lives, including my own: the space where you can make yourself uncomfortable and step out and speak or sing or play or dance, and know that you are supported, the space where you can make your audience uncomfortable and it is expected and appreciated. It is part of the unspoken agreement, the invisible contract between an audience member and a performer.

I am grateful to teachers: those in my life, those in my children’s lives, those in my readers’ lives, and those all over this country, this world. I am grateful that there are people who fulfill that most precious of tasks, educating our children, and do so eagerly, willingly, and lovingly, despite the amount of time and energy involved, which goes far beyond the realm of other jobs. I am grateful for teachers who do not view the use of that time and energy as a sacrifice, but as an opportunity. I am grateful to those teachers and professors who taught me to push at the seams and pull at the strings of the narratives that pad our history, to ask, to listen, to respond, to create, to read, and read, and read.

I am grateful for libraries and librarians. I am thankful there are places I can go, more safe spaces, to seek out information and stories that help me undo those narratives and build my understanding of our society, our world. I am grateful to those librarians who actively build their collections and set out displays to allow me to do that, and to read, and read, and read.

I am grateful for children’s books. I am thankful I can return from the library with bagfuls of books to share with my children. I am grateful those books show brown and tan and pink and yellow and rainbow people making peace, making friends, making music, making signs, making rebellions, making adventures. I am grateful for the mirrors and windows and empathy in those books. I am grateful for nonsensical, nonhuman, fantastical books, too. They also offer mirrors and windows, but perhaps those mirrors came from a funhouse, and maybe the windows from a moving high-speed train.

I am grateful for the children’s book community. I am grateful to belong to a community that creates stories children and young adults (and let’s be honest, adults, too) can disappear into and/or absorb into their skin, after which they feel more visible. I am grateful for We Need Diverse Books and the conversations they push, and for The Brown Bookshelf and the commitment they’ve cultivated “toward the goals of equality, justice, and peace.” I am grateful to belong to a community that is able to self-reflect and critique and revise.

I am grateful for readers. Oh readers, I am above all thankful for you. You give us our purpose. You move our goals. You inspire us every time we type a word. You bring our stories to life. Your voice matters. You are powerful. We care. I care. Thank you for keeping us accountable.

 

 

11 Meaningful Gifts To Give A Children’s Book Author Or Illustrator

photo of Author Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs with a giant book around age 3

Author Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs around age 3 with a giant book

Today is my birthday, and I have decided to share my wishlist of amazing gifts that you could give me or any other children’s book author or illustrator. I know you’ve been wondering. So here you go, my friends.

11 Meaningful Gifts To Give A Children’s Book Author Or Illustrator

  1. Stop by your local library and ask if they have their book. If they don’t because it’s checked out, great! But if they don’t yet own a copy, ask them to order it. If librarian tells you to add it to a suggestion box, please do! Chances are, it will be ordered.
  2. Stop by your local bookstore and ask if they carry their book. If not, ask them to order it.
  3. Stop by your local elementary/middle/high school and ask if the book is in the school library. If not, ask them to order it.
  4. Write a review of their book on Goodreads, Amazon, or another online platform of your choice.
  5. Add their book to your Goodreads to-read list. They won’t be offended if you admit if you haven’t read it yet. They’ll be delighted by the addition! Those numbers matter!
  6. Tell a friend about their book. Heck, tell a stranger about their book.
  7. Turn to social media. Post or tweet about their book. Like their author page. Suggest people like their author or illustrator page. Share a post they have written. If their book is new (and they have made one), visit, comment on, and/or like their SCBWI Book Blast page!
  8. If that author does school visits (hey, New England & tri-state area, friends, I do!), tell your school’s PTO, principal, and/or teachers that you think the author would be a fabulous choice for a school event. The NUMBER ONE way that authors schedule school visits is through word of mouth! That’s you, friends!
  9. Purchase their book to gift to a child in your life.
  10. Purchase their book to donate to a classroom, school library, public library, or literacy drive.
  11. Read their book to a child in your life. Read any book you love to a child in your life. Continue that circle of connection, communication, and compassion that occurs when you read aloud to someone.

 

Image of Therese Makes a TapestryDo you have any other ideas? Share them below! Thank you for your birthday wishes!

photo of Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs signing books at The Briar Patch in Bangor, ME

Book signings, reviews, and teas, oh my! Plus a note on teachers.

It has been a busy couple of months around here. Thérèse Makes a Tapestry officially launched on March 8th, and I’ve been thrilled with the response. From positive reviews to feature articles, and even a t.v. interview, people have been receptive and excited. The biggest treat has been the events with family, friends, and new readers.

In Bangor, ME The Briar Patch hosted a launch party and book signing, complete with a collaborative weaving project thanks to the generosity of One Lupine Fiber Arts. It was so well attended that the bookshop sold out of copies of Thérèse! (Never fear, they’re back in stock!)

photo of young girl weaving at book launch for "Thérèse Makes a Tapestry"

Photo courtesy of The Briar Patch

The finished weaving. I love the colors and textures!

The finished weaving. Love the colors and textures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of book signing for "Thérèse Makes a Tapestry" in Princeton, MA

A good natured crowd in Princeton, MA! (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

 

In my hometown of Princeton, MA the Cultural Council and Princeton Public Library sponsored yet another launch party and book signing. I felt stunned by the turnout of family, friends, those friends who have become family over so many years, and teachers.

A special note on teachers. I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful teachers over the years, the kind that every child and young adult deserve to have. The kind that taught and pushed and guided and applauded and listened, and most of all believed. The kind that made you want to be and become your best self. The kind that not only witnessed some of your darkest moments, but that buoyed you up rather than giving up. I felt overwhelmed to see those same teachers come out and support me years, even decades, after I’d left their classrooms.

Poet Susan Roney-O'Brien with Alexandra Hinrichs (

Poet Susan Roney-O’Brien with Alexandra Hinrichs (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

One of those teachers had organized the book signing that day. When I was in fifth grade, my soon-to-be sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Susan Roney-O’Brien, took me under her word-feathered wing. She and a fellow local poet, the late (and oh so great) Juli Nunlist, ran a series of workshops for young writers out of Juli’s red barn studio. Together they nurtured my writing. They taught me lessons in storytelling and friendship I’ll never forget. Mrs. O helped me publish a chapbook of poetry in eighth grade, and put together a reading and book signing then, too. She said yes to any project I brought forth to her over the years, and has always been ready to listen, read, and talk. It is in large part thanks to Mrs. O’s guidance and mentorship over the years that I am an author today. Her poetry is remarkable. Read her new book, Legacy of the Last World, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Photo of Alexandra Hinrichs making the finishing touches before guests arrived

Finishing touches before the guests arrived! (photo courtesy of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor)

This past weekend I designed a table for the 2016 Annual Literacy Tea held by the Literacy Volunteers of Bangor. What a fun event! Every table is themed around a children’s book, and I thoroughly enjoyed designing a table for Thérèse Makes a Tapestry, not to mention seeing the enormous creativity among all the other tables. Over 300 people attended the tea, including volunteers and students. Lest there be any doubt, children’s books and tea parties are meant for each other. The fact that this one could help raise money (nearly $20,000!) for an organization that does such important work made it that much more fabulous.

In other news, I wrote all winter and have a couple of picture book manuscripts to show for it. Fingers crossed for next steps.

Listening to Mark Scott Ricketts read his book "Adventures in Vacationland."

Listening to Mark Scott Ricketts read his book “Adventures in Vacationland.” You should have seen all the table designs. They were outstanding! (photo courtesy of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor)

photo of Thérèse Makes a Tapestry themed table

A peek at my Thérèse Makes a Tapestry-themed table

 

The best review

Early reviews of Thérèse Makes A Tapestry are beginning to emerge. They are all positive so far (yay!), but I know that I already have the best review I could ever receive. image of iPhone text from my mother reading: "Alex your book is incredible. The illustrations of your writings seem to compliment incredibly. I am so proud of you and in awe of your abilities And while I know what an amazing writer you are, knowing you accomplished this with a toddler n baby on board is another thing altogether. [emoji of clapping hands] Congratulations dear Alex. [kissing face emoji]

My mother gave me her official review last spring. She passed away in July. The dedication of the book to her was supposed to be surprise when it came out in print. I remain grateful to the team at Getty Publications for overnighting a final draft for her viewing in the days before she died. So yes. Thanks, Mom. I’ve already won the review game.

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