personal update

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.

Secret #2: Picture book coming!

It’s August. How did that happen?! It’s not only August, it’s the very end of August. As in almost September. I can hardly believe how quickly the summer has flown by, in a way that only summers can. Life here has been full of travel, visits with family, adventures by the sea, weekly trips to our CSA farm, digging around in our own small garden, work, deadlines, my son’s second birthday (holy cow, I have a two-year-old), reading (of course), and…writing.

This summer I haven’t just been writing in my journal. In fact, my journal has been about as neglected as this blog. I have been writing a story that you all can read next year when it comes out as a picture book!

I am very excited to announce that I am the author of a forthcoming children’s book fromGetty Publications, due out November 2015. Excited is an understatement. This is a long-held dream come true, and I feel just plain lucky. Does luck ever feel plain actually? I feel extraordinary and giddy in my luck!

The picture book, with the working title Therese Makes a Tapestry, tells the story of a young girl whose family works at the Gobelins Manufactory during the era of Louis XIV. It is being published on the occasion of a major exhibition of French royal tapestries at theGetty.

Through the wonders of Skype, I have been able to meet the team of incredible individuals that I’m collaborating with, including my amazing editor and the fabulous illustrator. I truly couldn’t be happier with the process so far. Again, I thank my lucky stars.

So that’s the secret I meant to share much earlier this summer. Thanks for sticking with me as I come and go! Stay tuned for more book updates in the future.

 

Secrets and playing catch-up

mother_and_son_4-14

I can’t believe it is already May and nearly two months since my last post. In addition to keeping busy with part-time jobs, toddlers, travel, etc., I have been working on a couple of secret projects. One of these two projects I am now at liberty to share. I am cooking up baby #2, due in October! Ha, that counts as a project, right?

Pregnancy takes up a whole lot of energy. Naps have reentered my life (although they seem to be slowly drifting out again). Thinking about our life a few months from now, I’ve decided to let myself enjoy the occasional nap at present. I mean, all that well intended advice to sleep when the baby sleeps is really only applicable the first time around. Once there are two or more kiddos in the household, will anybody be sleeping, ever? A fierce internal voice says, YES! The mama in me chuckles and sighs, Sometime, someday.

I will leave you in suspense about the second project. I promise it is more of a traditional project, though.

We have been reading a lot, as always. I even had put an Off the Shelf series together back in March but for some reason never posted it. Better late than never?

off_the_shelf_3-6-14

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Photo showing 13 journals

Journaling

I have kept a journal since I was about eleven years old. Writing has always been an outlet for me, and a journal serves me as a way to release and cope with stress as well as to document mundane moments or celebrate the personal triumphs in my life. It is a place to experiment with styles and formats, although I confess I did this more in the past. Since grad school poetry has taken a backseat to other stiffer modes of expression, something I hope to change in the relatively near future.

Photo of journals stacked on top of each other

The bindings tell their own stories.

 

I have finished every journal I have ever started, with the exception of a very first attempt from 1995 which functioned as much as a notepad as it did a journal. After a second “start” in 1997, though, each journal is complete. In middle school my handwriting was tiny. So neat and minuscule, I could never now replicate it. My entries became into letters to the important people in my life. A couple of my friends then also kept journals, and we would spend hours reading entries to each other. In high school I crafted elaborate collages of images and quotations to illustrate the day-to-day descriptions. I was not the healthiest version of myself in high school, and one horrible day I left my journal at school. Thank goodness two friends found it, and both denied reading it but from their concern-tinted voices and eyes I knew they had. I felt mortified but mostly grateful that they had found it and not someone else. In college my handwriting changed to the hurried but legible scrawl that it still is today. At the busiest periods I didn’t write as much.  Still don’t. So, for example, there isn’t as much about the time I spent living in France and later Thailand as I wish.

Photo of two journals

These two journals are remnants of my time in Thailand. The one on the left was a gift from my husband, purchased from a journal-maker in Bangkok. The one on the right I brought to Thailand with me, but the painting on the cover was done by an umbrella artist in Bo Sang near Chiang Mai.

I don’t write as much as I did when I was younger. I have had only three journals since college. But I always have my journal on me just in case, and would feel uneasy without one. Almost all of my journals have been gifts. I haven’t received a new one in years, actually, and that hardly matters because I still have empty journals that people gave me well over a decade ago. There has never been any method to my selection process. I don’t use them in the order in which I received them. I tend to just choose whatever journal feels right at the moment. At one point I liked to reread all of my journals once I completed one, but have long since stopped doing that. Less time and more photo showing the start and finish dates in the front of a journaljournals. However, I did go through and number them, as well as add the start and end date to each journal. That way I can easily figure out which journal to look in if I ever want to reference a specific event. Two days ago I finished my fourteenth journal. (In the first picture, you may notice there are only thirteen journals. I didn’t miscount, one is just in a different box that has yet to be unpacked.)

Lately I have been wondering about the relationship of blogging and journaling. Things like, what proportion of bloggers also keep journals? How many used to but stopped after they began to blog? If I were a middle schooler now, would I still have that circle of friends to share journals with, or would we have jumped to a blog or online journal format instead? I’m sure someone has written about this and even studied it.

Do you keep a journal? How have your own journals changed? Share if you’re willing!

Photo of journals packed in their unglamorous bin.

Packed away again in their unglamorous bin.