My One Thing

Author Sarah Stewart recommends that writers for children cling to one thing from our own childhood for inspiration.  (See her one thing.) In my search for my one thing I finally uncovered a treasure — this tattered, torn, and taped Fun at the Beach book by Gloria Trachtenberg; illustrated by Dagmar Wilson.

MY one thing.

As you can see, it’s old and outdated.  But, that’s okay.  I’m old and outdated.

The Tiny Tales book, copywritten in 1960, made me relieved that books — and their owners — don’t have expiration dates.  And, it made me happy, because I had my one thing from my childhood.  The feel of the little book’s soft pages and even its smell brought me back in time to my mother’s cozy lap, fire crackling in the fireplace, and Pa playing the fiddle.  Oh, wait, my dad didn’t play the fiddle. Okay, the harmonica.  Oh, wait, my dad didn’t play the harmonica. Nevertheless, the book made me happy…

FunattheBeachBanner

We were rebels. Notice: no seat belts or car seats.

…at least until I photographed the book for this blog post.

This book belongs to…BOBBY? I wonder if he wants it back?

I’ll have to contact Ms. Stewart.  Can a book, borrowed from my cousin half a decade ago, count as my one thing?

2012 Iowa SCBWI Conference-Heather Alexander

In my awkward unpublished stage, still unsure of my children’s book-writing ability, insecurity causes me to contrive misconceptions about agents, editors, publishers — all who seemingly hold my future in the palm of their hands —

  • that they will be stuffy.
  • that they own hard, plastic rulers to whap stupid writer’s knuckles.
  • that they have a secret society where they laugh together about writing endeavors that are off the mark.
  • that they are too busy to care.

Heather Alexander is as nice as she looks.

Heather Alexander, editor of Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin, dispelled my assumptions with a welcoming smile.  The thorough nature of my manuscript review indicated that she had not only read my manuscript, but she’d devoted plenty of thought and consideration into improving it.

She didn’t know it, but she verified everything  Linda Pratt (also not stuffy, ruler-bearing, etc.) had said the week before — even though they reviewed different manuscripts.  How could I not feel honored?  Two pros cared enough to honestly and constructively help me in my craft. Heather provided  confirmation that I had work to do — and she gave me additional tools to make my work work.

Ms. Alexander further dispelled the “too busy to care” misconception in the next day’s open mic sessions.  If you’ve never participated in one, a writer reads his/her manuscript for a set time.  During the reading the audience jots down comments and critiques.  When others read, I barely find the time to say, “Good job!”, “Loved that squirrel!” or  “You’d be good at voice-overs, too.”

But, among my critiques came a five-line note, signed by Heather, referring back to our review and reinforcing her advice.  She remembered.  That meant a lot to me.

Putting the ball in my court dispelled another misconception — that agents, editors, and publishers hold our future in the palms of their hands.

We hold our future.  They just help us carry it.

Thanks, Heather for the “hut, hut, hike.” It’s up to me to see how far I can run with the ball.

2012 Iowa SCBWI Conference

Four of us converged in Brooklyn Park, MN, to carpool to Des Moines for the three-day 2012 Iowa Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference.  On the way home, all four agreed that the eight-hour round trip was worth every mile.

Minnesota party crashers: Randy Holland, me, Cynthia Weishapple, Elise Hylden.

The journey started one year ago when my new writing partner, Cynthia Weishapple, (the stranger who sat by me at the 2011 MN SCBWI Conference), happened upon the web site of Jan Blazanin.

We followed the cyber trail to Jan’s Magical Writing Group friends (Eileen Boggess, Sharelle Byars Moranville, and Rebecca Janni) and vowed we, too, would one day attribute our success to our writers group sisterhood.  Our vision paid off in the spring when Elise Hylden and Kristi Herro joined us. (See My Writing Friendspage.) With four invested in each other’s success, the group is magical, as promised. Like Jan’s group, we hope to inspire other writers, who will inspire other writers…

Iowa inspiration. Magical Writers Group: Jan Blazanin, Eileen Boggess, Rebecca Janni. Not pictured: Sharelle Byars Moranville.

Creatures of the Night.

Yes. We Midwesterners know how to party.

Conference organizers gave us three opportunities to share our work: a Friday night peer review workshop, a Saturday manuscript review, and a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning open mic session.  They also orchestrated table assignment mixers and a Creatures of the Night Tour of downtown Des Moines.  All could come away with new insights and new friends. No one would come away a stranger.

It seemed fitting that writers conference attendees would gather in Des Moines’ Pappajohn Sculpture Park’s Nomade.  Jaume Plensa, Nomade’s creator, imagined the letters as building blocks for words and ideas, like human cells for the body.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to the Magical Writing Group and 2012 IA SCBWI conference committee members: Connie Heckert, Lisa Morlock, and all conference volunteers.  You shouldn’t have been so nice, because we’ll probably be back again next year.

Life-changing Words

Words.  They come in and out of us from every direction.  Today our minds are saturated with them.

Remember the ones that changed your life? Usually they come like brain-or-heart-embedding arrows.

As a young adult, I complained to my mom about the ineffectiveness of a leader in our small community.  She said, “What are YOU doing to make (the situation) better?”

In one verbal punch, Mom knocked me on my keester to teach humility and walk-a-mile-in-another’s-shoes-empathy.

Recently I asked a young Canadian, Jacinta, “What’s your goal in life?”

She startled me in the profound simplicity of her answer: “To love better.”

In three words Jacinta lifted my vision above the clutter and taught me priority.

Words. Use them well.

2012 MN SCBWI Conference-Linda Pratt

Linda Pratt of Wernick & Pratt Agency

I hugged the computer when I received the official email message that Linda Pratt, agent of Wernick & Pratt Agency, would review my children’s book manuscript at the 2012 MN SCBWI Conference.   Her name had risen to the top of my Agents-I-Think-I-Could-Clique-With List even before she made the list of conference speakers.  Lists like mine should probably give agents the willies.  We unpublished writers keep files on agents — everything we can find on-line and in publications.  Who do they represent?  What books do they like?  What movies?  What do they find funny/inspiring/annoying? TP over or under — soft or strong? (Just in case they come to our house to sign the contract.)

Lo and behold, I found the most comprehensive information about Linda on their Wernick & Pratt Agency Q & A with Linda Pratt web page. Linda’s a woman of my own heart.  She loves LUCY, CHOCOLAT, and Anne Lamott’s  BIRD BY BIRDShe represents fabulous illustrators and authors, like Denise Brunkus and Augusta Scattergood. And, Linda, too, thinks Mr. Darcy of PRIDE & PREJUDICE is — um — not bad.

When we met for the critique, the petite powerhouse impressed me with her warmth.  She inquired about a memoir project I’d mentioned during David Small‘s Q & A session and commiserated about my family’s trials.  Seems Linda and I had some family skeletons in common. Then, when she advised how to develop readers’ empathy, I thought “Linda Pratt knows about empathy.”

During an effective critique, the writer is told what he/she should hear, not necessarily what he/she wants to hear.  Linda gave me an effective critique.  She said, “When I first began reading, I initially thought it was a young chapter book before I noticed the genre designation…”  [This observation would be confirmed by Penguin/Dial Books editor, Heather Alexander, a week later at the Iowa SCBWI Conference (upcoming blog entry).]

The manuscript I’d submitted for review had too many characters, lots of dialog, and even a subplot.  Not a picture book, as I’d designated. Linda corrected me with encouragement.  I’d read about writers who didn’t thoroughly understand children’s book genres on Linda’s Q & A page, but I didn’t recognize myself.  She states clearly: “…if it’s a novel for all ages, or it could be a middle grade or YA, or it’s a picture book for 5-8 year olds, these are signals that you’re not clear on the market for your book, and the work itself is likely ambiguous, as well.…”

Sure, I was disappointed at first that she didn’t jump up and down, gushing,  “This is the best picture book since Where the Wild Things Are.” And, I did have that bad dream about another writer stealing my main character and my thunder while I revised.

The good news?  During her conference presentation, Linda assured us fledgling writers not to give up.  But, revise, revise, revise, before we submit, submit, submit.  Linda initially rejected Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be.  Augusta revised it, an editor revised it again, and –badda bing, badda boom!

My manuscript review experience? Humbling?

Yes.

Humiliating?

No.

I’d jumped off the diving board prematurely, but without direction I could still be flailing in the wrong end of the pool.

Thanks, Linda!  You’ll be hearing from me again — but not until I revise, revise, and revise.  Then, when I think it’s perfect, I’ll revise some more.