Procrasti-painting

I’ve been working on editing my book about Theodate Pope, a famous female architect from Connecticut, and BOY, non-fiction picture books are an entirely different animal! My brain is happy for the challenge, and I’m so thankful for an experienced editor to help me wade through the writing waters. Still, I’ve got miles to go!

Since the work is so challenging, I find myself taking A LOT of breaks. Sometimes, I paint and disguise it as “illustration practice.” Here are a few samples of my watercolor wandering…

Seen above are bitter bananas, a sneaky shark, a piggie, some prickly plants, strawberries, and a couple of non-traditional llamas.

Procrastination: Check!

Stay tuned for more about my pal, Theo. She’s a marvel, and I can’t wait for the world to read her story!

Thank you, Miss Patrick

workI had a lot of exceptional teachers growing up. Miss Hargrove, my kindergarten teacher, let me sit on a table and count to 100 in front of everyone. Miss Nixon was the first one to encourage me to “work without disturbing others.” (still working on that one) Miss Demeritt said, “Now, we both know that you know better than this” when I got in with the wrong girls in sixth grade and got in a tiny bit of trouble. She also told me that I could be a writer if I wanted, and later, she was the inspiration that encouraged me to study teaching. Thank you!

 

Miss Patrick was my 9th grade English teacher. I remember learning how to diagram sentences (yawn), and I remember watching with her and my classmates as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on the television right before our eyes. Miss Patrick had applied to be part of that program, and there aren’t words to describe her reaction and the feeling in the room when that terrible event happened. Miss Patrick cared about those people, and she cared about her students.

Miss Patrick, along with a few other teachers, helped me practice the fine art of note cards, sources, bibliographies, and thesis statements–in other words–THE RESEARCH PAPER. It seemed daunting at the time, but today, as I swim through books, articles, and internet sources researching for my current book project, I am grateful! Don’t get me wrong; it’s still daunting–just not as scary.

Organizing sources and notes is a crucial part of the process when you’re trying to cram the life of an incredible person into a 32 page, illustrated biography for children. Could you write about your life (or someone else’s) in 1,500-2,000 words? 

img_9990

Today, I enjoyed a different kind of research when I visited Farmington Connecticut’s Hill-Stead Museum, a country home designed (and later lived in) by one of the earliest registered woman architects, Theodate Pope Riddle. There are rules against taking photographs inside the house, which is completely understandable, but I did snap a quick shot outdoors of this carriage that was once driven by Theodate’s father, Alfred Pope.

I had the privilege of viewing some family papers in the archives and speaking with someone on the Hill-Stead staff about my current work in progress, Architect of Dreams: Theodate Pope Riddle. I’m thrilled to make a connection with this great organization who is devoted to preserving a magnificent woman’s home and legacy. Besides, it is simply thrilling to see and hold OLD STUFF. Beautifully handwritten letters and diaries inspired me to learn more about Theodate’s incredible life.

Non-fiction and biography are new genres for me, and while I’m still querying my fiction picture books, I’m excited for a new challenge. I think the world will be better for knowing Theodate Pope Riddle, and I agree with her words:

“If I do not act, I shall wake some morning to find myself middle aged and sorrowing because I have not tried to make the world I touch a little better.”

–Theodate Pope Riddle

(quote from Dearest of Geniuses: A Life of Theodate Pope Riddle, by Sandra L. Katz)

How will YOU make the world you touch a little better?

The Conference Conundrum

Well, now I’ve done it.

I registered for the NESCBWI conference in May. If you’re not a children’s book writer, that stands for New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s an awesome organization of which I’m proud and grateful to be a member. My membership gets me resources, training, networking opportunities, and just lots of knowledge about the writing and publishing business.

My favorite part of belonging to an organization is getting to know the people. I’ve been part of a six week writing class and several day-long workshops and meetings for writers. The material has always been useful and applicable, but I’ve learned a ton from the other participants.

But here’s the conundrum part:

attending a conference for writers when you haven’t been “recognized” as a writer.

It can feel like the worst case of impostor syndrome–as if a “real” writer will come and rip off your cloak to reveal the scarlet U which declares UNPUBLISHED! I mean, it’s not as if we have to trudge down the hotel hallways (these things are often in hotels) shouting like literary lepers: “UNPUBLISHED, UNPUBLISHED, UNPUBLISHED!” so that the real writers don’t accidentally catch our lack of luck and experience.

It just feels that way.

So I will hold my breath and jump in. I ordered more business cards. I’m brushing up some projects. I’m talking aloud to no one in my car to practice pitches for completed manuscripts, just in case THE agent or publisher asks, “So what’s your current project?” I’m thinking of things to wear that say You can definitely picture me at a school visit or a book signing wearing this.

I mostly spend time practicing not looking like these awkward apples…

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I’m looking forward to some learning and networking and maybe a little adventure. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Writer’s… Detour

de·tour

/ˈdēto͝or/

noun
a long or roundabout route that is taken to avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way.
It’s not really fair to call it a BLOCK. I mean, when I picture a road block, I envision a big sign that shouts in all caps: “ROAD CLOSED,” and it’s completely clear that you can’t go there. So in writing, a writer’s block means that nothing is getting written. You can’t . It just isn’t gonna happen. That’s not really what’s going on.

detour

I think detour is more accurate. I have Writer’s Detour. I have ideas, and I could write them down, but hey look! what’s that?! something shiny! My writing status brings to mind a walk with a toddler. Perhaps it starts as exercise, or maybe there’s even a destination in mind, but along the way, there are rocks, worms, grass, flowers, sidewalk cracks, sunshine, puddles, curbs, cars, snacks, and a million other wonderful things to grab your attention. Sometimes you arrive at your destination, and sometimes you just turn around and go back home because you run out of time. At any rate, you get something done, and you end up somewhere, even if it wasn’t the way you originally planned.
I’m actually a fan of detours, which is surprising, considering how much I like knowing what to expect. When I go on a road trip, I love taking the long way, and I don’t mind when the GPS reroutes the trip (as long as I’m not on a deadline). On detours, I’ve tasted delicious food, had soul-searching conversations, noticed nature, sung loudly, refueled, changed my mind, felt grateful, and eventually–ended up somewhere. I have also rolled my eyes, thrown my hands up, and shouted swear words.
The definition of detour indicates a route taken to “avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way.” I definitely haven’t been avoiding writing on purpose, but I have been visiting somewhere–sort of–along the way.
In the last month or so I have tasted delicious food, had soul-searching conversations, noticed nature, sung loudly (not that I let anyone else hear, mind you), refueled, changed my mind, felt grateful, and now–I’ve ended up in March. I have also rolled my eyes, thrown my hands up, and shouted swear words.
I sent some queries to agents and did some reading, which is worth a lot. Even though I didn’t plan it (which is often the case with changed travel situations), I don’t regret my writer’s detour. It’s nice to be “on the road again. Time to keep after my writing goals and set some new ones.
Don’t be afraid to take a different route. You’ll definitely end up somewhere!

Goal Getter

10

All right everyone, here’s an update on my writing goal for 2019 (50 rejections or a literary agent): I’ve submitted 5 queries. That’s 10 percent of my goal–sort of. I’ve received 3 rejections, which means 60 % of what I’ve submitted has been rejected.

So here’s to that 40 % of the 10% that’s still floating around out there.

math

I’m pretty sure I’m getting some of this math wrong. What do you want from me?

Writer ≠Mathematician

 

 

In honor of completing 10% (sort of) of my goal, I’d like to present this list:

Things I would like 10% of:

  1. a coconut cream pie
  2. a million dollars
  3. the tax paperwork I’m about to have to do
  4. the sass I’ve gotten from my teenager
  5. a 10 week beach vacation
  6. the energy and enthusiasm of a toddler
  7. the money I have paid to insurance companies
  8. the time I have wasted complaining
  9. the readership of Stephen King or Eric Carle
  10. the people of the world to pay attention to each other

 

What about you? If you could have 10% of something, what would it be?

Book Review: Pigs Love Potatoes

Today I’m posting my first book review, because one of the things I love about being a writer is being a READER. I’m grateful to my parents, Johann (that’s Jo-Ann, not Yo-Hahn) and Frank, who both loved to read and encouraged their five children to read. My mom took us to the library countless times, and we were allowed to check out as many books as we could carry. I still remember the pride of knowing how to write my own name long before kindergarten and being allowed to have my very own library card. Not only did my mom give us the opportunity to be around books, but she modeled good habits by reading often herself. She is still an avid reader. My dad loved words too, and was particularly fond of poetry (a favorite was Robert W. Service). I was amazed at how he could memorize verse. He liked reading about the Civil War and other military history.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

 

pigs

I found myself wishing for a little one nearby as I read aloud (couldn’t help myself) Pigs Love Potatoes, written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Christopher Denise. I’m a sucker for rhyming verse, and this cheerfully illustrated book does not disappoint.

From the first spread, the illustrations make me curious–especially the eyes of the mama and little pigs invite me to wonder what is about to take place with those potatoes.

On each page, more pigs! The potato cooking process continues in a calm, colorful palette as the reader enjoys themes of family, helping, neighbors, being silly, and a few treats for the eye such as birds and a kitty cat. Counting words drive a delightful dinner story with a sweet ending that will leave you smiling.

As a former preschool teacher, I highly recommend Pigs Love Potatoes for themes on counting, rhyming, working together and most importantly, FUN. As a parent, this book has “read-it-again-mama” appeal, and I wish it’d been around when my children were small.

Thanks to Anika Denise and Christopher Denise for this lovely picture book. Now I’m off to eat some potatoes…

 

One Fiftieth

I am as shocked as these two squash that it is already almost the middle of January.

s squash

The holidays zipped by and 2019 came crashing through–ready or not.

January is a favorite month of mine. I love new starts, new calendars, and fresh planners. As soon as the Christmas decorations are tucked away for their rest, I’m eagerly planning the days and weeks to come, setting goals, and clearing out the old to make way for the new.

I’ve got some personal goals, but I’ve also got writing goals. One of those goals is listed as:

50 rejections, an agent, or a book deal.

It might seem strange to have the goal of being rejected, but here’s what I mean: if I don’t get a literary agent or a book deal this year, it won’t be because I didn’t try my darndest. I’m pleased to say I have already completed ONE FIFTIETH of this goal. Last week I sent my book Justin’s Cupcakes to a new agent at a new agency. Each time I send my work, it means I must complete the following:

–Research agents and agencies using the internet and industry lists (these come in a book that is updated each year and also from an organization of which I’m a member–the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

–Select an agent and be sure that the agent is accepting submissions and would be interested in a book like mine.

–Carefully craft a query letter that introduces me and my book in the most positive way possible. This letter is crucial–not too many words, not too few. It has to convince someone to read my manuscript AND want to sell it to a publisher.

–Proofread the letter many, many, many times, because careless errors are an easy way for agents to narrow down their slush piles.

–Include or attach my manuscript according to the agency’s requirements (and they are each very different).

–Hold my breath.

–Press send.

–Track my submission on a detailed spreadsheet I’ve created to monitor what I’m sending, when, and to whom.

I’ve promised myself I’ll do this at least 50 times this year, and collecting rejections (though it’s not fun to read “no thanks,” means that I’m not giving up, that I believe in my work–that I believe in myself.

All of this is to encourage you–and me–to have goals and to be persistent and steadfast in your efforts to meet them. ONE out of fifty doesn’t seem like much, and it would be easy to focus on how far there is to go. But even if it’s only one mile, one pound, one book, one garbage bag full, one less cigarette, one class, one smile or hug: it’s one step toward your goal, and it’s the most important one, so give it the credit it deserves.

Today, we are all only about three and a half percent through 2019. The number is small, but these days have mattered, and we are on our way.

We have begun.

 

Seasons Readings

joyIt’s the holiday season, and people (including me and my family) are making all kinds of preparations for December celebrations. This year, some of my holiday cards will be hand painted–if you didn’t get one, don’t get your feelings hurt. I WAY underestimated the time it takes to paint them, so I won’t have enough. But hey, some is better than none.

There’s another season coming up that I didn’t know about until I was involved in the publishing industry (and by involved, I mean desperately hoping to be published someday). READING SEASON. When working on query goals (GOAL: Submit one more manuscript to an agent before the end of November), I learned that many agents close their email boxes to submissions in December and January. This allows them a some time to work through the gazillion submissions they receive.

There are many ideas about the “slush pile,” and how agents and editors peruse their mailboxes:

Some people believe in the subject line: READ THIS! YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE!

Others feel that the greeting matters most: Dear most gracious and powerful literary agent who needs one more client.

Still others count on listing the qualifications of the author: I am a member of a reputable writer’s club, I won the school spelling bee in 5th grade, and also I live near Mark Twain’s house, so of course my stuff is good.

I believe a little bit in all of those things, but I mostly believe in my manuscript. It’s a story about believing in yourself and your own ideas, and I think kids everywhere (and adults!) need to hear more about that.

Truth is, no matter how good my book is, the agent (or editor or publisher) must READ it to decide if it’s good, so the query letter matters a lot. So on that note, I give you this holiday tune about getting published. Sing it to the tune of “White Christmas.” Ready? All together now:

I’m dreaming of a new agent,

who loves my book more than I’ll know–

Who each word will cherish–

All doubts will perish.

The love for characters will grow.

I’m dreaming of a fast book deal

With big book store signings galore

May my query show off

my skills–don’t blow off

’cause this is revision ninety-four.

May my agent find me–and soon!

And I hope you liked this Reading Season tune.

white christmas

Happy Holidays!

Other Duties as Assigned…

What does a writer do when she’s not writing? Turns out, there are about a million things to do as I’m pursuing a writing career. Here’s a quick list off the top of my head:

  • Query agents. This means that I send a (very) carefully crafted letter describing a finished manuscript of one of my books. Most recently, I sent a query for Justin’s Cupcakes, which was requested by an agent at a writer’s conference. Average waiting time? 4-1,000,000 weeks. Tick. Tick.
  • Pitch books on Twitter. Many agents who represent picture book and other authors will open up a pitch session on Twitter from time to time. Today, for example, a number of agents are considering book pitches under #KidPit. There are rules about what to pitch, and how to respond if an industry professional “likes” your tweet/pitch. Today, I pitched my manuscript Lani’s Wings. Average wait time? 1-4 days. Tick. Tick. Tick.
  • Make contacts about writing. This week, I contacted Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut, because I’m very interested in researching Theodate Pope Riddle, a fascinating female architect from Connecticut. I think her life would make a fantastic children’s historical fiction book, and so far, there isn’t one. Average wait time? Who knows? But I’ll keep checking my email until I’ve got a face-to-face meeting scheduled. Can’t wait to learn even more about Theo!
  • Figure out social media “presence” as a non-techy mom type. I mean, I’m not an old lady, but I’ve got a lot to learn about algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and whatever other platform the young folks have already started without me. (insert sigh and eye roll here)
  • Take classes, attend workshops and conferences, jot down ideas before my 47-year-old brain forgets them, which, I must confess, is pretty quickly.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of inquiries, queries, contacts, submissions, and follow-ups. My goal for the next year is either a book deal or 50 rejections. Gotta make it happen.
  • Set goals. I’m the sort of person that really thrives when I’m using a list. I break my goals down into action steps and complete the steps one by one until the task is accomplished. Sure, I’m good at slacking, too, but this method gets more done than any other one I’ve tried thus far. Check. That. List.
  • On a side note, I’m a mom and a wife, and I have a part-time job that helps pay the bills. Those people and responsibilities matter–A LOT.
  • Hope. I spend time thinking, hoping, meditating about the impact I can make in the world–through my writing and otherwise. I’m determined to make a difference!bee

 

And I write! New story ideas are popping into my head all the time. Little snippets of prose and poetry are lurking in my mind and in my hard drive. I’m grateful for a way to get my words out into the world.

My job description in one word: BUSY.