Browse Category by Writing

Musings on drafting, editing, querying, submitting, and publishing in general.


SCBWI Midsouth 2016 Conference

Last year, I told a colleague I was working on a picture book manuscript.  She’s a writer (former journalist, communications director at my current job) and she suggested I join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).  I joined and I signed up for the conference last fall.  I entered my manuscript in the picture book contest, but I was too scared to sign up for a face-to-face critique.

My first conference was amazing.  The learning curve was steep because I knew very little about writing picture books, the market, and querying.  I didn’t win anything in the manuscript contest, but I met my current critique partner who invited me into her writing group.

When I registered for this year’s conference, I entered a new manuscript in the picture book contest and I signed up for a critique.

It was nice to meet up with members of my writing group, and meet some new friends.  I went to amazing sessions–even better than last year!

Then, on Saturday, they announced the contest winners and I got Honorable Mention!

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I told my friends at the conference that I was using this conference to decide if I needed to just bury this picture book manuscript and move on, or if there was some life left in it.  I’d spent last fall submitting it, and I got some complimentary rejections, but it didn’t go any further than that.

I was so happy to get that recognition in the contest.  I was starting to feel a little bummed about writing picture books.  I love writing them, but maybe it isn’t for me.  The market is competitive, and perhaps I needed to spend my energy elsewhere.  This re-lit the fire!

On Sunday morning of the conference, I had my face-to-face critique of the same manuscript with an editor.  I was so nervous.  I’d had critique partners and writing groups, but never any industry feedback like this.

It was amazing.  Not because she told me the book was fabulous and flawless and she was going to publish it tomorrow (that’s what we all secretly daydream about), but that it wasn’t perfect, but had some elements that were strong.  She had criticism that I thought was spot on, and some ideas for how to improve the manuscript.  What most encouraged me was that she said I was good at humor, and I should keep going with being funny.  It’s every kid-sister extrovert’s dream to be told that.  She also liked a 4th wall breaking moment in the manuscript and told me to do it more throughout the story.

The editor also told me that she didn’t love my premise.  That may sound like it was a blow, but honestly, it was somewhat liberating.  When I allowed myself to consider changing the premise, I saw how I could fix the other problems that she pointed out.  It was exciting to consider the possibilities of keeping the character and dropping the premise.  At the end, the editor said she was so glad I was willing to consider a change like that.  It reminded me that flexibility is so key and not always common.  Being gracious and flexible are some excellent qualities in both writers and students.  I love it when I make a big suggestion like that to a student and she takes it in stride.  It’s only right that I model that behavior.

One of my query rejections for that manuscript said that I had “more to discover.”  I’ve spent a year wondering what that meant–until now!  Between my critique, and a workshop on character development with the same editor, I understood.  The cow was flat and undeveloped.

[Side note: Until you try to write a picture book, you’ll think it’s nuts that you spend as much time developing those characters as you might spend on a novel.  But really, you can and you should.  You only have 500 words, so you better know that character deep down and be ready to make them come alive in as few words as possible.  You don’t have 10,000 words to “find” the character.  They need to exist in every word on every page.  Mind blown, right?]

I went home after the conference bursting with ideas.  In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night Sunday morning with a non-fiction picture book idea that incorporated some humor.  Sunday afternoon after the conference, while my youngest napped, I worked on a rewrite of The Cow Steals the Show and a first draft of my new idea.

Here’s what I think I’m learning about myself.  I’ve got humor, I’ve got plot and premise.  My characters have voice, but it’s not enough.  I’m not sure yet if this applies to my novel, but I think it’s true for my picture books.

Teaching, Writing

Process insecurity

Today I was giving feedback to students on a creative writing assignment.  For the assignment, they had to find a photo depicting human migration in some way.  Most chose an image of Syrian refugees, or immigrants at the US/Mexico border.  Some chose more historical photos of Japanese mail-order brides, or a family member who was a holocaust survival and immigrant.  They could then write in their choice of genre about the photo, story, poem, stream of consciousness, etc.

I asked for a paragraph of reflection at the end of the assignment.  One student commented on how hard it was to get started because she got hung up on finding the perfect structure and the perfect idea.  Once she started going, though, she discovered some things she hadn’t even realized were there and ultimately she felt great about the final product.

I needed to read that.  I’m having some process insecurity of my own.

Let me explain.  I wrote my novel Improbable Girl with an idea for an opening scene and that was it.  I had no outline, no ideas for the ending.  I had some characters in mind, but they weren’t fully developed.  I just wrote.  And I jumped around in the plot and wrote whatever caught my fancy that day.

When I finished, I started talking to other writers and reading about writing.  I read about all kinds of plotters and planners and outliners.  And I’ll admit, I started to feel a bit insecure.  I’m sure it was imagined, but I got the sense that writers who planned first looked at my seat-of-my-pants process (also called “pantsing”) as the inferior method of writing.

And when I sat down to edit my novel, it was a hot mess plot-wise and character-wise.  I had to make some massive changes.  I started to think that maybe some time spent outlining before writing might help me to save time on the revisions.

As I approach my next project, I’ve been doing some planning.  I’ve been Snowflaking and outlining.  The first few steps seem to work for me and then I get this feeling of dread and despair.  I can’t figure out how it should end or what the next crisis will be and suddenly I feel hopeless.  The whole idea is garbage and it’s not going to lead anywhere.

Today, I’m reminding myself of who I am.  I am a leap-and-the-net-will-appear person.  I’m a rush-in-and-find-joy-in-problem-solving person.  I think my logical brain is not quite as smart as the part of my brain that runs loose when I’m just writing my way out of things.  (“I wrote my way out…“)

I will say there is one pre-writing or extra-writing activity I find value in: character interviews.  I’ve starting doing more and more Q and A type freewrites.  I’m not controlling where it goes, I’m just asking and probing.  I did one with Jane and Daniel in the Improbable Girl editing process where I just asked them, “What do you think you’re doing?”  What came out of that was really crucial.  It helped me clarify what was happening with each of them and where they needed to go as characters through the novel.

So enough planning.  For now.  Maybe a premise is enough.  Maybe a character with a little wounded spot in her heart is enough.  And yes, I’m going to have more work on the other end to figure out how to make it work.  I’m alright with that.  I’ve been there before and I know I can make it through.

Also, I read this article by Chuck Wendig (swearing makes me so happy) and I needed it.  I joked on Twitter that I was going to make it a daily meditation.  I might not be kidding.  I might read it every day.  Even though I’ve done this once–finished a book, that is–I’m feeling that same old insecurity in my abilities.  Enough.  No more.

To write!

Teaching, Writing

Wall o’ Rejection

I teach at an independent all-girls school that attracts the most hard working young women in the area–38 different zip codes as a matter of fact.  They are driven, ambitious, and they’ve often been known as the best students in the schools they came from.  They excel in academic areas, they make amazing art and music, they play sports with fiery dedication and they have big dreams for themselves.  Then they come to our classes and we ask even more of them.  We challenge them, we ask them to stretch themselves, we give them constructive criticism.  Because they are girls, and because they are high achieving, many are prone to perfectionism.  The challenges we present them sometimes overwhelm them and some start shying away from creative risk.

Our school has a really amazing confidence committee that researches and develops initiatives on campus to increase student confidence.  They’ve taught the faculty that one of the qualities that can limit confidence is a fear of failure.  Our students want to please us, their parents, while also meeting their own aspirations.  It can be daunting and one stumble can feel like the end of the world.  The pressure on students has been growing steadily and much of that pressure results in them avoiding failure at all cost.

So, when I started querying my novel this summer, I knew I was going to share my experiences.  Querying a picture book last year, and now a novel, has been such a learning experience.  It’s taught me so much resilience and I’ve learned to embrace failure.  I have always been willing to take risks, but even this was scary at first.  But I survived.  And I didn’t quit.  I want to show students that successful adults they respect experience failure.  We don’t succeed in spite of failure, it’s because of it.

I also want to even the score a bit.  Students have 6 or 7 classes each year and every day they get grades and criticism handed down to them.  Their faults and weaknesses get pointed out, often in red pen, on an hourly basis.  Adults have it so much easier.  So, to soften the blow of grades, I have decided to make a wall of rejection.  I’ve printed out my rejection letters (with names removed, of course!) and I’ve taped them up on the wall.  All around the rejections, I’ve put quotes celebrating rejection and failure and inspiring perseverance.  I’ve also invited seniors in to see my rejections as they wait for and receive their college decision letters.

I took some pictures on Friday to share.

Here’s to glorious failure!

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Teaching, Writing

What I’m Reading: Girl in Translation

After A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I turned to my attention to the book I paired with it, Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation.  Set roughly 100 years apart, these stories comprise an interesting conversation.  Both have a strong female protagonist in Brooklyn.  One an immigrant, one the daughter of immigrants.  Both struggle with poverty and a precocious desire to learn and excel.

I first heard about Girl in Translation from a booktalk in our school library.  As often happens, I also check out a book or two after the book talks.  I immediately adored this book.  The protagonist Kimberly is relatable, honest and moving, just like Francie.  I also enjoyed how the author found a creative way to show us that Kimberly doesn’t always understand everything people say to her in English.  Peppered into sentences are phonetic spellings of words that Kimberly doesn’t understand.  It’s a brilliant way to put us in her shoes with teachers and classmates speaking quickly and not all of it landing.

I also love the emotional journey that we go on with Kimberly.  We cheer for her, we cry for her, we chew our nails for her.  And the flood of empathy that I feel is real.  Her character serves as both a window and a mirror for me.  First, this book give me a window into her Chinese culture and upbringing.  But, like a mirror, this book allows me to see American culture through her eyes.  We take so much of our own realities for granted that we forget all of our culture is a social construct.

I also feel very strongly that teachers need to read this book.  There is so much that we can say or do that could hurt students without us realizing.  Kimberly has a few terrible teachers and lots of amazing ones.  It was a good reminder that I want to be on the right team.  It also illuminated for me the privileges that teachers can take for granted–access to art supplies, NY Times subscriptions at home, a parent who can take time off work to come to school.

And I hope that my students also have a powerful experience with this novel.  Kimberly attends a private school from 7th grade through graduation and there is so much that her peers don’t know about her, and my hope is that it will increase my own independent school students’ awareness of both their privilege and the diversity around them.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own existence (especially if you’re a teenager), but there is so much variation in our communities, and we need to be open and empathetic to the experiences of others.  As Kimberly is struggling with a rat and roach infested apartment with no heat, her peers are complaining about curfews and the banality of suburban complacency.

There is also some interesting social justice commentary in this novel.  And, honestly, legal justice!  The book raises important questions about the ways in which immigrants in our country are treated.  Kimberly must act as a grown up as soon as she sets foot in the country as a 6th grader.  Her youth and also her lack of voice really cuts the reader deep.  Her vulnerability and strength are both breath-taking, and this is an important window into the immigrant experience.  And, of course, the fact that she and many other children are working in a sweatshop to survive made me so angry.  It reminds me how far we’ve come from 1912, but also how many things have not changed.

As the book approaches the climax, every inch of ground that Kimberly has gained hangs in the balance.  It’s the kind of book I start yelling at, pulling my knees close to my chest as I plunge into the next page.  She’s come so far, I can’t handle the thought that she won’t make it.

I assigned Girl in Translation and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as summer reading for my honors 10th grade World Literature class.  Before we dive into the rest of the world, let’s consider our relationship to the rest of the world.  We are a part of the world and it’s good to discuss and question what that our relationship is.

Teaching, Writing

What I’m (Summer) Reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

As the school year approaches again, I am turning my summer energy away from writing and personal projects to the summer reading I assigned my students.  It’s been a year since I visited these books, and I need to re-read.

In some ways, re-reading for work like this can be maddening when I see the list of books I want to read for the first time.  Life is short and the list is long.  But every time I dive back into a book I’ve read once (or six times) I find that I can see so much more.  I feel like Neo seeing The Matrix–I can see word choice and sentence structure. I can see interesting plot choices.  I can see what the author is doing with the narrator or the voice.  What I’ve come to learn is that re-reading is a treasure trove for the writer.  Freed from trying to hold on to characters and plot, I can turn my attention to craft and think on a higher level about the writing and the themes.

I started with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the first of two books I assigned to my honors 10th grade students.  I’d been looking for a way to teach this book since I was in grad school.  This year will be my third year teaching the honors 10th grade English curriculum that I designed, and it’s also the third iteration of summer reading for that class.  The first year I was too controversial and caused a stir.  The second year I went safer but the students didn’t feel the love.  Then, in the middle of last year, two of my students told me they were working their way through a list of classic novels and had just read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  They gushed.  They adored it.

Lightning struck me!  I’d been thinking about that book for a decade, and also I’d been trying to find a way to use Jean Kwok’s lovely 2010 novel Girl in Translation.  Hadn’t Girl in Translation been compared to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?  Wouldn’t that be an amazing pairing?  100 years apart, one girl Chinese, one girl Austrian-Irish, and yet so much in common in their stories.

And so, onto the summer reading assignment they went.  I remembered back to all the amazing classes I took at NYU in the English Education department where I designed book pairings and projects that would ask students to draw a thread of connection between an old novel and a new.  This is why I love my school: I can bring to life the passionate imaginings of the NYU grad student I once was.  I’m glad to see her light wasn’t ground out along the way.

So I spent last week curled up with the bittersweet prose of Ms. Betty Smith.  (I feel she must always be addressed with that formality.  She’s like an old Hollywood movie star to me.)

As I started the book again, I was reminded of how different it is than the modern novel that drops you in the soup of disaster on page one.  In the introduction by Anna Quindlen, she calls it a novel in which nothing happens.  Which is true, but also it isn’t.  Life happens.  True, there is no central conflict, no overarching character objective, except maybe survival and a moment’s pleasure.  But that comes to be an all-consuming goal to the reader, and you can’t stop reading lest Francie languish in heartache or hunger too long.

Ms. Smith is a master of character development.  There are a lot of characters flitting in and out of the tenement neighborhood and beyond, and they all start to feel like your own wacky relatives.  No one is totally perfect or good, but no one is completely wicked and you realize so much truth about humanity as you read.  You condemn and forgive on the same page.

I was surprised to see the book is narrated in third person.  You spend so much time inside Francie’s head, that you forget that it isn’t first person.  We take occasional dips into a few other characters’ minds, but mostly, we’re with Francie.  And it’s a lovely place to be.  Her innocence, her toughness, all of her is so endearing.  You see what she fails to see, and you watch her realize things she as matures.

This book is the quintessential bildungsroman (thanks Word of the Day for this one, but don’t ask me to say it out loud, I have to repeat it over an over and it never quite feels at home in my mouth).  Francie starts the book at 11, then we flash back to her parents’ childhoods and move all the way back to Francie at 11 and finish the book when she is 16 or 17 and headed off to college.  My whole life is a bildungsroman–I teach 14-16 year-olds 10 months of the year–but I still like reading them.  They don’t lose their charm for me.

Perhaps all coming-of-age stories are a series of lucky near-misses and blood-sweat-and-tears survival, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn feels especially so.  I find myself with my heart in my throat as I read.  I just want to leap into the book and yell at the adults and give her something to eat.  But then I forgive those adults (except maybe Johnny) and I just want to throw a coat on Francie’s shoulders.  Except her spirit and gumption kick in and I’m so proud of her when I realize she doesn’t need saving.  She’s doing it herself.

This book also makes me realize the importance of ignorance in childhood.  It’s a great insulator.  Francie’s lack of awareness keeps her from despair.  And when awareness blooms, and despair threatens her, she fights back.

And this book is so much about women.  From illiterate Mary Rommelly and her abusive husband to Katie and her drunk (but loving) husband, to Francie.  What an important story of the generations upon generations of women who have not earned spots in our history books, but who nonetheless have kept our species alive.  I know we like to talk about the Joan of Arcs and the Marie Curies, who are undoubtedly important, but the women who endured hunger, poverty, abuse, violence and yet somehow kept themselves and their children alive are the true heroes.  They didn’t quit and they didn’t give up.  They accepted the hand that life had dealt them and eked out an existence.  When I look at Katie Nolan’s survival and achievements, they match those of the great women who have earned posters and glossy textbook pages.

And now, I have to steel my heart and hope that the 30 or so student who read it for my class liked it.  You don’t know the pain in a teacher’s heart when a student, a stranger still, breezes in on day 1 and casually torpedoes me with, “Ugh, that book?  So boring.  I could barely finish it.  I mean, what’s even the point?”  It takes all my inner Katie Nolan not lose my cool.  Plug your ears in the grave, Ms. Smith.  Forgive their youth, and let me see if I can work my magic.

Summer reading is always an autopsy, as my colleague says.  We didn’t read it together, bit by bit, with discussions and collaboration along the way.  Their opinions were formed in a vacuum and their opinions get set in concrete before they walk in the room.  If a book confuses them, they come to hate it for making them feel stupid.  And since they didn’t get to meet up with their peers and me around the Harkness table to ask their questions and shine a new light on the text, the negative opinion sticks.  I like to fantasize about them going to college some day, and there’s a fellow student clutching the book to their chest, delivering an impassioned monologue on its value and beauty.  My former student bites her tongue and wonders, Maybe Ms. Griswold was on to something.  Let me give it another look.

Inevitably, someone won’t like the book.  That’s how books are.  And probably, given the high energy and quick plotting of contemporary novels, this book feels plodding and atmospheric by comparison.  Perhaps Girl in Translation will illuminate A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for them.  Perhaps a fear of disappointing me will make them soften their negative opinions, if they have them.  Perhaps by requiring them to read it, I’ve already robbed them of the joy of reading it through their own discovery.  The most I can hope for is that our discussions and our research into poverty, current immigration and immigrant rights, will light a little flame in them.  And, at the end of the day, it’s never a bad thing to spend some hours with Ms. Betty Smith.


What I’m learning from sharing my writing with others

Letting other people read what you’ve written is scary.  Like public nudity scary.  Perhaps like public nudity, the fear wears off after repeated experiences.

My first sharing experiences were with two writing groups, one that is no more and one that’s current.  They gave great feedback, but it was often on 5-10 pages and not the whole work.  This summer, though, my husband finally read the book, and he was the first person to read the whole thing in its entirety.  You often read about writers sharing every stage with their spouse, like a built in critique partner.  That’s not been my experience, at least for the past few years.  At first I wasn’t ready, then my husband resisted.  What if, he worried, I don’t really like it?  It could be that it just wasn’t for him, but he knew that would still hurt me.  And if my husband is one thing, he’s honest.  Which means that if he tells you that you look good in sweatpants, gosh darnit you look awesome in sweatpants.

But since I was rounding the bases and getting ready to query, he took it with him on a work trip and read it.

He liked it!  I’ve never been so relieved.  In fact, he wrote this on one of the pages and I jumped out of my chair for a victory dance.

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After that, I sent it to a high school friend who lives in Texas.  Then a college friend in DC.  Then a current work friend read it.  Then my mother-in-law read it.  Then I made a Twitter friend who offered to give my query letter a read.  She wrote back with feedback and ideas for improvement.

Here’s what I’ve learned, boiled down as best I can:

  1.  Your mother (or mother-in-law) has to by law and biology say nice things.  Still, it’s nice to hear and I’ll take what I can get.
  2. Apparently some readers may really dislike something about your book that others love, or at least didn’t mind.  It’s bewildering and can make you question your existence.
  3. However, if the reader was definitely on to something, you’ll get a pang in your stomach and you’ll know that you also had that thought.   They might point out an odd word choice on the opening page, and you realize right away you also questioned the choice.  This is helping me to trust my gut instincts when editing.
  4. Sometimes the reaction makes you realize you need to clarify something.  In my Twitter friend’s response to my query, it suddenly became clear that I was not making a plot point clear.  I rewrote and hopefully the confusion will be gone.
  5. Sometimes the feedback or suggestions make you realize what you will not compromise on, and what, for you, is essential to your book.  My first writing group really liked one of my POV narrators and didn’t love the other.  Consider just narrating the book from one POV?  That was definitely a no for me.  But, it made me realize that to keep the other POV, it needed some work.  (Which it got in draft 3.)
  6. Every piece of feedback I read that has no emotion, my brain adds hatred and disgust to.  I’m a generally confident and positive person, but it’s so hard!  I keep wondering, Does that mean you hate it?  As Erykah Badu says, “Keep in mind I’m a artist, and I’m sensitive about my s***.”

Writing the book was hard.  Editing was harder.  Sharing it with the world has to be the hardest.

My query count is up to 56 since 7/11/16.  I’m teaching a week-long day camp next week, so I’ll probably slow down considerably.  I’ve had one request for a partial (first 50 pages) and that was from a query letter alone.  I’m taking that as an encouraging sign.

Teaching, Travel, Writing

New Site!

As I begin to query for Improbable Girl, I decided it was time to make an author site.  I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, which is mostly true.  My built in IT department, also known as my husband, is busy writing math textbooks and has pushed me out of the nest to muddle through myself.

I just imported my old Writer, Reader, Teacher, Spy blog posts and a few of them have some issues with pictures.  I’ll try to get those fixed over the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by.  These blog posts will showcase the many hats I wear, so it will be a mixed bag.  I hope you enjoy!

Teaching, Writing

What I’m reading right now

I sent out a query to an agency this week that was done through a form on a website rather than through email.  (Side note: This seems to be a growing trend for agencies, and I bet it helps them to categorize, sort and log their queries.  I predict it will be more common for agencies to go this route.)  As part of the submission form, I was asked to name the most recent book I read.

I think that’s a great question and I thought it would be worthwhile to share my answer.

If I was being totally honest, the most recent book I read was Biscuit Loves the Library by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, which is one of the books my four-year-old checked out of the library last weekend.  But, I am not sure that is what the question was really asking.   What I wrote was Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg.

There is a unique pleasure to reading a book after my toddlers have gone to sleep.  In this photo, I’m also clearly reading rather than folding those baskets of laundry that are on the right edge of the frame.  I’ve got my priorities straight.

But sometimes it is too good to wait for after their bedtimes, so I read during bathtime!

I absolutely loved it.  Non-fiction has been appealing to me lately, but I love Aziz’s voice and humor.  Reading it was also a trip down memory lane to my single days in New York.  I did online dating and speed dating, and I remember well what that was like.  Interesting and really funny, this one had me giggling in the evenings.  In addition, I’ve been gravitating towards non-fiction to avoid losing my own voice in my writing.  Like picking up an accent, sometimes I find that whatever fiction I’m reading tends to influence my own writing.  It’s tricky to balance inspiration with my own individuality.  
The other books I am currently knee-deep in are these two:
Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2016, a gift from my mother-in-law for Christmas.  
I’ve been reading through all of the agent, publisher, and magazine listings.  There are also very interesting articles and interviews.  A lot of this is reiterating what I learned at the Mid-South SCBWI conference, but it’s nice to have this reference text.  

And Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  (Again, notice the jammies.  I’m in the After-The-Toddlers-Are-Asleep Writing and Reading Club.)

I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers once through, and now I am re-reading it and taking notes and making one giant checklist.  Each of the 12 chapters ends with a self-editing checklist.  I am putting that all on one document and adding my notes and highlights from each chapter.  It’s really a great book, with examples, clear explanations, exercises and checklists.  I read it in December, between finishing the third draft of my novel and starting the fourth.  My hope is to start using the checklists and my notes to tackle my fourth draft next week.


Try again, fail again, fail better.

Samuel Beckett wrote in his short story Worstward Ho, “Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”  I find myself thinking about that a lot. Right now, I feel like I am failing slightly better.

I wrote a second picture book manuscript and sent it to twelve agents.  I got two rejections last week.  These are notable for two reasons: first, they came within a week of submission, which is a fantastic turnaround time; second, they both involved some kind of personal response or feedback.

I explain it this way.  The least desirable response is silence.  It’s inevitable when agents have so much to read and respond to.  I get it.  Still, it’s like waiting for someone to notice you in high school.

The next level up is a form letter email rejection.  It is usually very kind and thanks you for your hard work and the chance to review it.  At least I know that someone did a cursory review of my manuscript and I can stop hoping.

One step above that is a rejection that contains some kind of personalized feedback.  My first response said this, “Thanks so much for giving me a shot at your picture book.  I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its many charms, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!”  It has charms!  But, it wasn’t encouraging connection for that agent.  Still, it felt good to read that.

My next rejection had more specific feedback.  Here is a snippet:

I’ve had a chance to review and consider your work and can see how much you’ve invested in this. It’s very funny and I love the idea of turning this old rhyme on its head. But I think it’s missing something — I think maybe a narrator, or something to break up the dialogue, and give us more than a scene would be good.  I think you can have even more fun with the way you’re playing with things. Unfortunately, given these concerns, I don’t think I’m the right agent for this particular project, so I must pass. But I send this with gratitude and all good wishes for the future.

A quick explanation: my book is written entirely in dialogue.  Think Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or I Want My Hat Back.  The bus driver talks straight to us, as does the pigeon.  And the bear looking for his hat either asks about his hat, questions others about his hat, or tells himself how much he loves his hat.  There are no dialogue tags, “the pigeon said” or “said the bear.”  I appreciate the feedback so much, but now I am wondering how to proceed.  I think it might be an interesting exercise to try and rewrite the book with a more traditional narration structure.  This presents a couple of problems.  First, I don’t know how I’d keep it around 500 words, which seems to be the recommendation now.  Secondly, my husband was quick to point out that this is just one agent and I shouldn’t rush to throw the baby out with the bath water.

For the sake of exercise, I will play around with the narrator.  I will also try to play with things a bit more, although I don’t know yet what potential she might be referring to.  Hmm.  Things to consider.

Now I wait for the remaining 10 agents, or rather, I wait for 12 weeks and then I assume any silence is a no.  Maybe I’ll get a bite!  For now, on to my novel, and to let a new picture book idea simmer.


New picture book

A few weeks ago, on a Monday at the breakfast table, my three-year-old, Calvin, requested the “Hey, diddle, diddle” nursery rhyme.  I obliged, but I was distracted and accidentally skipped over the cow who jumped over the moon.  Calvin immediately protested, and an idea popped into my head.  What if the cow had some opinions about how the rhyme was written?

Immediately I thought about Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Bottom, despite being the lead, thinks he should play all the parts.  He takes it upon himself to coach his fellow actors i and demands a series of prologues be written.  He’s quite an atrocious actor who thinks he is hot stuff.

Thus, an idea was born.  My husband and I teach at the same school, so that morning while it was his turn to drive, I feverishly scribbled my first draft onto a pad of paper.

Then the strep throat hit, and I was completely incapacitated.  I spent three feverish days on the couch or trying to teach and having to leave school early.  The fever made me feel like I was having an out of body experience.  On Friday morning, I got antibiotics and by the evening my brain function was returning.  I took out my paper draft and typed it up.

I took it to my picture book critique group on Saturday morning.  The feedback was strong, and I decided to move forward with it.  I went home and revised my draft during nap time.  I worked on my query letter for the next few days and then I sent it out to 10 agents.

This was only my second round of querying, but it felt smoother and less daunting than the first time.  I am now less scared of the process.  Wendelin Van Draanen, (who wrote The Running Dream, our all-school read) came and spoke at an assembly a few weeks ago.  She said that every time she sent out a manuscript, it was like putting hope in the mail.  I took what she said to heart, and thought of it as hope in the (e)mail.

I also felt happy that I was able to take another piece of advice: as soon as you send out one project, start on the next.  After I wrote my first picture book manuscript, I didn’t really have any other ideas, or none that were feeling fully formed in my head.  But, by staying open and paying attention, I was able to start the next project.

Now that I have send out my second picture book manuscript, I am going to turn my attention back to my women’s fiction novel.  I think that maybe at the end of this draft, I’ll be ready to start querying.  I’m looking forward to that.  More than just querying, I’ve got an idea for a middle grade novel that I’d love to get started on.  I’m looking forward to freeing myself up for another project!