An Open Letter to Ann Coulter.

Let’s start by saying that Ann Coulter is an asshat and not worthy of acknowledgement. But I’m posting this response  by John Franklin Stephens to her word-vomit because to me it is the epitome of respectful* discourse.

He writes:

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

Read the whole thing. You’ll be glad you did.

 

*I know calling  her an asshat isn’t respectful. That’s why he’s a better man than I.

First of all, thank you thank you for the totally amazingsauce virtual celebration that met my news. While nobody sent me a picture of ducklings in a teacup, which was a bit of a miss, I did indeed appreciate all the joy. Truly, it makes me so happy! *does a little Muppet dance again*

See? What’s better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But mixed into the congratulations there were some very reasonable questions. Questions like “When will your book be out?” and “So what does this person do?”

And while that information exists all over the interwebs, it doesn’t always exist in the same place as ducklings in cups, so I thought I’d give a quick overview.

In short, an agent represents an author’s work and, using her relationships with and knowledge of publishing folk, works to get it published. Agents are compensated by a percentage of author’s sales, and generally work to represent all of an author’s work, not just one project (the exception being if the author writes in a genre the agent doesn’t represent, such as poetry or erotica, or, in the case of The Nancy Gallt Agency, adult books). There is no guarantee that any particular book or project will get published; it’s an agent’s goal to sell every manuscript, but there are times when it just doesn’t happen. This doesn’t mean the agent isn’t good at her job, or that the author is out of luck forever and dumped as a client; it just means the time wasn’t right for that particular book. In a good partnership, they move on to the next book together.

In some sense agents “work for” authors in that they are engaged to represent and sell an author’s work. But to me the relationship is more like hiring a good doctor, trainer or therapist. Yes, you’re hiring them, but you are paying for their expertise and advice, not just their services. You wouldn’t hire a personal trainer, ignore her, then fire her when you don’t get any stronger. Similarly, authors have to trust that their agents understand them, understand their work, and understand the marketplace. Often agents and authors stay together for decades. Other times they split relatively quickly, realizing they weren’t the right match.

It’s a big deal to get signed by an agent because, despite the shifting sands of publishing, the vast majority of books still get published through traditional publishing channels and big publishing houses. And those houses almost unanimously do not accept submissions from unagented authors. So an agent is a first, huge, step to getting in those doors. But it’s just a step.

So what does all this mean? It means my middle grade novel, THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, was good enough to catch the eye of someone who knows the business. It means that sometime soon* we’ll submit it to publishing houses and seeing if anyone is interested. And most of all, it means I have someone I feel will be an amazing advocate for my work on my team.  Marietta Zacker and Nancy Gallt work with a truly amazing array of well established and debut authors. Having them in my corner is a great feeling. Almost as good as staring at those ducklings…

*soon in publishing can mean anything from two weeks to two years. Be warned.

So, as you probably know I’ve been writing these books for the past three years lately at 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. and sitting in hockey rinks when I can find the time.

The process goes something like this:

Write:

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Query:

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REJECTION:

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repeatrepteatrepeatrepeatrepeatrepeat

Of course there were some other steps. There was endless revision, polishing my words until they were bright and shiny, and the constant, endless, and incredible editorial eyes of my outstanding readers and  critique partners, especially Kate and Alina, and the super sekrit LB writer group.* And there were moments of excitement and encouragement from agents and editors along the way. But all in all, there were a lot of head-meet-wall-moments.

*I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you

Then last week something happened. I heard from a literary agent, one who works with incredible clients, who answered all my questions and politely didn’t remark on the fact I referenced unicorns in my email to her. She once said at a conference, over a year ago, “Your story is your gold. Be true to it.” And I listened to her, and remembered, and queried her.

And she told me she wanted to represent my work.

And there was a lot of this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So a few days after my 40th birthday, I am delighted to be working with the amazing Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.

Happy Birthday to me. Stay tuned for what’s next…

The second half of my life will be swift,
Past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder, asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed, fingers shifting through fine sands, arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night, and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice breaking up on the river,
rain soaking the fields,
a hand held out, a fire,
and smoke going upward, always up.

from Crossroads, by Joyce Sutphen (with thanks to writer-friend Margo for the poem)

Hello blog!! *dusts off corners* *straightens pictures*

Well. It has been a while, hasn’t it? This summer has been many things, but conducive to blogging has not been one of that. I sort of knew that, of course, which is why I left you all with a farewell (and a picture of a kitten) back in June. But now it’s September, and I’m back. Ish.

Why am I only back-ish? That is a question that is too long and probably boring to answer, involving a Lernaean Hydra of a to-do list and the whole I-have-two-kids-and-I-work-and-I-write-and-I’m-leaving-for-Nepal-for-a-month thing I have going on these days.

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Me: Oh hai, to-do list! How’s about I make you my monkey! List: Um…how ’bout I grow back TWO HEADS for every one you cut off, mkay???

So yeah, there’s that.

Another thing that’s been keeping me off the blog is that rereading it has made me a little sad. You see, per the title of this post, I have new junk that I’ve added to the writerly trunk. (NOTE: This has nothing to do with my bottom and whether it has gotten larger). No, this refers to the common writer’s practice of “trunking” a book that doesn’t go anywhere. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with SWIM.

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SWIM wasn’t the first thing I ever wrote. Or the second. But it was the first one I sent out in the world. It was read and reread by a team of amazing critique partners, then it went out to agentland. And while this story still kind of sings to me, it didn’t find a home. Turns out there are just too many other mermaid books that were hitting the shelves (or editors’ desks) right at the moment I was sending this around. So while I got a few ‘this is lovely but no thanks’ type of responses, no one wanted it.

So into the trunk it goes.

And that’s okay. This is a business, and no-one – NO-ONE – every said it was easy. So I’ve written another book, and actually another as well, and I’m hoping to keep pushing forward.

ImageBut I guess part of this summer, as I was swimming and diving and rolling in the ocean waves, was about saying goodbye to my first try.

I hope you had a wonderful summer. Here’s to a glorious fall.

So, school is out, camps not yet started, end-of-year shenanigans completed (5 teacher gifts, 3 crossing guard gifts, countless end-of-year party donations, 1 full day chaperoning…someone hand me a drink). I have, I confess, dropped every ball I was juggling except for the ones that were either, 1) flaming (and thus required my attention, or 2) were desperately urgent. This means that everything from the electric bill to wordage on the YA Paris book to revisions have all gone untouched. And now, in the quiet that follows the storm, I’m clueless of how to pick back up again. Especially the writing. I can’t seem to figure out what I want.

This is me lately:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, much like this kitten (but far less adorably) I seem to be spending my days chasing my tail around, certain that it’s a valuable pursuit, only to discover that it’s not moving me forward as much as I hoped. So what does the non-feline. writerly version of this look like?

THIS:

 

 

 

 

 

THIS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or even THIS: (It’s research, dammit! I swear I’m not just looking at pictures of Paris because…oh fine. Yeah, I’m just looking at pictures of Paris because.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This is Rue Mouffetard. My old street and possibly one of the very best marchés in all of Paris. Le sigh.)

Anyway, what I’m not doing ANY of is writing. And I miss it.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a child psychologist about how video games are serving the purpose that recreational drugs used to serve for disaffected kids. The games provide the same feeling of relief, of a better world, of success (regardless of its lack in real life). She discussed how satisfying these games were to kids, and how difficult it was for them to find life outside the games equally enriching. As I think about the fascinating blogs I follow, the witty conversations on Twitter, the vital relationships I sustain in cyberspace, I have to wonder how much the internet is my drug of choice. That’s not to say there’s no value to online social media. Writing is lonely and can be isolating. I’ve found amazing critique partners, great friends, loads of information about agents and publishers, and an incredible wall of support – all online. But what I haven’t found there? My revisions or my next novel.

So I think I need to try cutting waaaaay back. Facebook can live without me. Twitter (where I mostly stalk others) I’ll just avoid. And even my amazing online friends…well, maybe I’ll check in at the end of the day and report to them how many words I wrote.  As for this blog? I’ll be back sometime soon. Just hopefully after I’ve finished revisions or written a few chapters.

Happy Summer!

 

 

 

Peace like a river

For those of you not working in the publishing or writing worlds, BEA is just another alphabet soup of an acronym, (although a far pithier one than SCBWI, as I wrote about here). But for those in those worlds, BEA falls somewhere between Dante’s seventh ring, a candy shop, and a vital business meeting with several thousand of your closest colleagues and competitors.

It can look like this:

(source)

Or it can look like this:

   

And for me, it looks a lot like this:

Yes, I went and got ALL THE BOOKS.

BEA is a trade show, a place for Big Six publishers and independent publishers and self-pubbed authors and academic presses and everyone in the business of creating books to meet with librarians and booksellers and book promoters and book bloggers and everyone in the business of selling books. And it’s batshit crazy for sure.  For a newcomer it can be like walking into someone else’s 50th family reunion when you know nobody: lots of air-kissing and “remember-when”-ing and inside talk about the industry and the next big thing. For authors, as a veteran writer told me, it’s a place where you’re either being promoted by your publisher or resenting that you’re not being promoted by your publisher. It’s where you might sulk over the massive line for a big name book signing, or cringe at the look on the face of an author sitting at a deserted table for another signing. For bloggers and newbies, it’s also a time to grab ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies, of books publishers are giving away before their publication date, to build up interest. (The pursuit of these ARCs can lead some of us *cough cough* to bring a large wheelie suitcase to fill with books, while our few clothes reside, wrinkled, in a tiny satellite duffel).

It’s totally overwhelming.

And here’s the thing: as an unpublished author I really didn’t need to be there. Unlike the aforementioned NESCBWSOISDFUIDFDPGIPDFOISDF Conference, this is not about writing. It’s about selling books. And as of yet, that’s not the business I’m in. So while I did get to say hello to a few editors and agents (largely thanks to my authorial mafia of aunt Elizabeth Levy and cousin Robie Harris), I’d be lying if I said I was there to further my career.

Really, I was mostly there to get ALL the books.

So in a lot of ways, BEA didn’t matter to me. I was tremendously interested to hear both Young Adult and Middle Grade editors talk about the books they most wanted to promote for the fall. (Still some dystopians, in the YA world, for those who say that trend is over…). And it was great to grab new work by authors I enjoy like Mike Mullin and Saci Lloyd. But on a business level, it really didn’t matter to my life.

However, there was a Children’s Book Author Breakfast. And there I heard the adorable Cris Colfer, the hysterical John Green, and the truly magnificent Lois Lowry speak, among others. And wow.

John Green, who writes some of my favorite contemporary YA books, spoke about how writers and publishers should not get distracted by the interactive, the multi-functional, the shiny world of e-books. “Story trumps all,” he told us, then quipped, deadpan, when the crowd cheered: “Well, saying that in this crowd is kind of like being in a room full of elephants, as an elephant, talking about how great elephants are.”

And Lois Lowry spoke of her newest book SON, and how it closes the quartet she started close to twenty years ago. It was a series that began when her son, an Air Force pilot fighting in that Iraq war, asked, “why do people do such terrible things to each other, and how can we stop it?” She spoke of trying to answer that in her award-winning book THE GIVER. And about how the questions left unanswered led her to write BECOMING BLUE, then THE MESSENGER, and finally SON. And though all the books, how the ultimate question kept repeating itself: Why do people do such terrible things to each other? Sometime during her writing of this quartet, and thinking on this question, her son was killed in service.

And as she spoke of this, and of how, in her book SON, she was able to create a happy ending, it was suddenly clear to me that BEA does matter to me. Because stories matter. And sharing the stories with the greater world matters. And inspiring others to write, and to work hard to make sure kids are finding and reading books…well, that matters too.

So I did get ALL the books. And a shot of pure adrenaline in the arm to boot. Now it’s time to get back to writing…just as soon as I finish reading one more page.

I was performing one of my least favorite household chores recently, known as the Seasonal Closet Changeover. (This sounds boring. It is. it is also incredibly awkward and involves a lot of dust and hauling of large boxes. Truly, my life, it is like an opera). Sorry, where was I?

Ah yes. I was in Dante’s fifth ring of hell, surrounded by the enormous bins of summer shoes-hats-purses-gear. And the task is fairly simple: take everything out of said enormous bins, then put all winter boots-shoes-scarves-hats-purses-gear in. Leaving aside the size differential of winter gear to summer, or the fact that my Sorels alone take up the better part of one bin, this job is miserable for one major reason.

We have too. Much. Stuff.

Too much. Just too damn much. As I empty Small Daughter’s winter bin I put in no fewer than six adorable knitted wool hats. There was the strawberry hat, the rainbow hat, the cheetah hat, the flowered hat…I could go on. And then there were the scarves. Many of them knit by her grandmother, and all lovely. But…she doesn’t wear scarves. Pretty much ever. And when she does, she needs ONE. Not nine. But they are all so great, and why would I throw away these wonderful things?

So I shoved all five bazillion scarves-hats-purses-boots into the bins, sitting on them to get them closed, and put the six bazillion pairs of sandals-espadrilles-sunhats-straw-bags in their place. Because I just couldn’t deal. It’s all good stuff, I rationalize. And I hope I can get the closet door shut before it falls back out.

And this brings me to writing. (You knew I was going there, didn’t you?) I have too many words.

(source)

Too much good stuff is a problem, especially at the revision stage. The classic writer advice is to “kill your darlings,” to be able to ruthlessly delete the precious sentences that ring like bells when read but serve no purpose. But this shizz is HARD. I recently went through a round of revision which involved writing high stakes new action scenes that put the main character in serious peril, and had him push to save those he loved. Sounds kind of like the climax, doesn’t it? Well, yeah, except I then had another 20,000 words or so, then ANOTHER climax. My wonderful critique partner Kate wrote me amazing notes and suggestions, then, using the words “crazy” “suggestion” and “maybe” several times in a row, she suggested that maybe possibly kinda-sorta I could cut…ya know…that whole second climax thing.

This is pretty much my reaction.
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(Source)

Actually, and I’m not proud of this, but I whined pretty hard. “But I love that scene!” I whined. “But that’s some really really good writing!” I sniveled. “But it’s so cool with the fire and the hog farm and medic tent and all that!” I moaned. (No, I’m not making this up, there was a fire, and pigs). Then, (and this is even more embarrassing), I said, “Well, here’s the thing. It’s pretty close to the end. If an agent reads that far she’ll probably keep reading. And if she tells me to cut, I will.”

Thank god Kate does not back down easily. They grow ’em tough in Edmonton. Ultimately, she has convinced me that rank laziness and wishful thinking will not endear me to the publishing industry. I cut the scenes. They were good, but they were just too much.

But I’ll be honest. Those scenes? They’re all saved in another document. Kind of like the scarves I can’t seem to bear to give away. You never know when something so pretty might come in handy.

I worked briefly in the world of corporate marketing, and while it didn’t really take I can say this: if you are planning to name an organization and call it by its initials, don’t go with Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Or even worse, New England Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators. Because SCBWI and NESCBWI do not exactly roll off the tongue. However, it is a truly amazing organization that offers all kinds of information and resources to writers around the world. But their name kind of stinks.  So henceforth I will refer to it as NESABCDIENSHSDFIOSDPGHFG and you will all know what I am talking about.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about my first ever writer’s conference, held in sexy downtown Springfield MA, which was indeed the New England regional SCVWSDFDIOIOPI conference.

It rocked.

I was inspired by Sara Zarr, who managed to apply writing theory, psychology, and more to the excellent FROG AND TOAD books. (And she read aloud to us…all of us…in the big hotel ballroom. I absolutely luuuurve being read to).

With truly practical hands-on workshops with Kate Messner, Mitali Perkins, and their kin, I learned stuff that has already helped enormously as I slog (again!) through revisions.

And my one-on-one query letter critique with agent Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary agency was also enlightening, mostly for showing me that my query kind of sucked (Not that Joan said that – she was a paragon of kindness and professionalism). But even that news was good! Because I haven’t sent it out yet, and now I know. *wanders off to lick wounds for a few minutes*

In some ways it was a homogenous group. After all, we were all writers or illustrators for kids, and we mostly live in the New England region (with the notable exception being the incredible, talented, hysterical, and mildly creepy Kate Boorman, who I imported from Edmonton Alberta for the event). But even within the group there was diversity of experience, of age, of interest, of talents. And it was fascinating to meet watercolor artists in their 70’s who wanted to begin illustrating books, or illustrators who have dozens of publishing credits to their name but now want to dip a toe in the oceans of writing, not just illustrating.

Jane Yolen, who is perhaps one of the funniest and most deadpan speakers I’ve ever enjoyed listening to, was the North Star of the conference. She answered questions on the first day (a notable response to one gentleman who asked about constantly having to come up with new ideas: “nobody ever said writing was for sissies!”), and gave a closing speech on the last. And though it all reminded us that this takes discipline, it is not for everyone, it is important, and it never, ever gets easy.

The woman has written over 300 books. She is called the Hans Christian Anderson of America.

And she says it’s still hard work.

Just Call me Sisyphus

So yes, SCWSIAODSDFDKLDSI is an incredible organization. I loved getting my nerd on with the aforementioned and awesome Kate Boorman, and immersing myself into the world of writing for a few days. This is a great place to learn and be inspired. Just…maybe don’t take their advice on titles.