Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Today, I talk about how The Worry Monster sunk its teeth into me and how I found its kryptonite, claiming what is mine:
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
All I Really Wanted to Know About the Writing Life, I Learned in Kindergarten:
Mastering the alphabet will help.
Books are great, but let’s face it…full-on celebrations make them even better. Throw parties for books. Huge, overdone parties with music and color and way too much glitter glue. Paper crowns aren’t a bad idea, either.
That first big step onto the bus is going to be tough but so worth it.
Writing is like using Play-Doh. You imagine something and then try to create it with your hands. You may not be happy with it at first but that’s totally okay; Play-Doh can be reshaped again and again.
Dick and Jane told us to “LOOK!” Instead, focus on SEEING.
Be patient. When you plant that seed in the Dixie cup, it takes attention and time to grow. So do writers and/or manuscripts.
Making friends in the literary sandbox is essential. You learn things about your craft, as well as yourself, by opening up to other artists/writers.
If someone in the sandbox throws sand, walk away and let it go. Life is too short.
Get messy; you’re supposed to.
Don’t worry about being the best in the class. You have a special gift that is unique to you and you alone. Think about honing that gift rather than comparing your gift to others’ gifts.
Know how to find the bathroom. (More people will sit with you at lunch this way.)
Moving your body is good for your mind; go swing on the monkey bars.
Writing for publication is like “Show and Tell” on steroids.
A new batch of pens, pencils, notebooks, and a cool backpack are going to make you really happy. Trust me on this.
There are times to walk in line with everyone else.
Do your best work to get your writing posted on the bulletin board. Perhaps, your teacher, Mrs. Kirkus, will even give you a star.
The ride to school can be bumpy, but there’s a lot to observe and enjoy along the way.
Unchain the muse from the desk. Dance and sing and paint and play. Laugh and wonder, walk and question. Your writing will be better for it.
A morning meeting is the way to start your day: say hello to your friends, get organized, make note of the weather, weigh-in on current events, check your calendar, and set goals for the day. Then, get to work.
Enjoy creative license. Skies don’t have to be blue. Grass doesn’t have to be green. Color outside the lines.
Fitting in is important. But, standing out is, too.
A little quiet time is good.
Celebrate even the smallest of successes in a big way.
If you really like a song and it inspires your muse, sing it over and over. And over.
Try to remember that others are on the same challenging journey as you, so don’t be afraid to slide on over and offer to share your snack.
(Thanks to Robert Fulghum for inspiration)
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Drop everything you’re doing (well, except for reading this!) and get thee to a bookstore! Today is the official release day of Audrey Vernick’s WATER BALLOON, a young adult novel that made me laugh out loud one moment and brush away tears the next.
Marley Baird is dealing with a lot. The book chronicles a summer of juggling losses—her parents are newly separated, her best friends are peeling away, she must live with her dad for the summer in a new place, and she is saddled with a summer babysitting job that she doesn’t want. However, with all of the losses, there are gains for her, as she navigates change, learns to trust her instincts and be honest with herself. Also, meeting Jack, a cute boy who loves dogs as much as she does doesn’t hurt either.
In a word, this book is authentic. The characters are rich and layered, drawn like real people with many sides. I loved Marley Baird immediately and the more I got into the book, the more I loved her. She is a real kid. An honest kid. A kid who thinks and feels and acts authentically. Does she always make the right decisions? No. But, Marley Baird is so real and I love that.
One of the subplots I loved was Marley’s dad-imposed babysitting job. The twins in Marley’s charge are hilarious and Marley’s take on them is equally so. Not chuckle funny—laugh out loud funny.
Another impressive facet of this book was the friendship triangle. Vernick does a masterful job of setting up a situation where the reader knows that Marley will commit social suicide. As a reader, you want to yell, “No! Don’t do it!” but I love this subplot for so many reasons. Yes, my heart broke for Marley, but I love how she is socially naïve because there are so many kids like that and they aren’t often drawn in books. Television, especially, tends to depict the kids who’d rather grow up overnight. A book like this would be wonderful for those *many* kids out there who’d rather take their time.
In fact, let me just say that I loved this book so much, that I will find the space in my heart to forgive the dartboard with the Red Sox in the middle. And that’s really sayin’ something.
Okay. Enough from me! I’m thrilled to have Audrey Vernick here today to answer some questions about her debut novel, WATER BALLOON.
1) What were the initial seeds of WATER BALLOON?
I decided it was time to write a novel. I had no idea where to begin. No story. No character. Zip.
A family in our neighborhood was going through the early stages of divorce, and I thought a lot about the emotional cost of a family breaking apart. I didn’t know them well, but you could see the strain on the girl, the younger of two children. That was my starting point—a girl struggling with the dismantling of what had always been her daily world.
I wrote the first draft so long ago that I can’t remember where the rest came from. Oh, except for the two friends—Leah and Jane. The trauma of middle-grade friendship is something I remember very well.
2) How much of you is in Marley Baird?
A ton. That’s been the big difference for me between my picture books and this novel. It’s always felt like my picture books are…my books. And my novel is me.
3) The word that pops into my head about your book is “authentic.” For example, I feel like I’ve met real children in the twins and the friendship triangle with Leah and Jane is heartbreakingly real. Can you tell us about something in the book that was completely fictional and tell us why and how you created it?
First, this isn’t something I’ve thought about, but if I were asked what Water-Balloon-describing adjective would be the most satisfying and happy-making, I think I’d have said “authentic,” so thank you so very much for that. As a reader I am deeply put off by inauthentic moments in books and my greatest concern was avoiding such moments.
Second, to answer the opposite of your question, the only thing that’s really true in this book is Rig, who is based on my beloved dog, Rookie (with the one difference being that Rig never takes off when unleashed while Rookie’s greatest desire seems to be to get very far away from me as quickly as he is able).
Third, a real answer: I made up that Monopoly game. I wanted something that was unique and important to those three friends. Their version of the game, along with the water balloon blitz tradition, is meant to convey the weight and worth of their years of intense friendship.
4) Can you tell us about your own young life as a Yankee fan?
I wasn’t a young Yankee fan! I grew up in Queens, home of the Mets. I tried to love that team of misfits, but I just couldn’t.
I imagine the Yankees started to rub off on me when I was attending high school in the Bronx. But there was something about living in Boston in the late eighties that brought out the Bronx in me.
My great Yankee fan years have been adult years. I’ve been fortunate to be at some stadium-shaking games in the old stadium, and over at the new house with my son when Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit. That was an awesome, electric day. (Check this out, Red Sox fans: Hunt’s devoting time and space in her blog to great Yankee moments!)
5) Which relationship in the book did you find the most satisfying to write?
I thought a lot about how to answer this one. I think Marley grows a lot in almost all her relationships, even those that ultimately end. But I think the one I enjoyed writing the most was the one that was unchanging—Marley’s relationship with her dog, Rig.
Rig is just in the background a lot, but he’s always there, the way we can count on our pets to be when life’s too hard to talk about with other humans. He’s steady, that Rig. I’m glad Marley had him.
6) How did the book change during the revision process with your editor?
First with my agent, and then with my editor. The big change with the agent-revision was to strive to make it a less quiet book. All the water balloon material was added in this revision—which means the most painful scene, the one in which Marley pretty much commits social suicide, is new. While things were very difficult and complicated with her friends in earlier drafts, the addition of the balloon blitz tradition helped me raise the stakes in a way that was absent from earlier drafts.
I think what my revision with my editor achieved was to make Marley more likeable. She grows more in this version. It was so interesting to me—with a few light strokes, a self-pitying scene flipped into one that was more likely to evoke compassion in readers. My editor also suggested the addition of a couple of scenes that now feel like they have always been there, including the last scene.
Audrey, thanks so much for coming by today. And, a huge congratulations on this wonderful debut. Can't wait to read the next one!
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
I met Lowrly Pei my sophomore year of college when I signed up for his nonfiction writing course. There were about 10-12 students in the class and each week Lowry would choose someone’s work to read out loud and then we’d all discuss the work in painstaking detail. I remember the first time my work was chosen, I made myself sick I was so nervous. But Lowry was always kind, always quick to point out the specks of gold in the rock. He made me feel like a writer. When he handed back our work, it was often accompanied by a page or more of single-spaced comments. I would pour over those comments, so grateful to have a reader. So grateful to have a listener. By the end of the semester, I was making small notes at the top of my papers, “Please don’t share in class.” Because the other amazing thing Lowry had done was allow me to create a lifeline with my words. Sophomore year was a difficult one for me. So difficult, I still don’t talk about it. And yet I had a safe place to share my secret, parallel life. Silently. With Lowry.Poor Lowry.
I continued to keep in touch with Lowry throughout my years at Simmons and on into graduate school. He was my master’s thesis mentor (I wrote my first YA novel instead of a thesis), and he guided me through the obvious mistakes new writers make with patience and steady encouragement. I also took a course with him called Teaching Writing, which required me to be a teaching assistant in a writing course similar to the one I’d taken with him years earlier. In our weekly graduate seminars, we’d talk about how the classes were going and I joked with Lowry about what a terrible student I must have been, sharing secrets I never should have burdened him with. He just laughed, and told me I wasn’t the first. He said he often walked down the busy halls of students and thought, “Every one of them has a story. Every one of them has a secret.” That same day, I remember stepping out into the hall and watching all the young women making their way from one class to another. What’s your story? I thought, as each one passed. And I swear I could almost feel those silent secrets hitting my chest like a fist.
I was so lucky to have Lowry to share my own story with. And later, my fiction, drawn from pain and joy—experienced, witnessed, and imagined. Even after I graduated, it was Lowry I sent my first drafts to for approval. Lowry whose long, detailed and honest letters I cherished and believed in. In the fifteen years since my graduation, I’m sure Lowry has mentored many, many other quiet Jo’s, slowly daring to put secrets on paper, desperate to get those words out, if only silently, from student to teacher. Who slowly learned how to find beauty in the ugly. To turn truth to lies and back again, so that some day, at long last, their words could find their way to strangers who have their own stories to tell.
Thank you, Lowry, for listening.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Based on her easy going nature, talent, and presentation, I later invited her to be our author/illustrator mentor at Whispering Pines. She agreed but wanted to know a bit more about the weekend. We agreed to a quick phone chat. Three hours later...
Needless to say, we hit it off, and I feel so very fortunate for two things tonight. (1) That Jennifer will be our author/illustrator mentor this weekend at Whispering Pines in Rhode Island, and (2) I have a wonderful, talented, funny, caring friend that I didn't have a year ago! Huzzah!
Without further ado...Here is Jen!
I can’t remember ever having had just one mentor in my life, in the traditional sense of the word. It’s been more like many. I've been fortunate.
There were teachers– the elementary school Art teacher who let me draw horses endlessly, because he knew it was my passion. (What better way to encourage creativity than to let a child follow their passion?) And a junior high school English teacher who patiently helped me revise, over and over, my telling of a traumatic event during a family trip to Maine. She taught me that writing clearly was more than scribbling words in an angsty, teenage diary: writing was in the revising.
I had an awesome Art Director and co-workers in my first job out of art school. They taught me the realities of deadlines, how to produce a magazine, and how to keep you sense of humor while doing it! The illustrators that I hired and the freelancers I met were huge inspirations when it came time to take the terrifying leap from a full-time job into my own life as a freelance illustrator.
There was the magazine editor I collaborated with on many projects. He taught me the mental game of how to stay sane through the ups and downs of working for oneself.
My first art rep was a guy with a terrific head for business. From him I learned not to fear negotiation! And then there was the editor he had worked with who loved my maps, and wondered if I wrote, as well. Her inquiry set into motion a course of combining art and words, and opened my mind to the possibilities of working in the world of children’s books.
My writing group, ever supportive, has been priceless; as have been old friends and new ones made serendipitously.
I am a confessed writing-and-art-craft book addict– if you mention it, I will buy it–because sometimes that “I get it now!” moment happens when something is explained for the hundred-and-second time.
And then there’s the Internet. Hard to imagine it didn’t exist when I first started out. It feeds my learning curve through blogs, tweets, and chat boards. Also, working on your own can be a challenge when you’re faced with a problem. But through the online community I can always find someone who has gone through something similar. Although many people I’ve met in cyberspace have become friends, most aren’t even aware of the inspiration they’ve provided.
I truly believe mentors are everywhere, if you remain open and curious. Consider this post one big thank-you to all of mine, whether you know you’ve been one or not.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Head on over to EMU's Debuts to read my post: Why Did the Monkey Cross the Road? Because the Other Side Had Paperback and Foreign Rights.
Monday, March 14, 2011
"A richly described coming-of-age story set in a culture both foreign and and familiar ...by turns shocking and funny." - VOYA
Feel free to go to Laura’s website page to read an excerpt from THE QUEEN OF WATER, as well as the poignant inspiration for this wonderful book.
I first met Laura as I arrived as a wide-eyed, freshman member of the Gangos (Erin Murphy Literary clients) who traveled out to Portland, OR., for an agency retreat back in 2009. I was actually awed enough to be quiet for two hours. From reading Laura’s work, I knew she was a fabulous writer. She also had all of these wonderful stories of her travels and how her adventures fed her written stories. Fascinating. Beautiful. Sad. Inspiring.
Without further ado….
~~Laura Resau – Mentor Post~~
My mentor came on the scene later in my writing journey, but at what turned out to be the perfect time. Mentor-less for many years, I'd managed to bumble my way through writing and revising my first YA novel, What the Moon Saw, thanks to a smattering of enthusiastic teachers and writing group members (and my mom) who gave me guidance. Of course, it would have been wonderful (and time-saving!) to have had a mentor during the five years it took me to write the book. But a mentor-of-sorts did come along, just in time to help me navigate the rough waters of the publication process and beyond.
Lauren Myracle (of the Luv Ya Bunches and TTYL series) became an invaluable (and supercute, superfriendly, supersmart) resource for me. She'd always been supportive of me and other prepublished writers when I saw her at events in Fort Collins (where we both live). So, when I got a voicemail message from an editor at Delacorte saying she was interested in my manuscript (but that she would be out of the office for vacation and wanted me to call her back after one torturous week), I called up Lauren for advice. I was agent-less at the time, and Lauren was the only industry expert I knew who felt approachable. She squealed and congratulated me and cheerfully told me that if the editor made me an offer, to bump it up a few thousand dollars, since that's what they expect.
A week later, I called the editor back, my hands shaking, my throat parched, nervous sweat gushing from my armpits. She offered me a typical debut literary novel advance—about the price of a small, used car. "Yes!" I said. "Yes! Thank you thank you thank you!"
She paused. "Are you officially accepting the offer, then?"
Terrified that she would suddenly change her mind, I said, "Yes, yes, officially, yes! Thank you!" (Oh, if only Lauren had been right there with me on speaker phone…)
After the discovery that I was terrible at negotiating book contracts, I called Lauren. I told her the good news and, a bit embarrassed, said that I suspected it would be a good idea for me to get an agent. ASAP.
And being the generous soul that she is, Lauren gushed excitement, then gave me her agent's phone number. He ended up referring me to my unbelievably wonderful agent, Erin Murphy (who is also Lynda's agent!) Erin proved to be worlds better at contract negotiations than I could ever dream of being.
Lauren continued to be a wise (and adorable) guide for me through the publication process. She explained authorly etiquette (like asking for blurbs), introduced me to other YA authors, and gave a beautiful, from-the-heart quote for the back cover of What the Moon Saw (which several people have told me made them buy the book). When I had questions about appearances at librarian and teacher conferences, she was the first person I asked (her advice: be generous and wear a cute dress). And when she had to turn down author appearance invitations for local events, she passed along my name, which helped spread the word about my book. It feels so reassuring to have someone like Lauren helping me figure out the YA book industry. (Even after six years, I still call her for advice.)
Thanks for reading! May you all find the perfect mentor at the perfect stage of your writing journey!
Monday, February 28, 2011
Anyone who’s been seriously writing for children knows the name, Emma Dryden. She’s been in publishing 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down. During a nineteen year career with S&S, she earned the titles of Vice President and Publisher of both Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Emma Dryden still continues to give the children’s publishing industry her very best. Enter…Drydenbks, a multi-platform venture through which she will provide editorial and creative services to children's book authors, illustrators, publishers, and agents. She will also conduct workshops and act as consultant to those seeking to break into or expand their presence in the children's publishing arena. Emma also does some writing (mostly poetry), and keeps a blog.
I first met Emma Dryden as a wide-eyed newbie at Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat about 8 years ago. I remember her as being kind, quick to laugh, and having some darn cool sweaters. I also remember that during a first pages activity, she made some comments (along with author, Nancy Hope Wilson) about my work that changed the direction of my writing. I’ll be forever grateful for that, as that “direction” is now under contract.
Below, Emma writes about her blessing of having multiple professional mentors. Following the first piece, she writes a short piece about luminary, Margaret McElderry, and a humorous, fateful day twenty years ago. It seems that both Emma and Margaret were blessed on this frenzied August day….
Thanks, Emma, for your generosity in sharing these pieces with me.
Without further ado…
I have been blessed to have had several mentors in my professional life. I have been blessed by some people older than myself who by example instilled in me a regard for and understanding of not only the business of a business, but the humanity of a business; people who by example inspired me to learn from my mistakes, care about my reputation, conduct myself with honesty and passion, and strive to become a decent citizen of the world. By example, these people taught me, helped me, challenged me, and expected the best from me as they expected the best from themselves. They made me cry because they were tough. They made me laugh because they were playful. They made me think because they were thoughtful. They made me care because they were careful. And in the process, as I grew from being an assistant to a colleague to a peer, we became friends because we shared a deep mutual respect for our business, for one another, and for the future.
As I walk along the paths of my life and my work, I don’t always take the time to think of and thank these people who themselves never thought they were remarkable in any way, just doing their job, just doing what came naturally, just doing what was right. I stop now to think of them and thank them, for they were most remarkable indeed. Remarkable for inviting me into their offices and homes to witness them doing their jobs, doing what came naturally, doing what was right. To witness. And to embrace all that would become essential to my own growth into someone of whom I can be proud. A businesswoman, a colleague, a person of whom I sincerely hope they would be and are proud.
It is a wonder how deeply one person can touch another simply by being present. By listening. By suggesting. By living fully. And by laughing. Oh, the laughing! Would that everyone be as lucky as I’ve been to enjoy but one older person in their life by whose example they can be inspired in their work and their life.
In honor of Dilys Evans, Linda Hayward, Richard Jackson, Margaret K. McElderry, Ole Risom.
Where our work ended and our friendship began, where our friendship ended and our work began, it’s hard to say. I suppose though, the working friendship and friendly working began the day in early August 1990 when I tried to reach Margaret to tell her I was accepting her job offer. Margaret was leaving that day at Noon for her annual vacation on Nantucket and we’d agreed I’d call her at home with my “Yes” or “No.” I made my decision. It was going to be “Yes.” That morning at eight o’clock, I called. No answer. I called again. No answer. I waited a half-hour and called again. No answer. I called over to Margaret’s office at Macmillan to confirm I had the right number. No one was in yet and I left a message to say I was doing all I could to reach Margaret to tell her I wanted the job and would they please let the HR folks know. I called Margaret again. No answer. I was getting on the subway to go to Random House where I was working at the time. I found a payphone to call my partner and my mother to ask them to please keep trying Margaret McElderry’s phone number while I was on the subway. They did. No answer. I got to Random House, called again. No answer. I left another message with Margaret’s assistant. I decided to come clean and tell Margaret’s friend, Knopf editor, Frances Foster what was going so she could confirm I was dialing the right number. I was.
Now I’d not only essentially given notice to Random House without actually accepting the job offer from Margaret, but it was getting on towards 11:00 and I was frantic. I knew darn well you don’t promise Margaret McElderry you’ll call her and not call her. I called Macmillan again and was told my messages had started to set off great concern. Publisher Judy Wilson was putting McElderry Books’ art director Barbara Fitzsimmons into a taxi at that very moment to send her down to Margaret’s house on Washington Square to see if everything was alright. Oh, and by the way, Judy Wilson was delighted, I was told, that I wanted the job. I called again. No answer. And then, just before Noon, my phone rang. Judy Wilson was on the line to tell me it seems Barbara got to Margaret’s house in a progressively nervous state, and was pounding on the door and holding her finger on the doorbell – only to have a rather put-out Margaret McElderry open the door, take one look at Barbara’s pale face, and say something to the effect of…”What are you doing here? Did you all think I was dead?” Well, in fact, yes we did. And, in fact, while Margaret McElderry was clearly very much alive, her telephone line was completely done for. It seems not three minutes before Barbara arrived, she’d just figured out what was happening when she’d quite irately picked up the receiver to call Macmillan’s HR department to tell them QUOTE “If that Emma Dryden doesn’t have the common decency and courtesy to call me at the time we arranged for her to call me, I don’t want her working for me anyway.” UNQUOTE.
Margaret and I never did speak that day, but I started as her associate editor on September 19, 1990, a week or so before she returned to the office, tan and energized, from Nantucket. And when we saw each other, we hugged and laughed and had some rather choice things to say about AT&T. The rest is history and we told and retold that story over and over again because it said something about our partnership and it made us laugh. Such a remarkably unexpected beginning to a remarkably unexpected friendship and collaboration. I’d give anything to call you right now, Margaret, to tell you how much it all meant to me—professionally and personally—to accept that job offer, to accept that gift. And this time, we'd use our cell phones.
Publishers Weekly has a wonderful tribute, written by several kid lit professionals (including Emma Dryden) who knew and loved Margaret McElderry. Reading their pieces makes me wish that I’d been able to meet this one-in-a-billion woman! Her loss is a loss for everyone that loves children’s literature.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The Emus Debut Blog
Monday, January 17, 2011
Michelle is the author of the forthcoming book, FALLING FOR HAMLET, which is one of those books that I want to get my hands on!! I also find myself into Shakespeare lately, so I’m especially looking forward to getting my nose into this one.
And, although I don’t know you, Amy (Michelle’s mentor) I’m sending out a big hug to you—because all writers should have an “Amy!”
Without further ado, here is Michelle!!!
For years, I was a closeted writer. Maybe you know the type: really loves the written word, journals incessantly, has great ideas for stories, might even put them on paper but would never, never, never show them to anyone. Well, until I met Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, I was just such a person.
I was teaching in Mt. Kisco, New York and was lucky that an organization called LitLife came to my school to show us how to better engage our students in writing. Amy was one of their teachers. The philosophy was to have teachers try the exercises that the students would do. This made me more sensitive to my students’ fears and challenges because, like them, I had to put myself out there when sharing my work. But amazingly, during these workshops, I not only became a better teacher, but I learned to trust myself as a writer, as well.
After one workshop, I quietly told Amy that I had started writing a manuscript. I proceeded to explain why it wasn’t finished and why I had never told anyone about it. She listened patiently and poked holes in every excuse I offered. Then she outed me to the entire teaching staff of my district by announcing, “Michelle Ray is writing a novel.” Holy cow! At first I was horrified, but you know what? I didn’t fall through a hole in the ground, I didn’t get struck by lightning, and most importantly, no one laughed at me. In fact, having this secret out in the open turned out to be what I needed to take myself seriously as a writer.
Amy believed in me when I lost faith, and encouraged me when I needed motivation. Right after I found my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, I happened to be visiting her house, and she toasted me with real champagne! I had to undercut the moment and say it didn’t mean my book would sell, and, of course, cheerleader that she is, she said it would. And she was right: within weeks, Alvina Ling at Little, Brown, offered to buy my manuscript. As if all that weren’t enough, Amy’s always among the first to “like” when I post about my publishing excitement on Facebook.
There is nothing I would change about fabulous poet, inspiring mentor, great cook, honest to goodness farmer/gardener, and terrific friend Amy . . . except that she lives so far away.
My sincerest thanks to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for bringing my secret writing life into the light.
Monday, January 10, 2011
J,’s book, WITHOUT THE WALLS, sounds utterly fantastic! Here is a taste:
1293. North Wales. Ten years into English rule.
Cecily would give anything to leave Caernarvon. Gwenhwyfar would give anything to see all the English leave.
Neither one is going to get her wish.
Behind the city walls, English burgesses govern with impunity. Outside the walls, the Welsh are confined by custom and bear the burden of taxation, and the burgesses plan to keep it that way.
Cecily can’t be bothered with boring things like the steep new tax or the military draft that requires Welshmen to serve in the king’s army overseas. She has her hands full trying to fit in with the town’s privileged elite, and they don’t want company.
But the Welsh are not as conquered as they seem, and the suffering in the countryside is rapidly turning to discontent. The murmurs of revolt may be Gwenhwyfar’s only hope for survival – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.
~~Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? I’ll be looking forward to getting my hands on my own copy in 2012! I am totally looking forward to traveling the debut writer’s road with J. Anderson Coats!
So, without further ado, here is J.’s Mentor Monday:
Dear Mrs. Stromberg:
Perhaps you’ll remember me as the smart-mouth girl in the back of your AP Literature class who was often distracted by the scribblings in her notebook. I know you’ll remember me as the girl who strolled into your classroom at the beginning of her junior year ready to rest on her writing laurels.
You probably figured out quickly that I was used to coasting when it came to anything written. Never in my life had a teacher made a single meaningful red mark on anything I wrote. On the contrary, they swept A’s across the top of everything and gushed how great a writer I was.
And unfortunately, I’d gotten way too used to hearing that.
I smugly slid my first paper of the year across your desk and waited for the inevitable shower of praise. But when I got it back, it looked like you’d slit your wrists all over it.
I’ll admit it – I was gobsmacked. There was only one conclusion I could draw: you thought my writing was terrible. Why else would you mark it up like that?
I sulked for a while. I’m not proud of that. But then I buckled down. No way was I going to tolerate getting papers back all covered in red. I kept tightening and tinkering and experimenting and tweaking, all to get a paper back as white and flawless as they’d always been.
Those red marks didn’t lessen in quantity. But they changed in content. They changed in tone.
That’s when I started reading them.
Because that’s when I realized you didn’t think I was a bad writer. You tore up my writing because you knew I was good – and if I got the right feedback, I could get even better.
I took what you taught me and turned it loose on my fiction. And I got better hand over fist till I sold a novel I’m really proud of. I’m still getting better. I always will be.
I probably learned some stuff about literature from you that year, but two things sank in deep that I still carry with me: even good writers are never finished learning how to write, and honest feedback presented with respect is invaluable.
You never pulled any punches. You treated me like a writer, not a student. And I walked out of your classroom not only a better writer, but also a better person.
J. Anderson Coats
PS: I should also probably learn to call you by your first name, Kelly, but that one’s gonna take some time.
Monday, January 3, 2011
It occurs to me that if I’m going to ask others to blog about their mentors in the kid lit world, then I should blog about mine.
Thing is, I haven't had one big mentor in the writing world who took my hand as a young writer and taught me the ropes. My experience has been somewhat like a row of trees and I, the monkey, who has swung from branch to branch, learning things as I go along. There are a number of these people who have helped me along the way—some with only a single sentence—changing the course of my life. Since I have several, I’ll spread them out. Let's begin with the first two.
• I have accomplished some pretty amazing things with the attitude of, “What do I have to lose?” I’m willing to do the hard work, but I’m also a dreamer at heart. I have never felt that any of those dreams have been out of reach. When told about the odds of getting published, I dismissed them. When writing friends thought me nuts for driving over five hours to meet my dream agent, it seemed like a no-brainer to me. Even at a young age, I knew that if you had a dream, you better chase it down, because no one would do it for you. I have always had a stubborn passion about these things and a deep belief that I would get there someday—although I guess I didn’t exactly know where “there” was.
This gift came from my Mum, Marie Smith Mullaly—or “Rere” as she was called in the Smith clan. True. I got it in her DNA, but I also saw her live it everyday. You just couldn’t tell my Mum that something was impossible. She’d get this sparkle in her eye, and this half smile would creep up the side of her face, and you just knew she’d find a way.
In addition, my mother opened my world to books and writing through her example. My Mum read every spare second that she could. The librarians in town knew her by name and would often put books aside for her, knowing she’d like them. I still remember walking out of the West Hartford Public library, smelling the pages of the books she’d sign out. (I still love to smell books!)
My Mum was also a talented writer and poet. I often wonder, now, if she knows that I’m a published writer. I wonder what her reaction would have been to the news. A day never goes by that I don’t wish that I could tell her.
• The second person is my brother, Ricky. It’s not like we ever sat down and talked about writing, but I have always known that I am who I am because he was around. He is my big brother by 11 years, one of my best friends, and also a father figure. I don’t remember a time when Rick wasn’t around.
If I played in the ocean waves, he was the one there to be sure I didn’t float away. If I wandered away from the family on an outing, it was his voice that called me back. If we were on my grandparents’ boat, he was the one to strap the life preserver on me. I have many memories of Rick taking me on excursions to the science museum, McDonald’s, out for tennis lessons, or “letting me” help him wash his car. (Yes, I was a total sucker!) He even took me to church. He also dated and married Jill! She turned out to be a great blessing to me as well--a sister in the true sense of the word!
As I got older, Rick and Jill took me aside to weigh in on both friends and boyfriends. Rick walked me down the aisle when I got married and came to the hospital when my children were born. As I said, he was always there when it counted. Still is. Of all the things he did, though, I think what shaped me so much was how he’d look at me when I walked into a room. I mean, I remember being really little, and seeing his face light up. "Hey, Lulu!" Whether he was tired or busy, he always reacted the same way. I never questioned how much he loved me and that laid the foundation for who I would become later.