Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Editor Letter and Revising---(A.K.A. Slaying the Self-Doubt Monster)

Today, at the Emus Debut blog, I posted a blog entry on receiving my ONE FOR THE MURPHYS editing letter from Nancy Paulsen. What an incredible experience it is to receive such a letter--once you slay the self-doubt monster, that is!

The Emus Debut Blog


Monday, January 17, 2011


A big MENTOR MONDAY welcome to Michelle Ray! I’m looking forward to meeting her in person someday, but for the time being, I’ll have to be content with being EMLA buddies and Emusdebuts blog mates. She posted a wonderful blog entry this week on the highs and lows of receiving and working on the editing letter. I like it—it’s funny and honest and inspiring all at the same time!

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


A big Mentor Monday Welcome to… J. Anderson Coats! We have not actually met in person, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting J. (Am I suppose to keep the name a secret?) online, as we are both clients of The Erin Murphy Literary Agency, are both contributors to the EMU’s Debut Blog, and are both members of The Apocalypsies, a blog for children’s authors who are debuting novels in 2012.

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.
Gwenhwyfar can’t avoid these things. She counts herself lucky to get through one more day.
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.

Best regards,

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.