Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chasing Your Dream--With a Little Help from Your Writing Buddies and Ice Cream

Ten minutes after Viviane Lwin, a member of my SCBWI writing group, sent out a picture book manuscript she sent a SOS email to several of us:

"I finally started submitting my picture book.  I'm so stressed!

"Do you get stressed when submitting stuff?  I guess now I just have to wait 6 weeks to 6 months for responses.... if they send any."

Two members of our critique group responded with honest and helpful answers. I thought their encouragement might help other writers who feel similar anxiety, so here is their advice:

First, from Carolyn Abiad
Having once lived in Turkey, Carolyn loves writing about eastern culture and myth. While her last name translates to “Snow White,” she has not yet written a memoir featuring an evil stepmother.

"Submission is a raw topic for me right now, but I understand exactly what you’re feeling. This horrible waiting period is when I go into deep cleaning mode to organize the only thing I can, which is my house. There is no other way I know to deal with the stress. You might have another method, but the idea is to keep busy.

"Your path might be different than mine because you write picture books, but I don’t think any of us are untouched by rejection. Some thoughts:

"I remember the response to my first queries - form replies, no responses at all. That lack of feedback was frustrating, but it was a nut I wanted to crack. I rewrote the query (multiple times) and kept at it. You’ll keep at it.

"The other day a friend of mine got her first partial request. She was jumping up and down, and I remembered my first partial. I’ve had other requests since, but that first one is special. Your first request will be special too.

"Rejections on full requests were (are) THE worst thing. I got comments like “this is better than x”, but never “I’ll call you”. I was tired of hearing “not right for us, but someone else might feel differently.”

"I put my manuscript in the drawer for a while, attended some workshops, threw myself into a different story. Then I rewrote the djinn manuscript and sent out five more queries. You’ll keep sending more queries.

"My first Revise & Resubmit request gave me some hope. I rewrote and sent out five more queries. I submitted to contests too. The manuscript made it into the second round of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013, but didn’t get to the quarter-finals. My manuscript didn’t earn me any scholarships, but I’m not sure commercial fiction ever does. (Still trying!)

"Right now I’m in the waiting game on my tenth full request.
The story has been revised or edited each of those ten times, and probably four more before I even submitted my first query. I barely recognize my first draft, but I keep it to remind myself of where I started because when the rejections come in… Let’s just say I understand Hemingway's demons.

"I haven’t even started to query the second story, and I still have no idea if the djinn story will ever go anywhere.
I do know two things:

1) I’m happy when I’m writing, even with painful rejection close at my heels.
2) If I want to share my stories, I have to keep trying.


And from Dorothy Price:
Dorothy is a mompreneur, editor, former high school English teacher and aspiring children's author. One of her YA short stories won the June 2012 Mommy Authors short story contest. 

"You actually sent this at the perfect time. I've gotten two rejections in the past week, and one no response, which means, that one too, was a rejection. The fact that I'm getting personal repsonses though lets me know I have come a long way. 

"Like Carolyn, the fact that EVERY writer gets rejected is what keeps me going. I read about famous authors and people I admire in general to keep me sane because they all traveled down the same rejected road(s) as me. 

"Since I do have so many PB ideas/unfinished stories, I move on to the next one(s) while I wait to hear back about the one on submission. 

"It's rough and very, very stressful, but if we're doing everything we can do, that's all we can do!

"Oh yeah, and when all else fails...Cold Stone ice cream sure takes the stress away, too :-) 
So, Viviane, what's the moral of the story? Use your critique group to hone your story, send out your best work possible, and then go eat ice cream!

By the way, Carolyn has an awesome giveaway going on her blog this week. Hurry over to win a copy of  the ARC of Corneila Funke's new book, Fearless. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest Gaines paints a compelling portrait of life in the late 1940's in a small Louisiana town. A young black teacher, Grant Wiggins, is caught in the middle of a number of struggles. A graduate of the local university, he is respected and the recipient of high expectations from the black community as well as feared and humiliated by less educated white authorities. 

Since Grant is considered to be learned, members of the black community turn to him for help. When a young black man, Jefferson, is falsely accused of murder and robbery and sentenced to death, Jefferson's godmother (who he calls Nannan) expects Grant to come alongside of her godson and befriend him. Jefferson's lawyer compares Jefferson to a hog: his "defense" consists of arguing that Jefferson isn't a man capable of planning the robbery or executing the murder. Ernest's task is to lift the sentence pronounced on this heretofore stranger: to make him feel like a man when his rights, dignity, and freedom have been stripped away. 

As the story enfolds it is clear that both men are prisoners. Just as Jefferson is locked behind bars, Grant feels helpless to leave his community, job, or social status. Although Grant initially rejects the task thrust upon him, gradually it becomes important to him to lure Jefferson out of his brokenness, anger, and overwhelming despair. In a pivotal scene, Grant convinces Jefferson that his response to the false imprisonment will matter to the entire community:

"Do you know what a hero is, Jefferson? A hero is someone who does something for other people. He does something that other men don't and can't do. He is different from other men. He is above other men. No matter who those other men are, the hero, no matter who he is, is above them.... I could never be a hero. I teach, but I don't like teaching. I teach because it is the only thing that an educated black man can do in the South today. I don't like it; I hate it. I don't even like living here. I want to run away. I want to live for myself and for my woman and for nobody else.

"That is not a hero. A hero does for others. He would do anything for people he loves, because he knows it would make their lives better. I am not that kind of person, but I want you to be. You could give something to her [Jefferson's godmother], to me, to those children in the quarter. You could give them something that I never could. They expect it from me, but not from you. The white people out there are saying that you don't have it--that you're a hog, not a man. But I know they are wrong. You have the potential. We all have, no matter who we are." 

"White people believe that they're better than anyone else on earth--and that's a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth....

"I want you to chip away at that myth by standing. I want you--yes, you--to call them liars. I want you to show them that you are such a man--more a man than they can ever be."
(p. 191-2)

In a final scene Paul, a sympathetic prison guard, recounts the execution to Grant:

"He was the strongest man in that crowded room, Grant Wiggins," Paul said, staring at me and speaking louder than was necessary. "He was, he was. I'm not saying this to ease your pain...He was the strongest man there... We all had each other to lean on. When Vincent asked him if he had any last words, he looked at the preacher and said, 'Tell Nannan I walked.'" (p. 253-4)

This is not only a powerful story that will make you wonder who is the teacher and who is the student, but it is also beautifully written. I particularly appreciated how the author portrayed his characters' feelings and thoughts in minute, compelling detail. 

In this passage, Jefferson's godmother and Grant visit him in prison. She tries to get him to eat some of his favorite food she  prepared for him. Jefferson has been quiet while she has tried first one food, than another, without any response. Finally Jefferson says,
    "When they go'n do it? Tomorrow?"

     "Do what, Jefferson?"

      He was quiet looking up at the ceiling but not seeing it.

     "What, Jefferson?"

     He turned toward her. His body didn't turn, just his head turned a little. His eyes did most of the turning. He looked at her as though he did not know who she was, or what she was doing there. Then he looked at me. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? his eyes said. They were big brown eyes, the whites too reddish. You know, don't you? his eyes said again. I looked back at him. My eyes would not dare answer him. But his eyes knew that my eyes knew." (p. 73)

I recommend this book for adults and mature teens; it is historically accurate and Gaines has not held back on language or explicit scenes. If you choose to read it, you, like Grant, will ask questions that won't be easy to answer:

"Twelve white men say a black man must die, and another white man sets the date and time without consulting one black person. Justice?" 
p. 157, A Lesson Before Dying.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Joan Edwards who won a copy of Tameka's picture book, My Cold Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood!

Joan is a prolific blogger and her posts are full of writing advice and giveaways. I'm glad she had the opportunity to win this catchy, colorful book. 

Speaking of giveaways, this week I was happy to receive a copy of Miriam Glassman's book, Call Me Oklahoma which I won off the ReaderKidZ blog.

You can be sure that I'll be giving it away on a future blog!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Guest Blog with Tameka Brown and a Giveaway!

It is my honor to host Tameka Brown, a local Charlotte, NC picture book author. Her latest book,  My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood was just released last week. Here she talks about the inspiration for the book and the impact she hopes it will have on readers. At the end you'll see how you can win a copy of this kid-pleasing and wonderfully illustrated book that belongs in every family and school library! 

Carol: I love your title. What is the story behind My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood? Did the title just come to you? Any events in your own life prompt the story?

Tameka: Actually, the title was a major group effort. Along with myself there was my editor, my agent, the art director, and several sales and marketing folks involved in coming up with it. I love it, too.

For this story, I happened to be thinking to myself one day, “Boy, am I in a mood.” My writer’s ear zoned in on the “in a mood” part; it sounded like a great first line or title for a picture book. That was the spark that resulted in the story of a boy and his emotion-filled day...complete with two, pushy older brothers. Personally, I’m a lover of bright colors because they make me feel so alive; I suppose I intuitively married the concepts of color and emotion together.

Carol: If you could wave a magic wand and create the takeaway from this book, what would it be? In other words, what are you hoping readers (both little and big!) will gain from reading it?

Tameka: I hope to encourage readers to own ALL of their feelings, the good and the not-so-good. I want them to recognize that they have a right to feel each and every one of their emotions, to express them verbally or in writing, in a constructive (maybe even a creative) way.  At the very least, I hope they will focus on identifying and acknowledging their true feelings to themselves. That’s a necessary life skill that precedes effective problem-solving.

Carol: What was your path to publication? How long did it take to go from the idea to the book? Did Jennifer Rofe' make editing suggestions?

Tameka: My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood is my second picture book. I secured an agent (Jennifer RofĂ© of Andrea Brown Literary Agency) with my first book, Around Our Way On Neighbor’s Day.  Jen is what is known as an “editorial” agent, which means that she critiques all of my manuscripts before submitting them to editors to ensure that they are as strong as they can be. Not all agents are editorial and when seeking representation, a writer should consider which they would prefer. Although it may add an extra stage to the submissions process, I have learned to truly value Jennifer’s astute feedback. Even if an editor feels a manuscript of mine isn’t a good fit for their current list, they almost always request to see more of my work. Jen’s focus on making sure I put my best foot forward plays a significant part in that.

Here was my path to publication:
·         I wrote a story called In a Mood and worked with my critique group to get it in the best shape possible.
·         I sent it to Jen. She didn’t have any revision suggestions (a rarity!), so we sent it out on submission.
·         The amazing Joy Peskin, expressed interest on behalf of Viking Children’s early in the process.
·         Joy bought my manuscript and worked with me on minor revisions.
·         An illustrator (Shane W. Evans) was secured.
·         Joy left Viking.
·         My project was reassigned to Joanna Cardenas—who took great, loving care of both me and my book.
·         Sales & Marketing suggested that we change the title because buyers might assume the plot was something it’s not.
·         After a great team effort, a new, dynamic title was developed.
·         On March 7, 2013 My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood was officially born into the world!

Congratulations, Tameka, on birthing your second picture book and for a great review in Publisher's Weekly!

Here are the giveaway rules:

  • Post a link to this blog on your favorite social media site OR become a follower of my blog.
  • Leave me a comment as to which you did. If you are a new follower PLEASE leave your email address. If you don't, I'll have no way to contact you if you win!
  • Enter by midnight on March 15th. Winner will be drawn on March 16th.  
If you live in or around Charlotte, Tameka will be autographing books at Park Road Books on March 23 at 2 PM. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You Heard it Here First!

Two years ago I was pleased to share my friend Linda Phillips' news of signing with an agent. Today, I am even more excited to share her announcement of signing with a publisher! And you know that I'll be the first to offer an ARC or off-the-presses copy of her debut young adult novel when it is released.

Carol: Tell us about CRAZY. What were your significant milestones along your path to publication? How did you mine your own life experiences to write it?

Linda: CRAZY (my working title) actually began as a collection of 20 poems that were loosely centered on the theme of my mother’s bipolar disorder and took about 15 years to write. It was largely a cathartic exercise on my part to work through years of angst and unanswered questions of my teen years.

If you remember, you read it and said,  “This needs to be a book.” (Carol grins.)

I teach full time, I am the mother of teenage twin boys, and I fully participate in my husband’s parish ministry.  I’ll get right on it……from 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. weekdays or all that spare time on Saturday after groceries, cleaning, lesson plans and school activities with my boys. 

But the idea felt right, and I was hooked. 

By the summer of 2009 I had a much-edited manuscript I took to the Highlights Foundation Writer’s Workshop in Chautauqua, NY. Patti Gauch, former senior editor of Philomel, was my designated mentor, and she graciously went the extra mile with me.  The biggest thing she did was point out that my YA book had an adult voice, and a mother that dominated the scene.   

My comfort zone collapsed. 

I spent the next year (still teaching) writing a revision based on Patti’s invaluable critiquing.  In addition to her input, I began to step out of the protagonist position, to put necessary distance between the story and myself.

The following summer vacation was a marathon agent query and in October, 2010 I signed with Julia Kenny at Markson Thoma Agency in New York.  She has the patience of Job, both in dealing with all my “nervous Nelly” emails, and the two years it took to land a deal with William B. Eerdmans. 

At this point, we have a tentative release date of August, 2014.  As my pals, the Beatles said, “It’s been a long and winding road” and I can’t wait to see what lies around the bend. 

Carol: Why did you use free verse to write your story?

Linda: My father passed along his love of poetry to me, and I’ve dabbled in it since high school. I have used it to think things through, both the good and the bad.  It has been like a best friend to me all these years, and the most effective way I knew of understanding life experiences.

Carol: What do you hope that your readers will gain from reading your book?

Linda: When the book opens, Laura is a nervous, frightened, and depressed teenager. She is obsessed with hating her artist mother who appears to be mentally disintegrating before her eyes. She worries everyone in her small mill town is aware that her mother is crazy. When her mother has a nervous breakdown, Laura becomes frightened that she will suffer the same consequence if she pursues her own passion for art. 

She sets out to find where she fits in the art world, and ultimately, to get to the bottom of what has caused her mother’s illness.  In the process, she discovers an inner strength that enables her to ask her mother for forgiveness and to begin a new relationship with her. 

This is a story of hope, born out of Laura’s determination to find the truth and to understand and accept it.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults 18 and older in the U.S. population annually. Millions of adults with the disorder are in the process of raising children.  I hope that my book may serve as a support, a conversation starter, or perhaps a catalyst leading to medical help for teenage or adult readers affected by this disorder. 

Thank you, Linda, for this insider's look into your book and your path to publication!

When she’s not writing, Linda can be found walking or bicycling the greenways near her home in Charlotte, trying out a new vegan recipe, or settling in for a stretch with her Nook.  In between, she might be found walking, praying, or exchanging writing ideas with her appreciative writing buddy, me. 


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