I knew this day would come. I just didn’t know when. Or why.
It’s time to say bye to this blog, at least for a while. In truth, it’s been a while already – a half-year since I last posted. Ugh. It’s with a heavy heart that I acknowledge my new reality: I simply don’t have enough time to write reflective monthly posts.
I began this adventure in March 2017. At that time, I wasn’t teaching. When this blog was one year old, I decided to seek teaching recertification, went through the recertification process, applied for jobs, and started teaching again.
I’ve enjoyed blogging more than I thought possible. A place for me to slow down and regroup from life. I met my goal of posting monthly… until this past fall which I’ve deemed the busiest of my life so far.
A teaching job that increased in hours and responsibilities. Long-standing volunteer commitments. A daughter who’s a high school senior applying to colleges. Two daughters involved in so much music that they had a combined nine performances (not counting rehearsals) even before the holiday performances arrived. Below are pics from half of their performances between September and December. Great stuff; just a lot!
In the midst of everything, this blog and you, reader, were ever on my mind. Not that you were waiting with bated breath–ha!–for my posts (except maybe my mom). But still, I felt a sense of commitment.
I sighed each time I turned the calendar page. I consoled myself: I’ll blog after the school year gets rolling. After I move classrooms. After I get to know the new reading programs. After I finish report cards and parent-teacher conferences. After I hand out the high school band dresses. After my cat recuperates from surgery. After I get over that nasty head cold. After Liana submits her Early Action applications. After school pauses for the holidays. After Christmas shopping and cards are done.
After. After. After. And just like that went…
I’ve relished this holiday break. It’s been so…
Uneventful. Quiet. And Lovely.
Most of all, I’ve been enjoying quality and quantity time with my family.
Other than that, I’ve been dealing with things that have been piling up at home over the last few years. Things that I’ve had to ignore in order to get other things done; I could ignore them no longer! Like, three big bags filled with important papers that need to be shredded, recycled, or filed. Belongings that need to be thrown out, donated, or stored. Closets and cabinets that need to be cleaned out. We’ve made a decent-sized dent.
Below is a photo from 2016 of my girls’ art and science cabinet, a fixture in our kitchen since they were toddlers. Now that most of their lives have migrated to their bedrooms, we finally cleaned out this cabinet. Bittersweet, but I’m excited to have more space now for my kitchen gear! As you’ll see below, Wall-E isn’t too excited.
Oh, and here’s a pile of The New York Times from the fall. The growing pile had been sitting in my dining room teasing me. Now, after many glorious hours of reading, the pile is gone! So many sad stories, but just as many glimmers of hope. If I could read only one thing a day, it would be this newspaper (and you know how much I love picture books).
And I’ve made time to write – HOORAY! — which, along with blogging, I did not get to this past fall. I missed both so much.
As I’ve told Liana, whose commitments are bursting at the seams this school year: Sometimes you have to say “No” even to things you want to do. (Oh, if only we didn’t need sleep!)
Sometimes it’s hard enough for me to say “No” to things I don’t want to do (although the older I get, the easier it gets). But things I want to do? Things that bring me joy and meaning? Now. That. Is. Tough.
But I gotta do what I gotta do. So, I start this new year and new decade with some new intentions:
I’ll keep writing and pursuing publication, because not doing so is, to me, like not living. With time so tight these days, when I have some of that precious commodity, I need to write, query, and be involved in the writing world to whatever extent possible.
To that end, I’ll let some things go… including this blog–meaning that I won’t set any time goals for it. I may end up posting this summer or in a year or never again. Circumstances change and with them, so will my time and priorities. I’ll have to see how life goes. I hate to sound flaky, but I don’t feel I can make promises. In any case, this blog has been a precious experience for me.
When my younger daughter, Miya, was 11 years old, she helped come up with the name of this blog: Writing With The Heart in Mind. It’s a little cheesy, but it captures what writing means to me. Letting this blog go feels like letting a piece of my heart go.
Blogging initially felt like a leap of vulnerability for me due to its public nature. My husband, Rob, reasoned with me: “It’s not like your posts are going to end up in the mailboxes of everyone in the world.” Oh, right. People would need to subscribe, make a point to visit, or just happen upon it. Phew. With millions of websites and blogs out there, mine would be just a speck in cyberspace.
Surprisingly, this blog became for me a safe, comforting place to reflect on whatever rose to the top of my thoughts. I hope that if you’ve read any of my posts (which I’ll leave online), you’ve found some connections to your own life.
If you’ve been a subscriber, thank you for making space in your crowded email box. And thank you for taking this journey with me and for your support along the way. I appreciate it all! I plan to keep my website up and running, so feel free to reach out via my website email.
If you sense that I’m letting go of this blog kicking and screaming, YOU ARE RIGHT!
And yet, in the end, I feel lucky to have so many things that I want to do. It’s a very good problem to have.
I look forward to this coming year of…
and living life.
I wish you
filled with manymanymany moments of joy and meaning.
As many of my friends know, I came late to the social media party–joining Facebook in spring of 2016 and Instagram in spring of 2017.
I had stayed away for so many reasons. I felt busy enough. I remained in touch with friends in other ways. I’m a private person, preferring to share my personal life with close friends. And so on. Social media just didn’t seem like the best match for me.
But I’d heard that it’s pretty much a must for writers to maintain some kind of social media presence. I took the plunge!
What has my experience been in the intervening three years?
At first I felt like I’d landed in a whole new world.
So much news and information (not all true, as we know!). Humor. Interesting tidbits. Wow, I’d been living without all of this?
I connected with friends in the writing world. Made new writing
connections. Reconnected with long-lost childhood friends, former colleagues
and students, and my kids’ former teachers.
It was fun!
However, as soon as I joined Facebook, I found myself reading fewer books. Reading the newspaper less often and less thoroughly. Even writing less often. These had filled my cup for a long, long time.
I tried to “keep up” on social media and headed to bed later. I grappled with what to post, how often to post, and how much to share. I wanted to show up for all of my friends (impossible!).
I also felt as if a switch had turned on (or off) in my
brain. Whereas I had never had concentration issues, I suddenly needed to make
an effort to not become distracted.
I turned off notifications on my phone and on my laptop. I limited my time on social media. But still, it took up plenty of room in my life and in my head.
When I made the decision one year ago this month to get recertified as a teacher, I simply had less time to be on social media. When I took a teaching job this past fall, I had even less.
I just haven’t been able to be on social media as often. Period.
When I’m not teaching, I write. I consider it my other job.
When I have down time, I find that the speed and intensity of social media often doesn’t call me. Teaching is already fast-paced and intense.
You know what calls me?
More writing. Blogging. Reading. Taking walks. Meeting a friend for coffee. Because these things are quiet. They feel soothing. And that’s what I need to restore my energy for myself, my family, and my students.
I’ve got to give them my best. Look at what my students give me:
Most days, I pop on to my social media accounts to check my notifications. I respond to comments, then maybe make a quick post and/or check my newsfeed for a few minutes.
I wonder what I’ve missed. It bothers me to know that I’ve undoubtedly missed wishing someone a happy birthday or cheering someone on or sending someone a condolence. Or sharing something that my friends would appreciate. They’ve got lots of other friends, I tell myself. It’s fine!
But still, it nags. It’s less from a fear of missing out (FOMO), and more from a desire to show up (DTSU?) for my friends and a desire to take part (DTTP?) in the community.
Should I just delete my accounts? Well, my writing dream lives on. And beyond that, I still enjoy the interactions and information.
So for now, I’ll continue to balance life as best I can — and live with the unsettled feeling that comes with not showing up even when I want to. I’ll do so when I can! See you there… or here… or in person…
Happy Spring! I plan to enjoy the quiet moments that come my way.
Recently, my friend Greg emailed me asking for feedback on his first picture book manuscripts. In addition to specific manuscript feedback, I offered him general thoughts on getting started in the children’s book industry. I wanted to save my friend some time and energy. And maybe some headaches and heartache, too.
Turns out that Greg appreciated my thoughts. And then it dawned on me: If you’re beginning to write children’s books with the goal of seeking publication (or contemplating doing so), you might appreciate my thoughts, too.
As I was working on this post, it became clear that my email to Greg could become the basis for at least two posts: studying the craft and the business; and writing and submitting manuscripts. For this post, I’ll focus on the former.
My suggestions are by no means exhaustive. They’re just a start. After all, there are whole books on this subject! Still, my list is quite a bit to tackle. So choose a thing or two and go from there.
My suggestions are also not original or esoteric. (And yet someone else might send you off in a different direction.) These just happen to be steps that I’ve taken. I’m still working away and hoping they’ll pan out!
A neat thing: You can do a lot of learning for free (with your feet up and while sipping on a cup of coffee or tea or whatever suits your style).
Read and study lots and lots and lots of current books. Did I say lots? Hang out at B&N and read what’s on their “featured” tables and shelves. Ask the children’s bookseller for recs that fit the kind of books you’re writing and attempting to publish. Ask your local children’s librarian. Head to the “new” section at your library for recently published and/or acquired books. Find popular and recommended books online and locate them at your library. Mine offers an online hold service which I utilize often, maybe too often for busy librarians, but I sure do appreciate it. Put that library card to good use!
Google away! Google can give you an education. One website, blog, podcast, etc. will lead to other links that will increase your knowledge of craft and business. Of course, not all of the info is current or worthy, but much of it is. You’ll figure out the difference.
Subscribe to free e-newsletters, blogs, etc. There are so many good ones out there that you’ll need to be choosy! If you oversubscribe, just unsubscribe. If you wish you hadn’t, re-subscribe. No biggie, either way. When these pile up in my inbox, I steal an hour here or there to catch up. I relish the time and info! Here are several that I subscribe to:A
Join social media. You don’t have to live there and you don’t have to be on every platform. After all, you need to write! And do the dishes and laundry and… To start, choose a platform that appeals to you, somewhere you think you can show up regularly. You’ll make connections, learn about opportunities, and yes, even learn about craft and business. Some of the above links also have Facebook Groups that you can join. I avoided social media for years; now I miss it when life gets too busy for me to show up.
Join a Critique Group. You’ll gain a lot: accountability, feedback, camaraderie, and support. It’s par for the course to deal with rejections and self-doubt as well as plenty of alone time. So it’s helpful to have some peeps who get the journey and keep you company (and commiserate and celebrate with you) along the way. Here’s an interview with my critique group.
Take classes and workshops at your local writing organization. If you’re lucky enough to have a local writing organization, check out their website for offerings. I met my critique group at a local workshop at WriterHouse. If you can’t afford a class or workshop, keep an eye out for free events like author readings and social get-togethers.
Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). If there’s only one thing you can afford to spend money on in order to further your writing life, choose this! It’s the biggest and most reputable professional kidlit organization nationally and internationally. The first year fee is $95 ($80 to renew) and grants you access to invaluable resources. There’s a place for any writer there, from beginner on. Here’s a blog post I wrote about the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference.
Those last four suggestions go beyond studying the craft and business to making connections. Get involved with others in the kidlit community to whatever extent you’re able. It’s a big, vibrant community filled with writers, illustrators, editors, agents, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, and readers. Connections are key in kidlit, and the neat thing is, most people in it are very nice. They love writing and reading, just like you. I think it’s safe to say that most of them also love kids.
If you decide to go for it, congratulations on that first step! Truly. You’re pursuing a dream and that takes courage. Your journey will have ups and downs, as all journeys do. Every now and then, take stock of where you’ve been and where you want to go. Each step counts and is cause for celebration.
It’s helpful to go in, from the very start, thinking long-term. It takes time to develop craft, understand the business, and make connections. And yes, to earn some income. Patience and persistence will be your best friends throughout the process (for me, it’s also coffee and chocolate).
Goodness knows, I’m still very much learning and finding my way through this wonderful world. There are so many steps I’d like to take including reading more books on craft, taking an online class, and attending a national SCBWI conference. One step at a time. The journey is endless which I love; it means that the learning is endless, too.
And to state the obvious: write. While everything else counts, it’s the writing that will teach us the most.
Back in 2013 or 2014, a writer friend suggested that I join SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. I don’t remember exactly what went through my mind, but it probably went something like this: That sounds so established. That’s for real writers, and I’m not sure that I’m enough.
I’m so glad that my friend brought SCBWI to my attention (Thanks, Sue!) and that I joined. As it turns out, members are writers and illustrators on every point of the publishing spectrum, from those who’ve published dozens of books to those who are unpublished. There’s a place for every writer who is passionate about writing and illustrating (and reading) children’s books. And yes, if you write or illustrate, then you are real and you are enough.
One of the things that I most love about SCBWI are the conferences which are skillfully organized by teams of children’s writers and illustrators. I’ve been attending the annual Mid-Atlantic Conference since 2014. Each one has been a different experience, depending on where I am in my writing life, who’s on faculty, and whom I happen to meet. But I always walk away with new knowledge, connections, and inspiration. Always.
Am I sounding like an ad for SCBWI? Really, I don’t enjoy being a saleswoman. I find self-promotion hard. I give away too many copies of my book. And I’m that mom who avoids fundraisers. If I’m enthusiastic about something, it’s only because I believe in it. (Like, I will spread the word when my daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies. Want any come January?)
Conferences are a good fit for me, because I enjoy learning and connecting with people in person. And who doesn’t love inspiration? Besides, I savor the get-away from life and a hotel room all to myself.
When I attended my first Mid-Atlantic Conference in 2014, I was so excited that I could barely sleep the night before. And when day came, I felt that I had met My People. People who understood the deep desire to create books for kids, were working hard to make that happen, and were helping each other along the winding road.
When I attended my fifth Mid-Atlantic Conference a couple of weekends ago, I felt all the more that I was with my people. People who understood what it feels like to have work rejected by editors and agents. People who keep going despite (and maybe even partly because of) the rejections. People who still have the deep desire, who are still working hard, who are still helping each other.
Why, this conference has become so much like a second home that… the morning of the conference, I grabbed my tote bag, stepped out into the hallway, and realized that… I still had my slippers on! Okay, maybe that was just absentmindedness at work, but in any case, this conference has become a writing home-base. I did change out of my slippers, by the way.
Over the course of two days, I met new people and hugged old friends. I filled up my notebook with so many craft ideas and inspirational words from writers, illustrators, editors, and agents who gave speeches, sat on panels, and taught workshops. I will, as I have in the past, turn back the pages to those notes.
The wise and wonderful Pat Cummings gave the keynote address and led a three-hour workshop. Her words, especially, have continued to resonate:
The bottom line is do it. If you love it, put it down on paper. You’re 90% there. Somebody else will love it, too.” – Pat Cummings
If you won the lottery today, would you still be doing it?” – Pat Cummings
How long are you going to be on the planet?” – Pat Cummings
This year’s conference felt extra special to me. Ever since, I’ve tried to put my finger on why. It was likely due to several factors including the very lovely faculty and my own comfort level. More than anything, though, I picked up on an particularly kind, gentle vibe. I wonder if others who attended felt it, too.
Given the divisive state of this country, I appreciated all the more the haven that this conference is. I took solace in connecting with others who believe in the power of books to build bridges between people. During a time when I’m grieving for our country (and our world), it was healing to be in the presence of a people who are trying to birth beautiful books for our greatest hope: children.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. I hope to see some of you there next October!
When I started this blog one-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t know what I’d write about or how often I’d post. I’ve taken things day by day, and as it’s turned out, I’ve posted once a month about something that has resonated with me that month (save for the planned interviews which have also resonated!). This has worked well for me.
Until now. As September has rolled along, I’ve wished that something would stand up and say, “Blog about ME!” But nothing has spoken. For sure, national news has been very loud and consuming, and I’ve had a hard time hearing much else. Maybe I haven’t been listening carefully enough, because I know there’s got to be inspiration, even there .
In general, though, I’ve not been without inspiration this month. I’ve had plenty for two writing projects (one historical fiction and the other narrative non-fiction) that I hope will ultimately add some positive energy to our world. I wish I could share more than that, but I can’t; that’s the way this business goes. If things pan out, I’ll be more than happy to blog about them down the road.
Maybe next month, blog worthy inspiration will strike. Or maybe, I’ll change my strategy and not wait for inspiration. Or yet again, maybe I’ll change what has become a once-a-month goal. I’ll be thinking on this.
In any case, I wanted to touch base before we turn the calendar to October. Wishing you a wonderful fall — filled with inspiration!
When I was child, I assumed that I’d have life all figured out by now. I’d be set and coast into retirement. Life would be simple at this point, because I’d no longer be searching and striving. I’d have my family and home and career. The End.
Well, in some ways, life is simpler than it was at earlier stages. But in other ways, it’s more complicated.
First, I now know that each of those “things” – family, home, career — requires a great deal of time and energy to maintain and grow. Yep, they don’t just happen on their own.
Second, each calls for a different hat. A different set of skills and responsibilities.
Third, those hats change in shape as needs and demands change.
I can’t think of a month in my life when I’ve felt more acutely the wearing – and juggling — of multiple hats. And by “hat,” I don’t mean going through the motions. Quite the opposite, I mean investing my heart.
In May, I’ve been:
a student of writing.
a student of education.
I’ve worn additional hats, but I’ll stop there.
Each hat has sub-hats. OK, I’m taking this metaphor way too far, but you know what I mean, right? Being a parent isn’t just about watching your kids’ performances. Being a writer isn’t just about sitting at a computer.
On the one hand, all of these hats are wonderful. Each is a teacher — no matter the role, I consider myself a student, still learning. Every day. It’s a privilege, really.
On the other hand, managing all of these hats can be overwhelming, so I’ve gone back repeatedly to these three mantras:
1) I can’t do it all (at least not all at once). I have to let some stuff go. Hence, this symbolizes what my house looks like. Inside and out.
And this is what dinner sometimes looks like. More and more.
2) I can’t do it alone. When I went on the writer’s retreat, my husband was occupied a good part of the time with graduation weekend at UVA where he teaches. So two friends graciously helped by transporting our girls to places.
3) I’m doing the best that I can. And that’s good enough.
I see it on social media… and I hear it from friends and family in real time… and I just feel it in our country: we are all so busy.
You may wear more or less hats; you may have more or less support. Whatever your case:
Now, I’m off to take a walk in my neighborhood. I hope you’ll take a breather, too!
If it had taken the inimitable Kate DiCamillo 473 tries, oh my oh my, how many would it take me?
I started sending out manuscripts to agents and editors almost one year ago. For the previous few years, I’d been building my writing life to get to the point of submitting. Hitting “Send” was another leap, and the ultimate one.
I can now say, “Fourteen rejections down.” Hopefully, not 459 to go.
But who knows? Maybe less. Maybe more. Only time will tell.
To write, your heart has to be absolutely tender, and you have to have the skin of a rhinoceros.”
I have the tender heart. I’m growing a thicker skin.
The first few rejections were a tough reality to face. Since then, each rejection has been disappointing, no doubt. But I’m at a point where I see rejection as par for the course. I try my best with each submission and then send it off, hoping for an acceptance but knowing that a rejection will most likely appear in my inbox. It’s a fine line to walk.
Some rejections have come in the form of silence. The reality is that agents and editors are overloaded with queries and other responsibilities, and they simply can’t respond to every query. I do understand.
Some rejections have come in the form of a standard email. I’ve appreciated this sense of closure. Here are a few lines from some of those:
“It’s not quite right for my list.”
“I don’t think this one is quite right for me right now.”
“I don’t think I’m the right agent for this particular project.”
Some rejections have come in the form of a more personalized email. These are the ones that have encouraged me to press on. Here are a few lines from some of those:
“You are a wonderful writer with a delightful sense of humor.”
“It’s beautiful and bold.”
“I REALLY enjoyed your manuscript.”
Not all rejections are equal. There are many factors that need to be in place for an editor to acquire a manuscript or an agent to represent a writer. It’s kind of magical when it happens.
Maybe some of the agents and editors I’ve queried don’t think I have what it takes as a writer. I really don’t know. Whatever the case, I’m not taking rejection as a statement about me as a writer. I’m taking it as a statement about that particular manuscript: that it wasn’t the best fit for them for some reason(s).
I’ve come to see my role as one of matchmaker: given the information I have about an agent’s or editor’s preferences, do I have a manuscript on my laptop that might resonate with her? Even if a manuscript does end up resonating, there may be reasons that she chooses not to or can’t acquire/represent it.
The more I send out there, as thoughtfully as I can, the better my chances of making a match. At the time of this post, I have six manuscripts out on submission. Another one is going out on Monday. I have a manuscript that I’m revising. And many more that I’m planning to revise. (Don’t even get me started on new stories that I want to write!)
I don’t exactly feel like throwing a party when I receive a rejection (okay, maybe a little pity party). But to me, a rejection means that I’ve tried hard. And I feel good about that part. So, what do I do? I take a long look at the manuscript, revise as needed, and send it back out.
I may need to try many, Many, MANY more times. In fact, I know I will. Rejection is a fact of life for a writer, even those who have multiple books published.
Waiting is another fact of life. Submission guidelines have stated anywhere between four weeks to six months for a response or an assumption of rejection. What do I do in the meantime? Write. Revise. Repeat.
So, Kate DiCamillo’s 473 tries. That’s a very rocky road, for sure. But it’s also an incredible story about hard work, persistence, and patience. And hope. I, for one, am very glad that she kept going.
Thanks for hopping onto my road for a bit. And if you’re following your dream (whatever it may be), I wish you the very best of luck! I’ll see you along the way.
During the 2013-2014 school year, I started to dip my toes back into the children’s book world.
I had published one book in 2006. So, I had gone through the process of researching, writing, revising, promoting, and sharing a book. I had learned an awful lot and, to this day, I draw from that amazing experience.
But I’d been out of the kidlit world for several years. Plus, picture books and the industry, not to mention the online world, had changed a great deal during the intervening years.
I felt that I was starting all over again.
Or really, just starting.
In 2006, I didn’t see myself as part of the kidlit world. I’m not sure I even knew there was a kidlit world!
For me, it was all about that one project, a beloved family project: writing a story to the best of my ability and working with my publisher to put out the best book we could. It was still a substantial undertaking, but for me, it was a self-contained world.
I was completely oblivious to writing organizations, critique groups, online presence, networking, agents… even books lists and awards. All of these were the furthest things from my mind. And for my purposes back then, that worked just fine.
It was a blissful existence.
Fast-forward to the 2013-2014 school year. My kids were growing up. They were pretty much done with picture books, but I wasn’t. I kept borrowing them from the library; I kept reading them in bookstores.
Duh! I wanted to write more books. In fact, I had already started writing one the previous year.
I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), an international organization. I joined WriterHouse, a local organization. These were big steps — to identify myself as a writer, even though I didn’t completely believe it.
I subscribed to writing blogs, bought craft books, borrowed stacks of picture books. And I devoured them.
That March, I attended the VA Festival of the Book, right here in Charlottesville, as I had before. But that year I went with the lens of a writer.
That May, I took a workshop at WriterHouse with author Kathy Erskine – my first ever creative writing workshop.
Still, I hadn’t really committed to doing this. Writing. Trying to publish more books. And building a writing career.
Then that July, I attended a local SCBWI gathering led by author Anne Marie Pace. At one point, she asked attendees to share their goals. My goals had crystalized sometime between Kathy’s workshop and Anne Marie’s gathering. These goals had been hanging out in my head, gathering courage.
When it was my turn, I said, “Join or start a critique group, build a website, and then query agents.”
There! I said it. To the whole group. I was now officially accountable, at least to myself.
And guess what? I’ve been doing it…
I started that critique group the next month. And I’ve been writing regularly ever since.
I built that website. Or rather my awesome designer Ashley Parkin built it with input from me.
I started to query agents and editors last April. (More on this in a future post.)
I’ve attended writing gatherings, workshops, classes, and conferences.
I even joined social media and started blogging. Who, ME?
Each of these steps over the past few years has made me stretch in new directions. Some of that stretching has been exhilarating. And some of it has been painful. All of it has taken some combination of courage, patience, and commitment (and chocolate).
All of it has made me grow.
I still have only one book, but I’m a different writer now. And I’ll continue to grow. The growth is never-ending which, in my book, is a pretty cool thing.
So, writing one book, and building a writing career – these processes have been connected, of course. And they’ve both been incredible. But they’ve been different.
Perhaps the biggest difference, other than the obvious ones of scope and intention, has been the level of initiative and independence required of me.
While working on A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, I had the guidance of my wonderful editor, Dana Goldberg (and the support of the team at Children’s Book Press, now an imprint of Lee & Low). We had a plan and, together, we tackled it.
Now, I’m the captain of my own team-of-one. As it should be, it’s on me to build this career.
Thankfully, I can call on support from various sources: my critique group, individuals in the kidlit world, my family, my friends. The fabulous folks at Lee & Low continue to help promote my book. I value all of this greatly, and I couldn’t do it alone.
But, of course, I hope to work with an editor again one day (and dare I say, an agent). There’s nothing like two (or more) people working together closely to bring a book into the world.
So, I’m digging deep and doing what I need to do. It’s a different kind of proud than holding a published book, but I’m proud nonetheless.
Because I’m sending my heart out there into slush piles. And because I’m trying.
If you’re also following a dream, keep at it! I’ll be right there with you.
When I registered for a writing workshop with Kathy Erskine in May 2014, I knew I was in for a wonderful writing experience. I had also been hoping to find other children’s writers who might want to form a critique group. Lucky for me, Marc Boston was also in the workshop!
At one point, Kathy asked for volunteers to read aloud manuscripts. Marc volunteered. Based on the smiles and laughter in the room, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was delighted by his rhyming picture book manuscript.
Well, Marc and I formed that critique group (along with other writers). He’s been cranking out the manuscripts and has been a great support to me on my own writing journey.
And that picture book manuscript? Marc ended up self-publishing it as The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff in October 2015.
In June 2017 Marc self-published his second delightful picture book, What About Me?. Like his first book, this one is charmingly illustrated by Annie Wilkinson.
Amy: Hey, Marc! Congratulations on the publication of What About Me? Tell us a bit about it.
Marc: Hey there, Amy! Thank you, and thanks for inviting me to stop by to have this conversation with you. In the story, the nameless main character is vying for the attention of her two older sisters, who seem oblivious to her appeal for recognition. They aren’t being mean; they are just in their own little worlds.
As the story progresses, our lead character must come to understand that with a little creativity and imagination, she can learn to be her own best friend. She learns that she doesn’t need to seek validation outside of herself, and that it is ultimately up to her to make herself happy. This story is an attempt to explore the theme of self-empowerment, which is truly a universal theme that folks of all ages can embrace.
Amy: Will you share your inspiration for your books?
Marc: Many of the stories I’ve written are based on the interactions, antics, and shenanigans I witness my three elementary age daughters engaging in during their everyday lives. I notice their interesting or quirky behaviors such as my middle daughter Delaney’s old habit of needing to carry many of her possessions around the house and whenever we’d leave. This particularly priceless practice of hers sparked the idea for my first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff.
I also enjoy listening to the funny things that they say, and I attempt to use that as writing material. I love to remain aware of what they are doing around me because I feel that there are so many treasures that can be mined from their unaffected, authentic way of being. I casually and surreptitiously observe all of this and spin those situations into fun tales. I’m basically a fly on the wall reporting on their day-to-day lives without their permission…hopefully they don’t sue me one day. 🙂
What About Me? is based on my youngest daughter, Journey, and her perceived interactions with her two older sisters. Perceived in that even though the stories are based on them, the stories are told through the lens of my perspective. All three of my girls get along splendidly, however there are those occasions when I notice that the older two are off engaging in some little household adventure, while Journey is off somewhere doing something solo.
Most of the time Journey seems content, but there are those times when I feel like she’s been purposely left behind because she’s just not old enough yet to keep up. After witnessing several of these instances, I began to wonder how she might feel about being treated like a third wheel. Maybe she doesn’t mind it at all, but I thought that this episode in their lives would make a great story. So I sat down and wrote What About Me?
Amy: How was the experience publishing your second picture book?
Marc: I am excited to have recently published my second book. I experienced a much easier time around publishing the new book than my first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff. The first book was almost four years in the making. I wrote the story but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, because I didn’t know much about the publishing world in general.
Once I performed a bit of research, I decided that I wished to self-publish the book as opposed to seeking traditional publishing. I set out down the road to self-publish, but I had almost no idea what I was doing at first. I learned through trial and error with the help of some very supportive artists and professionals. This time around I didn’t feel like a rookie; I didn’t have to wonder about whether to self-publish as I had my personal publishing apparatus in place already, so to speak. So this time it felt like a rather painless process.
Amy: Why did you decide to self-publish your first book?
Marc: Probably because I’m a little crazy. 🙂 Mostly it’s because I’m a bit of a rebel. I’ve never fit completely in with many social standards. For example, I was one of the first stay-at-home dads that I’d ever known 11 years ago, and now we are more common place.
I chose to go into self-publishing because first of all, I didn’t want to wait to be picked. I chose to pick myself! I feel like I have something to say through the stories I tell, and I didn’t want to have to wait to tell them. When I was ready to follow my goal of becoming a children’s book writer, I knew it; and I didn’t want to wait any longer. I was ready to just go for it with a sort of against-all-odds attitude.
I worked through my initial fear and attempted to just focus on putting out my best work, allowing the chips to fall where they may. Today’s publishing world is so different than in the past that it afforded me the opportunity to do this. Not to mention, my first book was like my baby and I didn’t want to give her away to the traditional publishing world to raise. That’s the stay-at-home dad coming out in me.
…my first book was like my baby and I didn’t want to give her away to the traditional publishing world to raise. That’s the stay-at-home dad coming out in me.” — Marc Boston
Amy: Do you see yourself continuing to self-publish or do you see pursuing traditional publishing at some point?
Marc: This is a question I’ve wrestled with from the very beginning, before I made the informed decision to self-publish. Which way should I go? I certainly have nothing against pursuing traditional publishing. There is something to be said about having a team of professionals to help a relative newcomer like me with the process. Being new to the game, it would be nice to have an agent or publisher hold my hand as I continue to develop and grow in this industry. And I’m certain that the education I would receive from such a partnership would be invaluable. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with self-publishing has been the marketing, promotion, and distribution. So yes, I am truly open to the idea of receiving some assistance to further the career I’m working to firmly establish.
Amy: There are so many writers looking to publish picture books. What do you feel sets your writing apart?
Marc: There are so many reading choices out there, so what would make someone want to choose one of my stories to read? When a writer is striving to be heard, it’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle. During these times I try to remember that I have something to contribute as well. With my writing, I attempt to entertain, educate, and inspire. These attributes are common in all of my stories. Part of what I hope makes my writing entertaining is my rhyme style. It is definitely what gives my work its flavor. I also don’t shy away from using words that may be above a certain reader’s grade level, and after reading my stories I want you to feel something. I try to write thought-provoking pieces.
Amy: What threads all of your stories together?
Marc: The need to write stories that contain universal themes that all people can relate to. No matter how old or young you happen to be. And the strong desire to present people of color as the lead characters in my books.
Amy: Why is it important to you to send main characters of color out into the world?
Marc: Because there is a whole segment of people out there who feel left out, forgotten, invisible. Diverse books help to remind the world there is more than one story to be told, more than one perspective, more than one culture. And, diversity is normal! You don’t only see one race or one gender when we leave our homes. There are many different types of people, with various positions and points of view. Diversity is a beautiful thing; it should be embraced, and reflected in the books we read.
Diversity is a beautiful thing; it should be embraced, and reflected in the books we read.” — Marc Boston
Amy: What has surprised you about the writer’s life?
Marc: (1) How much better I feel when I’m writing. If I don’t write I don’t feel right. (2) How many other people wish to also write books and articles. I can’t tell you how many people have solicited advice about how to write and how to publish, and have asked if I would critique their work since they found out that I published a couple of books. And I’m thrilled to be of service in that way.
If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.” – Marc Boston
Amy: What has been the most rewarding part about the writer’s life?
Marc: One of the most rewarding things about the writer’s life is being able to write. To start with a blank page and have a story come together the way you wish is great. To publish a book and have it accepted to the VA Festival of the Book is an amazing feeling. To have an article published in a magazine is very rewarding. To have someone actually ask your advice about writing, because they believe that you may be an authority on the subject, is fantastic. For someone to say that they really love your work is worth all the effort.
Amy: What has been the most challenging part about the writer’s life?
Marc: Writing can be a lonely pursuit. Often I wonder if anyone cares about the work I put out. The vulnerable feeling of putting yourself out there to potentially be judged by others can be nerve-racking. Am I good enough to even call myself a writer? Sometimes it’s really hard to produce something you feel is worthy enough to present to the world, and after you do, the insecure feelings over the quality of your work are always there.
Some writers wish to be JK Rawlings or John Grisham or Walter Mosley, and if you aren’t that it feels as if you have to fight off the stigma of this being “just” a hobby. There are certain expectations you put on yourself as a writer and the perceived expectations of others that seem to be ever-present. The only thing I can do about that is to put out the best content I can, and let the work speak for itself. Because it isn’t about me, it’s about the work.
Amy: What other stories are you working on these days?
Marc: The beauty of being in a wonderful writing critique group like ImagineInk is that we usually submit new material to one another for review every three weeks. Without my writing crew, I probably wouldn’t write as much as I do. You all have been holding me accountable for the past three years. So I’m always working on something new. I have a picture book story I’m working on now that touches on childhood poverty, and I just wrapped up an article I wrote for a local magazine that explains how my daughters often provide fodder for my stories.
Amy: What other interests do you have besides writing? What else fills your days?
Marc: When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. I’m an avid reader who loves the Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosley. I’m very much into spiritual books like those from Marianne Williamson and also Eckhart Tolle. I try to stay fit by running a mile a day, and I have a daily meditation practice. I also enjoy watching old movies, listening to classic hip-hop, taking walks, cooking, and spending time with my family traveling or just being silly with them around the house.
Amy: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Marc: I just want to thank you, Amy, for giving me this opportunity to chat with you. I’d also like to encourage everyone to continue to support diverse books, and to always strive to live as fearlessly and authentically as possible. Peace & Blessings.
Amy: Thanks so much for stopping by, Marc. It’s been fun to learn more about what makes you tick. I look forward to your next writing group submission. See you soon!
If you’re local, Marc and I will both be at the Charlottesville Book Fair on Saturday, November 18 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at CitySpace on the Downtown Mall. Please come say hey to over 40 local authors!
Until this year, my favorite writing place was my 20-year-old sofa, tucked away in my bedroom. It’s comfy and embracing, as if cheering, “You’ve been here before. Many times. You can do this writing thing!”
But it became impractical to keep my piles of books and other writing materials on the bedroom floor. So this past winter, I ventured out to the dining room, a sunny room with an empty tabletop. And a big window that allows me to look out onto grass and trees and sky. It has turned out to be the perfect spot, offering lovely surprises and unexpected lessons along the way.
One blue-sky morning in late March, I was sitting at the table when I heard a gentle rattling at the front door. I looked up to see my cats, Wall-E and Howie, already sitting in the foyer and staring at the backside of the door. I glanced out the window and saw nothing unusual. I resumed work until the rattling and my cats returned.
This cycle continued a few times until I noticed a small brown bird, carrying a leafy twig in its mouth, zip past the window toward the front door. It was the closest thing to a peace dove that I’d probably ever see, and the fleeting sight was magical.
OH! Could the bird be building a nest on the wreath? I hurried out the back door to take a look. When I was about 15 feet from the front door, the bird startled and flew away to the nearest tree, an oak tree in front of the dining room.
The next time I heard the rattling, I peeked out the window. Yay! A nest in the making! This city girl posted the breaking news on Facebook: Momma bird was building a nest! To lay eggs in! And there would be teeny tiny birdies!
I was in awe of momma bird’s brilliant idea to build a nest on a wreath (camouflaged!) under the porch roof (protected!); her expert skills in crafting such a beautiful and sturdy nest; her intense focus and abiding devotion. I was in awe of the miracle of life, with its newness and hope, unfolding at my front door.
How did I live on 2 acres of land for 15 years and reach age 50 without witnessing this? And yet, how lucky I felt to still have so much of life to see.
I went out of town to NYC for a writing conference. When I returned, I found five eggs! Perfect eggs. Gorgeous eggs. My husband Rob and I did research and determined that these were House Finches.
Well, that was it for the front door. No more using it for the whole family. No more visitors at the front door. I posted this sign:
I asked visitors in advance to come to the back door. Whenever an unexpected visitor came to the front door, poor momma bird fled to the oak tree. No doubt she was worried about her eggs, but what else could she do? She had to take care of herself, too. And take good care she did — of herself and her eggs. Before long… Happy Birthday!
The babies thrived. I could tell from all of the poop! It was not a pleasant sight, but poop was part of the package (and seemed to act as an adhesive between the nest and the door). Be forewarned: as the birds grew, so did their poop!
By early May, I noticed that momma bird had a companion in the oak tree. He was brown with red markings; poppa bird, I assumed! They chirped and flitted about in the branches, moving between the tree and the nest where they fussed over their babies.
One morning momma and poppa birds were particularly chirpy and active. I heard what I thought was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Could this be the day for their babies to take flight? It was — for one!
During the next two days, whenever I heard a flurry of activity, I checked the nest.
In the end, what remained was an empty nest and a whole lot of poop. And quiet. Momma and poppa birds had moved out of the oak tree.
In the days following their departure, I missed the cheerful sounds and the sight of the sweet family. I was surprised by how much joy the entire process had brought to me. And equally surprised by how wistful I felt after the birds had left. But then, when something brings you joy, isn’t it natural to feel its absence?
Yes, I was experiencing empty nest syndrome.
As the babies departed, I sent the photos to Rob. In response to one photo, he emailed back:
“Wow! But they’ll never call and never write. Sigh.”
I think this was his way of saying that he’d miss them, too. I shared his email with our 11-year-old daughter Miya who commented, “But they can Tweet.”
Ah, I can always count on these two for a little levity!
Still, why was I so moved by the birds? Other than allowing me to witness their amazing process, the birds also spoke to me as a writer and as a mom.
Building a writing career – building each story – is a process. And raising a child is a process. In the end, after doing the best we can, we send each manuscript and each child out into the world. We hope the world will be kind to them; we hope they’ll have good luck. And this is the case for whatever we invest our hearts into and then have the courage to let go of.
I’m a writer who has just started the process of querying literary agents and sending them manuscripts. It’s exciting, and it’s hard. Realistically, I’ll receive many rejections, and they’ll sting. But as they roll in, I’ll continue to nurture my manuscripts before sending them out again… and again… and again. And, hopefully, one day an agent will think that one of them is ready.
I’m a mom who has two kids wrapping up another school year: 9th grade and 5th grade. Part of me wishes I could keep them in those sweet elementary school years forever. But even if I could I wouldn’t, because moving on means that they’re privileged with life and growth. They’re still in my nest, but the reality is that they’re already leaving it on a daily basis, growing more independent; and one day they’ll leave for good when they’re ready.
Momma and poppa birds had but one month, filled with quick and numerous transitions, to spend with their babies. Their abbreviated cycle of life seems to make each moment that much more important and their process that much more obvious. Here’s what the birds shared with me:
Pick a good spot.
Build a strong foundation.
Focus and work hard.
Take care of others (and yourself).
Embrace the joyful moments and the process.
Maybe the babies were afraid to fly, or maybe not. Maybe their parents were afraid to see them fly, or maybe not. Maybe the babies and their parents miss each other, or maybe not. Whatever the case, they all did what they needed to do. And that to me is beautiful: that they did what they needed to do.
My family and I are back to using the front door. I’ve cleaned up the poop. But I’ll keep the wreath and nest up in case another momma bird (maybe even the same one or one of her grown babies) finds it and makes it home. It would be my privilege.
My move from the old sofa to the dining room was practical. But it’s turned out to be instructive and inspiring, too. I’m glad that I’ve been able to look out the window to see new sights. In a way, the window has also served as a mirror, reflecting back those new sights into deeper insights. Some days I may still choose to sit on my comfy old sofa and write. But for the most part, I think I’ll stay put at the dining room table.