If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.
Saying there is one true path to writing a polished work is folly. There are lots of paths and we create them as we walk. – Linda Urban
So grateful to have finally met Valerie Geary, a friend who has helped me find so many paths and walked with me along the way.Add a Comment
As much as I love blogging, I’m not always sure other people are listening in. A few weeks ago I got an incredible email from blog reader Linda Jackson that reminded me what I do here does indeed connect with readers, sometimes in very big ways.
Since that day I received an email from Amazon stating that May B. was a book of the month then saw your WOW Wednesday post on Adventures in Children’s Publishing, I have been totally inspired and motivated by your story. I don’t know if you know this, but I have a list of authors on my website under a tab titled Inspiration, and you are at the top of the list. What has inspired me most was your post Plow to the End of the Row. And today I want to share with you that I have plowed to the end of the row, which is quite fitting seeing that the main character in the manuscript that finally landed me an agent actually has to work in a cotton field.
After six years of working hard and believing, 200+ queries, 4 manuscripts (one of them rewritten multiple times, once from scratch), 4 R&R’s from agents, 7 pitch contest wins, I finally got “The Call” today.
So, that’s my story, and I wanted you to know how you influenced it…which is why I will ALWAYS BUY YOUR BOOKS! Interestingly, after reading your post on Working Hard and Believing, I remember thinking, Lord, please don’t let that happen to me. I could never survive 200 queries. When I read about Kathryn Stockett and her five years of querying, I said I could never do that. And when I read that Becca Fitzpatrick re-wrote the same manuscript for five years and even trashed it and rewrote it from scratch, I said I could never do that. I have done ALL that and more. The manuscript that I queried forever and rewrote forever is still NOT the one that got an editor/agent’s attention. I had to write something new. We never know what we can survive until we have to survive it.
Thanks for being an inspiration,
I’ve been sitting on this email for weeks, waiting to hear where Linda’s book landed. Here’s the official news from Publisher’s Marketplace:
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Mississippi-native Linda Jackson’s BECOMING ROSA, a coming-of-age tale set in Mississippi in 1955, about a young African-American girl who dreams of a life beyond the cotton fields, to Elizabeth Bewley at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2016, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider/ICM (World English).
You’ve had them. Those dreams of days that exist solely in your mind’s eye. You imagine how you’ll feel, what you’ll say or do as soon as the thing you’ve longed for a long time flips from fantasy to reality.
Then, that magical day arrives, and in a blink, you realize your mind’s eye was playing tricks on you.
It was like that for me earlier this month when my dream agent Erin Murphy offered to represent me. I was near tears, but then a surreal calm covered me. Not at all what I expected. I always assumed I’d hang up the phone and do a squeal/jump/cry combo. (Just picture it!) But I didn’t. I sat alone in my office in stunned silence. I’ve heard from friends who’ve had a similar experience.
Why? Well, I’ve pondered on that.
My best guess is that when your brain has been standing guard over your dream-holding heart for many years, it takes a bit before it can stand down and let your heart be happy. Your mind cares so much about your safety, it goes deaf to the cries of your heart that’s saying, “This is great news! Let’s celebrate!”
Thankfully, it only took about 24 hours before my mind unlocked my heart and I was free to be both grateful and giddy (yes, I even skipped down the hall with happiness).
Now, I know there’s still lots of work ahead, no guarantees and more opportunities for rejection, trail and error, and failure. My mind will still be busy watching over my heart, but for now, I’m delighted to enjoy this milestone.
Let me encourage you to celebrate your milestones too–sending out a submission you’ve spent many months (maybe years) preparing, making the shift from beer to champagne rejections (that is a big deal!), selling an article to a magazine you admire, getting that beloved book contract or whatever achievement makes your heart smile and your dear, overworked mind nod in agreement.
Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead. ~ Nelson Mandela
If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know my friend J. Anderson Coats says a lot of things that resonate with me. She’s the one who gave me my favorite piece of writing advice and came up with that great cow-through-a-colander writing metaphor.
During a recent email exchange with my Class of 2k12 friends, Jillian shared this:
A writing career is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’re not on a schedule. There is no schedule.
That first part, I’ve probably heard it a thousand times. But the second part? It felt like a revelation. It’s true that when you’re on deadline you most certainly have a schedule, but otherwise, the writing life is wide open.
So you know what?
Repeated themes I heard at the writer-illustrator conference in LA: Slow down. Take time to do your best work. When you think it’s done, set it aside to assess again later. Build on what you borrow. Be courageous — do work you find important, no matter what others say. LIVE so you’ll have a rich portfolio of experiences to draw and write from. What gets your next book published isn’t luck, desperation, a magic shortcut, or networking with stars; it’s your hard work, your being ready to jump at sudden opportunities, and your connections with friends. #SCBWI14
Here’s to approaching your writing with freedom in the days ahead!
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I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life.
What about you? What things do you want to uphold in your public, private, and writing lives?Add a Comment
|You Never Know Who Is Watching|
|Tim Shoemaker talks with a teen.|
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It’s time. As much as it pains me, I must purge my bookshelves a bit. Because I’m your fan, I want to share my purgings with you. Huh. That didn’t come out right, did it.
Moving on–we have a resource for non-fiction writers, one for picture book attempters, a practical book for any writer and (yes, there’s more) a set of brilliant middle grade novels by masters of the genre. And you thought this was going to be an ordinary day. Silly you!
Lean in and I’ll tell you how you can be a winner of the Spring Cleaning Giveaway: simply comment on this post and let me know which book (or books), you’d like to win. Then, I’ll draw names on Friday, April 17 at Noon. Easy sneezy.
Here’s what’s on the menu (and good luck deciding!) . . .
The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It Write It by Peter Jacobi
This book was published in the late 1900s (makes it sounds really outdated, doesn’t it). What it lacks in advice about online research, it more than makes up for in how to add substance, depth and honesty to your work as a non-fiction writer. Plus, it’s Peter Jacobi. He’s amazing. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do. He’s a true orator. And can that guy write. Oh, my. Did I mention this book is signed? I almost hate to part with it.
Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz
This is a classic. If you write (or aim to write) picture books, you simply must have this book. It’s a treasure. And yes, I am willing to share it with you. Is that love or what?
Writer’s First Aid: Getting Organized, Getting Inspired and Sticking to It by Kristi Holl
I met Kristi ages ago at a Highlights Foundation workshop. This lady knows her stuff. While this little volume looks demure, it can be a real kick in the pants.
These fine middle grade novels, I’m offering as set. You can study them for craft, enjoy each as a fun, quick read and then share them with a child you love.
Have you made up your mind? Don’t wait too long. Leave a comment by Noon on Friday and hopefully you’ll be a winner. Regardless, you are a fine person and there are plenty of kids who would be happy to sit by you at lunch. Remember, don’t slouch.
With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy? ~ Oscar Wilde
Last summer at SCBWI‘s national conference, I struck up a conversation with another attendee while standing in a winding sandwich line. It was absolutely my pleasure to befriend a fellow former teacher turned author, someone who also writes historical fiction and picture books and has even tried her hand at verse. That night I bought a copy of Glenda Armand’s Love Twelve Miles Long, a beautifully moving story. I’ll let Glenda tell you more.
This poignant story, based on Frederick Douglass’s childhood, tells how his mother, a slave, would walk twelve miles at night for a brief visit with her son. Soothing text describes how she overcomes the monotony and loneliness through songs (joyful and sad), the solace of prayer, and love. Emotional paintings capture moods, especially the joy of reunion that wipes away weariness. — Horn Book
Starting with the boy’s elemental question, “Mama, why can’t I live with you?,” the words and pictures tell the family separation story in all its heartbreak and hope. — Booklist
Share this with young readers as a series of homilies on dreams and a family love strong enough to overcome any adversity. — Kirkus Reviews
Please tell us about your book.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave, escaped and went on to become a great orator and writer who championed the cause of freedom for his fellow African Americans. In his autobiography, Douglass showed the cruelty of slavery from his unique perspective as a former slave. It is a testament to Douglass’s remarkable life that President Abraham Lincoln called this former slave, “my friend Douglass.”
Love Twelve Miles Long takes place long before Frederick Douglass has become famous and successful. The setting is a farmhouse kitchen on a Maryland farm. It is evening and 5-year-old Frederick’s mother, Harriet, a slave who lives on different farm on their master’s plantation, has come to visit. The story allows the reader to peak in on mother and son as they share a few precious moments.
What inspired you to write this story?
When I read his autobiography, I was struck by Frederick Douglass’s strong feelings for his mother despite his having spent so little time with her. In fact, he only remembered seeing his mother at night on the few occasions that she was able to walk the twelve miles to spend time with her son. I believed that there was a story in those visits that spoke to the universal bond between mother and child.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography while preparing to teach eighth grade US history after many years of teaching in the elementary grades. The passage in which Douglass mentions his mother’s night time visits touched my heart. I could just imagine the love it took for her to walk twelve miles (one way!) to spend time with her son, who lived with the cook who served as babysitter for the slave children who were too young to work.
After reading his other autobiography written later in life, I came up with the way I would tell the story of Frederick and his mother.
I decided to envision Harriet and Frederick in their master’s kitchen, the place where the visits occurred. Then, with pen in hand (literally), I “listened” in on their conversation. There were times when I felt that Harriet was guiding my pen as I wrote. For instance, at one point Frederick asks, “Why did God make us slaves?” After writing the question, I crossed it out because I really didn’t have an answer. But then I heard Harriet’ voice saying, “Let him ask the question.” So I did.
What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?
I love the challenge of writing historical fiction. I like taking events that I know happened to real people (like the visits Harriet paid to Frederick) and imagining things that could have happened (their conversation) and mixing them together to make a story. To me, this makes historical figures interesting, accessible and human.
My books are introductions to real events and people that I hope invite the reader to find out more about the subjects.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Love Twelve Miles Long lends itself to many classroom discussions/topics:
The post Classroom Connections: LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.Add a Comment
You poured your very self, spleen and all, into your manuscript and you’ve sent it off to an editor. Now what? Well, while you wait for a verdict, there are any number of things you could do . . .
A Half Dozen Ways to Go Way Wrong While You Wait
1. Revise the manuscript you just submitted–either on-screen or in-brain. The deed is done (for now). Let it rest already.
2. Eat your weight in _____________. Even if it’s kale, uh, still not a gold-star idea.
3. Whine about the editor’s perceived lack of speed on Facebook/Twitter/And So On. These things take time. You know this. You are a marathon runner, not a sprinter. The same is true for editors. Now, do some stretches and drink your vitamin-infused water, Sweet Knees. Go to your Zenny place. That’s it. Breathe. Good.
4. Follow up too soon. You just planted a, oh, let’s call it a pumpkin seed. It will sprout. Trust the process. Fretting, pestering and pacing won’t help. An answer will come, maybe not the one that you want, but it will come (most likely).
5. Check your email 24/7 (a tactic formerly known as Stalking the Mail Carrier).
6. Drive your friends, family, sweetheart, coworkers and critique group bonkers. These are your A team, the folks who will celebrate with you or console you. Do not suck them into your swirling chartreuse vortex of neuroses any more than necessary, or at least evenly distribute your crazy, not unlike chocolate curls on a cupcake. See how pretty?
One and a Half Ways to Spend Your Wait Time Wisely
Jump into something new. Or revisit something old, perhaps a manuscript you were allowing to cool a bit. Can’t stomach the idea of actually writing another novel right now? That’s okay. Write an article. Pen a poem. Do research for your next novel. Interview your new characters. Piece together an outline or road map or even a grocery list of scenes or ideas for your next project. Keep moving.
Reward yourself. Do you know how many well-intentioned, would-be authors are out there with half-scripts fermenting in a folder? Neither do I. But the point is, you finished an entire manuscript. Then you had the audacity to send it to a real editor. What are you, a freak of nature? A Titan? That’s amazing. Reward yourself in a meaningful way. Yes, yes, I’m giving you permission. Why are you still reading? Shoo. Go celebrate you!
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. ~ A.A. Milne
When life throws you down a crooked track, hold close your family, latch onto new friends, throw up your hands and find something to smile about.
While 2014 was definitely a crooked track for us, I want to close it with a look to the good. Shortly after our diagnosis, I had a friend reach out to me amidst his own health crisis. My advice to him was, “Hear the negative, focus on the positive and know that God has both covered.”
Good advice? I think so – but much easier said than done. This world screams negative. We are bombarded with the bad. The nightly news covers everything wrong with our world first and longest before they throw in one human interest story just before saying good night. (If you missed Kylie on the news, you can watch it HERE)
While sifting through the ruins of this broken world, how do we see what is good? I have seen a lot of things in my 47 years. To borrow the movie title, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have driven a man out of the slum of Port ‘au Prince, Haiti and watched as he was given the keys to his new home. I have been fortunate enough to help put a roof on a hut in Swaziland for a family decimated by HIV. Beauty plucked from ugly, good snatched from bad. Both started with a choice to engage.
Despite my experiences, never in my life have I seen the good side of humanity than from the day Kylie was diagnosed with cancer. The flood of well-wishes, prayers, and support for our family has been as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. When you hear the words, “Your child has cancer,” the temptation is to curl up in the fetal position, shut out the world and cry. When I was at my weakest, I found an abundance of arms to hold me.
Friends, family, our school and church rallied to our side.
The nurses, doctors, childlife specialists, and staff of the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta became dear partners in this journey. We also found great care at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
Organizations came alongside to help navigate and let us know we aren’t alone: 1 Million for Anna, Make-A-Wish, Cure Childhood Cancer, The Truth 365, Rally Foundation, Melodic Caring Project, The Jesse Rees Foundation, Along Comes Hope, 3/32 Foundation, Blessed Beauty, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Kingdom Kids, Lily’s Run.
We have seen built a network of people who pray faithfully for Kylie. To be totally honest, I admit there are times when I cannot lift a word to heaven. Maybe a grunt, maybe an angry shake of the fist. Without a doubt, I know there are many people praying for my little girl when I can’t. That is incredibly humbling.
Then there is encouragement and love. Kylie gets cards and letters daily. At least a dozen young ladies have donated their hair in Kylie’s honor. People all across the country and literally around the world have been #SmileyForKylie. As of today, 87 countries have done it. Grown men have written it on their bald heads.
Between Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we have received over 10,000 smiling selfies for Kylie. Unreal. We have gotten them from celebrities, athletes, and Kylie’s beloved Broadway performers. Idina Menzel made a video. Kristin Chenoweth made two pics and talked about her on a radio show. Laura Osnes posted a word of encouragement to her. She got a box of Broadway treats from Hunter Foster. She had pics from 9 out of 12 musicals nominated for Tony Awards, and the cast of her favorite show, Aladdin have reached out to her over and over again. Sometimes we can trace the web that led to the picture, but most of the time we have no idea how they happen – we have no line to these people. It’s just good. And it is out there – making a choice to engage with our little girl in a time when she so desperately needs it. A thank you will never be enough, but all I can offer.
Regardless of your view of the Bible, Philippians 4:8 gives us sage advice:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I’ll not be able to change everyone’s mind. You can remain a cynic if you choose to. But the things I have experienced in 2014 prove to me that there is good in this world. I choose to think about such things – it is what has kept me going.
In 2015, we look forward to hearing the words: No Evidence of Disease and watching Kylie resume a normal life. That will be something worth throwing up our hands and smiling about.
Happy New Year from Portsong, your humble mayor & Kylie
I'm continuing my series called Gifts. In the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, there is a startling prophesy that so resonates with me. A holy people have been sent into exile for seventy years, and they really need to know what is coming to put up with this long exile.
The Lord spoke to his people through Jeremiah. He sent encouragement. I don't know if you have ever read something that you felt was speaking to your situation and your life. I feel that about these words in Jeremiah. This is what I hear.
Your writing life isn't where you want it to be right now, but I am the one who brought you to this place. Don't despair. I want you to keep writing and keep helping other writers. Enjoy any small success that comes your way. And also, the things you learned back you were in the thick of it, I want you to think about those things. Let your creative self prosper and don't complain that you don't have a place to share a voice, that you don't even know how to get there. That's a waste of your time.
Can’t believe Frog on a Dime is celebrating its second year!
My warmest–gooey in the center–thanks to my followers and to everyone who commented, gifted me with suggestions, invited friends to hop on over, and most of all, dolloped me with encouragement. My goal was to encourage you, but oftentimes, I’m the recipient and I am so grateful!
If you have ideas future post-ibilities, topics you wish to see covered here or quotes you’d like to pass along, please do.
So excited to be heading into year three with all of you! There’s more encouragement on its way.
Wishing you an outrageously productive, creative, inspired New Year. I mean, the blow your socks off variety. Why not? You deserve it.
Happy, hoppy Holidays from Frog on a Dime!
Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust
When you’re stupborn, you’re stupid and stubborn. I know because that’s what I am. At least that’s what I surmise. The lab tests are inconclusive, but a decade of firsthand observation cannot be ignored.
After more than ten years of writing, revising, reading, work-shopping, conference-going, networking, critique-grouping, class-taking, submitting and querying, I am still without a book contract. A smarter, less bull-headed person would have given up by now.
And why not? No one is forcing me into this pursuit. It’s self-inflicted without question. Yet, here I am peering into the shiny, giddy-go-lucky face of a new year and I am trudging ahead. I am not buoyed by hope or spurred by optimism. In fact, I feel quite hopeless. But my chronic stupbornness will not permit me to retreat or resign.
How about you?
Are you stupborn too?
You are? Oh, bless your heart. You need a cookie and a nap. But first, I’ve culled these quotes to encourage you:
There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me. ~ Jane Austen
I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing, and that until then I’ll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone’s lapel and make them confess to me and to all. ~ Jack Kerouac
It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed. ~ Albert Einstein
Happy New Year, my dear, sweet, stupid, stubborn friends. (And yes, yes, certainly, warm wishes to my smart friends too.)
Let’s show 2015 what we’re made of!
Once I would have wished for that: never to grow old. But now I know that to stay young always is also not to change. And that is what life’s all about — changes going on every minute, and you never know when something begins where it’s going to take you.
So one thing I want to say about life is don’t be scared and don’t hang back, and most of all, don’t waste it.Add a Comment
It's still winter! The bone-shaking chill of a new January with its winds, ice storms, broken healthy resolutions and humourless deadlines (tax payments, school applications, etc) can make even the bravest of us want to curl up in a cave next to a blazing fire and hibernate until spring arrives.
And to some of us who suffer from depression (episodes of persistent sadness or low mood, marked loss of interest and pleasure) either constant or intermittent, winter can be one of the hardest times. Depression being a multi-headed hydra ranging from many states of unipolar to bipolar, I'm not suggesting that there is one single type of depression; for instance not all of us are affected by the winter or weather, while some people who don't even have depression in the clinical sense might be experiencing a mild case of the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Creativity is like a fire that we can stoke to drive away the cold winter (whether physical or psychological, internal or external). So I'm deep in my cave trying to work out ways that I can stoke my creativity without resorting to biscuits!
Bibliotherapy's been around for a while now, and is the literary prescription of books and poems against a range of "modern ailments" - including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. A form of guided self-help, it's not exactly a new idea - the ancient Greeks spoke of "catharsis" - the process of purification or cleansing, in which the observer of a work of theatre could purge themselves of emotions such as pity and fear through watching and identifying with the characters in a play. All of us in the modern world can attest to the feeling of connection and joy when an author so precisely describes a state that we are ourselves experiencing, and the nail-biting, cliff-hanging state of knowing exactly what our heroine or hero is going through. We root for him or her because s/he represents ourselves battling our own demons in an idealised meta-state.
But how does bibliotherapy work? According to the various proponents, it helps perpetuate a shift in thinking, so that things are not so inflexible (black and white thinking, for all you cognitive-behavioural depressives out there!) which is crucial to tackling depression. Being able to gain distance and perspective by viewing problems through the lens of fictional characters means that in real life our fixed thought-patterns which contribute to our problems can start to become unpicked.
And of course, identification isn't the only joy to be found in books; good old-fashioned escapism is surely the reason why many of us read so avidly. A new world, a new family, a new life, perhaps even new biology or physics, takes us away momentarily from the mundane world so we can return refreshed, hopefully to see our lives with new eyes.
I've obviously been self-medicating for a long time, but I always called it comfort-reading. By comfort-reading I mean a well-known book that you can plunge into at will like a warm bath or a pair of slippers. At school when I was anxious about exams or bullies I would find solace in re-reading the heroic adventures of Biggles or the magical quest of Lord of the Rings; at university it was in the dreamy memories of Brideshead and the vicissitudes of Billy Liar or Lucky Jim. When I started my first office jobs I would read 1984 or Brave New World (odd choices for comfort-reads but I think it was to remind myself that things could actually be worse!) but when I started writing my own books, I ...er ... stopped reading for some years. I think my tiny little brain could only take so much exercise!
I started comfort-reading again when we first had our children; during long and frequently painful breast-feeding sessions my husband would read my childhood favourites Charlotte's Web and Danny the Champion Of The World to me as distraction and encouragement. And these days my prospective comfort list numbers hundreds of books; for me, reading is re-reading.
So what could I take to bolster myself against the winter chill? I've written myself a prescription but I'd be interested in hearing yours!
1) A dose of James Herriot's short animal stories, to be administered when needed (they are nice and short so you're not left hanging after a few pages) or chapters from Jerome K Jerome's Three Men In A Boat, or virtually anything by PG Wodehouse;
2) A daily dose of half an hour "joy-writing" - half an hour in the morning when I can sit down and let ideas spill out onto the page. (If it ends up with me writing about what happened last night then so be it. It can often lead to something more ...)
3) A small creative project on the horizon, easily identifiable and manageable, that I can look forward to; in this case getting a small group of actors together to read through a new draft of a play that I've written (there'll be a blog post on this soon so stay tuned!)
4) Connection with others - I'm a member of a local book group, which not only makes me keep on top of what new books are coming out, but also participating in the joy of discussion; there's nothing more frustrating than reading a good book only to realise that nobody you know has read it!)
So I think that's enough to start barricading myself up against the January snows!
But what about you? What kind of comfort-reads do you enjoy to drive the cold winter away?
Today is the last day you can receive this beautiful print if you pre-order Blue Birds. Details below.
My husband’s first pastorate out of seminary was in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC. He was a youth pastor and I was a teacher, and we were still pretty new to town. One Sunday a young couple visited our church. I casually chatted with them — a British fellow with the name Steve Martin (isn’t that fun?) and his lovely American wife, Jamie. And in those few moments I had one of those weird experiences I’d only had once before: I knew immediately that Jamie and I would become very good friends.
It was a strange feeling with no real basis, other than an underlining conviction we had clicked in a meaningful way. Almost fifteen years have passed since that Sunday. We’ve lived apart for eleven of them. But the fledgling friendship that started that day has been one of my life’s dearest gifts.
One spring Jamie came to visit us in Michigan. As the two of us wandered through an antique shop, she handed me a worn school primer she’d found on a shelf. Maybe it will be helpful for that new book idea you have, she said. It ended up being key. On the day May B. came into the world, Jamie wrote something that to this day makes me cry.
As I struggled with writing Blue Birds, Jamie was the one to tell me good work is often hard work. Each time I’d email about how difficult it all was, she’d remind me the writing was hard because it was important.
This time last year I was deep in the midst of second-round edits and desperate to connect with Alis and Kimi in a meaningful way. So I started wearing a strand of pearls. Everyday. With sweats and dressy clothes and everything in between. Unless I was sleeping or exercising, the pearls were there. My Blue Birds girls share a pearl necklace (you can see Alis wearing it on the cover). Wearing pearls was a constant reminder of their friendship, a way to meet them beyond my writing sessions, to carry them with me to the grocery store, while walking the dog, into life’s small, quiet moments.
It was during this time I found this treasure in my mailbox. A gift from Jamie (who knew nothing about the pearls). And that’s when I knew with certainty exactly who this book was for.
If we’re lucky, we find friends in this world who love us as we are and bring out our best selves. I hope that’s what I’ve captured in Alis and Kimi’s relationship. It’s what Jamie Martin has given me.
This post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of Blue Birds. I’m giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, January 19.
Join the Celebration!
An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose, author of Blue Birds :: From the Mixed Up Files…
What I’m Reading: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Views from a Window Seat
Blue Birds :: Augusta Scattergood
Blue Birds Interview with Caroline Starr Rose :: Reflections on the Teche
Book Review: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Book Covers
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You’ve seen the commercials. There’s a woman with limpity blahsville hair. Her shoulders, schlumpy. Her eyes, rolled. She blows a puff of air upward from her lower lip and ruffles her scruffy bangs–the universal breath of disgust. Then, some product whooshes onto the screen. It’s a bottle of glamorous, sexy-smelling hope for hair. Ms. Lackluster snatches the wunderproduct, suds it through her sorry locks and voila! Cue the fans to blow a mane so magnificent as to make Fabio throw in the towel.
What if there was a “product” that could do the same–give shine, volume and manageability–to your writing? Good news! There is. It’s called Critique Group.
Here’s how this amazing product works:
Shine. Nothing will give your writing that dazzling sheen you desire like a robust critique. Your group can help you snip those dry, split ends created by worn or useless verbiage, identify stronger verbs and methodically polish your work.
Volume. Receiving regular feedback on your work helps to fuel your momentum, which hopefully, results in higher word counts and more pages than you may have accumulated as a solo act. So luxurious!
Manageability. Critique groups, regardless of how you arrange them, typically come with a schedule for sharing your work. Knowing you have these deadlines can help you plan, set goals and make the whole writing process more aimful instead of aimless.
You say you don’t have a critique group of your very own? Instead of pulling out your hair, let’s find you a group ASAP.
Consider these ideas for either starting or connecting with an established group:
If you’re already in a group and have more ideas, tips for how to structure or improve a critique group, please share.
Wishing you gorgeous “hair” days ahead!
In honor of my 100th blog post, I want to share 100 things I wouldn’t know if I’d never become a children’s writer.
The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis. ~ Umberto Eco
This weekend I’m speaking at the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. I’m amazed that three years later, my book is still connecting with readers — especially young people with learning disabilities.
Here’s an interview I did a few months ago that ran in the SWIDA newsletter:
What inspired you to choose a girl with dyslexia as your main character?
In order for a book to work, an author must not give their characters what they want (at least not straight away), but must make them face their fears and weaknesses. Without these things, there is no change. Without change, there is no story.
May’s name came to me before her story did. I liked the way May Betterly could become May B. and how “maybe” could speak to her perception of herself (maybe is such a wishy-washy word. It makes me think of mediocre or so-so). I knew early on that May wanted to be a teacher, and decided the most direct way to challenge her would be to make this dream virtually impossible. Pulling her out of school and giving her dyslexia (in an era where this would have been completely misunderstood) fit the bill.
What special challenges did this choice create?
The first is obvious: I am not an expert on dyslexia in the least. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what her challenge was — anxiety? Fear? A learning disability? Because the book doesn’t spell out exactly what is going on, I thought I could get by with not addressing things: If May and her teachers didn’t know, why would we, as readers, need to?
My editor wasn’t impressed with my line of thinking. She told me (and rightly so!) that if I left readers hanging, they’d feel frustrated. She suggested I weave more clues that pointed toward dyslexia in the text and that I define May’s disability in the author’s note.
This terrified me. I was sure as soon as I used a technical word I’d be claiming some sort of expertise. The more I researched, though, the more I was reminded that dyslexia is not a one-size-fits-all struggle. I tried to convey in the author’s note general similarities those with dyslexia commonly share (issues with fluency, word recognition, and comprehension; the omission of words and anxiety stemming from reading aloud, for example) and techniques that some find helpful (repetition, reading in unison with one or more people). I also had a writing friend who is a literacy expert read the manuscript.
More than once a person has asked me on what authority I’ve written this book. I’ve come to the conclusion I am qualified to tell May’s story because it is one of identity and self-worth — something all of us must face at some point, something that becomes very real to young people as they become aware of their place in this world.
Before you were a writer, you were a classroom teacher. How did working with students with reading disabilities shape your perspective of May B.?
I’m going to turn this question on its head a little. It wasn’t working with students with reading disabilities that shaped my perspective so much as examining my own time in the classroom — my attitudes, my efforts, and if I’m honest, my shortcomings. In forcing myself to sit with this character and her two very different teachers, I found myself reflecting again and again on my teaching. What I learned wasn’t always attractive. It’s easy to love the hard worker, the kid who wants to do well. It’s not so easy to get behind the child who isn’t as winsome. I have to confess there are kids I put more effort into because I enjoyed them more. There are others I didn’t try as hard with, sometimes because I wasn’t qualified, sometimes because I didn’t fully understand their needs. And sometimes I didn’t put as much work in because I didn’t want to.
If I was going to tell the most honest story I could, I couldn’t hide from these unattractive qualities I found in myself. Instead, I needed to mine them to make the story real, to make it work.
Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to offer students with dyslexia?
I hesitate when taking about the traditional ideas behind character development — the need for flaws and weakness — when talking about May Betterly. I don’t ever want children who have learning disabilities to see themselves as flawed or weak. It was very important to me that May not be “cured” of her dyslexia, first, because it’s an untrue way to look at disability, and second because it sends a damaging message, one that says you are only whole without disability.
Part of my reason in writing the book was to examine the concept of worth — how so often who we are becomes based on what others tell us about ourselves or on what we’re able to do. Like May, I think all of us in some way feel we don’t measure up. Struggles, like dyslexia, don’t define us. They are not shameful. They might be seen as “character flaws” in a book (ways a character is made real and relatable), but such real-life struggles never, ever make a person somehow worth less.
Last year I got an email that thanked me for writing May B. It directed me to a blog post that literally took my breath away:
At the end of May B., I am crying. I am crying at the ways she is so strong and capable.
…I feel like Caroline Starr Rose wrote this book in part for me.
It was as if she were writing to encourage me on behalf of all my teachers in and outside of the classroom who for years didn’t see that all the misspelled words and run-ons as a red flag. It was as if she were writing right into the places of my heart where those accusations of being careless and not good enough had settled. And she whispered that like May, I could overcome. I could hope for the good things even when they are hard. Thank you, Caroline. Thank you, May.
I hope readers of all sorts will be able to relate to — and find confidence and courage in — May’s story.Add a Comment
In 2013, I was fortunate to receive a critique from the lovely and ever-encouraging YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith. After reviewing the opening chapter of my second middle grade novel, Cyn told me humor was my super power. Me? I have a SUPER power? Well, if I have one, I know for certain you do too.
Maybe your super power is . . .
It’s always easier to pinpoint someone else’s super power, isn’t it. My friend Lisa Wheeler is a whiz with rhyme. Catherine Bieberich and Kelly Barson are able to strike a perfect balance between heart and humor. Jennifer Whistler crafts novels with a highly visual, cinematic quality. Others, like Monica Harris, are grand researchers who cull little-known tidbits from old texts to make even snoresville non-fiction topics intriguing.
What’s the point in knowing your super power? Well, as with a lot of things, it’s empowering to have a “go to”—like that perfected dish you can always whip without worry or that compliment-winning outfit in your closet. You can’t make lemon chicken piccata or wear that same suede jacket every day, but when the time is right, it’s confidence-building to know it’s there when you need it.
You can’t lean on your superpower for everything. (Even Superman had his day job as Clark Kent.) That’s why it’s important to read widely, request critiques, participate in workshops and stretch yourself by writing outside your comfort genre. Because my super power is humor, it’s easy for me to write in silly sound bites and let my characters make clever asides. While being funny can be engaging and amusing, overuse of humor can lapse into what I call “snarkasm.” Chronic quipping distances readers and makes otherwise 3-D characters seem shallow. A clever boy can become what political consultant David Alexrod described as a “congenital smart aleck.” There’s nothing super about that.
So, how about you? What’s your super power? (You may even have more than one!)
Spot Your Super Power Quiz
My super power is:__________________________.
Super! Please use your super powers for good. And remember to pick up your cape from the dry cleaners.
We must be careful with our words – we’re like superheroes and words are like our super powers. Super powers should always be used to help others. ~ Dianna Hardy