Monday, March 04, 2013

Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger

Do you ever find a book as an adult that you really wish you would have had when you were a kid? Sometimes, I discover books that I just missed when I was a kid -- who knows why -- maybe I was busy that week and missed my visit to the library? I always regret having missed a book that clearly would have had a impact on my young life.

And then there are books that are brand-new that you didn't miss -- but you wish you could send back in time to the you that would have not only LOVED it, but would have been shaped a bit by it.

That's the thought that struck me when I picked up Tamera Will Wissinger's delightfully funny debut novel-in-verse GONE FISHING. Why couldn't I zap this book back to 1979 -- to nine-year-old me? 

In Wissinger's novel, nine-year-old Sam is looking forward to a day out on the water fishing with his dad ... but then ... NO! His cuter-than-cute little sister weasels her way into the trip and onto the boat!

Nine-year-old me loved fishing -- but never, ever got to go alone with just my dad. Nope. There was always an older brother - or a younger brother - or a cousin - or someone in the boat too. Nine-year-old me would have completely understood nine-year-old Sam's desire to go fishing without Lucy in tow. And nine-year-old me would have related to the feelings Sam has when Lucy turns out to be a beginner's-luck-lucky fisher-woman! How unfair! Wissinger handles the sibling rivalry with wit and humor.

So, while nine-year-old me would have loved the story ... there is more to this book than simply a wonderful story -- this book is told in verse. We're talking: quatrains, ballads, iambic meter, rhyming lists, concrete poetry, tercets and free verse. Seriously fun poetry! Who doesn't love a good concrete poem, I ask you? My nine-year-old self spent many a day trying to figure out how to shape words into a poem that made sense and LOOKED like something. Wissinger's concrete poems look exactly like they should. Plus, as an added bonus -- the poems are labeled so the reader knows what type of poem it is -- and the back matter instructs readers and budding poets how to make their own poems.

As if the book itself wasn't wonderful enough -- did I mention the artwork by the talented Matthew Cordell? The illustrations are fully of whimsy and joy -- and match the verse perfectly.

So, while I try to perfect a book-transporting time machine -- why don't you find a copy of GONE FISHING to read with someone you love (that includes just reading it to yourself!). The book is available starting March 5 from fine booksellers everywhere, Amazon (including Kindle soon), Barnes & Nobel, or your favorite bookseller.  5 out of 5 Smiles.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February - DO NOT GIVE UP!

It's easy for writers to get into funks. This week I've heard from no fewer than four writer friends who are in FUNKS (and I was also feeling a bit funky last week too ... it happens)

"Why did I just spend FIVE years of my life writing this book that nobody on the planet seems to care about?"

"If I see ONE MORE positive announcement on FB I'm going to DIE!"

"I am a hack. My ideas are unoriginal."

"I just read the absolutely worst, contrived, idiotic book -- and that author got a three book deal AND her first book sold at auction! And I can't even seem to sell a poem to my mother!"

February can do that to a soul. January is all about "This is going to be MY year! I am going to be ON FIRE!"  But February is when you realize that you've fallen into the same old pits that you've always fallen into -- be it family*, work, Downton Abbey -- critical self-talk -- whatever it is -- it's easy to slide down into the darkness, eat chocolate and watch far too much PBS.  It's easy to put everything on the planet before writing. It's easy to say, "I'm not good enough."

Here is your rope: (no, not to hang yourself with! For heaven's sake... to help you climb out of the pit!)

I want to read your book.  I want to smile, cry, laugh-out-loud, shake my head, grin, frown -- and be amazed by what you write. I am a reader first, a writer second. I want to read another ghost story. I want to share another bedtime story. I want to see ANOTHER amazing non-fiction book about a subject that I didn't know a thing about before I read it... I am waiting for your book. I really, really am. Please don't give up. Not yet.

Now -- all that other stuff I wrote above may very well be true.  This is so not a business for the faint of heart. A friend recently shared this rejection from an agent with me: "We have plenty of Newbery writers -- and we don't need another one." WHAT???!!! This, I cannot explain.

The good news - she could win a NEWBERY in the opinion of that agent. The bad news - so far, she hasn't sold a book.  That does seem to be a bit of the roadblock, granted -- but to be rejected for being too amazing? Well ... wouldn't we all like that? (No? We just want to be accepted ... yes, I get that ...)

Here's a story that I hope to be helpful and not depressing. Let's give it a go ...

I started writing seriously at age 30 (I will not tell you how many non-serious years preceded this).  I joined SCBWI. I went to numerous conferences and took a multitude of notes. I suffered at the hands of evil critiquers, and less-evil/more helpful critiquers. I went to the Highlights Workshop at Chautauqua. I wrote in every spare moment. I read and read and read - craft books, picture books, novels, and my own chicken-scratch. I went and suffered (and loved every minute of) an MFA program.

I worked my butt off. And I sold ONE magazine article to SPIDER in SEVEN YEARS.  ONE. And it didn't even show up in the magazine for THREE years. And then I had to call and ask for my check... but, we won't go there right now ...

People looked at me. They shook their heads. They noticed that my dishes needed doing, my weeds needed weeding, and my laundry needed folding.

And still, I wrote.

And then I was about to turn 40. I looked back at a decade of writing with next-to-nothing to show for it, except a pile of manuscripts that were getting the nicest rejection letters you ever read.

I thought I should quit. Cut my losses. Fold some laundry.

The day before I sent out the ms. that was accepted I really was ready to quit the whole thing ... yes, I had graduated with an MFA six months prior. Yes, I had been told by numerous well-respected folks that, "it will just be a matter of time now."  Time -- how much more time, energy, money was I suppose to spend on this? I had every dark thought -- "Why am I doing this? My house is a mess and my kids think I talk to myself ... which ... technically, I do ... but only when trying to work out a rhyme scheme!"

The day I sent that ms. I cried as I put 5 copies to 5 houses into the mailbox. I cried my eyes out. I did. Because it was the last one I would ever send out (in my mind at that moment). Tears were literally running down my face when I popped those envelopes into the box.

And then -- NOTHING.

I heard NOTHING.  I was still writing, but in my heart I knew that when all five rejections returned to me, I would be done with the writing life. 

Never, never put this type of ultimatum on yourself. It's painful. And it's not fair -- because you cannot control where that ms. lands. All you have control of is knowing it's your best work, and you've sent it to houses that MIGHT like it ... but you can't make the fates smile upon you.

I mailed that batch in Oct.  And never heard a thing back from any of the houses.

And then, about a day before the "If you don't hear from us, assume we don't want it" from FSG was up -- I got this amazing email from an editor who wrote me an apologetic (sorry it took so long to get back to you), wonderful message -- "Could you please send an electronic copy so I can share it with my colleagues?"

You can imagine how I felt at that moment ... going from one of the lowest spots mentally to "YES! HERE IT IS!"

And then, time passed again. And I waited. And waited.


The rest, at this point, is history now ... but all of this happened in January/February 2010.  That ms. is currently being illustrated and will become a book soon...

And in the meantime, I have a different book coming out in May of this year. And yet another book coming out in January 2014.

And I was ready to throw in the towel.  How silly of me.  And some days - when it's hard - I still want to throw in the towel. Maybe it's my nature -- maybe it's the nature of this crazy profession. I don't know.

The point is -- even though every fiber of my being wanted to quit -- I didn't quit. There must have been some tiny fiber somewhere making me keep going.

This is what I do know -- if you are doing your part -- learning your craft, working hard, creating the very best story you know how to create ... it will pay off. I will admit that I didn't always do my part. I would go for long stretches not submitting a thing, and then wonder why I hadn't sold anything yet ... (huh. hard to say...)  I also went through seriously pig-headed times when I refused to learn something craft-related because it was painful to admit I could get better. But everyone can get better. You are probably wishing that I could get better right now (since you've been reading this, you know I have room for improvement!).


You see, we just don't know when someone is out there reading our words and smiling and dreaming and crying and shaking her head and saying "YES!" this is the one for me.

So, don't give up.  I want to read your book. I really do.  Hang in there. February is a short month. And March is all about new beginnings.

* For the record, I do not consider family time a BAD THING. I have rarely put my own writing before family time. Especially when my kids were little. On that same note ... I know many a writer who uses his/her lovely family as a big old EXCUSE for not writing ... if you are doing this -- it's a PIT. You can love your family, be a good parent/spouse etc... and still find some writing time every single day. The dishes will wait. The laundry will wait (or amazingly, someone in your family will take it upon his/herself and learn to fold it ... it happens!).

Hey, when your book comes out - let me know - I want to read it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

ALA Awards, Purple Party, and Rhyming Fish

January turned out to be a most interesting month ... it has given me much to think about ...

My daughter spent a good share of 2012 reading books for a special teen Printz book club. As fate would have it, my supervisor at Hedberg Public Library, Sharon Grover, was the Chair of the 2013 Michael L. Printz award committee. Early on, she knew she wanted a diverse number of teens reading along with her -- and discussing the titles. My daughter - an avid reader - at that time a sophomore - stepped up to the challenge.  And it was, indeed, a challenge for her and all involved. She was asked to read books across the entire spectrum of Y.A. (some books waaaay out of her comfort zone) -- just like the real Printz committee does. For those who have ever entered a Y.A. section -- you know that there are books to appeal to almost any and every imaginable (and unimaginable) person from age 12 to 30. How on earth does one go from thousands of possibilities to ONE medalist ... well my daughter was about to find out over the course of more than a year ...

My daughter found herself reading everything from romance to historical fiction to sci fi/fantasy to contemporary light/contemporary heavy to non-fiction and more ... they really read themselves silly.

To Sharon's credit -- she taught those kids to look at books critically -- in a way very different than you do in most English classes. At first, my daughter baulked at this ... "Why does it need to be literary?" Answer - "This is an award looking at the very best that the YA world has to offer teen readers."  "Oh."  A few months later ... "I thought that book was a lot of fun, but it really wasn't all that well-written" and a few months later ... "that book had so many layers -- the voice, the point of view, even the setting connected back to the theme..."  You can imagine the grin on my face listening to my daughter and her friends talk like this about LITERATURE ... YA LITERATURE. 

Now, I have lurked on the YALSA Listserv over that past few days ... and I know of the arguments (some not so genteel) about the nature of not only the Printz - but the other awards - that they so often go to books that nobody wants to read.


Guess what. The teen Printz committee had a mock Printz about a week before the real award -- their winner was: IN DARKNESS by Nick Lake. I talked to my daughter and her friends about this, as I thought the award winner would be John Green - or Libba Bray - I'd seen my daughter toting around their books this year, and enjoying them ... but apparently IN DARKNESS won quickly by a wide-margin ballot (which the adults did not participate in .. the kids even picked the books they wanted to nominate). That speaks volumes (or at least should) to the critics of these awards.

Have you read: Why Some Teens Don't Read YA by Beth Kephart? You should ... it's an enlightening essay that, I think, speaks to what teens really have to say about what they like (and don't like) to read.

To the passionate YA librarians who seemed to think literary = boring ... I suggest you sit down with someone like Sharon Grover and do some serious reading and dissecting of the books in your collection. Take a wide sweep of every genre. You will find high-quality, literary works lurking EVERYWHERE ... I kid you not. You might find yourself enjoying the hard work of reading a book that is out of your comfort zone - or that you might even think is a bit complex for the teens ... or maybe not ... but please don't automatically discount the idea that teens are not willing/able to actually enjoy reading at a very high level when challenged to do so ... that's where the Printz comes in -- an award for the very best the YA Publishing world has to offer. Some years it's highly literary -- and other years it's high teen appeal -- and the best years -- it's both -- either way teen librarians gain some more quality titles to share with teens. Win-win. (Keep on doing what you're doing Teen Librarians! Our kids NEED you!!!!)

Writers and Illustrators
 Tickled Purple to be in Publishers Weekly Brief -- My husband and I were fortunate to be invited to the most amazing, fantastic, glorious kid-lit centered party - hosted by children's librarian extraordinaire, Kim Faurot (and her husband Brad). I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it was to be in a house surrounded by the art of children's books -- surrounded by people who love children's books -- playing silly games and eating yummy food inspired by -- you guessed it -- children's books. It was honestly a magical night.
Frog & Toad Mailbox

Group Art Project

Tiny Mail

Little Letters

Delicious Pie (Made by Brad)

Tiny Gifts

And to close -- I really didn't think I'd end up writing a NF rhyming picture book text about the ocean this month ... but I have the thick reference books sitting next to me to prove it ... my favorite new ocean creature: Yeti Crab.

Happy January, folks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Illustrators are too cool and other random thougths

First off, I wanted to take a moment to thank Peggy for commenting on that last blog entry. Thank you, Peggy. You are part of an elite group now - of, I think, maybe three people. Thank you, Peggy!

Now, to the actual thought of the day. Why must illustrators be so awesome?

Case in point: Word Disco blog  A friend (and librarian extraordinaire) directed me to this new blog (thank you, Kim F.). She thought I might enjoy it. Holy Mac. Do I ever. But the thing that strikes me is that, while I recently wrote a blog post with a similar topic, without the illustrations showing how I change characters, setting, angles, etc... it's just not as cool. I also try to tack down a story by introducing new characters, removing characters etc... (for years, in fact -- just like Stephen Shaskan), but I do not have the awesome illustrations to share with you. No, no I don't. I have sheet after sheet of paper with scribbles. Not nearly as interesting to look at. Stephen has ILLUSTRATIONS which is just so cool.

In fact (now this might make you shake your head and judge me harshly) it never even occurred to me until I saw some illustration revisions on my first two books that illustrators even revised in this way. I KNOW - silly right? But somehow, I never thought about it. Text revisions, heck yes! But even though I knew how much work I put into a story and how many times I revised -- I just made this terrible assumption that illustrators didn't need to revise like that. Like they were just born all-knowing and amazing and talented beyond belief.  I am so relieved to learn that illustrators revise too. For years. Just like me.

As I continue on this journey, I'm learning that everyone on the planet revises all the time -- even if you're not a writer. Even if you're not an illustrator. We are all allowed to make changes for the better in any area that we want to. How cool is that?

Thank you, Stephen for sharing your work -- I look forward to reading more of your blog!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Release Party! Hip Hip Hooray!

So, it seems this 'author' thing is really happening.
Pinch me.
YOU'RE INVITED - to help celebrate the release of my first picture book: BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!  I promise: Fun! Food! and KID-FRIENDLY SILLINESS! Details to follow ... but it won't be a PARTY without YOU!

But seriously ... three things have happened in the past few days to confirm the fact that I am not completely delusional and there will, in fact, be an honest-to-goodness BOOK available for KIDS to READ! (sorry, possibly a bit too much coffee this a.m.)

1) I have booked FOUR author visits this week. (can't wait!)

2) I have shamelessly promoted myself at least THREE times this week (which I do not like to do, by the way, but the fact that I am doing it means the FIRE of author-marketing is kindling in me and I will eventually be in full-author mode - frightening thought - no?)

3) I have now publicly announced my BOOK RELEASE PARTY on June 1st in Janesville, WI (and you know, once you announce a book release party that means there's no going back!).

Okay. So now I have to plan what an author visit with BOOM BOOM BOOM will look like - depending of course on the age of the kids, and the needs of the schools and libraries ... (ooooo..... such fun!).  And I get to dream of what type of silliness & food would be appropriate for the book release party (ooooo.... more fun!)

Did I mention that you're invited too? Wouldn't be a party without YOU!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Braving the Storm

Jan. 2, 2013

Today, I give you  - Snowy Pine Tree Early Morning, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012.

This tree is significant for at least two reasons:

1) Like everything else on the planet (other than humans) -- it continued on its path not even stopping to consider that Dec. 21, 2012 may have been its last day on the planet.

2) Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 ended up being a snowy, stormy, slushy day ... and while the planet might have just kept on spinning -- a fair number of trees did not make it to Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. The winds were too strong. The snow & ice too heavy. The freezing temperatures too extreme (even for a fur tree). So many of its neighbors ended up on the ground (an undignified place for a tree).

But a fair number did survive. They stood their ground. Held tight - maybe they swayed and flexed in the wind -- but they did not budge. Saturday, Dec. 22 arrived -- just as it should have.  And they stood as tall as they were able to meet the sunrise.

A woman, a man, a young girl, and two dogs tromped out into the brilliant snowy morning and saw how beautiful it was -- it was the type of bitter-cold, glittery day that you only get every so often. The whole world was hushed and shushed due to a thick insulating layer of snow.  It was glorious.

What am I getting at? We spend an awful lot of our time worrying about the End of Days, but the world continues. People are born, people die -- expectedly and unexpectedly. We have no contract, no calendar, no guarantee. We have only this day. Make the most of it -- honestly -- do.

Tromp out into the snow. Leave some tracks for others to follow.

Happy 2013.

p.s. I believe expectedly SHOULD be a word. So it is (no matter what Blogger is telling me).

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year, 2013

One of the first things I did this morning was to sit down with my husband and make a list of goals for the coming year. Jon was (and is) skeptical of our list -- but nonetheless -- he contributed a few items.

First, we both picked a 'theme' for our year (thanks to Vicki Palmquist for this suggestion).  I picked the same one I picked last year: Adventure. Jon went with Carpe Diem. These seem to go well together - which is good!

Then we both listed a few tangible goals: Walk the dogs someplace new, get passports, use ALL of the VAC time (Jon), read more (me), visit friends, and get a real office with a door (Jamie). There are a few more listed ... but I don't think the point is really to list everything you hope for in the coming weeks, months, year ... but to acknowledge that there is always time to make positive changes in life.  Why write them down? Because the very act of writing them down makes them real. Once you put it out there - it's there. It's something on a list that can be checked off.  Even if we only do ONE of these things, we will be better for it.
Happy 2013

I hope to attend a few new conferences this year, meet new people, and add positive energy into the world. I hope you have a good year too -- and set some goals you can reach -- and some that you'll continue to strive for -- because what's the fun in completing EVERYTHING? We always need something to look forward to!

What's up with the rusty, old lantern you ask? Jon found it at an auction - I believe he found it in a barn - long forgotten. I love the idea that this lantern helped someone find his path, maybe even gave him just enough light to find his way home -- to a warm kitchen smelling of fresh bread, filled with laughter and love. And his family was there waiting for him -- and glad that he found his way to them.

Or maybe, it's just a rusty, old lantern.