Monday, January 15, 2018

Shadows on the Wall

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

--Maya Angelou (1993)

“Fear is the enemy of creativity, the hotbed of mediocrity, a critical obstacle to mastering life,” states Maria Popva of Brain Pickings. This round, Teaching Authors is considering,  “How do we want to challenge ourselves or our students in the new year?”

Carmela begins with a lesson learned from her new book that will help in a revision of her next (her post includes our book giveaway of CWIM 2018); Esther talks about Next Steps in a writer's journey.

April’s challenge is to LET GO. SIMPLIFY (and a book giveaway!).

It’s a natural human thing to feel, fear. It was vital to the survival of our prehistoric ancestors facing life and death situations, inducing fight or flight responses. It’s the emotional response to troubling news, calamitous events and tragic experiences. It makes us hide, or run away, or play dead. It can be irrational, almost always is complex, as a tsunami washes panic and doubt over us, reaping havoc on our creativity.

This year has been fraught with many abrupt life changes. This includes the separation from my dear agent. I searched for years for the right agent, firing two agents along the way because they were not serving my best interest. Finally, finally I found the ONE. After five years, and the sale of my two historical fiction middle grade books, my agent decided to focus on picturebooks and so ended our relationship. For a year now, I’ve been in search of a new agent. I write historical fiction, focusing on forgotten characters (usually girls, who are not represented enough) and events (because I think as a nation, we are historically illiterate and have forgotten our own story) that helped build the American landscape. I write historical American fantasy, a unique blending of the tall tale tradition and character that captures so much of the American identity with the historical American landscape.

It has not been easy.

Careful to do my research, and asking for recommendations, I’ve sent out two to three queries a week. Giving time for responses, I’ve sent out close to thirty queries. Most have given me the silent rejection and not responded. A few responses liked the story but rejected the manuscript because historical fiction is a hard sell. A few others offered that it was a bad fit, offering vague, even contradictory reasons. One asked for a revision, and then ultimately passed. Another asked for another revision, offering detailed observations. But now, I struggle with the writing.

I don’t think I have it in me for another rejection.
First there was grief over the end of a relationship that I valued. But as I understood and accepted the rational of the decision, I began to panic as I received one than another then another then another rejection.. Yes, I could submit to publishers without rep, but most require the vetting of an agent. I soon doubted my place in the writing field. I began to grieve – what I thought – the end of my career just as it finally seemed to come together.

Everywhere, there are shadows on the wall and noises down the hall.
But my friends Cynthia, Bonny and Vera, and my fellow Teacher Authors, they tell me: Don’t Give Up. It's a new year, a new day.

And Monica tells me, Just Keep Swimming.

Okay. I will if you will.

So this is my challenge to you: don't give up.

Don’t Quit

--Edgar Guest (March 1921)

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
when the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high,
and you want to smile but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit - rest if you must, but don't you quit.

See the full Edgar Guest poem here .

Photo is from Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, conceived and edited by Sara Jane Boyers, pairing Maya Angelou’s simple, strong narrative with drawings by legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. For more on the lovely book, including a discussion on the art, where to buy it and listening to a reading by Angelou, see Brain Pickings here.

Bobbi Miller

Friday, January 12, 2018

LET GO. SIMPLIFY. (and Book Giveaway!)

Howdy, Campers ~ Happy Poetry Friday! My poem(s) and the link to PF are below.

This round, each of us at TeachingAuthors is considering How do we want to challenge ourselves or our students in the new year?

Carmela kicks us off; she believes lessons learned from her new book will help in a revision of her next (her post includes our book giveaway of CWIM 2018); Esther talks about Next Steps in a writer's journey.

My challenge to my students and to myself this year is to LET GO. SIMPLIFY.

This is from a poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

Wanderer, your footprints are

the path, and nothing else;
wanderer, there is no path,
the path is made by walking.
to read the rest of this poem, click here

His poem reminds me of who I was and what I am becoming.

In the past, I was a puppy chasing after her tail, looking for my PURPOSE in life, and trying to write my stories in the EXACT RIGHT WAY. I was looking for that green button to push. I knew it was somewhere. I just had to find it.
I ran from award-winning-writer to crazy-wonderful-workshop to must-attend-conference to the-ultimate-guru to she-will-fix-my-novel-mentor to they-will-lead-me-out-of-this-quagmire-critique group (at one time I was in three critique groups, which is categorically insane).

I don't chase my tail much these days (probably due in equal measure to wisdom and hormones).  And this year, because I was ill for several months, I had to--BAM!--blow up my tidy schedule: no weekly silent writing group, no critique group, no exercise classes, no hiking group, no folk music circles in our home, and almost no political activities. I had to unplug from those little boxes on my calendar.

Where did that leave me? On a deserted island. No one could find me. I couldn't find myself.


For my poem on October 26th, I was inspired by a sentence from a meditation I listened to that day:

by April Halprin Wayland

You may feel lost,
like a chick on the prairie.

There will be times
like this.

there will be feathers:

on bushes,
in dust.


This is how you'll find yourself.

(The sentence that inspired me was: "You may feel lost at times, but that is how you find yourself.")

LET GO. SIMPLIFY.  When I let go of everything, I'm free to choose what serves me going forward.

Searching through my daily poems for the tag word "Lost," I see I've been here before, witness my poem for August 17, 2012:

by April Halprin Wayland

We writers,
we've been through Hard Times.
Dry times.
The Long Drought.

Dry?  Oh my.
We place our plates upside down,
glasses bottom side up,
so the winds won't blast dust into 'em.

Our typewriters go thirsty on parched parchment.
We've got scrawny stories—or none at all.
Ideas simply

We hear that on the outskirts of Amarillo,
crows built a nest from barbed wire—
the only thing they could scavenge
from burned-out fields.

Those birds made a nest
from barbed wire?
Well, Sir, then so can we.
And then: we'll crow.

both poems © 2018 April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.
There will be feathers. I can make a nest from barbed wire. Or from absurd and glorious ideas. They don't have to make sense to anyone else. They don't even have to make sense to me.

So how does LET GO. SIMPLIFY. translate for me this year?  I use the app My Affirmations; here are some of them:
  • I radiate vibrant health.
  • There is no need to compare.
  • My writing sings.
  • I submit one book this year. (If I submit more, I get bonus points)
  • I am present.
  • I am kind.
I know this post wanders. But today I accept I am a wanderer. May you accept yourself and your own writing in all it's absurdity and glory in the coming year.

What writing (and/or non-writing) challenge will you take on this year?

Remember to enter our Book Giveaway for a chance to win the marvelous 2018 CWIM. Click here for details.

Thank you, Jan Godown Annino at Bookseed Studio for hosting this week's Poetry Friday! 
(I love this joyful PF image. Makes me smile. )

posted with hope by April Halprin Wayland with the help of Eli-the-dog, Snot-the-cat, and Monkey-who-doesn't-know-he's-a-stuffed-animal.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Of Chances and Challenges and New Beginnings

Here’s to the 365 chances this brand new year 2018 gifts us to honor and complete the challenges we’ve honestly and bravely identified!
[Note: Be sure to RE-read the above A Favorite Design, Inc. greeting card’s small print often: “Improvement not guaranteed, but achievable when used in conjunction with a positive attitude.”]

And here’s to our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway of the 2018 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET! If you haven’t already entered, be sure to check out the instructions at the end of this post.

Thanks to all who’ve already shared their New Year’s challenges.  The oft-repeated verbs in the posted comments say it all:

flesh out

Verbs, E.B. White reminded us, drive the sentence, in much the same way our chosen verbs drive our Writer’s Plotlines. They get us up close, then through, then over, then past what’s standing in our way.

No matter the year, my teacher’s challenge, my Writing Coach challenge, is to keep my writers keepin’ on!
When it comes to protecting and sustaining the writer’s Spirit, resources, opportunities, possibilities abound.  Indeed, they’re limitless.
When it comes to the writer’s telling his story in words to young readers, however?
Identifying the “something” in a story that needs to work better – the format, the narrator viewpoint, the word choice, for example – that’s easy.
Figuring out the purposeful, concrete and doable Next Steps that offer a writer a way to address that “something” -  not so much.

So I’m always on the look-out, now and forever, for new exercises that help
ensure my students and writers tell their stories the best way possible.
Alice LaPlante’s THE MAKING OF A STORY (W.W. Norton, 2007), which came highly recommended by a Writing Coach who works with adult novelists, has grown my stash immeasurably.
Think: a 677-page one-stop guide to the art of fiction and nonfiction, covering “inspiration, craft, aesthetics and purpose” and offering expertise, exercises and examples aplenty.

The Exercises on Revision included in the chapter “Learning to Fail Better” offer all sorts of delicious Next Steps possibilities.
Some of the Analytical/Mechanical exercises are tried and true:  highlight all forms of “to have” and “to be,” then replace them with active verbs; retype your story so that each word might spark a new idea.
Many of the Creative Exercises were familiar: change the point of view and rewrite the story; change the tense (from past to present or vice versa).
I’ve used many of the Research-Based Exercises: research the kind of music that would have been playing on the radio at the time the piece is set; research five recipes that the people in the story or nonfiction piece were eating.

It was the Chance-Based Exercises that raised my eyebrows. Suddenly I was adding new Next Steps to my Bag of Tricks.

Take a walk around the block.  Make whatever happens (or doesn’t happen), or whatever you observe, the basis for a free write that you can include in your piece.
Make a list of all the things that happened to you this week that surprise you.  Do a free write on one of them that might be relevant to your piece.

                                                    (A Favorite Design, Inc.)

Hopefully the above exercises will serve as “helping verbs” of a sort, not in the true sense of the word, but instead in the sense they are helping you take a chance to ACTualize your own chosen challenge verbs.

Here’s to a year of Hope and New Beginnings and successful Next Steps on your Writer’s Journey!

Esther Hershenhorn
I’ll be sharing my ever-growing stash of Next Steps with writers this July as I’m again honored to continue Barbara Seuling’s Manuscript Workshop in Landgrove, VT. 

And now, click HERE to read how easy it is to win a free copy of  the 2018 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.

Friday, January 5, 2018

CWIM Giveaway and a Challenge for the New Year

Happy New Year!
I have the pleasure of kicking off our TeachingAuthors posts for this year with a giveaway of the 2018 edition of the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (CWIM), published by Writer's Digest Books and edited by Cris Freese. Read on to learn how you can enter for a chance to win this great resource. (A BIG thank you to Writer's Digest Books for providing our giveaway prize!)

Last fall, I mentioned that I have an article in the 2018 CWIM on "Working with Small Presses." I happen to have a second article in the same issue: an interview with award-winning picture book author Carolyn Crimi. In the interview, Carolyn discusses, among other things, the use of humor and wordplay in her books, her writing process, and her next release, the middle-grade novel Weird Little Robots, which will be published by Candlewick Press in 2019. Weird Little Robots was billed as Carolyn's "debut middle grade" in the Publisher's Weekly announcement of the sale.

Full disclosure: I met Carolyn Crimi when we attended Vermont College together years ago, and I consider her a good friend. When I proposed the interview to the CWIM editor, I pitched it as a piece about a "bestselling picture book author turned novelist." But I knew that Carolyn had previously ghostwritten two novels in R.L.Stine's Ghosts of Fear Street Series, a fact she discusses in the article. Even though Carolyn is working on another novel, she says in the article that she will continue writing picture books, too. She's not afraid to wear lots of different hats: picture book writer, novelist, illustrator, teacher, improv artist, actress, etc. 

One of the things I admire about Carolyn is that she likes challenging herself, which leads to the topic of our first series of posts for the New Year:

How will you challenge yourself as a writer this year?

My self-imposed challenge? To revise the nonfiction picture book biography of mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi that I wrote years ago. If you follow our blog, you know that working on the biography led to my young-adult novel Playing by Heart. The novel is based on  the lives of Maria Gaetana and her younger sister, composer Maria Teresa Agnesi. To write Playing by Heart, I had to immerse myself in the life and culture of 18th-century Milan.  I now feel better equipped to again tackle the true story behind my fiction.

As I type this blog post, I'm thinking that rather than revise the biography I originally wrote, perhaps I'll start from scratch and try coming at it from a completely different angle. We shall see. My goal is to bring Maria Gaetana Agnesi's story to life in a way that will connect with young readers--something my earlier drafts didn't accomplish.

Now it's your turn:
What writing challenge will you take on in 2018? I invite you to share your answer in the comments below or on our Facebook page. (If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today!) Your answer can serve to enter you in the CWIM giveaway if you follow the instructions below.

First, though, I'd like to share a bit of good news about Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing). Leslie Lindsay, a Goodreads "Top 1% Reviewer," gave the novel a
5-star review! She enjoyed the novel so much, she invited me to do an interview on her blog. You can read the interview and her complete review here. I'm grateful Leslie also posted her review on Goodreads and Amazon. (The heading of her Amazon review reads "Historical YA Fiction Appeals to Readers of ALL Ages.") My publisher wants me to have at least 50 Amazon reviews and the book currently has only 31. So if you've read the book and enjoyed it, I'd appreciate if you'd post your honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, or both.   

By the way, I included this info and other good news in my latest Creativity Newsletter, in which I also discussed being creatively inspired at the movies recently. You can read that issue here. If you enjoy it, I hope you'll become a subscriber in the right sidebar of my website's home page.

And now, for the instructions on how to enter our giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2018 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (CWIM):

You must use the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post to enter the giveaway. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. 

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment answering the question:
What writing challenge will you take on in 2018? either on this blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page.

If you have trouble posting your comment, you may submit it via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of the message to access the entry form.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE RAFFLECOPTER WIDGET BELOW.
The giveaway ends January 24 and is open to U.S. residents only.

Winners will be notified via email, so watch your inbox!

By the way, congratulations to Jeanne S. on winning a copy of Paul Mosier's Train I Ride in our last giveaway!

Don't forget: today is Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is hosted by Catherine at Reading To The Core.

Finally, remember to always Write with Joy!

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