Friday, June 13, 2014

Back to the Backyard

In a recent blog post, Marion Dane Bauer addressed a topic important to all writers who hope to have their work accepted for publication. “When I begin a new manuscript,” she says, “especially one that will require a major commitment of time, I pause to consider whether what I want to write will be marketable.” In the series of posts that starts today, we Teaching Authors discuss our own experiences with and thoughts about the question of marketability.

For five summers now, I’ve been gathering monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars and raising them in our backyard, protected from predators by a mosquito net tent. Last winter, I finally—finally!—found a way to write about the process in a series of haiku. Sidebars include facts about monarchs and tips for readers who might want to raise them, too. I call the poems “butterflyku” and the collection Butterflyku and Monarch How-To.

Here’s an excerpt:

Searching milkweed leaves,
I find what I’m looking for:
tiny monarch egg!

Five rejections later, I’m facing the prospect that this subject, important as it is to me, might not be acceptable in this form. Although I know that many manuscripts are sold after more than five rejections, I also understand that poetry collections are notoriously tough to sell. So I’m taking a different approach, a narrative nonfiction one that I hope will be more appealing to both editors and readers.

As I organize my thoughts in this new direction, I’m still learning. I attended a symposium last week at the Chicago Botanic Garden with brilliant speakers who elaborated on the urgent issues affecting monarchs today. I soaked up every word, took pages and pages of notes, and collected handouts to study.

To prepare for this year’s monarch project, I started three varieties of milkweed from seeds we collected last fall.

top to bottom: common, whorled, and butterfly milkweed
Now the monarchs are back! Eggs are hatching! Caterpillars are growing! Today's tally includes 4 eggs and 7 caterpillars. I’m heading back outside to keep an eye on the amazing creatures and their awe-inspiring transformation so I can try, try again with a topic that’s not only important but also fascinating and dear to my heart.

Wish me luck!

Don’t forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's new book, The Poem That Will  Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices!

JoAnn Early Macken


Carmela Martino said...

JA, I'm glad you're still working on this project. I definitely wish you luck with it! And thanks for sharing the great photos and your butterflyku. :-)

Mary Lee said...

I talked to a local butterfly breeder who let me know that it's a bit too early in Ohio (and it's been way too cool this week) for the monarchs to return. Nonetheless, I'm going to be on the lookout for those little white dots on our milkweed!

Rosi said...

Very interesting post. Good luck with your project. Thanks for the post.

Margaret Simon said...

It interests me to read about what other writers are doing. I think it is important that the project be close to your heart. Whether or not it sells, you are doing a magical wonderful thing.

Linda B said...

Best wishes in the telling of this important story. I enjoyed hearing about all the work you're doing for it.

Kim P said...

What an important message on trying to find the marketability of our writing and that sometimes a re-start is a necessity to keep it going :) loved this post and what a wonderful project!

Kim P said...

What an important message on trying to find the marketability of our writing and that sometimes a re-start is a necessity to keep it going :) loved this post and what a wonderful project!

Jill said...

Good for you, JoAnn! And good luck with the monarchs AND the manuscript. :)

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! I've added a monarch page to my web site at Watch for more photos, videos, and links to resources.

jan godown annino said...

The lucky monarchs - to have your midwifery JoAnn!
And how resilient, to take the Haiku that I know from reading your work, is jewel-like, but set it aside & look at a narrative voice for the butterfly birth book.
Wishing this project wings beyond your own backyard. thank you for sharing. said...

Joann I hope you are going to sprinkle your haiku throughout your non-fix book then. I rather liked them.

laurasalas said...

Ah, JoAnn, I feel your poetry pain. I actually think this sounds very marketable in form--well, in the context of poetry, which is highly unmarketable in general--but I wonder if the issue might partially by that there are so many monarch picture books already, including at least one poetry one. I hate that once a topic is covered in poetry in ONE book, the market considers it totally covered. Sigh. I love that you're keeping up with current research/issues--that's one thing that could definitely help with your marketability. Here's to an eventual sale!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for your honesty, JoAnn, in sharing this writing project.
Something tells me this project has wings! :)

April Halprin Wayland said...

What I love about you, JoAnn, is the going-outside part of your life. It's so easy for me to get stuck inside, staring at this magic screen.

And what I love about our readers is that their comments are so often poetry.

Jan's comment surely is:
"The lucky monarchs - to have your midwifery JoAnn!...your work is jewel-like...the butterfly birth book...Wishing this project wings beyond your own backyard."

Lucky US!