Friday, June 12, 2020

Turn Your Reading Passion Into Better Writing

Years ago, when I first decided I’d like to write books for children, I attended a program about Oklahoma history. One speaker mentioned Bass Reaves. Bass escaped from slavery in Texas, crossed the Red River arriving in Oklahoma Territory ready to begin a new life. He learned the lay of the land and survival techniques from Native Americans. Eventually, he became a United States Deputy Marshal under Hanging Judge Parker and always found the outlaws who dared to hide from him.

I fell in love with Bass. I quickly decided I was the perfect person to tell his amazing life. I even found an editor who was somewhat interested in my attempts to capture his story.

Then one day, the editor sent the email that broke my heart. She explained she would not be publishing my manuscript. I was devastated! My heart was broken. I don’t remember her exact words, but I read – there is a new Bass book and it’s so much better than your feeble attempts. I still feel the pain! I remember attending an American Library Association conference and there in the distance was BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWAS – THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF BASS REEVES, DEPUTY U. S. MARSHAL, Written by  Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Bass in all its glory. I quickly changed directions and walked down another aisle. It was such a painful moment in my writing life. I’m tearing up now as I think about it.

My husband thought my reaction was over the top. “Write something else,” was his remedy. The editor emailed, “Send me something else.” SOMETHING ELSE! I had nothing else. My writing life was over and it had just begun.
Well, it took time (years) but I recovered and I continued to write. Then one day I bought a copy of BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS. It’s fabulous! A page-turner! No wonder it received so many awards. It is a thousand times better than my feeble attempts.

Recently, I met Vaunda at a conference and told her my pitiful story. She hugged me and my world righted itself.
I also typed it and I could see, feel, and understand why I loved it and what made it successful. I began typing other books that moved my spirit.

I challenge you to type a favorite book or even a page or two of a longer work. What makes you cry, smile, or laugh out loud? Why was it hard or easy to put down? What made you decide it would have a place of honor on your bookshelf?

Think about your responses. You might discover a technique that will lead to stronger writing.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


Carmela Martino said...

Oh, I know that heartbreaking feeling, Gwen! I'm glad you turned it around to help you on your career!

jan godown annino said...

So many hugs to you for sharing the two moments you had - first walking away from The Book That Should Have Been Yours. And then, sharing with the author.
I am in awe of you.

Appreciations for this prompt. I type out poems I adore, for several reason. But typing out an entire book sounds like a springboard to something wonderful.

Jan Annino / Bookseedstudio

Unknown said...

As I said when we met, I’m so glad you approached me and shared your story. It was an honor to meet you. Thank you for your kind words about BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS. Like you, I have gotten excited about a book subject and painfully abandoned the idea after learning someone had beaten me to it. But we bounce back.
I commend you for all the work you’ve been doing for young readers, both as author and teacher. Thank you for these gifts. I love your idea of typing out stories that you love. I often read favorites aloud, but haven’t tried this. I wish you all the best in your continued good work for and with our young readers.
Happy trails!
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Bobbi Miller said...

What an excellent, insightful discussion! Very inspirational, too. Exactly what I needed to hear in this moment. Thank you!