What an awesome day! My editor sent me an email with two great pieces of information: my novel has a new official title and an official description that will go into Bloomsbury’s catalog!
So, here’s the title…….
WHEN REASON BREAKS
Changing a title after working on project for so long can be nerve-wracking. This title is perfect, as it fits the story and it’s from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems that’s quoted in the book. The line is from Poem #340: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” Here’s the stanza with the reference:
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
Okay, so I didn’t write a light-hearted romantic comedy. Maybe next time. For now, though, this is what will be available in less than a year:
13 Reasons Why meets the poetry of Emily Dickinson in this gripping debut novel perfect for fans of Sara Zarr or Jennifer Brown.
Meet Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado. A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.
In an emotionally taut novel that is equal parts literary and commercial, with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls fighting for their lives.
Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former newspaper reporter turned public school teacher. She now teaches as a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school but previously worked for the Hartford Courant and the Boston Globe. She and her young daughter live in Connecticut. When Reason Breaks is her debut novel.
GAHHHH!! Even though I know the general process of publishing and what to expect next, whenever something happens, I’m surprised and excited. I guess that’s a good thing. For those of you who were at SCBWI in New York, I’m taking Kate Messner’s advice and celebrating every step. For those of you who weren’t there, remember to savor small victorious moments, and it never hurts to celebrate with Aretha Frnaklin, so here’s the Queen of Soul!
I would have posted this sooner, but I returned from New York to a sick child and then got a head cold. Ugh. Still, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the 14th annual Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City.
First, if you write or illustrate, you should be a part of this group. Go ahead, join it now. The group offers local critique groups, and regional and national conferences. This was my second national conference, and I can definitely say the people are the coolest. Really. I attended an educational conference not long ago and one of the big-name speakers was whisked away at the end of her talk, leaving me sputtering a question at her back. Nice, huh? But at the SCBWI conference, I was walking around the evening social, and who was at my regional table? Jane Yolen. And then a woman I met asked, “Would you take a picture of me and Meg Rosoff? She’s right over there.” How cool is that?
The speakers were funny and inspiring. A booksellers panel discussed what’s hot in the market. Meg Rosoff was perfectly snarky when talking about the misconception that writing for children is easy and that “real” authors write for adults. Shaun Tan’s work proved how powerful an image can be and how a story can be told without words, Margaret Peterson Haddix said she’s thrilled that her books appeal to reluctant readers since they are the hardest to reach, Mo Willems encouraged us to dream big. Instead of saying your goal is to publish a book, why not say you want to change the world? And Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton were what you’d expect of Mary Poppins and her child: so sweet and engaging.
The breakout sessions had a common theme this year, with agents and editors answering the question, “What hooks me?” Molly O’Neil, an editor at Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins said she has to fall in love with a project since, if acquired, she’d spend more than a year–at least– on it, reading it multiple times and considering everything from cover art to the marketing campaign. She works on all types of children’s books, from picture books, to middle grade stand-alones, to YA series. Jennifer Besser, publisher at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, talked about writing that pops off the page. She read from Rick Riordan’s THE LIGHTNING THIEF, which was her first acquisition as an editor.
In the end, the answer to “What hooks me?” was the same: good writing. Each editor had criteria for this, but in general, they know it when they see it. Timing is a major component, too. Vampire books may not get as much attention now post-Twilight, but they’d never say never.
The best part of the conference was talking to other writers who are at different stages of the writing-publishing process. Some work full-time and write when they can. Others write full-time. Some have an agent and are on submission, while others are drafting their first novel. What we all have in common is a desire to create stories. Everyone I met was friendly and supportive, regardless of whether they were a beginner or a published author. Again, I say, how cool is that?
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Books are not better just because they are written for adults.” -Meg Rosoff
“You don’t get to be an author without a certain amount of persistence.” -Margaret Peterson Haddix
“Fail big if you have to, but go down trying.” -Margaret Peterson Haddix
“Aren’t we lucky?” -Julie Andrews
And finally some photos and a suggestion: if you haven’t attended a writer’s conference, you really should. You leave all warm and fuzzy inside, wanting to throw your hands in the air and shout, “I’m a writer!” Of course, you don’t do this, but you want to. They are that inspiring.
Me chatting with Meg Rosoff, author of HOW I LIVE NOW
Me and Meg Rosoff
Me and Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of AMONG THE HIDDEN and many other novels.
Two years ago, I started this blog with a draft of my first novel underway and a hope that it will someday be published. I wanted to get my name “out there” and wasn’t quite sure who would read this, but I started anyway.
Two years later, this space is still a work in progress, but I have figured out the types of posts I like to do and will continue to do those. For example, I made a commitment to read more novels by and about Latinos and spotlight those titles. Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., and I think it’s important to highlight work by Hispanics for readers of all backgrounds. I have also written about my students, who are reluctant readers, and the books they love. Everyone hears about award-winners, but I’ve discovered lots of other great books because my students said, “This was good.” And trust me, when a teen who never reads says that, I pay attention. I’m happy to highlight those books.
I write about what I do daily: read, write, and teach. Because teaching is my full-time paying gig, I haven’t kept a strict schedule with the blog. Some people religiously post on certain days. I admire that, but I’m not there yet. I want to be more consistent, but probably once a week is the best I can do given my schedule.
Other things that have happened since I started this blog:
People in 40 countries have checked me out. A big wave to that person in Kenya, the reader in the Philippines, and those seven people in Armenia. How cool is that?
Two years later, my third novel is in the planning stage. I still have the hope that my first novel will be published, but I feel like I’m closer to that becoming a reality. I’ll be attending the New York SCBWI conference again, and this time, I will actually know people! I look forward to this year and will continue to do the things I love–read, write, and teach–and blog about them.
The first time I attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators critique group, I did a great impression of the Bid Red Chicken from Dora the Explorer. See this post for details. In short, I chickened out of reading from my work in progress, a young adult novel titled AESOP’S CURSE. The people sitting around the table were friendly and supportive, but it was my first group critique session ever. My nerves got the best of me, so I chose to listen and offer advice instead of put myself out there.
Well, I’m happy to report that I have shed my Big Red Chicken feathers. I recently attended a meeting of a new SCBWI writer’s group that meets closer to my home, and when it was my turn, I read the first five pages–Chapter 1–of AESOP’S CURSE.
Only a couple of people have read parts of it. My friend Matt read the first few chapters, and I had posted the first fives pages on the YALITCHAT website. I received lots of helpful feedback, which I used to nail down those crucial first chapters. My friend Stacy has read all of it so far. She’s been great, offering encouragement and letting me talk through certain scenes.
So, I have shared it with some people already. Having others read it and give me feedback doesn’t make me nervous. As a former journalist, the write-revise-edit cycle is ingrained in me. I want my novel to be in the best shape possible before I send it to my agent to read. The thing is, everyone who has read parts of it has read it on their own and then sent me comments via email. I’m used to this process.
Reading self-created work aloud in front of strangers is different and nerve-wracking. My sister, who is an artist, understands. As an undergraduate, she would reveal a piece to the class and then stand next to it in silence while everyone looked it over and prepared their comments. Awkward! But a necessary part of the creative process.
Plus, what’s the point in joining a writer’s critique group if I don’t participate fully, right?
When it was my turn to read, my voice was shaky at first. As I went on, though, I sounded less like a robot with the chills and more like my main character, Aaron. My reading fell into a rhythm, rising and falling where it needed to, emphasizing certain words as Aaron would.
When I was done, my critique group offered lots of positive feedback–Thanks!–and some suggestions. Overall, they liked it and wanted to read more. I’m excited to bring the next five pages to our May meeting and hear what the others have written!
Now that the dust from the SCBWI New York conference has settled into my bones, I have realized that one of the things I appreciated most about the experience was hearing writers talk about rejection.
Yes, rejection. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a negative, the glass is half-empty kind of girl. I don’t relish in someone else’s misery. What I mean is, I found it refreshing to realize how common rejection is in the book business, even for already-published, well-known authors.
While my novel is on submission, I wait and hope and pray and teach every day and take care of my daughter and dog and wait and hope and pray and on and on…and then I get an email from my agent. And I’m immediately a little sad because I know what it is. If it were good news, she would call. And since I am new to all of this, I wonder if this is normal, especially since I read all of the announcements on book sites about the 23-year-old grad students whose first novels sold for six-figures at auction.
Jane Yolen signs books at the SCBWI NY conference
The SCBWI conference made me realize that rejection—lots of it—is the norm for many, dare I say most, writers. Some of the conference’s funnier moments were when writers shared their stories. Jane Yolen—THE Jane Yolen—said she still gets about two rejections per month. She said when she had a cat she would kick the cat. She was joking. I think. Now, she takes a walk or complains to her daughter, who tells her to get over it.
Illustrator Sergio Ruzzier joked that his worst rejection was delivered by a cute girl in elementary school. After that devastation, publishing rejections must be easy, the moderator replied. Ruzzier followed up by saying now, he cries for a few days after a rejection and then moves on.
Of course, I had heard some of the more famous rejection stories. J.K. Rowling was turned away by a dozen publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury. Stephen King was told by an editor “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” The book was CARRIE. George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM was rejected by a publisher with this note: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” For more of these, check out this article by The Examiner.
Hearing these stories at the SCBWI, though, was different. I think it was because I heard them while sitting in a crowd of like-minded people–people who love children’s literature and push through the creative process with the goal of being published. This time, hearing these stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this process–like everyone in that crowd understood, which was comforting.
Conversations I have had with other writers about rejection boil down to these conclusions: Yes, rejection hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Everyone has a rejection story, so you’re not alone. Consider the rejection. Is there anything you can learn from it? Can you glean something from the responses that could make your pitch, query letter, or manuscript better? As soon as possible, get back to work.
Dealing with rejection in publishing is really no different from dealing with let-downs in other professions or in our personal lives. We all fall down and scrape our knees. Sometimes, we suffer minor scratches; sometimes, we’re left with scars. Sometimes, we laugh about it and repeat the story so that others can nod knowingly. In the end, we get back up and move on. We get back to living and loving and working and taking care of children and pets and hoping and praying and waiting for the phone call that will deliver great news.
This past weekend, I attended my first big writer’s conference: the NY gathering of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I had wavered about whether to go or not, but decided to attend largely thanks to Kimberly Sabatini, author of TOUCHING THE SURFACE, a YA novel coming out September 2012 by Simon Pulse. Kim and I “met” through YALITCHAT online. I posted there, asking if anyone was going, and Kim responded and encouraged me to go.
Imagine this as a YA novel moment: I am the new girl at the local high school. The lunch wave is fast approaching and I have no idea where to sit. Maybe I’ll just buy a Snickers bar and roam the hallways for 45 minutes. Sigh. Social isolation is averted when Kim says, “Hey, you can come hang with us.”
Me and Kimberly Sabatini (one of the nicest people ever!)
Seriously, though, Kim did not have to extend herself, but she did. She texted and emailed me, gave me her phone number, and told me to meet her the night I arrived in New York. She then introduced me to other people and recently added me to an email group of writers. How cool is she? And how thankful am I that there are people like her in the world? Because of her, I don’t feel like I just attended a conference. I feel like I joined a community, like I am a part of something.
Another highlight was meeting my agent Laura Langlie in person for the first time. She and I have spoken on the phone and exchanged numerous emails, but we had not met face-to-face. We enjoyed lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, where we talked about our lives and the state of my manuscript, which is on submission to editors. Being at the conference, and meeting Laura in particular, made it real to me that, “Yes, I am a part of another world—the writing world.” My daily life as a teacher and mom is so busy and thoroughly exhausting that I often feel far removed from the writing world, even though I have a novel on submission. Meeting Laura and being in New York at a writer’s conference reminded me that I already have one foot firmly planted in a world outside my daily routine. The only way to make my dream of being a published author come true is to stay focused and keep writing.
In fact, this was the exact advice that published authors, agents, and editors gave throughout the conference: Keep writing. Do not quit. It will happen. Yes, it takes time.
Here are some specifics:
Chris Crutcher signing books.
Chris Crutcher, author of many YA novels including STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES and DEADLINE: Chris, a former teacher and child therapist, effortlessly weaves tragedy and comedy. As proof of this, he made me belly-laugh and cry big tears during his speech. In the end, he said, “Just write it. Tell the best truth you can tell…The truth that you know is the one that will get you published.”
Henry Winkler, author of the HANK ZIPZER series, made a brief appearance that left the audience on its feet. In a short time, he offered genuine, enthusiastic encouragement. He talked about finding success in writing after floundering in school and experiencing a lull in his acting career. He spoke about the joy of working with his writing partner, Lin Oliver. “At the end of the day, I have six to eight pages in my hand that didn’t exist before. What a feeling!” He assured us that we will get published as long as we put “one foot in front of the other.”
Kathryn Erskine, author of QUAKING and MOCKINGBIRD, a National Book Award winner, encouraged us to stay focused and make time for ourselves and our craft. She said lots of wonderful things that made me fall in love with her. Here are a string of quotes I managed to jot down in my notebook:
“Free your mind of what you should be doing. Create a waiting room in your mind and they all need to take a seat.”
“Giving life to your craft is what you have to do for yourself.”
“Free yourself of self-doubt.”
“You’re not going to give up. Let yourself have that passion.”
“It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about something or someone else. You have to take care of yourself. Do what you need to do to let your creative juices flow.”
“Do it your way. When I hear people say, ‘Write every day,’ I wonder, ‘Do they have kids?’” (Amen, sister!)
“Stay focused. Talent isn’t enough. You need grit. Talent and determination = success.” (I think I’ll tape this one to my wall!)
Although her words to us would have been enough, she brought hundreds of tea light candles and told us to take one home and light it as part of our getting-ready-to-write ritual. She said, “The candle is you. Let it burn. Let it remind you of your creative spirit.”
This weekend was exactly what I needed. I came back exhausted yet energized, which sounds weird but is true. My goal now is to complete my work in progress by the end of March, which is ambitious considering my full-time job as a teacher and my other full-time job as a mom. But, hey, I’ve got a sweet-smelling candle given to me by an award-winning author and lots of encouragement from family and friends–old and new.
Is the Big Red Chicken from Dora the Explorer guest writing today?
That sounds represent me at my first ever writing critique group.
I was a big chicken. Uma galinha grande, my mom would say. Un pollo grande, my dad would say. Yes, I can be called a coward in three languages. Impressive, I know.
Truth is, I’m probably being a little hard on myself, but here’s what happened:
I decided to join the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators because I had heard great things about the organization, which has events during the year and offers local writing groups. I wanted to join a critique group for a couple of reasons. My primary reason was to meet and work with other writers. Writing is a solitary act. It’s just me and the laptop. My faithful dog might be snuggled by my side, which is nice, but he’s not great at giving feedback.
Rusty literally supporting my writing
My friends who read for me, on the other hand, are great at giving feedback, but they have busy lives. I sometimes feel guilty adding my writing to their lists of things to do. For example, my longtime friend Matt Eagan and his wife Sarah just had a baby girl yesterday. Welcome Grace Mary Eagan!! I’m not about to ask Matt to read for me at such an important time for his family.
With a critique group, I could attend and know that for a couple of hours once a month, a group of people are ready and willing to read and offer suggestions. That they are strangers is a plus since my parents will praise anything I produce. That’s nice for the ego, but I do need real constructive criticism as I write.
So, I attended my first group on Tuesday, July 19 in Hamden, CT. The second to arrive, I signed in and waited. A dozen people came. After introductions, the coordinator said we would share in the order in which we arrived. He was first to arrive and didn’t have anything to read. So, I was up.
As much as I wanted to join a group, I wasn’t sure how this would go. I had heard stories, good and bad, about critique sessions. One person I know said he was kicked out of his group. Then, he said he kicked himself out. Either way, that didn’t sound good. I know that when I get published (positive thinking in effect here) I will likely get some rake-me-over-the-coals reviews. Even international best sellers and award winners get those nasty one-star critiques on Amazon and Goodreads. I get that. I would have to deal with that.
But in the moment, there in the Hamden senior center, I chickened out. It’s not that I’m not able to handle criticism. As a former journalist, I was edited daily and often had to rewrite articles multiple times. I have pretty tough skin. I think being the new girl had more to do with it. It’s like going to a party where you don’t know anyone. As soon as you walk in the door, they throw a spotlight on you and ask you to show off your best dance move. The music is blaring and everyone has stopped to watch. I’ve got some moves–at least I did back in the day–and still, I would definitely stand frozen like a deer caught in headlights.
So, I decided to pass. I wanted to observe the group dynamics first and see if I would be comfortable sharing in the future. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The group was positive and supportive. Those who read received helpful advice and I felt comfortable jumping in and offering some suggestions, too. My plan now is to visit some other local groups to see which one is the best fit for me. Then I plan to attend meetings on a regular basis to build connections with some fellow writers and get the feedback I need.