MY ROAD (so far)…
In 4th grade, my best friend Leah and I started our own library. This is when I fully understood that I LOVED books AND you could actually make money in the book business (one of our friends had to pay a hefty fine of 45 cents for late fees). During this time, I also realized I preferred the book industry over the cosmetics industry when the same friend and I invented our own line of spray-on-foundations. Books don’t stain carpets, which means you’re much less likely to get grounded while working with books.
In fifth grade, as part of a class project, I wrote and illustrated my first picture book WHEN PIGS FLY. My mother told me it was brilliant, and our teacher put our books in the school library where other kids could actually read them! All the fifth graders were local celebrities!
In sixth grade my English teacher recommended I attend a young writer’s conference
*POTHOLE: We spent the entire conference huddled in a bathroom due to a tornado warning. The only thing I learned that day was that boys’ bathrooms in middle schools are gross and huddling near a urinal while waiting out a tornado warning is a very bad idea.*
In eighth grade, as part of a class assignment, I wrote and illustrated a short ghost story for my own magazine. My teacher gave me an A+ and told me it was one of the best stories she’d ever had cross her desk (not sure if those were her exact words, but it was something to that effect, and…well, that’s how I remember it).
In high school, when my boyfriend dumped me, I wrote a love song to commemorate my pain. Then I started writing more songs and lots of poetry about how much boys sucked. I learned how to play the guitar so I didn’t have to sing my sad songs a capella.
In college, I began performing my songs for friends and family. I wrote more songs about broken hearts and was pretty sure I HAD to be a singer/songwriter when I grew up.
*POTHOLE: After singing solos in several weddings, I realized that I don’t love singing in front of people by myself. Deciding I didn’t want to suffer a heart attack induced by stage fright, I opted to give up my dreams of being a professional singer. Although the songwriter idea still lingers in the back of my mind. And I have been known to break out the guitar and do a little crooning during author visits, so it’s a skill that comes in handy now and then.*
In my mid-twenties (while completing my second undergraduate degree by night and teaching FACS to middle-school students by day – while pregnant), I wrote a paper about my family history. When I read the report to my class, my teacher accused me of making it up, telling me no one’s family is that “interesting”. My classmates wanted to hear more! I realized life had given me lots of material for a good book that might one day be adapted into a Lifetime-made-for-TV movie (you know the ones – “based on a true story” – I kind of went through a phase of being totally addicted to those flicks – back when I had the luxury of spending an entire day lounging on the couch engrossed in cheesy movies). I began writing my first manuscript (which I never finished).
POTHOLE: I had my first baby. I barely had time to take a shower most days. I stuck my manuscript (which was scribbled in a notebook) in a drawer and never looked at it again. Honestly, I have NO idea what happed to that notebook. Maybe I’ll find it stuck in a box one day.
When I was pregnant with my second child (my first was not quite 2 years-old), I quit teaching and became a full-time mommy. During the next couple years, inspired by my noisy, hilarious and often stinky children, I started writing picture book manuscripts.
In 2008, I joined SCBWI and started volunteering with my local group (MN SCBWI). I contributed a non-fiction story to Stories for Children Magazine. Although I wasn’t paid for this piece, having something I had written out in the world where others could read it made me begin to see myself as a writer. A few months later, I sold my first poem to a children’s magazine. They actually PAID me! I was so excited that I cried. Shortly after that, I attend my first MN SCBWI conference and submitted one of my picture books for a critique.
*POTHOLE: My manuscript was kinda sucky. No, really – I’m not just being hard on myself. It was supposed to be a picture book and the word count was well beyond 3000! On a happy note, the editor told me she like my writing style and wondered if I had ever thought about writing a novel. I had actually thought about it, and had begun writing a couple YA manuscripts, but couldn’t get past chapter 3.*
In 2009, I became the Assistant Regional Advisor for MN SCBWI. During this year, I sold more poetry and short stories. And despite the advice of that kind editor from my critique the year before, I stubbornly continued to focus on picture books. I submitted one of these manuscripts for a critique at that year’s MN SCBWI conference.
*POTHOLE: Although this editor actually liked my manuscript, she wasn’t interested in publishing it. Neither were any of the other publishing houses who were accepting unsolicited materials. My binder of rejection letters was becoming quite thick!*
In 2010, I was busy planning our next MN SCBWI conference when I realized I had nothing new to submit for a critique. I couldn’t stand the idea of wasting an opportunity to get my writing in front of an editor or agent, so two days before the deadline, I wrote the first ten pages of a YA novel about a girl who can see spirits.
*POTHOLE: The editor who was doing my critique told me before the conference that she wasn’t a fan of YA paranormal (in fact, I’m pretty sure she said she HATED it). I went into my critique with a stomach ache. To my relief, she told me she liked my first ten pages and asked me to tell her the rest of my story. The problem was, I had only written those ten pages, and hadn’t really thought much beyond that. Not wanting to waste an opportunity to pitch a story, I made something up on the fly (which is pretty much exactly how I ended up writing the novel). She told me she liked it because it was different and she’d never seen anyone approach a ghost story that way. She also said if this manuscript landed on her desk, she would read on – despite her distaste for the genre.*
For the next couple weeks, I wrote the first chapter of that story and then the next. Before I knew it, I had six chapters of a rough draft finished.
In 2011, I took the first ten pages to the MN SCBWI conference and had a critique with literary agent Dawn Frederick. I had NEVER seen anyone so excited about something I had written. She wanted to read the rest.
*POTHOLE: It wasn’t done, and by this time I had three kids and was squeezing my writing time in between their schedules. Dawn told me to send it to her whenever I had it finished.*
For the next 6 and a-half weeks I wrote like a woman possessed by the spirit of my own story. And before midnight on November 30th (my son’s 9th birthday), I had finished my rough draft!
Even though that was cause for celebration, the rough draft was just the beginning. You can’t send a rough draft of a novel to an agent.
*After I crawled out of the POTHOLE called Christmas, I spent the next 7 months revising.*
Almost 10 years after starting (and abandoning) my first novel, I held my finished manuscript in my hands. It was a feeling that I can’t even describe. I had FINALLY done it!
*POTHOLE: I was terrified to actually send it (I’m talking about the kind of worry that results in anxiety induced stomach aches and the inability to sleep at night – I was almost paralyzed by the fear of failure and another rejection). But I loaded my 3 kiddos into my vehicle, drove to post office, and sent that baby off. I’m not ashamed to admit that I hugged and kissed the envelope before handing it to the gentleman behind the counter. My local post office workers have seen this display of affection from me toward manila envelopes many times over the past several years, but they’d never had to pull the envelope from my clenched hands until that day.
One month later, I was enjoying a Chai Tea Latte and chatting with Dawn Frederick (you know, that literary agent who’d done my critique about 10 months earlier). By the time we’d finished our drinks, we both agreed that she would represent me.
After another round of quick revisions, I think we’re almost ready to send my manuscript out to publishers to see if we can find a home for my creepy, little ghost story.
So here we are, still traveling the road. Hopefully, the potholes will be more like small cracks in the pavement beneath our tires as we speed forward. But if a sinkhole should happen to open up and swallow me, don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll have my laptop handy, and I promise to tell ya’ all about it.
Update: Well, it took awhile, and after falling into the POTHOLE of waiting for editors to read my manuscript submitted by my agent…and then have many of them reject it…and having others interested enough to see it again (if I made a few changes – which it took about 9 months to make)…
My agent sold my novel!!
It will be released this spring (2015). And a week after that awesome news, I was contacted by Capstone and asked to write a Narrative Nonfiction Middle Grade Novel about the Holocaust. Of course, I said, YES!! So my second novel is due to be release next spring (2016). It was a long road to publication, but I finally made it! I’m not done traveling this road. There are more books to write and certainly more potholes to fall into (and climb out of). This is only the beginning!