courage

Remembering the Query Daze – a Writer Looks Back with Gratitude

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Lately, I’ve been thinking back to the “query daze.” How hard it was to put my work in front of strangers who were experts and ask them what they thought. At that time, I received some pretty tough feedback. The first query/writing sample I’d ever sent out (for a book entitled Kicking the Beehive) came back with a written response—I was thrilled, believing that a hand-written comment on a rejection means you’re on the cusp of success! The note read, “I love your title. However, you never need send me anything again.”

Ouch, right?

Thing is…I knew the book wasn’t ready. That I wasn’t ready. I sent it as a Hail Mary. A hope and a wish. My head thought I had a chance. My heart knew better.

So, I began another book. The voice popped. I believed in it. Yet, there was this other voice, too. Not demanding to be written but relentlessly tugging at me. So, I began to write that one instead. It was entitled, One for the Murphys, and was later published with Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin in 2012. The book I’d left in order to write Murphys is now under contract and due out in Fall, 2016.

Dreams come true, folks! Believe me; they do.

So, I’ve been thinking about my fellow writers in the pre-agent days. I wrote a love letter to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) after receiving an ARC of One for the Murphys because SCBWI was so crucial in getting published.

I’ve been replaying those times with friends and critique group members I met through SCBWI who both encouraged me and kicked me in the butt–depending on what was called for that day. We were a tribe. We still are. And I am grateful to benefit from their caring, honesty, and wisdom.

And, oddly enough, I am grateful for that time of querying and waiting for the phone to ring. Knowing that 212 was the area code for New York city where many agents and publishers would call from. And hoping. Hoping that when the phone rang, it would be a 212 call. These were the days of high hopes laced with days of wondering if I should just work on something easier. Like pulling a tire through a keyhole.

However, that time taught me about grit and determination and the business of publishing. I learned what I wanted and how very much I wanted it. It was a time of feeling both alone and part of something bigger all at the same time.

My second novel, FISH IN A TREE, (avail for pre-order now ~ release is Feb 5, 2015) has many themes that remind me of my early author journey:                                                                Copy (3) of FISH IN A TREE COVER high res

  • Grit and resilience
  • Having the courage to accept help
  • Don’t play the comparison game. Recognize both your strengths and short-comings not in terms of being better or worse but in being human with your one-of-a-kind voice.
  • Let your strengths shine in the first try (draft). Work on your short-comings later (in revision).
  • Being vulnerable to your audience can be hard–but it often deepens connections with others (Here is an old post on the vulnerability of being a writer )
  • Sometimes the things that make you feel like there’s something wrong with you are actually your strengths (i.e. – never being able to follow an outline like other writers)
  • Having others on the journey with you makes for a richer ride and a happier person.
  • Yup–we’re all in this together. And we have to support each other. That’s what it’s all about. Not just writing but the whole being human thing.

So, since I am making these connections between my early writing career and FISH IN A TREE…

and bubbling over with all of this gratitude for my tribe…

and looking for a way to celebrate the release of this book…

AND knowing how much I was/am helped by others…

I’d like to try to help other writers who are longing to break into children’s publishing. So…

I am offering a giveaway where two children’s writers will be randomly chosen. The winners will be contacted with instructions re: sending me the first ten pages of their book (12 pt, double-spaced) and I will give a balanced critique and speak with the writer on the phone for 30-minutes about his/her writing sample.

To enter, you must:

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1) Be an adult who has been actively writing fiction for children

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2) NOT be published in any genre (as I am trying to help those who have not broken in YET)

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To earn entries, you may:

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~~Make a comment below. Please enter your email address OR twitter name so I can contact you if you win

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~~Share this giveaway link to FB (which you must tell me about in the comments)

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~~Tweeting or Retweeting with the hashtag,  #WritingAllies  (This will help me find your tweets in order to enter you in the drawing. You may also tag me @Lynmullalyhunt )

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The winners will be chosen at 11:59 PM on December 10th. Winners will be notified by the following morning and also announced here. Due to travel plans, I must receive your ten pages via e-mail within 2 days of winning and I will schedule the phone conversation within a few days after that.

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**Thank you and good luck. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote about being a writer:

The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Categories: author, courage, Fish in a Tree, Giveaway, Grit, SCBWI, writing | 65 Comments

An Iron Whisper

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For years, I knew that pit in the stomach every morning before school. Like so many others, I was bullied as a kid. A lot.

The first bout began in fourth grade under bright autumn leaves and continued until green buds returned. Three boys a year older than me decided they would make it their almost-daily task to DSC09712meet me at the same place and beat me up. Thing is, I could have avoided them, as I walked home every day and there were multiple ways to leave. I knew this. Yet. Every single day, I would show up. I’d put down my stuff. And…I’d try to win.

It was the 70’s. We didn’t tell. We were raised to believe that it was “part of growing up.” And, at that time, it really was. Some of my peer struggles were pretty extreme. In the sixth grade, I landed in the emergency room for stitches, but lucky that I didn’t lose my left eye. (I don’t think the other kid intended such an extreme result, but…)

It wasn’t just physical. For three years, there were some girls that used to share their opinions of me every day. Which was worse than a fight. Was I afraid of the bullying? I was. Did I hate it? I did. But, I reacted to mistreatment with a stubborn passion that I am forever grateful to my Mum for. When others would say and do things that were unkind, a message would meander through my head. Like an iron whisper. “They’re wrong.”

This was a gift. I know that. And I know that not everyone can react this way. But I do believe a reaction like this can be learned–for self talk is so powerful. When someone else tries to drag us down, most of us react in one of two ways: The first is “I don’t deserve that” which lights a fire inside—the kind of fire that fuels determination and success. The kind of thing that helps people rise above their circumstances. Turns victims into conquerors.

The second reaction is, “They’re right.” A deflation of the spirit. It’s an understandable reaction but one we must all fight to eradicate in the children/teens we know. Actually, in anyone we know.

For me, resilience was honed by being resilient. I have achieved things I never thought I would because I pushed through fear, dismissed the naysayers, and plugged away. There is no doubt that my struggles and heartbreak as a kid have aided in my success along the way. Although, a bit ironic, I think.

I recall when the anti-bullying campaigns were introduced to schools over a decade ago. Being good to each other is a great message, of course. But, with the seemingly constant reports of childhood despair because of bullying by peers…well, I have wondered why we don’t have more calls for resilience as well. A reminder to play the “I don’t deserve this” message rather than giving in to feeling ashamed about labels that someone else pins to us–which are probably inaccurate. After all, a bully’s actions/words have more to do with him/her than their target.

I’ll be honest. I’ve sat and long-stared at victims’ pictures—kids bright-eyed and beautiful and looking like they’ll take on the world when they grow up. Kids who’ve had supportive parents, people who love them…and yet…they end their lives because of bullying. The word, heartbreaking, doesn’t nearly cover it.

I love the “It Gets Better” campaign. It’s gone a long way in showing gay teens that they are not alone and that it really does get better.  Also, there is a wonderful video below done by Megan Kelley Hall, one of the editors of Dear Bully. (The other Dear Bully editor is Carrie Jones) We need more and varied messages like this for kids–and we need to introduce resilience earlier. When I visit schools, I discuss the phrase, “Be someone’s hero.” I touch upon being good to each other, of course. But I also point out that this phrase means being a hero to yourself as well. Knowing that just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. And every time. Every school. I see some faces of kids who I suspect have not heard this before.

Teaching kindness is a such a human thing to do. It’s because we’re protective. It represents our wish for peace and mutual understanding. Our desire to toss out the things about humanity we know don’t shine. It is a lesson we need to continue to teach–and model. I have seen wonderful changes in schools since the anti-bullying campaigns began. Sadly, though, there will be kids who are still unkind. Regardless of these lessons.

So, my hope is that we are spending some time teaching kids to stand tall as well. To be brave. Value who they are—for we all have gifts to offer the world. Know that others’ opinions are not necessarily facts. Self esteem doesn’t come from others; it comes from impressing ourselves. And how do we do that?

Stand strong. Seek out what makes you happy. Shake off the bad stuff and look for the good, because there’s plenty of it. Seek out the people who do care–because they are there. You can succeed. Be happy. Chase down any dream you wish. Make any life you want. Regardless of having been bullied.

Because you are worthy.

Of everything wonderful.

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GIVEAWAY:  Enter to win signed copies of BREAK THESE RULES and ONE FOR THE MURPHYS

by leaving a comment below, retweeting, and sharing. Giveaway ends

Sunday, Oct 27th at 11:59 pm. Thank you 🙂

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Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes, inspiring, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Domino Pushers

I sometimes wonder if the truly invested teachers and librarians out there ever take the time to think about the impact they have on the world. The impact on individuals that they meet along the way. And how their reaching out to elevate the spirit a child is like knocking down a winding path of dominoes. Dominoes that can fall for years to come.
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I wonder if teachers and librarians like this ever stop to think how they change the world within the walls of their classrooms and libraries. How paying attention to the quiet child who could slip under the radar can change a kid’s perception of themselves. Change their internal compass. How realizing that sometimes the kid who creates the biggest commotion is asking for help in the only way he knows how.
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I just read a comment from a librarian who spent her vacation reading five middle grade books and couldn’t wait to get back to school with them because she knew the exact students she would share them with. She was not patting herself on the back. She was not boastful.
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She is a hero.
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Today, I am thinking of the teachers and librarians who are quietly going about their day just as they always do. Saving children. With the right book. Or a hand on a kid’s shoulder. A knowing glance or nod. Some acknowledgment of understanding. A recess period of one-on-one help. Whether it be academic or otherwise.
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And, I’m thinking of one child who desperately needs one of these heroes.

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Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes, inspiring, middle-grade, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boston, You’re my Home. Sort of.

As a kid, when asked, “If you had three wishes…” one of those wishes was always to live in Boston.

On the way back home to CT from Boston family gatherings, I would practice my Boston accentwelcome to mass (which sounded more like a rogue pirate than a Bostonian). I wanted a poster of Larry Bird in those too-short seventies shorts even though I was not a basketball fan. Why? Because of the Boston Shamrock on his jacket. Even now, the “Welcome to Massachusetts” sign feels like a return home.

I have a blessed life, but at the end of it all I will regret one thing. That I never actually lived in Boston.

The events of the Boston Marathon break my heart.

Whenever things get rough—when life hands me cards I’d rather not hold—I come to whatever it is from a place of gratitude. This is one of my best qualities, I think. It has literally saved me.

The events in Boston are still weighing heavily on me, and so I look for the good. Looking for the helpers (as Mr. Rogers used to say) and there are many. I am grateful that the many people I love who were at the marathon were uninjured—even the ones that stood at the finish line and witnessed the blasts. I am grateful that others that I love were spared seeing it at all. I cry for the losses and I cry for the triumphs. And there are so many of both.

I love the phrase, “Boston strong” because it fits—-man, is Boston full of a bunch of scrappy we’re-not-taking-this kind of people; I’ve always loved that about the city. I love how everyone around you in Fenway is your best friend for the day. I love the history of Boston and how the fighting spirit of being free from tyranny was born on its street and on its fields. I love the beauty and the humor and the energy of the city. I love how I feel like I’m part of something special when I’m there. Some of my favorite movies are set in Boston: Good Will Hunting, Fever Pitch, and Far and Away. Heck, I even wrote a whole novel with a beloved Boston theme. Why? Because if you’re going to convey emotion, I believe that your story has to have threads of things you really love.

And, I love Boston.

In the midst of all of this, I am prouder to be a New Englander and an American than ever. But, as an American and a mom and a wife and a sister and a daughter, I mourn too. I will for a long while. I have no doubt, though, that the Boston Marathon will draw record numbers next year and I plan to be there to cheer on the runners. Bostonians—and others from around the world–will stand. And run. With pride and with grit.

I may not have your zip code, Boston, but I have your back. My heart is with you. Just as it’s always been.

Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes | Tags: , | 32 Comments

Anything and Everything — Sandy Hook

“Sad” is a thin word for how I’ve been feeling.

In making a comment on Facebook about raising kids, I said that “they are worth anything and everything.” And then my warmth and love tilted toward the sad as I, once again, thought of Sandy Hook.  For this community and those sweet children, and those heroic teachers and all those left to grieve have never been far from my thoughts.

I’ve analyzed and tried to process what has happened there. But how does a person ever process a tragedy like this? I’m supposed to be good with words, but I have had so much trouble finding them. While taking care of the everyday details of life, I am distracted. I am experiencing sadness and shock and awe. Optimism and hope. Loss and empathy. And longing. Lots of longing. All twisted together like the threads of a rope. 

Between teaching and volunteering, I have spent about 24 years in elementary schools and so my mind has shown me time and again how this may have played out. As a mother and teacher and human being, it will haunt me for a long while. All I want to do is hug those children and the teachers who protected them.

I am grateful to have my oldest home from college. I am remembering what is important. And I am crying. Still. For those mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters. All those sweet faces—all that they undoubtedly offered the world in the short time that they were here. And all that the world has lost. And, my chest aches every time I think of their parents. How they probably think that their children are worth anything and everything, too.

I do see people pulling together, though. Reaching out. Opening their eyes and paying attention. I, too, have done these things. It is easy to get lost in the details of everyday life. Since December 14th, I have worked less and listened more. I have taken less for granted. I’ve made some overdue calls and will make more. The things that have been on my mind and have worried me, now worry me far less. And I have witnessed time and again how our humanity seems to flow in the face of events that are so inexplicable.

Late last night, my train from NY rolled into the station. There was a teenage girl who struggled with a large suitcase and so I offered to help her with it. A short time later, she waited in the station lobby holding a cell phone and I asked her if she was okay. If she had a ride. It was nothing—in fact, I almost didn’t ask at all—hesitating because I wondered what she’d think of a stranger asking her if she was okay (I am such an over-thinker.). I ended up asking only because she called after me to thank me for helping with her bag.

It was nothing. Seriously. But it seemed to make such an impression on her. And I began to think of all the little things people think to do—the kindnesses they almost extend and then don’t for some reason. Whether it be worry or overthinking or embarrassment.

I hope that we will all be kinder–strive to be someone’s hero. Not necessarily the kinds of heroes we hear about in Sandy Hook. Just regular, everyday heroes. Offering a smile or a kind word. Inviting someone over for tea who is lonely. For these small kindnesses may have a profound impact. I have been impacted by small gestures, and it makes sense that others would be, too. No more overthinking for me.

This tragedy has been a reality check for a lot of people. A lot of good has followed this horrible event. How it saddens me, though, that our world will go on without those 26 angels.

Drawing done by 7th grader, Connor, from Lousiana (used with permission)

Drawing done by 7th grader, Connor, from Lousiana (used with permission)

Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, grief, Heroes, parenting | 9 Comments

The Velveteen Rabbit Wears Converse?

I have such a daunting “to-do list” that I really shouldn’t be blogging today, but life has tapped me on the shoulder. So, here I am. On the one week birthday of One for the Murphys.

Shortly after ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (and Converse-wearing Carley Connors) went under contract, my big brother, Rick, asked me what I hoped for in terms of being a children’s author. I suppose he expected the typical answer—big sales or major awards. I thought for a second and said, “I hope my books will make a difference to kids. I want them to carry them in their backpacks and make a mess of them with marked passages, bent covers, and dog-eared pages.” (Velveteen Rabbit kinds of books, I now call them.) Ricky got that wry smile that we share and said, “You know, you sound just like Mum?” We laughed. Because I really did.

A series of things has occurred lately that have given me an idea of the stunning power behind this author thing. Not power as in control—power as in the human connection. The ability to make a difference. I have been so moved by some of it that I have not shared anything online until today.

First of all, while attending a recent big children’s literature event, I met an author that I have admired for years. She has earned a handful of major awards and that’s cool—SO cool! But it is her writing, her gift for story-telling and her voice—a voice that reverberates and characters that long linger that really floors me. She stood in front of my table, holding my ARC of Murphys and you know what? It was a mess. Bent cover, dog-eared pages. It was fantastic!

Turns out that her daughter has read it three times and has carried it in her backpack. I was so touched by this—and touched that she would bring it to show me. In terms of who she is, I admit that I gushed a bit more than was socially acceptable (okay–it wasn’t *that* bad!) over this author; she is such a gifted writer and a super, down-to-earth person. Loved meeting her! I Promise to keep my feet on the floor and speak in complete sentences the next time we meet.

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Recently, I also had a school visit that dreams are made of for someone who wants to help children with her writing. It was supposed to be 45-minutes but ran two hours. When I finally left, a group of about seven kids followed me into the hallway, asking me light-hearted questions. However, when they were called back,  one child lingered and the conversation that followed gives me chills as I type this now. I’ll never forget that child’s words—or the tone of them. A braid of resilience and weariness and pleading. How we talked about how letting people help you is part of being strong. About seeing yourself as a conqueror rather than a victim.

This visit was followed by the arrival of the most thoughtful, detailed, pensive, creative, funny batch of letters ever. True. It’s the first batch I have received, but I can’t imagine ever receiving a better stack of letters. I responded by telling those kids I’d keep them forever and ever—and I will.

And so today I woke up to a blog post of a fellow writer and friend. I won’t paraphrase because she told the story better than I could. But, I hope you’ll read it.

http://nancytandon.blogspot.com/2012/05/book-bravo-one-for-murphys.html?spref=fb

Upon reading this, the awesome Brian Lies wrote, “I think you’ve just been touched by the magic of WRITING books, Lynda (as compared to being a reader of them). When you send one out into the world, it travels to places you’d never find, and meets people you might never encounter—including people who embrace your work the way you’ve embraced YOUR very favorite books.”

I guess I knew in my head what this would be like—but I never imagined how it would feel in my heart.

Categories: Be Someone's Hero, Book Review, courage, inspiring, One for the Murphys, teaching, writing | 9 Comments

Be Someone’s Hero ~ Irena Sendler

I remember hearing about Irena Sendler back in 1998 when she passed away at the age of 98; her story has stuck with me ever since. Now, this woman was a person of real integrity and courage. In a world that reveres football players as heroes, she was the real deal.Her story takes place during the Second World War when the Nazis were rounding up Jewish families to put into camps and/or exterminate them. Irena was raised by compassionate parents; her father was a doctor, and her mother was a social worker. Her father died of Typhus, which he contracted by caring for Jewish patients that his fellow doctors refused to treat.

When the Nazis occupied Poland, the Jews of Warsaw were confined to a ghetto. This upset her, so she volunteered to do plumbing and sewer work as a way to get in and out for the camps easily. Being German, she predicted what would happen to those families in the ghetto, so she took action–hiding children in the back of her truck and sneaking them out. Hiding infants in her large tool box and older children in sacks, she got past the gates. She had dogs accompany her that were trained to bark when Nazi solders came around the truck in order to cover up the noise of young children.

Also, because she hoped they would be reunited with their families after the war, she kept careful records of the children’s names, their new identities, and locations. She wrote this info on pieces of tissue, hid them in jars, and buried them in her back yard. Sadly, many of those parents of the smuggled children would be dead by the end of the war.

When the Nazis caught Irena, they could not find her records. In fact, they mistakenly thought she was working alone—not the leader of a well-organized group that had saved the lives of over 2,500 children.

Imagine! 2,500 children!

She was sentenced to death but not executed. After she was badly beaten, her arms and legs broken, she was left for dead in a vacant field, where her fellow saviors rescued her. She spent the rest of the war working to help save Jewish children in secret under an assumed name.

I was so, so touched by this story upon hearing of it years ago. I suppose it’s because I’m a teacher and mother and can imagine what it must have been like to have someone knock on my door and ask to save my children. (She would go door to door in the Warsaw ghetto, talking mothers out of their children) What a heartbreak to see them walk away—but how grateful I would have been.

I guess her story has stuck with me, also, because I am human. There are so many sad stories out there and sometimes…well, it gets to me. How people treat each other. But, then I hear a story like this. A woman who could have laid low who instead decided to put her life on the line for all of those children she didn’t even know.

Shall we stop for a moment and think about what the world would be like if we had more people on earth like Irena Sendler?

Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, death, inspiring

Unexpected Christmas Gifts

I find unexpected gifts in my visit to a shelter for teens:

http://emusdebuts.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/a-christmas-surprise/

Categories: author, courage, grief, inspiring | 1 Comment

The Worry Monster Sinks its Teeth in!

Today, I talk about how The Worry Monster sunk its teeth into me and how I found its kryptonite, claiming what is mine:

http://emusdebuts.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/the-worry-monster-sinks-its-teeth-into-the-very-unsuspecting-writer/

Categories: courage, journey, writing | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Green-eyed Monster Should Not Stay for Tea

Visit me over at Emus where I explore where jealousy comes from in writers, artists, musicians, and other creative types–and how we can deal with it.
Categories: confession, courage, journey, writing | Leave a comment

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