EMLA

The Editor Letter and Revising—(A.K.A. Slaying the Self-Doubt Monster)

Today, at the Emus Debut blog, I posted a blog entry on receiving my ONE FOR THE MURPHYS editing letter from Nancy Paulsen. What an incredible experience it is to receive such a letter–once you slay the self-doubt monster, that is!

The Emus Debut Blog

Peace,
Lynda

Categories: courage, editor, EMLA, writing | 2 Comments

Mentor Monday ~ Michelle Ray

A big MENTOR MONDAY welcome to Michelle Ray! I’m looking forward to meeting her in person someday, but for the time being, I’ll have to be content with being EMLA buddies and Emusdebuts blog mates. She posted a wonderful blog entry this week on the highs and lows of receiving and working on the editing letter. I like it—it’s funny and honest and inspiring all at the same time! Michelle is the author of the forthcoming book, FALLING FOR HAMLET, which is one of those books that I want to get my hands on!! I also find myself into Shakespeare lately, so I’m especially looking forward to getting my nose into this one.And, although I don’t know you, Amy (Michelle’s mentor) I’m sending out a big hug to you—because all writers should have an “Amy!”

Without further ado, here is Michelle!!!

For years, I was a closeted writer. Maybe you know the type: really loves the written word, journals incessantly, has great ideas for stories, might even put them on paper but would never, never, never show them to anyone. Well, until I met Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, I was just such a person.

I was teaching in Mt. Kisco, New York and was lucky that an organization called LitLife came to my school to show us how to better engage our students in writing. Amy was one of their teachers. The philosophy was to have teachers try the exercises that the students would do. This made me more sensitive to my students’ fears and challenges because, like them, I had to put myself out there when sharing my work. But amazingly, during these workshops, I not only became a better teacher, but I learned to trust myself as a writer, as well.

After one workshop, I quietly told Amy that I had started writing a manuscript. I proceeded to explain why it wasn’t finished and why I had never told anyone about it. She listened patiently and poked holes in every excuse I offered. Then she outed me to the entire teaching staff of my district by announcing, “Michelle Ray is writing a novel.” Holy cow! At first I was horrified, but you know what? I didn’t fall through a hole in the ground, I didn’t get struck by lightning, and most importantly, no one laughed at me. In fact, having this secret out in the open turned out to be what I needed to take myself seriously as a writer.

Amy believed in me when I lost faith, and encouraged me when I needed motivation. Right after I found my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, I happened to be visiting her house, and she toasted me with real champagne! I had to undercut the moment and say it didn’t mean my book would sell, and, of course, cheerleader that she is, she said it would. And she was right: within weeks, Alvina Ling at Little, Brown, offered to buy my manuscript. As if all that weren’t enough, Amy’s always among the first to “like” when I post about my publishing excitement on Facebook.

There is nothing I would change about fabulous poet, inspiring mentor, great cook, honest to goodness farmer/gardener, and terrific friend Amy . . . except that she lives so far away.

My sincerest thanks to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for bringing my secret writing life into the light.

Categories: EMLA, Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ J. Anderson Coats

A big Mentor Monday Welcome to… … J. Anderson Coats! We have not actually met in person, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting J. (Am I suppose to keep the name a secret?) online, as we are both clients of The Erin Murphy Literary Agency, are both contributors to the EMU’s Debut Blog, and are both members of The Apocalypsies, a blog for children’s authors who are debuting novels in 2012.

J,’s book, WITHOUT THE WALLS, sounds utterly fantastic! Here is a taste:

1293. North Wales. Ten years into English rule.

Cecily would give anything to leave Caernarvon. Gwenhwyfar would give anything to see all the English leave.
Neither one is going to get her wish.
Behind the city walls, English burgesses govern with impunity. Outside the walls, the Welsh are confined by custom and bear the burden of taxation, and the burgesses plan to keep it that way.

Cecily can’t be bothered with boring things like the steep new tax or the military draft that requires Welshmen to serve in the king’s army overseas. She has her hands full trying to fit in with the town’s privileged elite, and they don’t want company.
Gwenhwyfar can’t avoid these things. She counts herself lucky to get through one more day.
But the Welsh are not as conquered as they seem, and the suffering in the countryside is rapidly turning to discontent. The murmurs of revolt may be Gwenhwyfar’s only hope for survival – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.

~~Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? I’ll be looking forward to getting my hands on my own copy in 2012! I am totally looking forward to traveling the debut writer’s road with J. Anderson Coats!
So, without further ado, here is J.’s Mentor Monday:

Dear Mrs. Stromberg:

Perhaps you’ll remember me as the smart-mouth girl in the back of your AP Literature class who was often distracted by the scribblings in her notebook. I know you’ll remember me as the girl who strolled into your classroom at the beginning of her junior year ready to rest on her writing laurels.

You probably figured out quickly that I was used to coasting when it came to anything written. Never in my life had a teacher made a single meaningful red mark on anything I wrote. On the contrary, they swept A’s across the top of everything and gushed how great a writer I was.

And unfortunately, I’d gotten way too used to hearing that.

I smugly slid my first paper of the year across your desk and waited for the inevitable shower of praise. But when I got it back, it looked like you’d slit your wrists all over it.

I’ll admit it – I was gobsmacked. There was only one conclusion I could draw: you thought my writing was terrible. Why else would you mark it up like that?

I sulked for a while. I’m not proud of that. But then I buckled down. No way was I going to tolerate getting papers back all covered in red. I kept tightening and tinkering and experimenting and tweaking, all to get a paper back as white and flawless as they’d always been.

Those red marks didn’t lessen in quantity. But they changed in content. They changed in tone.

That’s when I started reading them.

Because that’s when I realized you didn’t think I was a bad writer. You tore up my writing because you knew I was good – and if I got the right feedback, I could get even better.

I took what you taught me and turned it loose on my fiction. And I got better hand over fist till I sold a novel I’m really proud of. I’m still getting better. I always will be.

I probably learned some stuff about literature from you that year, but two things sank in deep that I still carry with me: even good writers are never finished learning how to write, and honest feedback presented with respect is invaluable.

You never pulled any punches. You treated me like a writer, not a student. And I walked out of your classroom not only a better writer, but also a better person.

Best regards,

J. Anderson Coats

PS: I should also probably learn to call you by your first name, Kelly, but that one’s gonna take some time.

Categories: apocalypsies, author, EMLA, Mentor Monday, writing

Mentor Monday ~ Cynthia Levinson

A big Mentor Monday welcome to Cynthia Levinson! She is a fabulous non-fiction writer, having authored piles of fascinating articles and a book coming out from Peachtree in 2012 entitled, WE HAVE A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH.

I first heard an excerpt from this book about 18 months ago and was drawn in immediately. When I was young, non-fiction books merely spewed facts, but Cynthia’s writing is filled with character development, intrigue, action, and fascinating details. Actually, so is Cynthia! 😉

Here’s a taste:

PROLOGUE: “I WANT TO GO TO JAIL”

Eight-year-old Audrey woke up Thursday morning with freedom on her mind. But, before she could be free, she knew she had to go to jail.

“I want to go to jail,” Audrey told her mother.

“OK,” her mother answered.

She asked her parents to buy her a game she’d been eyeing. She figured that Operation, in which you take the bones out of a plastic figure and put them back together, would entertain her in case she got bored during her week on a cellblock.

Her mother thought it would be polite for her to tell Miss Wills, her third-grade teacher at Center Street Elementary, that she’d be absent. Miss Wills cried.
“I think she was proud of me,” Audrey said.

She also hugged all four grandparents goodbye.

One of her grandmothers assured her, “You’ll be fine.”

Then, Audrey’s mother drove her to church so she could be arrested.
Wait a minute! What kind of eight-year-old volunteers to go to jail? And, what kind of mother says, “OK” and makes sure she gets there? And, why would she get arrested at church?

Is this real?

Yes. Audrey Faye Hendricks and her mother, Lola, are real. So is this story.

Audrey was one of the youngest of about 4,000 black children who marched, protested, sang, and prayed their way to jail during the first week of May 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama. Their goal was to end segregation in the most racially separated and violent city in America. Many young people suffered attacks by snarling German shepherds and days of being crammed into sweltering sweatboxes. Some wondered if they would survive. And, if they did, could they accept these punishments with dignity, as they had been taught? Or, would they retaliate against the white policemen who were abusing them?

Audrey and three other young people—Washington Booker III, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter—will be your guides through these harrowing events. Along the way, you’ll hear from others as well.

I knew that Cynthia’s agent, Erin Murphy, was shopping this ms around and I was so hoping that it would sell! When I got word that it did, I danced in my office to a blaring SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED, I’M YOURS (my official book contract celebratory song! Go ahead and click it. You know you want to. Do it.)

I know that WE HAVE A JOB will be the first of many books that lucky children everywhere will read from Cynthia!

Here is Cynthia’s Mentor Story:

I didn’t know that Mary Jane was mentoring me until it was too late. Had I known, I would have inhaled every comment and suggestion she made in our critique group. Even her silences, head cocked, were tactfully telling. But, it’s only in retrospect that I realized how honored I should have felt to get guidance from Mary Jane Hopkins before she abruptly died.

It was Mary Jane, who, looking at my tediously over-long and expository manuscripts, suggested I switch from writing fiction to nonfiction. Finding that niche on my own took me another five years, at least 30 rejections of inept fiction, and an exasperated dismissal by a famous writer of my amateurish novel at an expensive weeklong retreat.

While I stubbornly insisted I was going to write picture books, she urged me to write for the magazine market. She was right about that, too, though I didn’t realize it until years later when a famous editor scribbled all over the first chapter of that very same novel at another expensive weeklong retreat.

Along the way, Mary Jane patiently helped me pare words, hone the story, find a rhythm. It’s only because of her that I finally sold two stories—to magazines, of course. The effusiveness of her congratulations masked her own role in these successes. Still, my own blinkered, I-can-do-it-myself attitude meant that one story had to be heavily edited, and the other was never printed.

Just before she suffered the stroke, she had been working on a beautifully crafted novel about a boy whose parents were divorcing and another who was entering the adoption system. Every chapter tightened the emotional grip of the one before. We were nearly as devastated to lose the progress of her story as we were to lose Mary Jane. When her husband asked our critique group to finish the novel, we sorrowfully explained that the distinctive voice, the clean writing, and the characters we looked forward to visiting with every week were hers alone. Mary Jane’s daughter, who inherited her mother’s writing genes, found a page of notes and questions her mother had kept. Question #10, I believe, was “How does it end?”

My writing—almost all nonfiction and, thanks to success in the magazine market, finally branching out to a trade book—would find its flow and reach its end so much more effectively if I could still hear Mary Jane. Fortunately, she taught me, posthumously, to listen, which I do, avidly, to my later mentors, whose advice I embrace.

Thank you, Cynthia! Very touching and a good message for us all!

Here is another song–a beautiful tribute.

Categories: author, EMLA, Erin Murphy, interview, Mentor Monday, writing

Mentor Monday ~ Tamara Ellis Smith

A BIG welcome to Tamara Ellis Smith who is completely and utterly awesome!I met Tam at Erin Murphy’s retreat out in Portland, Oregon a year and a half ago. I liked her immediately and more and more as the week went on. No question that she is a gifted writer but also a super great human being—wicked nice. The real deal. (and the BEST tattoos ever!) The only thing that I’d change about her is her geography—too far away for lunch dates!

Tam’s middle grade novel, MARBLE BOYS, won an Honorable Mention in the 2008 PEN New England Discovery Awards and was runner up for the 2008 SCBWI Works-In-Progress grant. I’ve heard an excerpt of this and it’s beautiful. Visual. I still have images from it in my head after all this time. I know in my heart of hearts that Erin, our over-the-top awesome agent, will find a lucky editor for it soon! And, I’ll be one of the first to celebrate!!!

Tam also has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College—a top program in the country! God! I can hardly get my socks mated! Clearly, this girl is in for BIG things! 😉

Welcome, Tam!

Kathy Appelt

By Tamara Ellis Smith


Anyone who has been in a room with Kathi Appelt for more than a few minutes has probably heard her utter her famous words “Write like your fingers are on fire!” She lives this. She is passionate, full of energy, and the words that pour out of her heart and mind are piping, steaming hot!

I was lucky enough to have Kathi as my second semester advisor when I was a graduate student in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College for the Arts. At that point, I had been in school for one semester—long enough to know that this was exactly what I was meant to do with my life and that I had no idea how to do make it actually happen. It was a mucky, murky time. I was in it, for sure, but I was kicking up a lot of debris and I couldn’t see very clearly.

Kathi nurtured me that semester in so many different ways.

She nurtured my craft: I was working on a novel for the first time (I had only ever written picture books before that) and she gave me permission to finish a whole draft. She urged me to do it, asked me to let go and let it flow out of me. Feel what that felt like. She nurtured my soul: She created a real community from the five of us students who had her as an advisor that semester. She asked us to connect, to talk to each other, and support each other as we all dug deep to do our work. And she nurtured my heart: Kathi and I talked over email—probably over twenty hours all told—about the craft of writing…but also about raising children, managing writer’s block, and balancing family and work.

Craft. Soul. Heart. Kathi held and lifted each one of them.

She taught me how to embrace it all—to open my arms wide and gather it up, to weave it all together, to let it organically be what it wants to be. In essence, Kathi got me to stand still. To let all of the pieces touch me, and float around me, and finally settle to the ground. Like standing still in a stream, and allowing the mucky, murky water to settle until it is clear. This feels intuitively right to me, but I don’t think I would have trusted that way of being if Kathi hadn’t guided me there.

Kathi writes like her fingers are on fire, but I believe that she also writes—and lives—like this. By embracing it all, by staying quiet and still in the cool water, by weaving all of the pieces together. You can see it in her work. And you can feel it when she teaches.

I am eternally grateful that Kathi is in my life—my mentor, my moon sister, my friend.

Thanks SO much, Tam! We so much enjoyed hearing about this fantastic mentor of yours—none other than Kathi Appelt! I hope to meet her in person some time soon…

Categories: EMLA, Erin Murphy, Mentor Monday

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