inspiring

NCTE in Boston – Amazing Weekend!

Last weekend, I attended NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English). What an amazing weekend. And, no…I’m not just throwing that word, amazing, around. It really did amaze me.

It amazed me to see so many kid & book loving people all in one place. It amazed me to see the sea of publishers’ booths. It amazed me to meet authors whose work I’ve admired for years. It amazed me to meet friends “for real” from my online community and The Nerdy Book Club. It amazed me to attend workshops given by these people for their teaching colleagues – and it amazed me how much it all made me miss being in the classroom. Inspiration everywhere!

And I left feeling just so, so grateful. Grateful that I have been blessed with this career. And grateful that there are teachers in the world like the ones I met at NCTE. I had many teachers and librarians thank me for writing, which I so appreciated and was humbled by. But, let’s face it–without the teachers like the ones below (and tons of others!) most kids wouldn’t pick up books, discover how opening the cover of a book can open up things inside of them that they never would have dreamed. Books do change lives. I’m proof of that.

So here’s to teachers and librarians! There are so many gifted, big-hearted people in the trenches with our kids every day. Thank goodness.

Here is my picture wrap-up of the most excellent NCTE, 2013. 🙂

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Hanging out in the Penguin Booth with the phenomenal Judy Blume. WOW! Also, there with Eileen Bishop Kreit from Puffin. Always so happy to see Eileen. :-)

Hanging out in the Penguin Booth with the phenomenal Judy Blume. WOW! Also, there with Eileen Bishop Kreit from Puffin. Always so happy to see Eileen. She’s a rock star in my book. 🙂

Happy to visit with lit agency friends! (Front:) Susan Meyer, Erin Murphy (my agent), Joan Paquette, Elly Swartz  (Back:) Jennifer Nielsen, Audrey Vernick, Nancy Tupper Ling, moi

Happy to visit with lit agency friends! (Front:) Susan Meyer, Erin Murphy (my agent), Joan Paquette, Elly Swartz (Back:) Jennifer Nielsen, Audrey Vernick, Nancy Tupper Ling, moi

My fabulous agent, Erin Murphy. Doesn't she have the best name ever? :-)

My fabulous agent, Erin Murphy. Doesn’t she have the best name ever? 🙂

Editor and Publisher, Nancy Paulsen, with "her girls" at NCTE. Beck McDowell, Nancy Paulsen, moi, Jacqueline Woodson

Editor and Publisher, Nancy Paulsen, with “her girls” at NCTE. Beck McDowell, Nancy Paulsen, moi, Jacqueline Woodson

Love these ladies!  Alyson Beecher and Cynthia Alaniz . SO fortunate to attend their panel :-)

Love these ladies! Alyson Beecher and Cynthia Alaniz . SO fortunate to attend their panel 🙂

Alyson Beecher who has been so very sweet throughout my debut journey. Loved meeting her for real!

Alyson Beecher who has been so very sweet throughout my debut journey. Loved meeting her for real!

Who doesn't love Jennifer Nielsen? Finally got to talk with each other in person!

Who doesn’t love Jennifer Nielsen? Finally got to talk with each other in person!

Dessert with some of my favorite Maine ladies: Susan Dee, Mary , Gigi McAllister, and Mary Lou Shuster

Dessert with some of my favorite Maine ladies: Susan Dee, Mary Bellavance, Gigi McAllister, and Mary Lou Shuster

Chatting with these great ladies about books. Thanks, Heather Jensen :-)

Chatting with these great ladies about books. Thanks, Heather Jensen and Amy Romanowski 🙂

Here I am with Gigi McAllister!! Yeah :-)

Here I am with Gigi McAllister!! Yeah 🙂

Here, I am with my editor and publisher, Nancy Paulsen. I could write something very long about how phenomenal she is, but then she'd have to edit it. :-)  So, let's just say that I'm blessed.

Here, I am with my editor and publisher, Nancy Paulsen. I could write something very long about how phenomenal she is, but then she’d have to edit it. 🙂 So, let’s just say that I’m blessed.

An amazing panel on multi-cultural literature with authors, Mitali Perkins, Christina Gonzalez, and Matt de la Pena. Also, teachers, Cynthia Alaniz, Teresa Bunner (standing) and Alyson Beecher

An amazing panel on multi-cultural literature with authors, Mitali Perkins, Christina Gonzalez, and Matt de la Pena. Also, teachers, Cynthia Alaniz, Teresa Bunner (standing) and Alyson Beecher

At a fun Tweet-up with Marianne Knowles, Ann Haywood Leal, and Emily Mitchell

At a fun Tweet-up with Marianne Knowles, Ann Haywood Leal, and Emily Mitchell

Ellen Hopkins and Erin Dionne. :-)

Ellen Hopkins and Erin Dionne. 🙂

I got to meet Melissa Guerrette! Yeah! :-)

I got to meet Melissa Guerrette! Yeah! 🙂

Such fun to meet Colby Sharp in person!

Such fun and an honor to meet Colby Sharp in person! Nerdy Book Ambassador Extraordinaire.

Meeting the great Donalyn Miller, co-founder of The Nerdy Book Club and renowned author, was such a pleasure. A sweet author moment for me.

Meeting the great Donalyn Miller, Co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club phenomenon and acclaimed author/literacy expert, was such a pleasure. Such a sweet author moment for me.

Nerdy presenter, Teri Lesesne (AKA Professor Nana!) WOW! :-)

Nerdy presenter, Teri Lesesne (AKA Professor Nana!) 🙂 Teri shared a bunch of cool online stuff to help teachers turn kids onto reading and help teachers organize including vine videos and livebinder.com

Nerdy Co-Founder, Colby Sharp presents with Author, Jenni Holm :-)

Nerdy Co-Founder, Colby Sharp presents with uber-talented author, Jenni Holm 🙂 “We want to give kids experiences that change lives.” ~Colby “Help your students make connections to authors via Skype, Twitter, and fan mail.” ~Jenni

Nerdy presenter, Kellee Moye  :-)

Nerdy presenter, Kellee Moye 🙂 “Set high expectations and hold the kids to them.” “You might as well be *that* teacher that talks books.” “Give the kids choices re: books.” “Don’t just hand out books. You must book talk them!”

A Nerdy workshop!

The Nerdy audience! 🙂

Nerdy presenter, Katherine Sokolowski :-)

Nerdy presenter, Katherine Sokolowski 🙂 Conferences with kids should be like talking around a table.” “Going forward–it’s all about relationships. I’m not talking about me–I’m talking about *them* ” “Slow down. Talk less.”

Donalyn Miller! :-) "Every reader has value and their own voice."

Donalyn Miller! 🙂 “Every reader has value and their own voice.”

Nerdy presenter, Cindy Minnich, and YA author, Beck McDowell

Nerdy presenter, Cindy Minnich, and YA author, Beck McDowell

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Cindy Minnich presents at Nerdy Workshop! 🙂 “Our lives are constantly changing and we need to change with them.” “Have kids keep log of their lives.” “If we know where we are and where we want to be, we can plan.”

jackie woodson

Me with Jackie Woodson. Amazing writer. Phenomenal person.

This was actually at AASL the weekend before, but I SO loved being on a panel with these ladies. We spoke on using books to teach resilience and compassion: (1st row:) Jo Knowles, Kimberly Newton Fusco, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Karen Day, (2nd row:) Leslie Connor, Erin Moulton, Me, Cynthia Lord  (not pictured: Moderator, Susannah Richards)

This was actually at AASL the weekend before, but I SO loved being on a panel with these ladies. We spoke on using books to teach resilience and compassion: (1st row:) Jo Knowles, Kimberly Newton Fusco, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Karen Day, (2nd row:) Leslie Connor, Erin Moulton, Me, Cynthia Lord (not pictured: Moderator, Susannah Richards)

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Categories: agent, author, editor, friends, inspiring, writing | Tags: | 4 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

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

Interview with WATER BALLOON author, Audrey Vernick


Drop everything you’re doing (well, except for reading this!) and get thee to a bookstore! Today is the official release day of Audrey Vernick’s WATER BALLOON, a young adult novel that made me laugh out loud one moment and brush away tears the next.

Marley Baird is dealing with a lot. The book chronicles a summer of juggling losses—her parents are newly separated, her best friends are peeling away, she must live with her dad for the summer in a new place, and she is saddled with a summer babysitting job that she doesn’t want. However, with all of the losses, there are gains for her, as she navigates change, learns to trust her instincts and be honest with herself. Also, meeting Jack, a cute boy who loves dogs as much as she does doesn’t hurt either.

In a word, this book is authentic. The characters are rich and layered, drawn like real people with many sides. I loved Marley Baird immediately and the more I got into the book, the more I loved her. She is a real kid. An honest kid. A kid who thinks and feels and acts authentically. Does she always make the right decisions? No. But, Marley Baird is so real and I love that.

One of the subplots I loved was Marley’s dad-imposed babysitting job. The twins in Marley’s charge are hilarious and Marley’s take on them is equally so. Not chuckle funny—laugh out loud funny.

Another impressive facet of this book was the friendship triangle. Vernick does a masterful job of setting up a situation where the reader knows that Marley will commit social suicide. As a reader, you want to yell, “No! Don’t do it!” but I love this subplot for so many reasons. Yes, my heart broke for Marley, but I love how she is socially naïve because there are so many kids like that and they aren’t often drawn in books. Television, especially, tends to depict the kids who’d rather grow up overnight. A book like this would be wonderful for those *many* kids out there who’d rather take their time.

In fact, let me just say that I loved this book so much, that I will find the space in my heart to forgive the dartboard with the Red Sox in the middle. And that’s really sayin’ something.

Okay. Enough from me! I’m thrilled to have Audrey Vernick here today to answer some questions about her debut novel, WATER BALLOON.

1) What were the initial seeds of WATER BALLOON?

I decided it was time to write a novel. I had no idea where to begin. No story. No character. Zip.

A family in our neighborhood was going through the early stages of divorce, and I thought a lot about the emotional cost of a family breaking apart. I didn’t know them well, but you could see the strain on the girl, the younger of two children. That was my starting point—a girl struggling with the dismantling of what had always been her daily world.

I wrote the first draft so long ago that I can’t remember where the rest came from. Oh, except for the two friends—Leah and Jane. The trauma of middle-grade friendship is something I remember very well.

2) How much of you is in Marley Baird?

A ton. That’s been the big difference for me between my picture books and this novel. It’s always felt like my picture books are…my books. And my novel is me.

3) The word that pops into my head about your book is “authentic.” For example, I feel like I’ve met real children in the twins and the friendship triangle with Leah and Jane is heartbreakingly real. Can you tell us about something in the book that was completely fictional and tell us why and how you created it?

First, this isn’t something I’ve thought about, but if I were asked what Water-Balloon-describing adjective would be the most satisfying and happy-making, I think I’d have said “authentic,” so thank you so very much for that. As a reader I am deeply put off by inauthentic moments in books and my greatest concern was avoiding such moments.

Second, to answer the opposite of your question, the only thing that’s really true in this book is Rig, who is based on my beloved dog, Rookie (with the one difference being that Rig never takes off when unleashed while Rookie’s greatest desire seems to be to get very far away from me as quickly as he is able).

Third, a real answer: I made up that Monopoly game. I wanted something that was unique and important to those three friends. Their version of the game, along with the water balloon blitz tradition, is meant to convey the weight and worth of their years of intense friendship.

4) Can you tell us about your own young life as a Yankee fan?

I wasn’t a young Yankee fan! I grew up in Queens, home of the Mets. I tried to love that team of misfits, but I just couldn’t.

I imagine the Yankees started to rub off on me when I was attending high school in the Bronx. But there was something about living in Boston in the late eighties that brought out the Bronx in me.

My great Yankee fan years have been adult years. I’ve been fortunate to be at some stadium-shaking games in the old stadium, and over at the new house with my son when Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit. That was an awesome, electric day. (Check this out, Red Sox fans: Hunt’s devoting time and space in her blog to great Yankee moments!)

5) Which relationship in the book did you find the most satisfying to write?

I thought a lot about how to answer this one. I think Marley grows a lot in almost all her relationships, even those that ultimately end. But I think the one I enjoyed writing the most was the one that was unchanging—Marley’s relationship with her dog, Rig.

Rig is just in the background a lot, but he’s always there, the way we can count on our pets to be when life’s too hard to talk about with other humans. He’s steady, that Rig. I’m glad Marley had him.

6) How did the book change during the revision process with your editor?

First with my agent, and then with my editor. The big change with the agent-revision was to strive to make it a less quiet book. All the water balloon material was added in this revision—which means the most painful scene, the one in which Marley pretty much commits social suicide, is new. While things were very difficult and complicated with her friends in earlier drafts, the addition of the balloon blitz tradition helped me raise the stakes in a way that was absent from earlier drafts.

I think what my revision with my editor achieved was to make Marley more likeable. She grows more in this version. It was so interesting to me—with a few light strokes, a self-pitying scene flipped into one that was more likely to evoke compassion in readers. My editor also suggested the addition of a couple of scenes that now feel like they have always been there, including the last scene.

Audrey, thanks so much for coming by today. And, a huge congratulations on this wonderful debut. Can’t wait to read the next one!

Categories: author, Book Review, books, inspiring, interview | Tags: | 2 Comments

The Double-Edged Sword of Vulnerability (or) What is Writer’s Bloc?

So, what is the double-edged sword of vulnerability? What IS writer’s block, anyway? Where does it come from?
I try to answer these questions and more here at EMUSDEBUTS:
Categories: courage, inspiring, journey, writing | Leave a comment

Mentor Monday ~ Emma Dryden

Anyone who’s been seriously writing for children knows the name, Emma Dryden. She’s been in publishing 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down. During a nineteen year career with S&S, she earned the titles of Vice President and Publisher of both Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Emma has edited nearly 500 books and has worked with children’s literary stars such as Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Alan Katz, Kathi Appelt, Holly Black, Louise Borden, Lorie Ann Grover, Chris Demarest, and Shelia Moses. The list of major awards her books have garnered is staggering. A shock wave went through the children’s publishing world when she was laid off as part of a cost-cutting maneuver by S&S. I still remember thinking the person who’d told me the news had the wrong name.Emma Dryden still continues to give the children’s publishing industry her very best. Enter…Drydenbks, a multi-platform venture through which she will provide editorial and creative services to children’s book authors, illustrators, publishers, and agents. She will also conduct workshops and act as consultant to those seeking to break into or expand their presence in the children’s publishing arena. Emma also does some writing (mostly poetry), and keeps a blog.

I first met Emma Dryden as a wide-eyed newbie at Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat about 8 years ago. I remember her as being kind, quick to laugh, and having some darn cool sweaters. I also remember that during a first pages activity, she made some comments (along with author, Nancy Hope Wilson) about my work that changed the direction of my writing. I’ll be forever grateful for that, as that “direction” is now under contract.

Below, Emma writes about her blessing of having multiple professional mentors. Following the first piece, she writes a short piece about luminary, Margaret McElderry, and a humorous, fateful day twenty years ago. It seems that both Emma and Margaret were blessed on this frenzied August day….

Thanks, Emma, for your generosity in sharing these pieces with me.

Without further ado…

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Emma Dryden:

I have been blessed to have had several mentors in my professional life. I have been blessed by some people older than myself who by example instilled in me a regard for and understanding of not only the business of a business, but the humanity of a business; people who by example inspired me to learn from my mistakes, care about my reputation, conduct myself with honesty and passion, and strive to become a decent citizen of the world. By example, these people taught me, helped me, challenged me, and expected the best from me as they expected the best from themselves. They made me cry because they were tough. They made me laugh because they were playful. They made me think because they were thoughtful. They made me care because they were careful. And in the process, as I grew from being an assistant to a colleague to a peer, we became friends because we shared a deep mutual respect for our business, for one another, and for the future.

As I walk along the paths of my life and my work, I don’t always take the time to think of and thank these people who themselves never thought they were remarkable in any way, just doing their job, just doing what came naturally, just doing what was right. I stop now to think of them and thank them, for they were most remarkable indeed. Remarkable for inviting me into their offices and homes to witness them doing their jobs, doing what came naturally, doing what was right. To witness. And to embrace all that would become essential to my own growth into someone of whom I can be proud. A businesswoman, a colleague, a person of whom I sincerely hope they would be and are proud.

It is a wonder how deeply one person can touch another simply by being present. By listening. By suggesting. By living fully. And by laughing. Oh, the laughing! Would that everyone be as lucky as I’ve been to enjoy but one older person in their life by whose example they can be inspired in their work and their life.

In honor of Dilys Evans, Linda Hayward, Richard Jackson, Margaret K. McElderry, Ole Risom.

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My mentor and friend, Margaret K. McElderry, passed away at the age of 98 on February 14, 2011. Valentine’s Day. A day on which we celebrate and express love. And a day somehow wholly appropriate on which to say farewell to a woman who was full to overflowing with a passion for imagination, story, a beautifully crafted book, laughter, friends, fine wine and delicious food, blue skies over sparkling oceans, the quiet revelatory conversation and the raucous celebratory gathering—a woman so full of love and enthusiasm for all life has to offer professionally and personally.

Where our work ended and our friendship began, where our friendship ended and our work began, it’s hard to say. I suppose though, the working friendship and friendly working began the day in early August 1990 when I tried to reach Margaret to tell her I was accepting her job offer. Margaret was leaving that day at Noon for her annual vacation on Nantucket and we’d agreed I’d call her at home with my “Yes” or “No.” I made my decision. It was going to be “Yes.” That morning at eight o’clock, I called. No answer. I called again. No answer. I waited a half-hour and called again. No answer. I called over to Margaret’s office at Macmillan to confirm I had the right number. No one was in yet and I left a message to say I was doing all I could to reach Margaret to tell her I wanted the job and would they please let the HR folks know. I called Margaret again. No answer. I was getting on the subway to go to Random House where I was working at the time. I found a payphone to call my partner and my mother to ask them to please keep trying Margaret McElderry’s phone number while I was on the subway. They did. No answer. I got to Random House, called again. No answer. I left another message with Margaret’s assistant. I decided to come clean and tell Margaret’s friend, Knopf editor, Frances Foster what was going so she could confirm I was dialing the right number. I was.

Now I’d not only essentially given notice to Random House without actually accepting the job offer from Margaret, but it was getting on towards 11:00 and I was frantic. I knew darn well you don’t promise Margaret McElderry you’ll call her and not call her. I called Macmillan again and was told my messages had started to set off great concern. Publisher Judy Wilson was putting McElderry Books’ art director Barbara Fitzsimmons into a taxi at that very moment to send her down to Margaret’s house on Washington Square to see if everything was alright. Oh, and by the way, Judy Wilson was delighted, I was told, that I wanted the job. I called again. No answer. And then, just before Noon, my phone rang. Judy Wilson was on the line to tell me it seems Barbara got to Margaret’s house in a progressively nervous state, and was pounding on the door and holding her finger on the doorbell – only to have a rather put-out Margaret McElderry open the door, take one look at Barbara’s pale face, and say something to the effect of…”What are you doing here? Did you all think I was dead?” Well, in fact, yes we did. And, in fact, while Margaret McElderry was clearly very much alive, her telephone line was completely done for. It seems not three minutes before Barbara arrived, she’d just figured out what was happening when she’d quite irately picked up the receiver to call Macmillan’s HR department to tell them QUOTE “If that Emma Dryden doesn’t have the common decency and courtesy to call me at the time we arranged for her to call me, I don’t want her working for me anyway.” UNQUOTE.

Margaret and I never did speak that day, but I started as her associate editor on September 19, 1990, a week or so before she returned to the office, tan and energized, from Nantucket. And when we saw each other, we hugged and laughed and had some rather choice things to say about AT&T. The rest is history and we told and retold that story over and over again because it said something about our partnership and it made us laugh. Such a remarkably unexpected beginning to a remarkably unexpected friendship and collaboration. I’d give anything to call you right now, Margaret, to tell you how much it all meant to me—professionally and personally—to accept that job offer, to accept that gift. And this time, we’d use our cell phones.

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Publishers Weekly has a wonderful tribute, written by several kid lit professionals (including Emma Dryden) who knew and loved Margaret McElderry. Reading their pieces makes me wish that I’d been able to meet this one-in-a-billion woman! Her loss is a loss for everyone that loves children’s literature.

Categories: editor, inspiring, Mentor Monday, publisher

Writing Space (No–This is not my state of mind!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about setting. (In fact, I plan to do a post about it here soon.) But, first, I thought I’d do a post about writing space—my setting for creating characters like Carley Connors and Peter Keans.

In 2007, Laurie Halse Anderson spoke at Whispering Pines about ways to get serious about your writing. Here are her visuals, written in her own hand!


Laurie is fabulous! Not just because she’s a writing genius, but because she is so accomplished, yet one of the most generous, sweet, gifted, inspiring authors I’ve ever met! I’d written 25 pages of my novel when I’d first met her. Now, it’s under contract.
So, as Laurie suggested, I created a writing space that was mine. Comfortable, with a positive vibe, so to speak. A place that reflected who I am.
The best thing about my writing space, is the big window overlooking the trees. This is where my muse is–I could never write in a place without windows. Even when I write in libraries and book stores, it’s always near a window. Thankfully, my office has a lot of natural light, bright colors, and childish things to distract me like a kaleidoscope collection, a couple of antique gumball machines, and some sand timers.

I first gave myself permission to write. I then created this space with a giant hand from my awesome husband, Greg. (*Thanks* Honey!) The space I have is really quite nice—I’m a bit spoiled, I know. The best thing about it, though, is that it helped me to take my writing seriously. That it wasn’t just a hobby. And, believe me, I’m quite aware that you don’t need a fancy place to write to do that–I think it’s more of a mindset–luckily, my mindset and the office were just good timing! After all, think of Rocky! (and Stephen King, who started out writing in a closet) But for me, it made me feel like I was gonna make a real “go” of it!

And I have.

Categories: author, inspiring, writing

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