Monday, July 23, 2012

"My love, my love."

I was on a trip not long ago with my brother and his family. When it was bedtime the first evening at the hotel, my two-year-old niece wanted to read a book with me before she went to sleep. And by "read," I mean she wanted to recite the words of a book she had memorized already.

That evening's selection was It's Time to Sleep My Love by Eric Metaxas and illustrated by Nancy Tillman.

Image courtesy of Feiwel and Friends.
This is an okay rhyming picture book in my opinion. But imagine the words, "It's time to sleep, my love, my love," from the mouth of a two-year-old. With a lisp. Trust me. It's better than any music on the planet.

Even before then, I always loved to hear about parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles who read with the children in their lives. Even when the kids are older, and they're getting into chapter books and up. I imagine it's like being in a book club, but one with your family. What a great way to talk and connect with one another.

I'm glad that my niece's parents and her grandparents always have books around her, and that they read with her every day. Just like my mom did with me when I was small. And as she gets older, I look forward to sharing more great books with her and perhaps having some riveting discussions and debates.

But for now, I'm savoring those few and far between moments when I get to hear a lispy concerto: "It's time to sleep, my love, my love." I know they will be gone too quickly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

White Whales, Gorillas, and Discouragement

I was in #kidlitchat last night on Twitter. If you have anything to do with literature for young readers, you should check in once in a while. It's a nice place to meet other kidlit enthusiasts and talk shop with writers.

The topic of the evening was our "white whales," or the deals/opportunities that got away. Everyone had interesting tales to share, from movie deals that didn't go through and to agents losing out on certain books they wanted to rep.
Migaloo the white whale. Image courtesy of The Cairns Post.

I posted that two editors and one agent left their companies after they had asked to read my work. All were from separate houses and were considering three different manuscripts of mine over a period of about six years. The most recent one was just last year, 2011. And all of them had been sitting on my projects for months to years before announcing their departures. Granted, the two editors were kind enough to refer me to resubmit my work and wait (another number of months) to hear from one of their former colleagues (who conveniently didn't have the same literary tastes as the ones who had requested the scripts originally). Suffice it to say, I was discouraged and a little frustrated.

A few fellow chatters were kind enough to offer sincere "keep your chin ups," which is what I love about the writing community. Most writers are in the same boat, still working, still hoping, still being rejected and moving on. And the ones who aren't full of themselves are incredibly helpful and encouraging. I don't know how books would ever get written it weren't for friends and critique partners cheering each other on and telling each other like it is. There's an odd sense of comfort in that we are not really alone in our otherwise solitary art. Another offered a comment that I have not deduced whether to be snark or sarcastic sympathy.

Anyway, posting about those white whales (which were probably more or less whale sightings) is making me face the latest bout of discouragement I've been dealing with. Since Eligere released in in the Spring, I haven't really been writing (though I have been catching up on a great deal of reading). I think it's a mixture of of things. This hot weather isn't helping. But neither is the bit of fear in working on this current project. It's requiring me to peel back my skin a little more than I think I'm prepared for, and it's...well, uncomfortable. Ironically, I prefer at the moment to talk about rejection instead.

JK Rowling
There's no sugar-coating it. Rejection letters sucks. And waiting for rejection letters sucks more. And they suck at all levels. In school, we're taught that if we work hard enough, we can get to where we want to be. Nearly no one (except maybe David McCullough Jr.) ever had the guts to tell the whole truth: that even if you work hard and do everything that you've been told you're suppose to do, there are some who will make it and many more who won't. Throw in a sucky economy right out of college, loads of school debts, mix well, and serve liberally. A few exceptional ones made it because of luck or fate or some formula of physics and mathematics or marketing prowess. But the odds were never in our favor from the beginning.

Amanda Hocking
In publishing especially, we like to hear Cinderella stories like those of JK Rowling and Amanda Hocking and others. And we should; they're good and romantic (not "romance") stories. But for every Cinderella who got her prince, there are at least two (and in reality, many more) stepsisters who didn't. Perhaps they brought it upon themselves in one form or fashion; more likely they were just members of the unlucky lot.

At the LA SCBWI conference in 2010, one of the keynote speakers told of how her father tried to get a book published all his life. It never happened for him. I imagine it must've been bittersweet for him to see his daughter obtain a dream that he himself was never allowed to touch. A selfish thought yes, but an undeniably and wholly human one.

What? I'm just sitting here.
The part about not making it? It's real. We may not like to think about it, but it's there. While we're chasing white whales, we ignore the 400-pound gorilla sitting right next to us. We can name him Pessimism and say all the glasses are half full till our hearts bleed. But that doesn't make him go away anymore than we can wish away the moon.

Options? The first is give up. This is usually an attractive idea, usually depending on what day of the week it is and how much wine is in the house. On the days when I'm especially questioning the quality of my work, I'm tempted to move aside and let someone else who knows what he's or she's doing have a better shot. Sure, I risk being labelled a quitter, but at least I won't be labelled stubborn. The other is to take the sting of rejection, hike up my big girl pants, get back to work, and keep hoping for the best. Maybe it's being stubborn, but at least it isn't quitting. At either end, labels aren't my biggest concern anyway.

When I started writing for myself in middle school, no one told me writing a book would be so hard. And when I graduated from university, no one told me that publishing a book would be even harder. But I haven't stopped writing. And I haven't stopped trying. I don't know why. Maybe I'm stubborn. Maybe I've actually already given up and it hasn't caught up with the rest of me yet. Or maybe I'm afraid that I wouldn't know what to do if I simply stopped writing.

Not quite sure where I was going with this tonight. If I wasn't allergic to the stuff, I'd probably have a glass of wine right about now. But since I can't, harpoons to the ready...