Look at that . . . there's blue sky and trees out there! I've been huddled over the computer for fourteen straight days, finishing ninety pages and a synopsis to send to my mentor, Caroline Leavitt. Today, I printed them and tomorrow I'll mail the package. It was so cool to see that stack of printed paper, the beginnings of a real book. It feels like an accomplishment. It's hard to get that sense from a computer file.
Two weeks ago, Caroline said to send the messy draft but I couldn't do it. The story had changed too much since I started. Plot lines had veered and I worried it wouldn't make sense. I thought, I'll just zip in there and tidy things up, a week, ten days tops, I'll be done. Uh-huh. Once I opened that door, the story took over. It whispered new thoughts, enlightened me about characters' motivations, tweaked scenes. I carried a notebook around, scribbling through the day and night. I'd edit ten pages; then each morning, I'd pull out my notes and revisit scenes. Finally, I stomped my foot, faced the story and hollered, "This isn't supposed to be a real revision!" And so it allowed me to finish what I started but only if I promised to keep taking notes for the REAL REVISION.
Day before yesterday, I faced the synopsis with headache-inducing dread. I started this book without an outline and so far the story's unfolded chapter by chapter. I have a clear image of the ending but the unwritten chapters in between are up in the air. After one-hundred pages, I feel I'm just getting to know my characters. The story arc isn't complete and it's unclear how conflicts will be resolved. I wasn't sure how to approach the synopsis and I can only hope what I wrote makes sense. As uncomfortable as the experience was, I'm glad to have attempted it at this stage. I think it will help when it's time to write one for queries.
This afternoon, I'm taking a break to catch up on friends' blogs and write this post. Tomorrow, I owe everyone and their brother an email. Friday, I pick up where I left off . . . Page 91.
And by drama, I mean writer hysterics. It won't be pretty and it's likely to continue for the next few months. The cause? I've entered a mentorship agreement with New York Times bestselling author, Caroline Leavitt. When I first heard of mentorships, my brain conjured images of Dorothy and Glenda, Harry and Dumbledore, Frodo and Gandolf. I loved the idea of a sage hand guiding my work. But I knew I had much to learn before I'd understand a mentor's wisdom.
So for three years I continued learning: in critique groups, books, conferences, online classes, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. Last week, Julianna Baggott, the author who led the YA workshops at Eckerd College's 2011 Writer's in Paradise Conference, wrote a post about building your own MFA. She listed several writers who teach, edit and mentor. This seemed like divine intervention. I had been scanning 2012 conferences but none of them felt "right." Was I ready for a mentorship? I tiptoed through the writer's links in Julianna's post and settled on Caroline. Why did I choose her? First, the information available provided a good picture of what to expect from her services. She teaches online classes at UCLA, which offer course descriptions and a syllabus. Then there's her website, featuring a bio, her books and a blog. I was impressed with her writing and her syllabus and I felt I knew a little bit about her after my research.
I drew a deep breath and sent Caroline an email. She promptly responded with an enthusiastic message, thorougly describing her classes and personal mentorships. She feels the writer/editor relationship should feel right to both parties and offered to review three pages for free. I sent the first three pages of my book Sunday afternoon and a couple hours later they returned with Caroline's comments. I was pleased with her balanced blend of encouragement and criticism and it appeared she could stomach my writing. Another deep breath later, I agreed to send the first hundred pages of my book along with a synopsis, followed by the rest of my book in chunks. More deep breaths, or was that hyper-ventilating?
Then self-doubt demons attacked. What was I thinking? I only had one hundred pages of a first draft; how did I know I could write the rest of the novel? Maybe I wasn't cut out to be a novelist. The story probably wasn't worth Caroline's time. Those imps spun a convincing doubt campaign. I pictured my protaganist and a fierce voice rose to her defense, sending the demons back to their dens. The story would be told. Tuesday, I withdrew from my critique groups to clear my schedule for intense writing time. The hardest to leave was PB&J, my picture book group. They're a source of inspiration and they feel like family. For two days, I've been saying temporary good-byes and receiving best wishes for this project. I feel bolstered by these friends, fellow children's writers traveling a well-worn path to publication. Yesterday, I explored my expectations for this mentorship. I'm not Dorothy, searching for home, Harry, battling evil or Frodo, tempted by a cursed ring, and I don't expect magical wisdom from Caroline. I hope this partnership bolsters my drive to finish this book and the guidance to make it the best it can be. Mostly, I hope to be a better writer when its done.
Believe it or not, I've been too busy writing to get to my blog! That's good, right? Except I've been eager to post the latest news from PB&J, my picture book group. Not only is Rob Sanders the most supreme critique group leader ever, he's a constant source of inspiration. At the Florida SCBWI conference in June, Rob pitched a picture book to Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary Agency and two weeks ago Rubin offered to represent him.
We celebrated their union at our last gathering. Members signed an engagement card, wishing Rob and Rubin a long, prosperous relationship. The table was decorated with a cowboy covering (Random debuts Rob's book, Cowboy Christmas in 2012), matching napkins and M&M cups. One member ordered an inspirational plague and another brought a vase of lilies mixed with a sharpie bouquet (for all those book signings!). Rob accepted his tribute in good-natured humility and offered us more good news. His agent has already submitted Rob's stories to several publishers and one asked him to attempt a series. It's so exciting to witness success and rewarding to know how deserving Rob is. He's worked hard for this moment, attending conferences and workshops to sharpen his skills, networking at every opportunity, and writing story after story after story.
I can't wait to buy Rob's books, especially the ones PB&J read and critiqued. I imagine they'll feel like young relatives . . . not children (that status is reserved for my own work), but nieces and nephews. A fellow PB&Jer said Rob gives us hope. Some of us are published but Rob is the first to sell a children's book and the first to land an agent. And even though I'm the newest member, I sense no one begrudges him that honor.
You can read more about Rob and learn everything you need to know about writing picture books on his blog Picture This!
*Photo courtesy of Maryanne Hamilton
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor