Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to California and attend the Wrightwood Literary Festival. Never having been to the Wrightwood area was an adventure on it’s own. It’s a picturesque small town, population 425, nestled up in the mountains just north of San Bernardino. The area was not only beautiful, but rich with small town charm and nice residents.
After the festival I parked and wandered around. I ventured inside two antique shops, a local grocery store, a pizza place, and the town’s tiny pet shop (They had animals for adoption and I nearly left with a senior Beagle/Hound mix.)
The Wrightwood Literary Festival, while about writing, was much more than that. It was about nature. And if you have ever been up there you will know that it’s hard to avoid surrounding yourself in anything other than the thoughts of how we are connected to nature.
This event was different from any other writing event I have been too, and cheaper too! Usually, these things are full of big names, from agents to editors to publishers. Where the entire conference you are more worried about pitching and meet-and-greets, that everything becomes stressful and overwhelming. This was all about taking a breathe, and relaxing and grounding yourself. To center yourself and open your senses.
So, while I didn’t gather notes about writing and how to pitch and how to submit, I came away with something even better. Remembering to breathe, remembering why I write in the first place. Remembering that if I shut out the distractions and look to nature I can create amazing stories.
I’ve had a wonderful last few months in the writing world, yet, I want to showcase the behind the scenes struggles. Why? Because so often authors see the good news of others and develop a pain in their heart that it was not them getting to share good news. For this reason, I think it’s important to breakdown what happens before the contract.
In the last two months I have announced signing a contract for my picture book Winston Versus the Snow and my sweet romance novel Grounded in January, both coming out in 2019 from Brother Mockingbird Publishing. AND….my signed acquisitions letter for my Inuit picture book Nanook and the Pizza (coming 2020 from Audrey Press).
Here are the numbers….
WINSTON VERSUS THE SNOW –
25 rejections, not bad considering my first picture book Nonnie and Iwas rejected over 50 times.
3 “love, but can’t publish it”
5 Twitter pitch contests, 1 “like”
The story was originally titled Winston Hates the Snow, but at a writer’s conference I decided after a panel speaker’s advice to change the word hate. It also went under a major revision prior to the final submission.
First submission April of 2017 – making this a relatively “quick” acceptance. (Nonnie and I took 7 years to sell)
NANOOK AND THE PIZZA –
1 “love, but not right for us”
4 Twitter pitch contests, 0 “like”
1 revision request – which turned into the acquisitions letter afterwords.
Submissions started in February of 2017, with one major rewrite prior to the revision request.
GROUNDED IN JANUARY –
2 rejections – 1 with, please submit your next manuscript when available
2 Twitter pitch contests, 5 “likes” (I only submitted to 1 of them in the end)
First submitted July 2018.
Yep, that story ends there for this one.
This shows you the more you write and read, the better your writing becomes. The more you focus on craft, the better your writing gets.
Looking for a heartwarming and heartbreaking story to round off your summer reading list? Helder’s Story is one with dignity and possible controversy. But as the reader, you can decide. Please enjoy my interview below with the author.
Your book, Helder’s Story was released by Brother Mockingbird in July, what was it like working with a small publishing house?
It was a wonderful experience. It was a dream come true to have the book published by someone who was touched by the story, and sensed a connection with our family life. Working with a small publishing house made that possible. I think it also makes a difference that the publisher herself was naturally caring and personable, as well as knowledgeable and bright. I felt she had me in her best interest, and that was important to me.
As a medical social worker I come in contact with many clients who don’t wish to keep going because of their disease(s). Yet, it’s a hot topic, and everyone tip-toes around it. Were you concerned that sharing Helder’s Story might bring some backlash from those who disagree with the choice?
Absolutely. There was a moment I had to pause and recognize what I’m getting myself into. Eventually I concluded, the choice is not one I might make personally for myself. However, it is one that should be made available to everyone, whether you choose to exercise it or not. I guess you can call me pro-choice. That awareness enabled me to move forward, in spite of my concerns.
Why should a reader, who disagrees with aid-in-dying medication, read Helder’s Story?
Great question! One of the goals of writing the book was to lay the foundation so people can understand why someone would make that decision. There are so many variables involved which makes it a very individualized and personal decision. However, that wasn’t the only goal. The book has a strong message of encouragement, hope and perseverance. Finding spirituality in your life is another ongoing theme in the book. There is really so much more to Helder’s Story then the end result.
What were your children’s’ reactions to Helder’s Story being published?
They are still getting use to the idea that Mom wrote a book! They all agree it feels so right and so good to honor Dad’s life in this way. It’s very much in line with his philosophy – to share our experience, strength and hope in that it may help someone else.
The artwork for the cover is subtle and serene, what was the determining factor to make THAT the cover?
Helder loved nature. He had a spiritual connection with the outdoors that was both invigorating and healing. Having that conveyed through the artwork fits the story and him well.
What most do you expect readers to take away from this story?
I expect readers will relate to the hurts and triumphs in their own lives. The book touches on so many different issues – there’s something for everyone! In the end, I expect readers will feel inspired. That inspiration will take form in many different ways.
Do you have a background in writing? Are other books in the works?
A part from poetry writing in my teen years, I do not. I have been journaling for many years, and writing my thoughts and feelings are a daily part of my own growth and spirituality. While I was writing, I was vigilant about keeping the focus on Helder. Many times it occurred to me, my own background and heritage, seeped in shame and racial biases, has a story that should be told. Helder’s Wife perhaps?
Looks like we might have another story in the works for sure! Thanks for reading!
You can locate your copy of Helder’s Story directly from the author. If you live in the Pasadena, CA area you can get it at Vroman’s Bookstore.
It is also available on Amazon.
And bonus for southern California residents, she has an upcoming author appearance!!!
I have coughed up big bucks for writer conferences over all my writing years. But you know what has taught me the most about writing?
Books on craft and critiquing others’ work!
And I would not be able to critique others’ manuscripts without the knowledge absorbed from these books.
In the past I’ve spoken about a few books on writing, yet it was not until my latest purchase that I realized I have a stack of books on craft (I think it might be time to re-read them all again).
Why do I find books on craft so helpful? Because I can absorb the information at my pace. I can read, highlight, pause, contemplate, and read again. I can go back and look up specific information when I’m stuck on a manuscript (It’s not nice to pause an entire conference so you can skim through your manuscript and make a note).
My advice for books on craft is, the newest…the bestest (not a word I know). Writing is always changing with what is acceptable and what is “historic writing.” If you are reading a book published in 2001, while a large chunk is still relevant, a lot is not. (Yes, I understand Stephen King’s book on writing is timeless, shriek, no I haven’t read it)
I absolutely love and loathe naming characters. Think about all the time parents spending picking, arguing, voting, and vetoing names for their kids! It is not any different for writers. A name can help or hurt a manuscript.
The first part is trying to find a name that is familiar, so readers can relate. Yet, the name must also be unique to prevent readers from finding it “boring.”
The second part is matching the name to the characters’ lifestyle, age, and how readers might perceive the name. It’s like the devils on your shoulder, GOOD and BAD.
GOOD: Name her Alice, everyone loves an Alice.
BAD: Alice sounds like she would be my grandma.
GOOD: But your Grandma Alice is the best.
BAD: Yes, but she is still my grandma. I don’t want to date my grandma.
Although part one and two look similar, they are different in their own right. You would not give a Greenlandic name to a Oklahoma man who has no family connections with Greenland. Another example could be Rose. Rose might be perceived one way by a large group of readers, which might hurt or help make your story. If the reader doesn’t believe that Rose is a 10-year-old skateboarding champion then you lose the connection with the reader.
I do a detailed amount of research on the names I use, making sure the origin, etc. would be a good match for my characters. My favorite tool to use for character names is Baby Name Origins.