Our last featured author post of 12 x 12 in 2012 will be a bit personal, which I suppose is appropriate. Please bear with me as it will also be a bit longer as a result (I’m nothing if not wordy!).
I met Eileen Spinelli at the Highlights Foundation poetry workshop I attended this past May. Of course I knew she was on the faculty, but I could not know then how meeting her would be so significant in my writing life.
I checked in and received my folder of information, only to discover that I had a one-on-one consultation with Eileen the following day. Nerves set in. I do not consider myself a poet in the least, which is why I was taking the workshop in the first place. When asked to submit a piece for critique and comment by the faculty, I pulled out a poem/picture book I’d written three years ago that had gotten ripped to shreds at a former conference I’d attended. It was the only real “poem” I had, and I figured I might as well get another opinion, seeing as how I hadn’t even looked at it in two years.
I was feeling far less sure knowing that THE Eileen Spinelli had not only read it, but was going to give me feedback. You see, I was well acquainted with Eileen’s work before writing for children had even become a twinkle in my eye. So many of her books seemed to have been written just for me (and no, I haven’t forgotten that she writes for children).
I’ve always been in love with the moon and felt a special bond with it, and no book has captured my feeling as truly as Rise the Moon. The book that helped me survive leaving my three-month old daughter to go back to work full time in the banking industry was When Mama Comes Home Tonight. Mama was my touchstone with my daughter every single night for two full years – a fact I tearfully confessed to Eileen after dinner one night at Highlights (with the assistance of a couple glasses of wine). Later, when I started writing books of my own, I studied hers in an effort to discover how to strike the heart in such a precise way. In particular, Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch helped me understand endings, and Sophie’s Masterpiece taught me everything there is to know about poignancy in picture books (except, unfortunately, how to execute it so well).
Here’s what happened in my meeting with Eileen: she saw my heart in that poem. More than that, she showed it to me and convinced me that, despite having ignored it for three years, it was still there. Receiving affirmation of the value of that work was the very last thing I expected to come out of that meeting. Thus I had to re-learn the most important writer’s lesson — this business is subjective. Rejection is not defeat. Giving up is defeat.
I will admit right now that I still haven’t had the courage to submit that poem/picture book even though I’ve made more revisions and it’s ready. But when I do (and it is when and not if), it will be because Eileen restored my faith, not just in that one piece of writing, but in the fact that what I have to say is important. That my voice should be heard. That is a gift that goes far beyond any one critique.
Which is why I am SO pleased to tell you that one lucky 12 x 12 participant will receive a handwritten note of encouragement from Eileen every month in 2013. That’s right! Once a month, Eileen will write to you personally to cheer you on, keep you going and praise your effort. Having been the recipient of a few such notes from her this year, I can assure you that whoever wins this prize will find it to be an invaluable writing boost. Now, I have gone on for a very long time, so let’s get to my interview with Eileen. Many of these questions derived from discussions we had at Highlights, so I’ve included some explanation to each question.
During our meeting about my poem/picture book, Eileen asked me where/who I had submitted it to. My answer? “Umm… nobody?” She told me, in the nicest possible way, that in order to get an acceptance you have to submit, and that the more you submit, the greater your chances of finding someone who will accept the work. It’s both true and logical, and yet so difficult to do. So I asked her to elaborate.
Eileen, you told me at the Highlights conference not to be so particular about who to submit to. This goes against advice writers often hear that they should only send their manuscripts to those editors and/or agents who might be a good fit for their work. Can you explain why you think writers should take a broader approach?
It isn’t that I think it’s a bad idea to find an agent or editor who might be the right fit for one’s work. I’m just not sure that can be planned out so easily. If I waited until I knew a particular manuscript would be a perfect fit for an editor I might still be waiting. Obviously if an editor tells me he/she does not care for rhymed stories…then I won’t send a rhymed piece to that particular editor. But for the most part I trust in serendipity–hoping an editor will be happily surprised by my story–even if the editor hadn’t been looking for such a piece. As a writer I try to keep the focus on the writing itself as much as possible….and not get bogged down in trying to figure out the marketing. This is my way…I’m not suggesting that other ways can’t be effective too.
I never seem to know when I manuscript is “finished,” so I asked Eileen how she knows.
How do you evaluate whether one of your manuscripts is “ready” for submission? Any advice for writers on how to do that?
When I read a manuscript and something in me goes, “ahhhh”…then I know it’s ‘ready’. I’ve been writing for so many years that I have developed a sense of when something is good enough to send in. It took a long time to develop that sense though. I confess I still cringe at some of my early efforts. But I learned from those –especially when a kind editor commented. I encourage writers to read their work aloud. Even better–have someone read it aloud to you. There is something magical and useful about hearing the words.
I highly recommend the exercise of visualizing yourself as a child before you begin to write. Eileen gave us many prompts to do just that at the workshop, so I decided to turn it around on her and ask her how that exercise works for her own writing.
Also at the Highlights conference, you gave us exercises to dig into our childhood memories and mine them for writing inspiration. Can you share one of your childhood memories that later became a picture book?
A childhood memory that found its way into a picture book: I’ve folded a lot of childhood memories into my latest book COLD SNAP. I made snow angels and went sledding down the hill behind the school. I made snowmen with my friends. I loved going home when I was cold and wet to get into my flannel nightie (in the book I say pajamas)…and to sip hot chocolate. I remember we had a coal furnace that sometimes went out during the night. Brrrr. And I remember hot-water bottles and hot maple syrup poured over snow. All these things are in the book.
Curiosity question: Since you do both, do you prefer writing in rhyme or prose?
My very favorite thing to write is lyrical prose. I have fun writing rhymed verse–but it’s a lot more difficult.
In today’s tough picture book market, what encouragement would you give to the downtrodden PB writer who’s afraid s/he might never break in?
The situation with picture books can feel quite discouraging. If I were starting out I would write what I loved to write. If I loved writing picture book manuscripts Iwould write those–even in a tough market. I would try to think out of the box. Come up with a new approach or format. I would also write short pieces and poems for magazines…to keep my spirits up…to make kids happy…to put my name out there.
Eileen Spinelli is the bestselling author of more than 50 books for children, including picture books, poetry collections and chapter books. Many of her books, including Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch, When Mama Comes Home Tonight, Here Comes the Year, Sophie’s Masterpiece, and Do You Have a Hat? have won numerous awards. In addition to her own writing, Eileen Spinelli enjoys conducting writing workshops for both children and adults. Her favorite writer is her husband, Jerry Spinelli, and her favorite beverage while writing is tea. Eileen and Jerry have 6 children, 16 grandchildren and live in West Chester Pennsylvania.
Participants – to enter to win a monthly handwritten note each month from Eileen in 2013, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of December for one point. On December 31st, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog. If you completed a picture book draft in December, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point. I will draw a winner using Random.org and announce on January 3rd (allowing a couple of extra days for the holiday).Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Creativity, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Winter, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Author, Creativity, Eileen Spinelli, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Highlights Foundation, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing