12 x 12 Member Teresa RobesonI am so pleased to bring Teresa Robeson to the “How I Got My Agent” series. I think of her as a “fireball,” and you’ll see why when you read this post. Here’s a gal who can teach you how to make a vodka creamsicle, can bushels of garden beans, and carry on a lucid discussion about the laws of motion — all while making you laugh! Not to mention this is a story that began with two participants of 12 x 12. Read on and have fun…

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

The short version is: I’ve been writing for submission since the early 90s, and only started looking for an agent at the start of 2013.

The long version (and you might want to get some caffeine now, or skip to the next question) is:

I learned English at the age of eight when my family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, from Hong Kong. As soon as I learned this beautiful language, I started devouring books in English, going from “Matt the Rat” readers to Little Women in a year. As is the case with many avid readers, I also started writing, penning everything from crossword puzzles for my younger sister to poems to short stories — probably in order to catch the excess words that were spilling out of me.

But it wasn’t until around 1991, when I was approaching 30, that I decided to get serious about writing, taking a course with The Institute of Children’s Literature. At the completion of the class, I sold one of my assignments to Ladybug Magazine as a short story.

Within a couple of months of the sale to Ladybug, I sold a personal essay to Outdoor Indiana magazine. Buoyed by my success coming out of the gate, so to speak, I continued to submit to the Cricket Magazine Group (now Carus Publishing) and other places for the next little while.

My kids, born in 1996 and 1997, inspired many of the pieces that were bought by Babybug and Ladybug. But, as they got older, and I began to homeschool them, life got busy and I put writing on hold.

I didn’t start writing seriously again until around 2010 when I took a speculative fiction class, followed by another, from Gotham Writers’ Workshop with the wonderful Michaela Roessner. Science fiction had been a love of mine since I was four years old. But I hadn’t abandoned kidlit. Somehow, somewhere — I’m fuzzy on the details, but it could have been from the Children’s Writer newsletter, which I’ve been subscribing to for years — I discovered websites for kidlit writers folks to lurk on. It was in those communities such as the (then Verla Kay’s) Blue Boards and Write-On Con that I saw Julie’s posts about 12×12. What I read sounded good and I knew that I needed something to push me in my writing because I’m basically lazy and would love to sit around all day eating cookies and reading books instead of doing something more constructive.

12×12 turned out to be just the shove I needed. I considered joining at the Bronze or Silver level, but knew that if I didn’t feel pressured by having made a larger monetary commitment, and having agents practically handed to me to submit to, I’d probably slack off. As it is, I don’t get a brand new manuscript written every month…though I always get a revision, or ten, done. Anyway, the special access to agents was what made me start looking in earnest for one.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

Prior to joining 12×12 in 2013, I wrote mainly for the magazine market and hadn’t looked seriously at agents. When I joined 2013’s 12×12 as a Gold member, I used Julie’s monthly posts about the agents who were available to us as a starting point for research. As I began to search for agents on my own, I read about them in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, the Writer’s Digest website posts on new agents, and a number of different online sites and blogs that feature agent interviews or highlights (e.g. Literary Rambles, Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating).

Once I found an agent through those venues who represented the type of writing I do, I looked at her/his agency’s website for up-to-date details on what s/he want and how to submit.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?

Since March, 2013, I submitted to 23 agents, and was rejected by all of them. I don’t count my agent, Ella Kennen, among those I submitted to because I came to sign with her through an unconventional route, which you can read about at my friend Sylvia Liu’s blog post.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

Well, it wasn’t for me because I write for all ages, from PBs to short stories for adults. In fact, the hard part was finding an agent who actually takes all the genres and categories that I write. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to find one agent for PBs, one for MGs/YAs, etc. Fortunately for me, Ella has eclectic (and excellent, I might add! *grin*) tastes and can represent everything I crank out, including, hopefully, illustrative work in the future.

How did you know your agent was “the one”?

Ella and I first connected through 12×12 where she was a participant in 2013. We had lovely conversations about our common interests, including homeschooling and science fiction, and I already knew I liked her as a person. When she told me that she was interning to be an agent, and was interested in one of the stories I’d shown her, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it did occur to me that having an agent who was already a friend I admired would be a totally awesome thing! When she called me with the official offer, hubby told me that he could hear me squealing from out in our field (about a city block’s distance away).  Well, what did he expect? It was a dream come true!

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )

Are you kidding? 12×12 was primarily responsible for my getting an agent (see answer to the above question)! If it weren’t for 12×12, I wouldn’t have met Ella and would not have an agent right now. Maybe I would have stumbled across her on my own eventually, but 12×12 was my “matchmaker.” ;)

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Having an agent has freed me to concentrate on goofing off on Facebook, editing current manuscripts, as well as writing new stories, rather than spending time doing market research. Having an agent has also helped me figure out which pieces are worth working on and which should be scrapped, taking away a lot of the hand-wringing I was doing over which stories were actually publishable. It may still be just one person’s opinion, but it’s eliminated some of the uncertainty on my end.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

I don’t usually like to give advice (unless you’re my offspring, and then you can’t shut me up; they’ll thank me one day), but would suggest that when you start out doing something – whether it be writing for publication or looking for an agent or tackling the fine art of ikebana – read all you can about the topic from books and online (search engines are your friends), then ask informed questions in friendly forums, like 12×12 or Blue Boards, before you actually leap into it.

And always keep in mind that publishing is a subjective field. I know you’ve heard it before and are probably so sick of hearing it, you want to throw a chair at me, but that won’t change the truism.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

Perhaps not directly, but it was on Twitter that I started a conversation with Ella that led to my eventual signing with her. (Yes, I committed the big no-no of whining on Twitter. Don’t do what I did, boys and girls.)

I’ve been blogging since 2006, so I have a decent, if not huge, following, most of whom are not writers, which is actually pretty nice because we know we have a friend in other writers, but we want non-writers to buy our books too.

Also helpful in platform building is the fact that my speculative fiction critique group, The Minnows Literary Group, has self-published a couple of short story anthologies (on different themes) with 100% of the profits being donated to Doctors Without Borders. These anthologies have done quite well – we’ve donated over $2,000 to MSF so far – and I’ve received fan letters from strangers about my stories in the books; I’m sure Ella can’t find fault with my building a fan base before I have books published.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )

There are three things I really want to do; unfortunately, they are also highly improbable for me to achieve:
1) I want to land a huge portrait commission; I would love to paint the portraits of the National Academy of Sciences members.
2) I want to sing an aria, just once, at the Met because, many moons ago, I sang with a choir for 12 years and had wanted to be an opera singer.
3) I want to do graduate work in physics — particle/quantum, or astrophysics would be lovely.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

Besides daydreaming about the impossible things on my bucket list, I’m currently editing a couple of picture book manuscripts, revising a completed MG novel, writing the first draft of a YA novel (and doing some historical research as I go along), as well as working on a number of sci-fi short stories and a possible novella for adults. Meanwhile, Ella and I are putting the finishing touches on two manuscripts that she’ll start shopping around soon.

The fun never ends!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, Self Publishing, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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This year 12 x 12 Little GOLDen Book members will be able to choose one of two agents to submit their manuscript to each month. Danielle Smith from Red Fox Literary will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members September 1-15. Alexandra Penfold from Upstart Crow Literary will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members September 16-30. Danielle’s profile appears first, followed by Alexandra’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

Danielle Smith - Forward LiteraryDANIELLE SMITH

Danielle was a featured agent in 2013. She is now with Red Fox Literary and you can see her bio here. You can find our extensive profile post on her here. More recent interviews and resources appear at the end of this profile update

Every wonderful thing I said about Danielle last year remains true, and even more so! I spent some time talking with her again this year at SCBWI-LA, and once again walked away impressed with her approach, her knowledge, and her “niceness.” Perhaps that sounds strange, but Danielle is fun, funny, and human. There is no “agent aura” that separates her from the unwashed masses (i.e. us – LOL), and I love that about her. I’m so excited she’s back for another round of 12 x 12!

The most up-to-date interviews with Danielle:

ALEXANDRA PENFOLD

I have not only had the great pleasure of meeting Alexandra in person when she was still with Paula Wiseman, but I also had one of my greatest writerly epiphanies (to date) at her hands. I attended a picture book writing intensive she taught at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI 2011 conference. Here is the blog post I wrote summarizing what I learned. I should add, too, that I STILL look back on that session as one of the most comprehensive and helpful I’ve ever taken at a conference. I was so excited when I heard Alexandra had become one, and I’m happy for GOLD members who will get a chance to submit to her. You guys have a tough choice (as always) this month. :-)

Featured 12 x 12 Agent Alexandra PenfoldA little bit about Alexandra from the Upstart Crow Literary website:

Alexandra Penfold has been working in publishing for nearly a decade. Formerly an Editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, she specializes in young picture books, middle-grade fiction, and young adult. Prior to becoming an editor, Alexandra was a children’s book publicist. She worked on media campaigns that appeared in USA Today, Newsweek, US News and World Report, and NPR’s All Things Considered. She’s the co-author of New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks, and is looking to take on select lifestyle and cooking projects in addition to children’s books.”

In her own words:

“I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t filled with books. From an early age I loved to read and write stories. I was an obsessive reader as a kid. I read everything I could get my hands on and bankrolled the public library with my allowance because I always wanted to read books one more time before I returned them. I like to say that some of my favorite people live in books.

I didn’t follow the traditional English major track, instead my concentration at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study was in Entertainment Business and Marketing, basically did a business major with lots of writing and entertainment and media classes thrown in. I rediscovered by love of children’s books through an internship in the marketing department at Simon & Schuster the summer of my junior year. I joined the team there as a publicity assistant soon thereafter and two years later, transitioned to the editorial side of things in 2005.

In the close to ten years that I spent at S&S, I had the privilege to edit award-winning picture books and novels. I look forward to continuing to champion books and their creators as an agent.”

Articles featuring Alexandra:

  • Find Alexandra on the Upstart Crow Literary website here.
  • Find Alexandra on Twitter
  • Deconstructing characters on The Writing Barn’s blog.
  • Profile on SCBWI Conference blog.
  • Summary of her character class from Samantha Clark.
  • Agent panel at SCBWI Conference blog.
  • Faculty profile for SCBWI Western Washington here.
  • Alexandra on Salon Author Connect here.

Full submission guidelines for Danielle and Alexandra are posted in the Membership Forum. Please note Little GOLDen Book Members may only submit to ONE of these agents. Please choose the agent who is the best fit for you and your manuscript.

Submissions will only be accepted for Danielle Smith from September 1st – September 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Alexandra Penfold from September 16th – September 30th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Good Luck!
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Kelly Lenihan

I have a huge amount of admiration for anyone who, like today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Kelly Lenihan, can make up stories on the spot. I’ve never been good at that; I always freeze up (perfectionist much?). A few weeks ago at the LA-SCBWI conference, Tomie dePaola said that courage is what artists need most if they want to have a sustainable career. Kelly’s story reminded me of that, since she not only had the courage to create those stories in her head, but to write them down, and eventually even to self-publish one of them. Please welcome Kelly!

I’m a book lover, both to read and to write. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who designated a room in the house as the “den” — reserving one wall, floor to ceiling, for books — and in so doing gifted me with a love of books that has stayed with me my entire life.

I grew up with a pen in my hand.

As a child – pretty much all the way through college – I was forever making up stories. The imagination is a wondrous thing and I was often lost in mine, my head filled with fanciful characters’ adventures in magical lands. I’m not sure when I started writing things down, but once I discovered that writing provided me a creative outlet for the abundance of daydreams swirling around in my head, I knew what my purpose was!

A shy child, the pen gave me a mighty voice.

Over the years, as I turned to other interests, my writing evolved into essays on multicultural arts and crafts or exploring gardening and nature through science and art, including hands-on projects. These days, tapping into my background as an avowed foodie, I have been sharing original recipes on my food blog: In the Kitchen With Kelly. Sadly, my childhood stories were long-forgotten, both on paper and in my imagination. Until I had children.

Reading aloud to my two sons every night at bedtime reminded me of my own childhood delight in the power of stories. As a stalling tactic, once we finished a bedtime book, my younger son would beg for “one more story”. He’d look at me, his big brown eyes filled with hope, placing his tiny hand on mine – how could I refuse? So I started making up stories right there, in the moment. Some of these stories delighted my son so much, he would have me tell them again, night after night, especially the ones he starred in. Thankfully, I was smart enough to write some of these stories down.

The Skipping Stone – a self-published children’s picture book – was one of these stories. Even though it took me a few years to publish it (my son is now grown), it remains a beloved family favorite. I am extremely proud – if not a little awestruck – to finally be sharing my precious story with children everywhere.

This year, I joined the online community, 12×12, providing me access to the motivation and accountability to get 12 picture book drafts finished in one year, all with the support of the friendliest writing community on earth. Although I’ve written a lot over the years, until now—much of it has remained unpublished. I’m ecstatic to be working on changing that, one book at a time. I’ve actually managed to write three more picture books and outlined ideas for four more since joining 12×12. Yippee!

As a child, Kelly Lenihan was forever dreaming up fantastical stories, inventing make-believe worlds replete with colorful characters engaging in wondrous adventures. By the end of her teens, she’d written countless short stories. Never losing her penchant for writing; she’s been published in various magazines and enjoyed her own newspaper column for several years. To this day, she is an avid blogger and has several full-length books in the works. When she’s not reading or writing, you might find her outdoors with her camera, enjoying the beautiful northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. A bit of a word nerd, Kelly has been known to read the dictionary for fun. And you probably don’t want to play Scrabble with her! You can find Kelly at http://www.kellylenihanbooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Dad and Infant MeAugust 20th is a tough day every year, since it is my Dad’s birthday and not one day goes by that I don’t miss him.

My Dad lived with the mistaken belief that once I grew up I would no longer need him. As if we somehow “outgrow” our parents. My father was my first male protector and remained, until the day he died, my fiercest one.

His persona, not inaccurate, was a whip-smart, tough-as-nails “man’s man,” with a blistering sense of humor and the ability to say things NOBODY else would ever get away with. More often than not, this particular talent served to dissipate tension rather than create the shockwaves you would expect. As a result, people loved him (or in some cases, hated him) more for it.

I’ve never known anyone more comfortable in his own skin than my Dad, so quintessentially “himself.” It turns out that’s a pretty magnetic quality and made him very much in demand, as if he had an aura people thought might rub off on them. Sometimes when he entered a room it seemed like the parting of the red seas. “Make way for Fred!” My stepmother Nancy and I used to joke that when he went to the bar or the golf course or out to dinner, that was his way of “holding court.”

A few years ago at my brother’s wedding, his best friend from childhood described my Dad as “just like Clint Eastwood, only someone’s dad.”

My Dad was who he was and made no apologies, which is not to say he didn’t have demons — he had them aplenty. In fact, I think he experienced and felt them even more acutely because he viewed them as his sole responsibility. It was anathema to him to blame others for his problems or his failures or, unfortunately, to ask for help.

Most of the “Fred” anecdotes people tell are of his quips and sayings, “Fredisms” that have gone into the annals of “funniest things anybody ever said or did.” One of my personal favorites was when he ordered flowers for Nancy for their anniversary one year. The florist asked what he wanted, to which he responded, “Just something nice. You choose.” A few minutes later, he called back and said, “Listen, don’t make it TOO nice. I’m not looking for anything serious here. Just a one-night stand.” When I heard that story I could almost hear the gears turning in my Dad’s head, coming up with that joke and not being willing, or able, to let the opportunity to let it rip pass him by.

photo (11)But the flip side to his public persona was a deep, abiding tenderness and love for family. What was most “pure” about him was his love and loyalty to his family – always and no matter what. His love was like a fortress – when you were in his presence, the walls of that love closed around you and kept you safe.

It might seem strange to post a picture from my wedding when I am no longer married, but this is one of my favorite photos of Dad and me. The band was playing “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and he sang it to me as we danced. When you look at that picture, imagine that little girl, now all grown up, suddenly not needing her father anymore.

Ludicrous. Luckily I had a chance to prove him wrong on that count.

One month from this very day, I will celebrate the launch of my second book, dedicated to Dad, in my hometown of Gaylord, Michigan.

Where I will still be, as always, Daddy’s Little Girl.

Categories: Family

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12 x 12 Member Teresa Schaefer

I think after you read this post, you’ll agree that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Teresa Schaefer, does an outstanding job of SHOWING us that she is a picture book writer (rather than telling). Get ready for a few belly laughs along with the standard-issue inspiration! Also, I DARE you to not to have a huge craving for pie after reading this. For me? I’m kind of dying for tart-cherry right now. Or perhaps rhubarb… :-) Please welcome Teresa!

Writing, Pies, and Balance

I began writing when I was eight. But being a bit of a late-bloomer, I have only recently pursued it with any great intent. Two years ago, I sought out a close friend who happens to be a published author and told her, “I want to pursue publishing books.”

“That’s exciting,” she said. “What do you want to write?”

My reply,

“Picture books for children – the ones the adults also like to read and re-read and keep forever to read to their grandchildren; the ones they recommend to friends and give as gifts – that’s what I want to write.”

Our conversation went on for about an hour and after many encouraging words she said, “You know, it’s a bunny eat bunny world – the picture book world.”

bunny eat bunny

I have since heard that quote several times. But, rub on my lucky rabbit’s foot – no, not really, I don’t have one. I saw one when I was eight and touched it, but I don’t have one. So, knock on wood, this has NOT been my experience.

Instead, it’s been much more like being at a pie smorgasbord.

cartoon pie

Forgive me, I’m on a diet.

That’s not to suggest that I believe writing for children is as ‘easy as pie’.

Nope, writing for children is definitely NOT as easy as pie. In my working hard to write publishable PBs life, I think Mem Fox nailed it: “Writing a picture book is like writing ‘War and Peace’ in Haiku.”

Writing for children is a craft, an art-form, a community, a business. And, while the business world of writing is competitive, there is a community of writers, authors, agents, editors, and publishers who make the bunny saying – well, balderdash.

The 12×12 community hosted by Julie Hedlund with her amazing elves is one of these communities. There are many more: PiBoIdMo, ReviMo, Summer Sparks, RYS, and these are just a few samplings at the pie smorgasbord. There are books on the craft, blogs galore, classes from beginner to advanced, conferences, societies, chapters, digests, whipped cream, ice cream, coconut cream….

WOOT! So many ‘pies,’ yet so little time.

As I bellied up to the 12×12 smorgasbord, I was mesmerized. Instantly, I knew why Laurie Halse Anderson said, “Pie makes everybody happy.” — The Impossible Knife of Memory

I earned badges and points. I pushed send and submitted my First 250. I read about pitches and practiced pitching. I read query letters and tried writing a couple. I’ve read many great First 250s and wanted to finish the story. I’ve written a draft a month and revised many more. I’ve been inspired and tried to inspire. I participated in show vs. tell. I’ve offered critiques and joined a critique group. I’ve made many friends and stayed up late chatting.

I dove in and became so pie-eyed that I had to push back from the table and take a breath.

I was full to the gills and like a wobbling washer with a heavy, wet rug in its belly, I was out of balance. I had overindulged in the 12×12 smorgasbord. Important aspects of my life and writing had been left idle; but life requires its own sustenance.

And, keeping all those pies in the air requires lots of balance.

Pie spinning

So, I made a pie chart (of course).

pie chart
I divided my time into slices: one for 12×12, one for family, one for work, one for chores, a slice for sleep, a slice for leisure, one for platform building; and,

lest I forget why I showed up to the smorgasbord in the first place –

a slice for writing –

I want to write picture books for children – the ones the adults also like to read and re-read and keep forever to read to their grandchildren; the ones they recommend to friends and give as gifts – that’s what I want to eat write.

Teresa M.I. Schaefer is a new writer seeking to become a great writer. Not much of a cook, she does enjoy baking pies. Books and libraries have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. As an elementary student, she helped the school librarian re-shelve books, wrote her first story at age eight, joined what she now knows was a critique group at age 10, and has continued dabbling with stories ever since. Professionally trained as a licensed psychologist, it is not uncommon for her stories to have a psychological bent. She is the proud mother of two very outstanding young adults, a clumsy bull-dog, an old cat, and a cat that thinks she is a dog. Feel free to friend her on Facebook, visit her website at http://tschaefer.wix.com/twrites, or send her a tweet @TMISchaefer. She hopes you are finding balance in writing and life and would love to hear about your smorgasbord experience.
.

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Florence Panorama WRI am beyond excited to share the brand new website for Writer’s Renaissance. Now going into its third year, I decided the retreat deserved a home as beautiful and inspiring as Florence itself. I think the new site achieves this goal, and I hope you think so too.

People often ask me how I got the idea for Writer’s Renaissance and why, when I am quite obviously busy with many other projects, I continue to run the retreat. I’ve found that the obvious answer – “Uh, have you ever BEEN to Florence?” – doesn’t quite satisfy. My biography page on the new website provides some explanation, but I’m not sure I had the full answer until after I returned from the 2014 retreat.

To say the start to the 2014 Writer’s Renaissance retreat proved a challenge would be a huge understatement. The hardship really began at the end of January when one of my neighbors shot my dog in cold blood (bear with me – the story gets better). Luckily, and miraculously he survived, but the ordeal took its toll physically, emotionally, and financially. I spent almost a month lost in a fog just trying to make up for lost time and $.

Then, less than 24 hours before I departed for Florence, Lufthansa went on strike, failed to rebook me, and was not responding to any calls. I had no choice but to purchase a brand new ticket for about 8 times the price of my original. I still have received no refund or compensation (or even a response for that matter) from Lufthansa to this day. But that’s another story…

So I arrived in Florence exhausted, stressed, and worried about how I would manage to create the outstanding experience the 2014 women participants were expecting, and knowing I had to. I have a deep sense of responsibility to everything I undertake, but when women put their time, money, and hearts into my hands, well, letting them down is not an option.

But the city began to work its magic on me immediately. On my first evening, the soft sunshine slipped into a sorbet

La Bella Notte a Firenze.

La Bella Notte a Firenza.

sunset as I enjoyed my first gelato of the trip on the Santa Trinita bridge, gazing at the Ponte Vecchio. I visited my favorite paper shop, reconnected with friends over dinner, and fell into bed at my “home away from home” hotel. After two full days of basking in the beauty of Florence, the vice grip around my heart began to loosen. I was both ready and eager to meet the renaissance women of 2014.

Traveling, especially by oneself, is both rewarding and challenging in myriad ways. First, it is an assault to our senses. The people, the food, the atmosphere, the culture – all might be vastly different from our home. Some of these changes are welcome and exciting, and others can be frustrating and frightening. Often it is difficult to predict which reaction you are going to have to what triggers, making it difficult to find equilibrium.

Yet, this kind of travel holds the power and possibility of transformation more than any other. When we jolt ourselves out of our comfort zones, we suddenly become more aware of our surroundings and more present in our experiences.

For example, each time I go to Florence, the very first gelato I eat is always the best, regardless of the flavor I choose. Why? Because of the distance between the last gelato I ate on my previous trip and the first bite on this one. I haven’t yet acclimated to the flavor, and the reunion is delicious indeed. The first time I hear cathedral bells ringing can move me to tears. And don’t even get me started on the smell of garlic wafting from whatever plate of pasta I’ve ordered.

gromSince so much of writing is noticing, sensory stimulation is great fodder for the page. But even more transformative is the fact that our emotions are also on high alert during travel. Whatever we might have lurking under the surface of our consciousness tends to come forth HUGE when traveling. Getting out of our daily routines forces us to confront our lives in a way we cannot when we’re on the treadmill of life. This confrontation leads to introspection, self-discovery and sometimes even epiphany.

During Writer’s Renaissance 2014, I learned that I had been letting fear take center stage in my life. I was holding on to emotions and ideas that were not serving me, my loved ones, or my work. Every day since my return from Florence, I have recited a mantra in the morning reminding myself not to act in fear, but in love and trust instead.

I can also tie other trips to life-changing (and life-affirming) decisions. The one where I learned my anxiety was taking over my life and needed to be treated. The one where I decided I HAD to leave my job and pursue my dream of writing. The one where I rediscovered the intensity, beauty, and brevity of life and realized I needed to leave my marriage. Then there was Writer’s Renaissance 2013, my first post-divorce trip, that made me realize how fully ME I was, and how ready I was to let go of the past and begin anew. Time and again, travel brings me back to myself, re-roots me to the earth and to my life, and gives me inspiration that sustains me long after the trip has ended. The outward journey always leads to inward journey. Rebirth, renewal, renaissance.

To end with the beginning, I started Writer’s Renaissance because I wanted to share the transformative power of travel with other women. Because once your senses have been stimulated, your emotions heightened, your self examined, you simply cannot remain the same person, and I believe the insights gained always lead to positive (or necessary) change.

Some even ask – “Why Florence?” I think what they mean is, it’s so far from where I live. Why not run a similar retreat here in the States?

david-1024x739That answer is easy. Traveling to Florence will cure anyone of the idea that dreams are not achievable. Look into the eyes of Michelangelo’s David and tell me if you still believe anything you might want to do or create is impossible.

Go on. I dare you.

Categories: Creativity, Florence, Italy, Spirituality, Travel, Travel Writing, Uncategorized, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Vanessa Hatley-OwenToday’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Vanessa Hatley-Owen, joined 12 x 12 for the same reason I created it – to get and stay motivated. I love that I help others while also helping myself. :-) I know I can say that I write much more due to the existence of 12 x 12, but nothing pleases me more to hear that the challenge works the same magic for participants too. And a participant on the other side of the world no less! Please welcome Vanessa!

One word sprang to mind when I first heard about, and looked into, the wonderful 12×12 challenge; motivation. You see, like most writers (Most? A lot? Some? A few of us?) I have a big problem with motivation. Story ideas I have lots of. Time to write can be found fairly easily if I ignore the pile of washing. A space of my own to write in? Yep, did that by squeezing a wee desk into the corner. What else? Crowd of supportive family and friends – yes absolutely, and I appreciate them deeply. Awesome critique group? You betcha!

Motivation? Er…. Um… Sometimes.

Sometimes I can say to myself “Right, today I’m going to write” and I do. Slowly at first and then away I go; typing away and hunching closer and closer to the screen as my thoughts fly faster than my fingers. I love it when those days happen.

More often, in fact far too often, I say to myself “Right, today I’m going to write” and I don’t. I sit myself down and… ooooo look…. FaceBook…. oooooo look… Buzzfeed… oooooo look… cute/funny/sentimental video. By the time I actually open the current WIP it’s too late; the motivation has long gone. And besides, the kids will be home soon/have to get dinner soon (insert convenient excuse here) so there’s no point starting now. Or worse; a truthful admission that I really can’t be bothered now (I’m hanging my head in shame…) Yup. What I need, is a kick up the ‘you-know-what’ to get me motivated!

Cue the 12×12 challenge. I can’t remember where I first saw it mentioned, but I’m so glad I did!

One story a month for twelve months – I can do that. I need to do that. And even though I’m not going to get rapped over the knuckles or told off for not completing a story each month, just knowing that I should, and that the ‘deadline’ is coming up, gets me moving. Gets the old brain ticking and the conscience nagging. Bingo! There’s my motivation!

Now I find myself snatching moments to get writing and can be found scribbling away while waiting for my daughter’s hockey game because I know that I have to get started. Sure, I may still leave it to the almost last minute but that almost last minute works wonders; it seems to get my brain going and helps me to focus, which doesn’t seem to happen at the start of the month. Diamonds are created under pressure and there’s nothing like the red flashing alarm of a looming deadline to ramp things up; a technique that also worked for me all through high school (but don’t tell my kids that…). True, some of these are diamonds in their roughest form and need a lot of cutting and polishing, but I have now got five new stories – and that’s five more stories than I would have had. And I’m thrilled.

It’s also been great to test out your new work in the forum. Thanks to the feedback from the wonderful 12×12 folk, I’ve tweaked some of my stories already and have them lined up, ready to send out to publishers. I’ve still got some work to do on other stories and of course six more to write to meet those ‘deadlines’ but it will be done, and who knows, I may just surprise myself by getting some in before the end of the month!

Vanessa lives way down at the bottom of the world in Auckland, New Zealand; with her husband, their three awesome girls and a very greedy, crazy Beagle. She grew up with her nose in a book and still loves to read, read, read – there have been occasions where dinner was late because she was too caught up in her book! When she isn’t working or ‘being Mom’, she writes stories for children – which gives her a great excuse to read even more! So far she has had a Middle Grade novel shortlisted for a New Zealand award for children’s writing, and two Elementary pieces published for schools. Her most recent success was having a picture book manuscript shortlisted for an award. While as yet unpublished, she has many rejection letters to her name; each one bringing her closer to her goal of being a published children’s author. As well as picture books, she is working on a YA novel and Middle Grade chapter book series.
Together with a writer friend, Vanessa contributes to KidsWriters, a blog for other children’s writers and she also contributes book reviews for The Library Adventure blog.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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Real-life, hardcover copy of my BOOK!

Real-life, hardcover copy of my BOOK!

I have one hour to midnight here in CO, and I wanted to make sure I got this week’s Gratitude Sunday post out. It was a special week, since my wonderful stepmother, who lives in Gaylord, MI where all of the physical copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN currently are, sent me a copy. Yes, she bought me a copy and sent it to me in the mail! I have officially hugged my book, and what a great feeling it was. :-)

Quotes on Gratitude

“Gratitude is one of the most medicinal emotions we can feel. It elevates our moods and fills us with joy.” — Sara Avant Stover

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” — Camille Pissarro

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” — Cynthia Ozick

Gratitude list for the week ending August 9

  1. Upon returning home from the SCBWI conference in LA, feeling inspired while getting organized and being productive.
  2. Reading with the windows open at night, to the sound of the crickets
  3. They finally cut and baled the hay in the field where I walk Rocky. For a month it had been too tall for us to walk there, but now we’re back!
  4. Watching the first episode of Outlander :-)
  5. Summer corn and peaches!
  6. We got all of Em’s school supplies purchased. MAJOR accomplishment.
  7. Perfect summer weather – not too hot, not too cold
  8. The supermoon
  9. Sitting outside with Jay and pretending we were in a rocket exploring space
  10. My web designer, who has his work cut out for him but who is also doing an AMAZING job

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Books, Dogs, Family, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Summer · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Laura GehlThis is an especially fun “How I Got My Agent” post for me to share because Laura Gehl not only got her agent through the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, but she signed with MY agent, Erzsi Deak! That makes us fellow chicks in the Hen & Ink “coop.” When you read Laura’s story and see how hard she works and how accomplished she is with her writing, you won’t be surprised she landed an agent. AND, I’m very excited that she’s getting started building her platform with a brand new website and blog. Recently, she blogged about her writing process at Hen & Inkblots, our agency blog.

If all that weren’t enough, her first picture book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, releases next month – the SAME DAY as my book release!! So get ready for a party on September 9th! In the meantime, please welcome Laura.

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

I’ve been writing for about ten years…but mostly magazine articles, not books. Once I decided to look into publishing picture books, I could see that I would have a lot more options if I found an agent. I did get my first two picture book contracts without an agent, though…it is not impossible!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I read everything I could find on-line. And I do mean everything.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?

I’ve never counted! I did send out a large number of queries before finding an agent. The agents who took the time to write a personal response helped me keep going. I started by querying only with rhyming manuscripts, and I think I would have found an agent much sooner if I had dropped the rhymes. However, my first two picture books (ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR/Beach Lane, fall 2014; AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP/Kar-Ben, spring 2015) are in rhyme. So if you love writing in rhyme, don’t give up.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

I did feel daunted by the number of great agents who said they only wanted to represent author-illustrators. And I felt particularly worried when one agent said she loved my picture books but only wanted to sign me if I had a submission-ready middle-grade text in addition (she explained that picture books are just too hard to sell). In the end, though, several agents ended up expressing interest in my picture book texts.

How did you know your agent was “the one”?

I read an interview with Erzsi Deak, who is now my agent. In the interview, Erzsi said that she tries to make sure all of her writers and illustrators feel attended to, or coddled (she probably put it better than that). I am NOT patient and definitely couldn’t go weeks without hearing from my agent, so I thought Erzsi’s style would be perfect for me. Sure enough, if Erzsi ever gets impatient with my constant emails, she hides it well! ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )

12 x 12 provided me with the chance to submit to Erzsi and encouraged me to develop picture book texts, two of which are now under contract (PEEP AND EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING/FSG, spring 2016; HARE AND TOROISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL/Kar-Ben, spring 2015). Equally important, 12 x 12 set me up with my fantastic critique group. I cannot imagine how I ever wrote anything without them! When we started, no one in the group had an agent. Since then, three of us have found agents, and I know the others are getting very close.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Not really. I try to get my manuscripts into the best possible shape before sending them to Erzsi. Which means my mom and my husband read a manuscript (and say “This is great!”), and then my critique partners read the manuscript (and say, “This is great…but here are 28 things to change”). Only after I fix those 28 things, and probably 27 more things that are wrong with the next few drafts, do I send the manuscript along to Erzsi.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

I agree with the frequent advice that you should research agents in advance and submit only your best work. On the other hand, I think it is important to get your work out there. At some point, you need to stop researching, stop revising, and just submit. Also: have a list of agents ready before you submit to even one. That way, if you get a rejection, you can just move on to the next agent on your list, which will limit your moping (eating chocolate while moping briefly is still definitely allowed). Lastly: keep a file of any positive words you get from agents. Literally cut and paste JUST the positive words from a rejection and put them in that file. Then read through your positive words file when you start getting discouraged.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

In my case, no. I am currently working on a website, in advance of my first book coming out in September, 2014. I’m also trying to figure out how to use social media without it becoming a black hole that sucks up all of my writing time.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )

Riding a tandem bicycle. I can’t wait to have my husband do all the work while we zoom uphill.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

I am always working on a gazillion projects at once. Right now I am working on several picture books, an early reader, three fiction chapter books, a nonfiction chapter book, and a middle grade novel. I’m also excited to announce my new website is up! Come and find me at www.lauragehl.com.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerIt’s prize time! Our July Featured Author, Sue Fliess, is giving one lucky 12×12 member picture book critique.

And the lucky winner is….

MICHELLE HACKEL!!

Congrats! Please contact me at JulieFHedlund (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize.

It’s a brand new month and a brand new chance to win! Write those drafts and revise, revise, revise for you chance to win August’s prize.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Giveaway, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , ,

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