WOW - so it's come to this. Ten months ago I started a blog chronicling my journey to being published. Two weeks ago I received a phone call from my agent telling me he had just put the finishing touches on my first book deal. My picture book CAN ONE BALLOON MAKE AN ELEPHANT FLY had found a home with a well known publisher. Just like that. The contract is forthcoming but once the ink is dry I will hold in my sweaty little hands the contractual bridge from aspiring author to published, aspiring author. Perhaps one day I'll be able to drop the aspiring part but that still seems some ways off.
Since receiving the call I keep meaning to update my blog with the AWESOME news but can't seem to find the energy or words to express myself. It all seems suddenly too simple, the process too easy, the distination too known from the outset. My blog feels like a cheap lie. One more act of insincere marketing hype in an age of insincere hype.
And yet when I started my chronicle in October I didn't know. I had no idea if my first book deal would be two months or two years away. Or further. Perhaps much further. The reality is I stuck my neck out on the brazen notion starting my story would eventually lead to a tidy ending no matter how distant. The blog was both an act of faith and a candle to keep my way lit. And a fun way to let readers experience the perplexing, vexing, unpredictable journey that every artist must navigate in their aspiration to rise from amateur to paid professional (the paid part is still a bit vexing as the book won't hit stores for at least another two years).
Two years you say? Yes, the publishing time for a picture book is similar to that of an ice age. But it will be published! And one day I will walk into a bookstore and find in the farthest back corner, high on the last shelf, all but hidden from view by some Berkeley Breathed best seller, my little book waiting for me. And I will carefully dust off its cover, secretly sign it when no one is looking and place it back on the shelf in the spot now vacated by the mysteriously missing Breathed book (what can I say? I love Berkeley but marketing is marketing).
In the meantime, a few thank yous are in order:
Paul Rodeen, literary agent. Thanks Paul for taking a chance on an unknown author at a most difficult time in your life. I appreciate the faith you've shown and the kind words, even if most of them I made up and only imagine you saying. Works for me:)
Jeff Newman, illustrator. Thank you so much for believing in the Balloon story and putting your name behind it. You were the doorway to editors that would never have taken a look otherwise. I know the final illustrations will be AMAZING!
Justin Chanda, VP of Children's Publishing at Simon & Schuster and all around nice guy. I cannot tell you what it means to have your vote of confidence. And to work with you as editor is an added bonus I'll try not to squander. Thank you thank you thank you (too many thank yous? I don't think so).
UW Writing For Children Program. I didn't even know what a picture book was until I started the UW program in the Fall of 2009. The instructors, classmates and coursework were life changing.
My Writer's Group. Thanks ladies! Honest feedback is hard to come by. Honest support even harder. We have much to celebrate. And so much more yet to come. Right?
SCBWI Western WA. Despite still not knowing what all the letters in the acronym mean, the organization is unparalleled. Attending the last two Spring conferences allowed me to meet both Paul and Justin face to face. And that has been just one of the many blessings you've brought in the last year.
And last but not least, MY FAMILY. Thank you Anna & Paul for unwittingly being the playground for my imagination. I learned more about character, plot and voice telling you bedtime stories than from any course I could have ever taken. Thanks for your sleepy-eyed attention and generous sense of humor when story lines derailed, as they so often did. And thank you Kelly for keeping the eye rolls to a minimum.
Does a book deal mean this blog has run its course? I don't think so. I have no intention of retiring it just yet. I hope to have much more to tell while learning the rigors of bringing a book to publication and as I continue to chase after the next book deal, and the next...
Has anyone ever considered the off chance that birds fly because the earth and its inhabitants take periodic plunging drops, that perhaps birds don’t so much rise as refuse to fall? Yes, smarty pants, I know full well the answer is clear as a daisy but I for one have been through enough plunges to wonder if perhaps there is some starker purpose.
Now to get back to the story. Just before my manuscript went out to publishers I attended the Spring SCBWI conference in Redmond. If you’re not familiar with SCBWI it’s the acronym for Society of Creepy Bearded Winged Intruders, or something like that only more related to writing for children. Anyway, I decided my one goal for the conference was to meet an illustrator. Why? I don't know but it somehow seemed like a good idea.
By late afternoon of the first day my butt was tired from keeping a chair planted on the floor so I went wandering the halls. In doing so, I discovered the room where a juried art show was taking place. I found before me the artwork of over 50 aspiring picture book illustrators. It was an amazing sight to find so much talent crammed into one little room. I wandered about for an hour taking in all manner of fairy, critter and childish flights of fancy.
One portfolio in particular caught my eye. The images had a Berkley Breathed quality with oversized, whimsical eyes that seemed to jump from the page. I felt a connection I can’t describe except to say I wanted one of my stories to look like THAT.
I picked up the artist’s card and that evening made the bold move of emailing her. I attached two of my stories and asked if she’d be game to take a look at them. She replied shortly thereafter that she loved them both. We met the next day and had a smashing time talking all things children's books. By the end of our meeting we had agreed that she would do three full color sketches for one of the stories and, in return, I would send the sketches to my agent in hopes he’d like them enough to pick her up as a client as well as send out the manuscript and sketches together to publishers.
This might not seem like any big deal to the lay person but in the world of picture book publishing writers and illustrators are forbidden from even loitering on the same street corner let alone actually working together on a spec project. But I figured what the hey, I’d rather go down in a blaze of glory of my own making then die a slow death waiting for someone else to jumpstart my career.
Over the course of the next month the illustrator and I conversed back and forth over her preliminary sketches discussing everything from overall concept to the most insignificant details. Despite the old adage that authors and illustrators should never mix we had a great time and got along fabulously.
At long last the day came she sent me the three final illustrations (I've posted one below for your viewing pleasure). I immediately sent them off to my agent. For five long years (ok days) we waited to hear back. This gave me plenty of time question every aspect of the plan including my choice of illustrator, the story we selected, every suggestion I had made to her along the way and, of course, I became convinced the final product was a big load of crap that only I could be blind enough to have encouraged.
Finally, I received a short note from the agent telling me he loved the drawings and was excited to work with the project. I, of course, knew from the start that would be his reaction. Uh, well maybe 'knew' is a bit strong of a word. Anyway, he said he'd form a submission plan as soon as we knew the outcome of the project already out (which I described in my last post).
My story is now pretty much up to date but still without any sort of thrilling conclusion. Perhaps I'll hear something more tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next. Or...
As stated in the previous post, things took a dramatic turn for the potentially better when my agent hooked one of my manuscripts up with an illustrator he represents. The illustrator took an immediate liking to the text and agreed to do several preliminary drawings.
Let me be clear. The idea of marrying an illustrator with a manuscript prior to submitting to publishers is taboo in the industry. Publishers want absolute control over the pairing of a manuscript to the artist of their choice. To be so bold as to make that decision for them is just not done. You might liken it to a young couple getting married before the boy asks the father for her hand in marriage. You can see where that tends to go.
However, all rules are meant to be broken and I'm more than willing to risk a professional punch in the nose on the off chance it might get me a book deal. Also, the agent gave examples of previous successes he'd had using this secret tactic (which thanks to me is not so secret anymore). Anyway, it was good enough for me.
Two weeks later (two weeks in the children's publishing world is like a blink of the eye in the real world) the illustrator sent three full color sketches. WOW! They were surprising and absolutely wonderful (I don’t use the word wonderful much but we are talking children’s picture books here). I printed the sketches out and carried them with me everywhere. They were like sea creatures I had brought home in a bucket and couldn’t stop staring at. I showed them to anyone and everyone. I probably showed them to you, if not I will the next time you’re within half a state.
I lay in bed that night thinking about how someone, a very talented someone with multiple publishing credits, had spent hours giving their creative energy to something I had written. Tears flowed silently (silently because I wasn’t about to wake up my wife to tell her I had cried AND used the word wonderful all in the same day, I may be a budding children’s author but I’m still a man, gosh darn it).
Shortly thereafter the agent sent the manuscript and accompanying illustrations out to a select list of editors, including several I knew by reputation and would never have dared approach on my own. I suppose that's the power of having an agent, your work gets slipped through doors cracked open that otherwise would be slammed shut, politely of course with a genuine spirit of children's lit esprit de corps.
He prepared me it could take anywhere from two weeks to two months to hear something back. Two days later he called to tell me two of the editors had shown early interest. Seriously? He cautioned me this in no way guaranteed a sale but was definitely a positive early sign. I asked him how soon I could cash the check. He reminded me there was no check and please stop asking. Yes, perhaps I was getting a little ahead of myself, the Hawaii plans would have to wait.
The next day an offer arrived. Not really. That would be much too simple and hardly worthy of this fine blog. Rather in the spirit of true drama the twists and turns just keep coming. And coming. And I’ll explain more in the next post…
I've been so busy getting nowhere the last several months I neglected updating the blog. Perhaps because I kept thinking if I waited I’d have something worth writing about. Perhaps because I didn’t want to admit publicly I had nothing to write about.
Let’s face it, after what seemed like such a promising start with the agent of my dreams, everything petered out to nothing. Our romance quickly went from giddy school girl talks to not returning my calls or emails. For a little while my heart beat with the excitement of new love. After a few short weeks I returned to having no pulse at all. By January I realized my writing career was dead. Worse than dead really since I'd have to start the whole process over again in finding an agent.
Not one to be bitter I sent out a shotgun blast of query letters to agents near and far. When I say ‘not bitter’ I mean extra special bitter like the microbrew only less appetizing and more upsetting to the stomach. I received back a handful of polite rejections letting me know they could care less. New picture book authors are not in high demand these days. I got the hint and stopped submitting. It wasn’t worth the cost of postage. Or ego.
Then one day a few weeks ago I picked up the phone and dialed my former dream agent’s number. I don’t know why. We hadn’t spoken for months. It was a spontaneous, reckless sort of decision, the same sort of decision making that led to the perm I sported in my wedding photos (a perm, really?). I just wanted to know what had I done? Was it this blog? Perhaps he hadn’t appreciated my Mayberry references.
To my surprise, he picked up. To my greater surprise he recognized my name. And then he dropped the bombshell. His father had died a few months ago. He was just now getting back to work. After losing my Mom two years ago I felt for what he was going through and told him so.
He went on to explain he probably couldn’t be of much help to me at the moment. He said he’d understand if I wanted to submit my work elsewhere. I told him I had. And had the scars to prove it. He understood my plight, a familiar one these days for picture book authors.
We were about to hang up when he mentioned an illustrator of his who was looking for a project, an illustrator with multiple publishing credits. He told me if I’d email my manuscripts again he’d forward them on right away.
I did as asked and true to his word he forwarded them on that afternoon. The next morning the illustrator emailed to say he loved one of the stories and wanted to provide sketches for use in marketing it to publishers.
In a period of 24 hours my writing life returned from the valley of despair to the twisting goat trail of hope. The summit seemed once again within reach, kinda, sorta, almost.
There's more to tell but it'll have to wait 'til next time...
For those of you yet without a child of your own I recommend you immediately go out and get yourself one. They're pricey and they eat a lot and they don't usually come house broken but without one your life is not only incomplete but right side up.
At the moment my house is perfectly in order and entirely upside down as it should be with a teenager in the house and a younger brother to give the teenager fits worthy of her own reality show.
The real joy, however, is the moment by moment realization that she is smarter, better looking and has an infinitely brighter future than I ever dreamed of at the same age. It also means she has a boyfriend.
Now I'm not saying boyfriends are bad. I'm just saying they are of the devil and should be exercised by a priest with a bottle of holy water and a castrating tool. I'm even willing to help just to show my support for the church. I can be a bit of a religious zealot like that.
To make matters worse he's a nice young man. By young man I mean one still croaking his way into manhood and still small enough to carry comfortably in a knapsack. Not that I have. He's too squirmy. And smart enough not to come within ten feet of the sack.
The real problem is that as my daughter continues to mature she acts less and less like a wind up toy that giggles and walks in circles and more like a woman. You know what I mean, a highly intelligent whirling dirvish that makes me dizzy enough to fall down even after I've already fallen down.
How did this happen? Where did the little girl go that once married me in the living room and it wasn't the least bit weird. What happened to tickle fights and cuddle time while watching Sponge Bob? God I miss Sponge Bob. Maybe not so much Sponge Bob but the moments that went with it.
Don't give me that crap about kids growing up. The next thing you'll tell me is I have to let her go. Give her room to grow wings and fly. You can kiss my fatherly arse with all that nonsense. Time is meant to stand still. I know that. I'm living proof. Why is everyone else moving?
But time doesn't mind me and the boyfriend keeps coming over and its really quite annoying. Despite my better judgment I even like the kid. Sadly, there will be no 911 calls, no charges for assault and battery and no documentary about the disgruntled dad who tried to turn back time and got 20 to life for his efforts.
I was thumbing through some songs this evening that I wrote a few years ago. One was apparently in anticipation of this very day. It's called December Into June. I apparently was much more mature before my daughter reached puberty. I leave you with the lyrics. They convey the patience and understanding I so desperately lack at the moment.
I wrote the following poem last Spring after my Mom's passing. I ran across it today and thought I'd post it for anyone who, like me, has spent much of their life wandering in the woods, both figurative and literal.