Taking the Leap!

Stick figure standing on What We Are cliff wondering if he should take the Leap of Faith to get to What We Want To Be cliff.

I’ve been so busy this spring doing a major overhaul on my middle grade sci-fi novel. I changed the point of view from 1st to 3rd, fleshed out the characters, fixed overall plot structure, and made the ending so much better. I’ve been getting feedback as well, and doing lots of revision based on that. And I’m SO excited about how this manuscript is shaping up!

My kids have been going nuts wanting to finish reading it. I read the first part to them when I was drafting it during NaNoWriMo, and then stopped because I wanted to wait until it was done. But I’m not sure “done” is a thing in the writing world. It can always be better! Then, a couple days ago my youngest confessed he’d snuck one of the pages out of my office garbage bin and read it on the sly! So, I guess he’s getting desperate! LOL

Anyway, I just sent off queries for it to a few agents. As scary as it is, it’s finally time to see if I can drum up any interest in the publishing world for this project. I know this can take years and 100s of queries, and may never happen, but it for sure won’t if I don’t try! All I can do is keep moving forward, challenging myself, and taking those leaps of faith.

Nonfiction for Kids

Nonfiction: Real books that tell, inform, teach and explain.

More than ever before, kids are choosing to read nonfiction.* This often under-appreciated genre of kidlit has broken away from the straightforward, “textbook” styles of the past, and exploded with compelling structures and engaging tones. I mean, who can resist Melissa Stewart’s book titled Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, or Steve Sheinkin’s Lincoln’s Grave Robbers that follows the thrilling true story of how counterfeiters tried to steal Lincoln’s coffin in 1875. Another gripping narrative can be found in Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team. The biggest draw to these books is that they’re filled with things that are real. Kids like that more than adults realize,** especially given what we’ve all been through. Some people turn to fiction to escape during hard times; others seek refuge in facts and truth. Kids often try to get a better understanding of the world around them.

It’s been just over a year since a writing conference opened my eyes to this dynamic area of kidlit, and I’m still learning so much. In February I participated in Nonfiction Fest. Each day had challenges to develop my research skills, inspire new ideas, and engage with the nonfiction writing community. I loved it, and it gave me some great ideas for future projects! I also won Jennifer Swanson’s Astronaut/Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact–another fabulous MG nonfiction book from an author I’ve come to go a little bit fangirl on. 🙂

It was a lucky month for me as I also won Leslie Bulion’s Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs through a Twitter contest. My boys and I have had so much fun reading her lyrical spider poems that are chuck full of cool arachnoid facts. Whether your interest lies in reading or writing, I urge you to invite more nonfiction books into your life. They just might surprise you!

*See this Washington Post article for more on this.

**See this Publisher’s Weekly article for stats that show how juvenile nonfiction experienced 3X the growth in sales in 2020 than juvenile fiction.

Picture Book Party

I LOVE trying new things, especially when it comes to writing. But with all the middle grade projects I’ve been working on, the last thing I needed was a whole new audience to write for. At least that’s what I kept telling myself every time the thought of writing picture books peeked around the corner.

But then I discovered, Storystorm 2021. It’s an annual event where for each day of January, Author Tara Lazar has picture book authors post about generating new story ideas. Their words were so inspiring, it was exhilarating! Lauren Kerstein’s post especially spoke to me. Now picture book writing wasn’t just peeking around the corner, it was sticking its tongue out at me–daring me to give chase!

I couldn’t resist. I immediately put Kerstein’s method to work and came up with a great idea! I couldn’t stop there, so I continued on to draft my first picture book. Picture books are short–500 words or less for fictional stories, so many people think they’re easy to write. But the truth is, this is the very reason they are so challenging. Every word counts, and you have to accomplish a whole lot within that time. Now that picture books had my full attention, I dove headfirst into learning the ropes–taking some online courses, and studying Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.

Another fantastic resource I found is Julie Hedlund’s 12X12 challenge, where the goal is to draft at least one new picture book each month during the year. It has been just the motivation I needed. Not every draft I write works out, but each time I sit down to brainstorm a new one, the anticipation is just like I feel before going to a party. My own little picture book party!

New Year, Same Goals!

I am a goal person. A list person. A write it on the list just so I can check it off person. It keeps me focused and motivated. Without them I ride high on ambition and bottom out on follow-through.

Since I last posted I’ve been busy writing children’s nonfiction. It has been so much fun! I really love the middle grade age group, and it is super handy to have a few kids in that range to give my manuscripts a test run.

My goal from last year was to write and submit, and it’s still the same. That doesn’t dishearten me in the least. The more I write, the better I get. I know it’s a process. In fact, I enjoy the process. I’m like a kid digging in the dirt just for the fun of it. In the end, if I end up with a few mud pies to my name, all the better.

Writer’s Academy – 2nd Place for my Flash Fiction!

On a whim, I signed up for the UVU Writer’s Academy that takes place throughout the month of October. As a part of the program, they have a short story contest that I’ve been having so much fun with. They give you a genre, a setting, and a random object to incorporate and limit you to 1,000 words. There are 4 rounds, with the final two being elimination rounds. You also only have a few days to write each piece!

When the scores were posted last week I was thrilled to see I’d tied for Second Place on the first round! Woohoo! This weekend I had a blast writing the second story. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the Finals, but I’m very grateful for this challenge. I’ve learned so much about storytelling and fiction these last two years, and I can see the progress in my writing. And that is the best prize of all!

Are you an Imposter?

When I first discovered writing conferences, the other attendees were super welcoming, especially at SMIAH in Kansas City. I totally fan-girled over some of the authors, and I loved being around people that had a passion for the written word, like I do. Despite that, I felt like I had a deep dark secret. (I’d never finished a novel!) I didn’t feel like I could call myself an author if I didn’t have a book with my name on it. I was a pretender. An imposter, really.

It wasn’t long before I learned that Imposter Syndrome is a real thing, and that it’s super common among beginning, intermediate and advanced writers. Success is an elusive and nebulous idea. Even authors who have achieved significant financial success often feel like imposters around those with literary awards, and those with the awards don’t feel like real authors without the commercial success.

This year I was asked to serve on the committee for SMIAH. Because of COVID, we were forced to postpone the full conference until 2021, so we opted to host a FREE, virtual one-day writing event for 2020. We called it SMIAH Mini, and if you’re a writer, definitely go sign up for it at www.smiahwritersconference.com. We have almost 30 mini writing classes, 2 live panels, as well as writing contests and fantastic prizes. It takes place this Saturday, September 26th, and the recordings will be available through October 31st!

It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve had a blast working on SMIAH Mini–coordinating the contests, editing video content and helping with publicity. All of us on the committee recorded a mini-class, and I chose to present on Imposter Syndrome. This was my first “YouTube” video, and it is totally disconcerting to watch a video of yourself, but I hope it will be helpful to the hundreds of attendees who have already signed up! The writing world is a close-knit group and nobody needs to waste energy feeling like they don’t belong.

1st Submissions to a Publisher!

Just had to pop on here and say I did it! After receiving feedback from my awesome new mentor, Stephanie Bearce, I polished up my two middle-grade non-fiction book proposals. Then, even though it was scary pushing the send button, I sent them off to a publisher just a few minutes ago!

The publishing industry is really slow, and I know it could be 5 or 6 months before I hear if they are interested, and I know it is very unlikely to get a publishing deal on your very first submission (most authors collect rejections like they’re going out of style–they’re badges of honor, really, for putting themselves out there), but still I can’t help feel a slightly disturbing, but delicious bubble of hope in my gut.

And something else…pride, I guess. I’m really proud of these books, and I hope someday I get to share them with more readers than just my kids.

SCBWI Mentorship Winner

I mentioned in a previous post how I attended my first SCBWI conference right before COVID-19 shut everything down. It happened to be a Nonfiction Children’s Book conference. I’d just joined SCBWI, I didn’t know anyone going, and I knew next to nothing about the nonfiction children’s market, but I came home from that one-day conference on fire with ideas.

As the people who know me know, there’s really no stopping me once I get an idea. I dove in and drafted 2 nonfiction children’s manuscripts during the next two months. I love research and writing and kids, so it’s really a perfect match for me!

Last month I submitted a book proposal for one of my manuscripts to the SCBWI Michigan Nonfiction Mentorship Contest. It’s called Becoming an Inventor: Train Your Brain to Invent & Explore Your Creativity.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to announce that I was just announced as the Winner for the Middle Grade (ages 8-12) Mentorship! Suzanne Lipshaw, who I happened to have lunch with at that conference, won the Nonfiction Picture Book Mentorship. I am so thrilled for her as well!

For the next year I will be under the mentorship of Stephanie Bearce, whose awesome children’s books are right up my alley with her Twisted True Tales from Science series, and her Top Secret Files series about real spies, secrets, and covert missions. If your kids haven’t read any of her books, give them a try!

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the contest coordinator, Ann Finkelstein, all the judges, and to Stephanie for choosing to work with me!

Writing School Boot Camp

Less than two years ago I stumbled onto a Midwest writing conference called SMIAH. I’ve talked about it before on here because it has a ton of fun writing contests. But back then I didn’t know anything about it. I was a writing professional, but a total newbie to writing novels. When I saw that one of my favorite authors, Traci Hunter Abramson, was the keynote, that was enough for me. I signed up last minute and bought a plane ticket to Kansas City.

It was my first real introduction to the fiction writing world. I’d never even heard of the big Storymakers writing conference in Utah, or that, along with Indie Author Hub, they sponsor this other, more intimate writing conference. At any rate, I went, not knowing a single person there. It turned out to be an exhilarating and life-changing experience for me. Not only did I meet authors of books I’d read, all the author instructors were eager to interact and teach me their craft. 

Because of the small size of the conference, I got to have real conversations over lunch, in the hallway, and when we went out to dinner together. Everyone was interested in sharing their knowledge and helping me on my journey. For the first time I came away thinking that becoming an author might actually be possible. I felt accepted and connected. I’d found my people, and they’d left me bursting with motivation and inspiration for my writing.

This month I’d planned to attend the large Storymakers Conference in Provo. Of course I had to cancel my travel plans due to COVID-19, but instead of cancelling the conference, the incredibly dedicated volunteer staff switched gears to offer a virtual conference instead.

The benefit of this was that we didn’t have to choose a class to go to for each break-out session–we could go to all of them! That’s almost 100 amazing, mind-blowing writing classes! My husband is back to work, so it hasn’t been easy to devote the time to this, especially since my kiddos don’t finish online schooling until June 12th. I’ve also had to pause my own writing projects to take advantage of this training, but it’s been worth it. I’m about 85% through the presentations, and I’m chuck full of ideas to make my work better. In fact, if my head explodes, you’ll know why.

Quarantine Update

A month has zipped by since I last posted, and while many in my writer circles have suffered creative blocks due to the stress around us, I have managed to dig in, simultaneously attacking 3 different projects. I may be the only one in the world right now wishing for more hours each day! The best part is that I hope to have an announcement about one of them very soon!

Here in Michigan, we are in one of the worst areas for COVID-19, with the peak on April 3rd almost reaching 2,000 new cases in 24 hours. We have been trending down since then, with only 576 reported yesterday. In our county alone, overall there have been over 4,000 cases with more than 400 deaths so far.

Watching friends suffer through the disease has been heartbreaking. We have been able to stay in our home and backyard for all, but trips to the grocery store. And even then, we don masks and gloves like most everyone we see now.

My husband has a job that does not translate to remote work, and has had a temporary pay cut while we wait for it to be safe for him to return. This has been a stress and a blessing as it has allowed me to focus on my work while he shares the weight of food preparation and the kids’ online schooling.

The world is on pause. Nobody knows what to expect in the coming weeks and months. Some say even years. We all hope and pray for healing. Meanwhile we adapt and learn and draw closer than we’ve ever been before. With trials come humility, compassion and unity.