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You're Invited!

It has been a long time since I sent out a newsletter, and there are many things to talk about. But the most important and immediate is this: I'm having a book party on Wednesday, September 4, to celebrate the launch of my new picture book THUNDER TRUCKS, and you're invited! We'll party on at Books of Wonder Downtown in Manhattan, at 18 W. 18th St., from 6-8 p.m. There will be a Dramatic Reading; we'll have an activity for kids and a trivia game for adults, complete with prizes; and refreshments will be served. This will be my last public appearance for some time thanks to circumstances elucidated below, so if you're in the New York area, I hope you'll come out, say hi, and celebrate THUNDER TRUCKS with me.  

"Thunder Trucks"? What? 

Glad you asked! THUNDER TRUCKS is a picture book I cowrote with my best friend, Katy Beebe. Katy is herself the author of three lovely (and wildly different!) picture books, and in February 2017, I went to visit her, her husband, and her then two-year-old son (my godson) near Dallas, where my godson and I played with a lot of toy trucks. One night, we experienced a Texas-sized thunderstorm, and Katy cuddled her son to comfort him. I remembered the old saw about the angels bowling and said to him, "Don't worry, it's just the Thunder Trucks up in the sky." Katy and I looked at each other, and we knew there was a book in that idea. It took us some time to figure it out, but eventually we cowrote a story about Dozer, Crane, Tanker, Dump Truck, Fire Truck, and Big Rig, who work together to build a wonderful storm. We hoped to make thunderstorms less scary by associating their various stages with the trucks kids love. (We're also proud of the fact that we have gender parity in our trucks, with three with female pronouns and three with male.)

Two years later, after finding just the right editorial team at Disney-Hyperion, and having the very great pleasure of watching Mike Boldt bring our trucks to life, they'll roar into stores on September 10! You can preorder the book from BN.com | Indiebound | Books-a-Million | or Amazon here, or if you'd like a personalized copy, get in touch with Books of Wonder

My Latest Creative Project




The THUNDER TRUCKS launch will be my last public appearance for a while because I am currently (checks calendar) thirty-five weeks great with child. I've had a pleasant and easy pregnancy, as pregnancies go, with no morning sickness and a minimum of fatigue and other side effects. Like most writers, I live a great deal in my head, and I've been fascinated and humbled by how my body has asserted itself over the past eight months, growing a baby without any mental help from me. Think all you want, it seems to be saying. You're an animal at heart -- class mammalia, subclass theria, order primates. Welcome to the jungle.   

I'm also fascinated by the baby himself -- his unknowability at this moment, despite the fact that we'll never be closer, and all the possibilities for who and what he might grow up to be. He'll be shaped by my husband and me, of course, our DNA and our conscious teachings and our unconscious mistakes. But he'll also encounter friends who will influence him, books and shows that will hypnotize him, teachers who will challenge and inspire him. He will be a white male, with all the societal and cultural privileges that entails, which we'll have to teach him to reject or to use for the good of others. And he'll have his very own internal drives that will push him in this direction or that, which he must master or follow to achieve the desires those drives will discover.  

I am, in short, imagining my son-to-be as a character within the narrative space of our current world, and trying to figure out how I can help him have -- not a happy ending, but a good and useful journey; how to help him become a likeable, thoughtful, resilient protagonist in his own life. I have written multiple chapters on creating such fictional protagonists, of course, and some of my advice seems to apply:  I want to teach him to have a positive attitude (good energy) and to be engaged in the world and do things within it. But my efforts will be subject to his own nature and those other influences I listed, and unlike a novelist, I cannot control the world he'll be venturing into, which seems to grow daily hotter and more chaotic. . . . 

Once again, I am learning humility already, before he's made his public debut! And I'm sure he'll have a million more things to teach me in turn, and all I can control is my own choices as a protagonist and a mom. Here's wishing safe travels and thoughtful growing for all of us.  
 

Also WINGing Its Way
into the World!


Speaking of safe travels . . . my very first picture book, WINGS, came out in March! (Yes, it's been quite a year.) Illustrated by the legendary Tomie dePaola, it uses just twelve words to tell the story of a little bird's first fall, failure, and eventual flight. WINGS received two lovely starred reviews: 

* Perfect for toddler storytimes, one-on-one sharing, or early emergent readers, this one sings to young and old alike. More, please?" -- Booklist

* "Beautifully extending the words’ clever minimalism, the simple, subtly dimensional shapes and lush, translucent colorations . . . make this simple story soar." -- Publishers Weekly

Kirkus hated it, for the record! -- a review I read once and then put away, because it didn't do me any good as a writer, beyond completing the rite of passage of getting a snarky Kirkus review. And like most simple things, the book IS very much something you'll either love or scoff at. If you'd like to check it out for yourself, you can find it at your local library, or visit the sales links on my website. Happy to arrange personalized copies, too. 

Q&A of the Newsletter


Q. My agent doesn't get my current work. He 'got' the first project I sent to him, which we signed with and eventually sold. But my new stories he doesn't get. Everyone else does, meaning, my crit group mates and other readers, all of who are published author-illustrators. I even had a friend read one of the dummies to her 1st graders and asked them what they thought the story was about. No brainer for them. He said over and over, "I don't have to like something to sell it." But don't you have to "get" something in order to choose editors who are most likely to love the story? We sent out one story to only 6 editors, 4 of whom I picked. And I wrote the synopsis for the submission (because he didn't see the value). We immediately got 2 bites, waiting to see where it goes. Long intro! I don't want to look for a new agent, but my trust is shaken. I've been completely upfront and honest with him about all of this. He is doing everything I wanted, but ultimately he doesn't get what's so important about my latest stories. My question (finally! I'm sorry!) is, is this common? Is it common for agents to not be enthused or behind their client's work? Shouldn't an agent be an author's champion and believe it them? Or is it flat-out just business? Just, "this is something I know how to sell, so I will. This is not." I've wanted to ask this question far and wide to other author-illustrators. Of course I have with my critique group and others I know well. They all, to a person, have agents who get their work. I'm not asking, should I go back on the road and seek a new agent. My long and winding question is, is it common for an agent to not get their client's work (repeatedly) and only want to represent ONE kind of story they know sells: short, character driven & happy.

A. When I think about author-agent relationships, the best metaphor I can come up with is that your agent should be like your savvy older sibling. They've been through the system; they have connections and know how to work it; and now they're going to help you navigate it too. Sometimes they'll fight the battles for you, as with submissions; sometimes they'll just advise you how to handle them, and trust that you learn through the process. You and this agent/sibling might be very different people in a lot of ways! But ideally, you have a shared language (artistic tastes) and goals (creative and commercial success), you trust and can be honest with each other, and you're in it for the long haul, for both your benefit and the agent's own. 

But just as an older sibling will not think every idea a younger sibling has is brilliant -- especially if s/he feels like it would hurt their standings in the system -- so an agent will not greet every manuscript a writer might present with enthusiasm. What happens next depends upon the relationship the two have established, especially the trust and the power balance between them; the nature of the manuscript, and the depth of any problems it may have; the ingenuity and imagination of the agent, who would have to do the work of turning what he perceives to be a sow's ear into a saleable silk purse; and the willingness of the author to listen to and accept the agent's advice. In the best-case scenario, the two can talk through all of these factors, on the basis of their shared language and goals, and come up with a strategy to either move the manuscript forward or set it aside for the time being. 

In this particular case, it's hard to know who is "right" without hearing the agent's side. It does sound like a failure of imagination on the agent's part, not to look beyond the style of story he knows will sell and push something that might have a different kind of value. But I also can't blame him for not wanting to send out a submission that could  take a ton of time and have very little payoff, when agents have many clients to attend to and live off their 15%. Since this is a problem that's come up on multiple occasions for this pair, it might be time for both sides to compromise:  The agent should pick their favorite of the author's last five manuscripts and send it out even if he isn't feeling 100% about it, allowing the author's talent and the vagaries of the market to reveal what happens next.     

But I'm most concerned about the long-term curdling of the relationship between the agent and author, in that the author says explicitly "my trust is shaken." They don't seem to be speaking that same artistic language anymore, if they ever did, and that's a hard place to be in an ongoing relationship. I don't believe anyone in ANY relationship is always right or should always get the last word; but when trust fails repeatedly -- when a younger sibling finds out an older sibling is thinking of their personal good, say, more than the younger's own -- you either have to do the work of rebuilding that trust, re-finding that common language, or move on. If this pattern continues, it might be time for the latter.    

Have a writing, editing, or publishing Q&A? Send it to asterisk.bks at gmail.com and it might get answered in the next edition of this newsletter! (Promptness far from guaranteed, sorry.) 

What Else?

  • August 31 marks the deadlines for the Lee & Low New Voices contest for a picture-book manuscript by an unpublished BIPOC author, and the Tu Books New Visions contest for a novel or graphic novel by the same. Check out the complete rules and guidelines at the links. 
  • Curious about what we're publishing at Lee & Low and Tu Books? You can find our 2019 frontlist catalog here
  • A friend of mine who teaches at the Borough of Manhattan Community College is seeking adjuncts to teach Composition. If you have a MS/MFA or equivalent experience and would be interested, let me know and I can pass on more information.
  • I've been having fun with homophonic typos on Twitter lately, which reminded me of this 2007 squid-themed blog post
  • As both an editor and a mom-to-be, I found this editorial instructive and thought-provoking:  We Have Ruined Childhood.
I've always concluded each edition of this newsletter with a photo of my handsome cat, Marley; and here we say goodbye to him both physically and literarily, as he has gone to live with my friend Stefanie on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (The other ginger pictured here -- my husband, James -- remains with me in Brooklyn.) I miss my opinionated kitty, but I know he is happier with Stefanie's undivided attention than my child-distracted brain. And soon (fingers crossed) I'll have baby photos to fill this space . . .   

Happy Drafting!
Good Luck Revisi
ng!
Publish with Intelligence!

And I hope to see you September 4 at the THUNDER TRUCKS launch!
Thank you for reading.
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