Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A must-read essay on creative failures

This blog post by Sara Zarr--who I happen to think is one of the most powerful writers of books for teens of our present moment in literary history--about the inspiration that comes from creative failure is powerful and honest and true, just like all of her books. (And for the record, I don't have anything to do with the publication of said books. I'm just a fangirl.)  It's a guest post on the blog of Nova Ren Suma, also a young adult author and a pretty darn spectacular source of inspiration herself!

So, go! Read! Appreciate! Soak in the wisdom! And get inspired.....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Middle school is a place with a lot of stories"

"Middle school is when kids open up to the world; it's when they think about bigger things, and they haven't formed their opinions on things yet...everything's up for grabs, which is amazing to be around."--Ira Glass

If you write for middle graders (or if you're pondering what distinguishes YA and middle grade), this episode of This American Life is solid gold in terms of digging into to the emotional lives and pressures and perspectives of middle schoolers. (Many thanks to writer Mike Martin for the link.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Resurrecting Poetry Friday: "24th September 1945"

It's been far too long since I was regular about Poetry Fridays on the blog. But something about the chill of autumn makes me poem-hungry. This weekend's weather forecast, in particular, looks just right for curling up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea (or maybe a glass of wine?) and losing myself in words....

Here's one I'd never run across until today. Doing a little research on the poet makes it all the more fascinating. Apparently he was a Turkish "romantic communist" who spend much of his life in prison. And knowing that, suddenly the underlying desolation of these words comes into a different, sharper focus! (Editor's aside: Setting. It can change everything!) 

And the sentiment--it seems simple at first, but then I can't seem to stop thinking about it. I wonder...what was the significance of the title's date--was it some big newsworthy event, or just a date of special, personal meaning? And did the poet ever get to say the words he wanted to say? And what happened when he did??

"24th September 1945"


by Nâzım Hikmet Ran


The most beautiful sea: has yet to be crossed.
The most beautiful child: has yet to be born.
Our most beautiful days: have yet to be lived;
and the best word that I wanted to say to you
is the word that I have not yet said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A CHRISTMAS GOODNIGHT: An Editorial Love Story

Merry Christmas in September!
Today's the book birthday for A Christmas Goodnight!
Once upon a time, an author named Nola Buck wrote the text for a new Christmas picture book. It was so perfect that HarperCollins bought it right up, and then patiently waited to find the perfect illustrator to bring its warmth and wonder to life.

Once upon a time, an artist named Sarah Jane Wright had a dream, and a goal, and she was determined to get there.

And once upon a time, a newly-minted assistant editor (read: Yours Truly) told her then-boss that she thought perhaps there was lots of undiscovered illustrator talent to be found on a new-ish crafting website called Etsy. That boss had never heard of Etsy--it was only two years old back then, and it wasn't very well known yet--but she was a big fan of discovering talent in non-traditional places, so she was encouraging about the possibility. So the young editor spent lots of time paging through artwork on Etsy (and okay, if we're being totally honest here, also a fair bit of time getting distracted by pretty earrings in the process), but there was one artist whose work she kept coming back to, over and over, because it was clear that there were stories inside of the artwork, waiting to come alive. So one day in the fall of 2007, she sent that artist a note, asking if she'd ever thought about illustrating children's books. Happily, the artist replied that Yes! She had always wanted to illustrate children's books! A lot of emails followed. A lot of learning and growing happened, on both sides of the desk. Nearly two full years later, this delightful moment happened. And then, after a lot of work, this one. And then, finally, nearly four years to the day after that first email, today, finally, this moment arrived, full of joy, and thanks to all of you for sharing in it by reading this post. And kids' books aficionados, Sarah Jane Wright is an illustrator whose name you should remember, because she's just getting started, and our industry is lucky to have her in it! Each time Sarah Jane and I talk, she inspires me: with her strong sense of balance, with the faith and vision that guide her work and her growing, worldwide brand, and with the abiding joy she finds in the acts of creativity, mothering, and meaningful daily living--check out her blog and I know you'll enjoy "meeting" her, too.  

I could look at this illustration for hours and still not stop smiling!
(An important aside, especially to the still-aspiring: sometimes creative success stories tend to make it sound like everything happens magically, and overnight. It usually doesn't, as I think that the years between Sarah Jane's "discovery" and contract and now-finished book evidence: talent is most often simply a place of beginning, not an end unto itself.)

Adding Sarah Jane's debut artistic talent to a pitch-perfect text written by veteran author Nola Buck was a perfect bookmaking match, and that sort of established + beginner pairing is a long-standing practice in the children's book industry. From a marketing point of view, matching up a veteran and a newbie makes perfect sense: it brings an automatic audience to the beginner, since there are readers who will automatically seek out the established creator's next project, and, hopefully, it brings a new flair or style or dimension to the veteran's work, adding yet another layer to the appreciation that readers have for it. And one of the amazingly wonderful things about the kids' book world is how collaborative it is, and the way that nearly every author and illustrator, no matter how lauded, still remembers what it felt like to be just starting, and genuinely wants to help others succeed, so it's often the start of a friendship and sometimes a long-standing creative pairing, too.

For those of you who find publishing trivia interesting, Nola Buck is the pen name for long-time children's book editor Laura Godwin. (She also sometimes writes under her own name, too.) It's been both humbling and exciting to go through the bookmaking process alongside an author who has, herself, edited so many fantastic books into being. But before she ever wrote the text for A Christmas Goodnight, Laura/Nola was already the author of another perennial Christmas classic, Christmas in the Manger, a book that introduces the characters of the Nativity story in the simplest of ways, for the very youngest readers. Her text for A Christmas Goodnight is wonderful because it reintroduces the Christmas story for a slightly older reader (especially one who read/listened to Christmas in the Manger in previous years, but is now ready for a more advanced understanding of the holiday). The story has a wonderful circularity to it that you'll see reflected in Sarah's illustrations: it melds the familiar Nativity story with the holiday celebrations of a contemporary family, helping young readers see the connections between the long-ago Christmas story and their own lives. And it's such a sweet, memorable text (without being at all saccharine, which is a hard balance to achieve!) that for the past few years, I've found myself reciting it in my head all through the holiday season--over and over and over, which I think is perhaps one of the highest compliments I could pay to an author.

There's something about a picture book that makes the publishing process seem all the more profound and miraculous, maybe because picture books are the very first encounter that some readers will ever have with books and stories. Seeing this story emerge from the fingertips and keyboards and colored pencils of Laura and Sarah has been a treasure. In fact, it's hard to say which story I love more: the story-behind-the-story of this book's making, or the book itself! And I admit that I'm biased when I say that I think they've created a perfect  book that's just waiting to become a part of many families' holiday traditions, year after year, but hey--Publishers Weekly agrees! So if you're looking for a special Christmas gift to share with family and friends come December, put A Christmas Goodnight on your list to check out at your library or buy at your local bookstore. I think you'll find that it's the perfect holiday goodnight book for reading and sharing with those you love. (And don't worry, I'll remind you again when the holidays get closer, when there will be lots more Christmas Goodnight fun happening at Sarah's blog!)
Goodnight, goodnight to all!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On unicycles, basketball, and good storytelling

A few weeks ago, I was spending the day with some friends out on Governor's Island when we ran across something I had never even imagined existed. Here, I'll let you experience it as I did:

Hey, cool. Dudes on unicycles.
Wait a minute. Are they playing...basketball?? On unicycles?! 
Um, yeah, that's precisely what they're doing. Basketball. On unicycles.

Camera phone pictures don't quite do it justice, though. So here's some video (not my own) I found online, from the same day, and from two slightly different vantage points.

Amazing stuff, eh? (Can you imagine the core strength these guys must have?) 

And as unlikely as it seems, Unicycle Basketball perfectly illustrates a writing/craft concept I've been discussing lately with several authors and illustrators. There's no particular name for it, but basically: one trick of masterful writing and illustrating and storytelling is that it brings together things that totally don't seem like they have anything to do with each other at first, but by the story's end, they've been woven together so well that absolutely feel connected. 

Because the thing is: basketball being played by a bunch of guys on a Saturday afternoon? Honestly, I probably wouldn't have paid much attention. A bunch of grown men on unicycles? Ok, I would have paid a little more attention, but really just for a minute, for the novelty of it. But grown men on unicycles playing basketball? I watched, I snapped photos, I came home and googled "unicycle basketball" to discover that yes, in fact, it's a thing, and weeks later, I was still thinking about it enough to want to blog about it. Why?

Because it showed me something new. Because it connected two things I'd never dreamed could be connected, and in doing so, made my understanding of the world a little bigger, a little broader, a little more interesting. Watch those video clips. At first it's crazy, but by the end of the clip, it starts to seem totally normal, wholly believable, that they're playing basketball on unicycles, with crowds of supportive fans watching. Who would've thought it, and yet...it works. It totally works. 

Sometimes stories can be crafted in a way that's too linear, too obvious. If you put in only ingredients that have obvious links from the start, the resulting story can become easy to predict, to anticipate. There's a place for that kind of storytelling; don't get me wrong. In some stories, trying to bring in extra disconnected elements would ruin the rhythm entirely. But other times, those seemingly disconnected elements can ultimately add new layers that take a story to places that are more thought-provoking, more memorable, or just more fun. And if it's done right, by the story's end, you can't even separate which of the elements is the odd ingredient anymore, because they've been blended in a way that can't be undone without ruining the story as a whole. In other words, success!

Unicycle basketball WIN. 

Want some concrete examples? Off the top of my head, I'm tossing out Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (small avian creature + urban transportation + high-minded career ambition); The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (cooking + seasonal migration + incarceration); Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (friendship + fairytales + baseball); and The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (death + romantic heartbreak + the catering industry). 

P.S. I'd love to hear examples--or further thoughts from all of you on Unicyle Basketball and its relationship to storytelling--in the comments section!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I dare you not to cry

Lovable protagonists.
Despicable antagonist.
Character, character, character! (And VOICE!)
Romance. Friendship.
Emotion-stirring events.
Far-reaching universality.
Precisely-chosen details that telegraph something far bigger than themselves.
An account that touches your perspective and adds to your own experience of living.

...in short, I think this might be one of the most perfect examples of storytelling I've ever seen:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book recommendation: THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Before I'm an editor, I'm a reader. Or I guess another way to phrase it would be, I'm an editor because I'm a reader. In any case, every now and then, you find a book that you just have to shout about to every other reader in the world, you know? And happily enough, I have a blog, which helps me to do precisely that, on occasion. :)

(In short: you should probably buy this book. Or you should go
beat everyone else at your library to checking it out. Hurry!) 
The Night Circus is a book that I fell head over heels in love with with as a reader a few months ago, when I got the lucky chance to grab an early copy. I've been telling people ever since that it's the best book I've read for adults in years, and I promise there's no hyperbole involved in that statement! I truly can't think of the last time I enjoyed a book as a reader as much as I did this one. Oh, and let me be clear, since I most often talk on this blog about books I've played some role in developing: I had *absolutely zero* part in making this book--I can take credit for none of its magic. But I applaud all those who did work on this book, especially its lovely author Erin Morgenstern, and her editor and agent, because they've brought to life a story that is positively bursting with magic. The Night Circus is a tale that's alive with wonder and possibility; it's a mesmerizing love story, and it's rich with sensory detail and fascinating characters (I haven't wanted to eat book food this bad since the first time I read the Narnia books and hungered to try Turkish delight). Best of all, it does one of the things I love most in a story: it creates a sense of place that feels so vivid and real and absolutely essential to the story's telling that the setting is practically becomes a character of its own.

Curious to know more? Here's the blurb from the jacket (and if you read it, come back and tell me if you enjoyed it as much as I did!):

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Monday, August 29, 2011

You Tell Me: One Book (to rule them all)

I was chatting with one of my talented book creators today, and as we work toward narrowing in and understanding what her next book is trying to become, intriguingly, we both--separately--found ourselves asking the the same question: if she could only ever publish one more book, what would she want it to be about?

Interesting how it's a question with the kind of urgency that brings all of one's creative efforts into a new light, isn't it? (Warning: it can turn your efforts unnecessarily earnest, too, and that's not always the right answer for every writer, so take the whole question with some salt).

In any case, I'm turning it over to you to mull over in the comments, or just for yourself independently: if you got only one shot--or only one more shot--at this whole publishing thing, what would that One Book (TO RULE THEM ALL Ahem. Couldn't resist! I blame my brothers.) be about? And once you've found that answer, how does knowing it affect your creative process?

And does this picture make you giggle as much as it does me?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Magic moments & Christmas in August!

There are certain moments of sheer magic in book-making. One of my all-time favorite ones is when the very first printed copy of a newly-finished book shows up at my desk. It's pretty much a given that whenever this happens, I'll lose more than a few minutes to pouring over it, and petting it, and most of all, parading it around to colleagues while exclaiming over and over, "Look! Look! It's a real book!" (And oh, world of e-books, you are fascinating in many ways, but I can't imagine you'll ever have a moment that will quite measure up to this hands-on experience!)

There's a lot of editorial delight and pride at seeing the hard work of my authors and illustrators all added upfrom the very earliest rough drafts and sketches, to knowing well the months and years' worth of revisions that followedand finally transformed into the tangible reality. But I suspect that my delight can't even begin to compare to an even more magical moment: when the author or illustrator gets to see their very first copy of their book.

Since I haven't yet figured out how to be a fly on the wall when those packages arrive to the homes of my far-flung authors and artists, though, the power of the internet gives us the next best thing.Wanna live the magic vicariously? Then check out this delightful post from debut illustrator Sarah Jane Wright. And definitely take the extra minute to watch the short video clip of Sarah sharing her very first book with her kids for the very first timeit will leave you smiling all day! Not only does that video capture a once-in-a-career moment for this illustrator, it's a wonderful insight into how little people see and experience stories. Watching books be loved by young readersthat's the most magical moment of all!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer (Vacation) Reading List

I head out on vacation in a few short weeks (once we're past ALA, that is, where I hope to see some of you fine folk). But it's never too early to start thinking about what books I should take on vacation with me! Here's what I'm planning so far:

(I always like to take a volume of poetry on vacation, because I find few things more luxurious than whiling away a summer afternoon overlooking the ocean with a glass of wine and a book of poetry. And though I know and love her "greatest hits," I'm curious to see what I think of lesser-known Millay.)

(You better believe I'm going to do whatever it takes to get my grubby little hands on this at ALA, b/c if it's anything like Anna and the French Kiss, it'll be the perfect vacation read.)

(A colleague whose taste and editorial skills I quite admire edited Breadcrumbs, and I've been wanting to read it since the moment I heard about it--but I've been waiting till I had time to really savor it. It's a retelling of The Snow Queen. I adore retellings and The Snow Queen is my very favorite fairytale (so heartbreaking! so magical!), so I am primed to love this.
(Is it redundant to read travel writing while traveling? Perhaps, but both my editor self and my rookie travel writer self are excited for this one. "A sense of place" is one of the things I fall hardest for in any kind of writing, so a book devoted to that idea itself sounds delicious. Add that to it being a volume of general inspiration and craft-talk by some travel writing greats, and I'm totally sold.)

So that's a start, but I think I might have room in my bags for just a few more books. So...help me out! What have you read lately--any genre!--that was un-put-downable, or that made you stop and think, or that made you laugh, or that you just flat-out loved?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DIVERGENT: An Editorial Love Story

(2011 marks the year that books that I've both acquired & edited begin making their way out into the world, so this is the second post in a new blog series: editorial love stories! Hope you'll enjoy reading some behind-the-scenes tidbits about the books I've been busy making.)

I'm a few days late with this post since I was traveling last week, but I trust that its author will forgive my tardiness.

I'm here today to tell you that a little over a year ago, I fell in love with a manuscript, and I fell in love with it hard. Like, up-all-night-reading-it love. Like, thinking-about-it-nonstop love. Like, holy-crap-I-can't-wait-for-the-whole-world-to-get-to-read-this-too love. (Which, really, is how editorial love always feels, but that doesn't make the heart-pounding giddiness any less wonderful each time that it happens.) Fast-forward one very busy year of editing and book-making later and I'm delighted that it's finally the whole world's turn to fall in love with DIVERGENT.

And so that I'm not just repeating myself all over the internet, I'll point you toward this interview and also to this one--in both of them, I share in-depth details about the thrilling experience of acquiring and editing this book. Here on my own blog, I'll just say this: every editor should have the joy of working on book like DIVERGENT, where an incredible story is matched by equally-incredible writing, and happiest of all, by a truly incredible author. Veronica Roth regularly teaches me wise things about storytelling, and about being a remarkable human being who lives her life with both simplicity and great intention. I'm humbled and honored to work alongside her as she creates her books.

Want to help celebrate the publication of DIVERGENT? Well, then, here's a few things you can do:

1. Follow Veronica's blog, where she regularly posts things both funny and profound. Ditto her Twitter account.
2. Check out the book trailer, as well as this clip of Veronica talking about DIVERGENT.
3. Start making plans now to attend one of Veronica's book signings in Canada in May, or as part of the Dark Days tour in June. (Or ALA Annual if you're a librarian or NCTE/ALAN if you're an English teacher.)
4. Find out which faction you'd be by taking the quiz on the DIVERGENT Facebook page (where you can stay up-to-date on exciting DIVERGENT news!)
5. Buy a copy of DIVERGENT! Or, start by reading a free sample. (Just don't say that I didn't warn you that this book might cause your own up-all-night-reading, can't-stop-thinking-about-it love story!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A sneak peek

I'm saving my editorial love story about Veronica Roth's Divergent until the book comes out next month (on May 3rd! Mark your calendars, or better yet, place your pre-orders!)

But in the meanwhile, since May 3rd seems way too far away right now . . . how about a teaser? You can read the first 100 or so pages of Divergent by clicking on the "Browse Inside" option below:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dear Writers and Artists of SCBWI-Iowa

I am coming to meet you! Like, tomorrow. Like, I should be packing my suitcase right now instead of blogging (but I despise packing, so here I am). But I am quite looking forward to meeting you all, despite the fact that it will eventually involve packing. See you soon!

P.S. to writers and artists who aren't in Iowa: keep an eye on the "Places We Might Meet" list on the sidebar. I'll made some updates and will hopefully be adding another conference or two soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vacation, vicariously. And also, writing.

I confess, it's a mite hard to come back to work after a week's vacation involving peaceful, miles-away-from-NYC moments like this:

and blazingly lovely sunsets over distant mountain-tops like this.

Okay, but I also confess that I'm leaving out all the days and nights where it rained and rained and rained, making highly-anticipated events like late night ghost stories around a campfire wholly impossible. (Despite the lovely fire pit that taunted us daily with its too-damp firewood.)

This weather tragedy, in turn, forced us to use up an entire bag of jumbo marshmallows playing Chubby Bunny instead of using them for s'mores/toasting purposes. And oh, how I would love to post those photos, but Travel Companion would disown me if I did so, given that few people look entirely flattering with nine jumbo marshmallows stuffed in their mouths. (For the record, I wussed out after six jumbo marshmallows, but mostly because I was laughing too hard to continue.)

But despite too much rain, a happy and creatively fulfilling vacation was enjoyed. And despite the foreboding signs that warned us that The Lone Zombie might be lurking in the woods around us,

(Beware of prowling zombies!)

we stumbled (err, deliberately off-roaded in the rental car) our way into some delightfully unanticipated scenic overlooks.

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes (if you've heard the "Traveler or Tourist" talk I sometimes give at writers' conferences, you've heard this one before): 

 “Happiness on holiday often only comes when we get lost—in the alleys behind the great museum, in a market off the Grand Canal, in olive groves beyond the guidebook recommended town. We are suddenly among people that are not “extras” in a travelogue, but simply themselves. We shed our tourist guise and rediscover living.”— Australian poet Pam Brown

I'm convinced that the best traveling memories are often found in the moments we do not (and usually cannot) plan. The moments where we "get lost." Or when we're forced away from our plans entirely--say, by rain or zombies or an alluring not-quite-a path, wanting to be explored. 

And so very often, the same premise holds true in writing, too. (You knew I'd bring all this back around to books and writing and editing somehow, didn't you?) Sometimes, it's the wholly unplanned-for plot twists, the previously-unanticipated character developments, the subtle details that were never even conceived-of in your outline or original draft, that come to matter most. They can slip in quietly but become critical elements or perfect lines or most-beloved scenes in a book. And when you're forced to discard your initial perceptions of what you thought a story would be, sometimes you get the delight of seeing it transform into something else--something more fully alive and blazingly memorable than you even initially imagined it could be. (Okay, the truth is, sometimes unanticipated tangents are just dead-ends or rabbit holes that lead you wildly, unproductively astray. But I hope that at least sometimes, you also get the glorious kind of unplanned results, too!)

So, you tell me--what's one of your best entirely unplanned-but-memorable traveling stories? Or, for the writers--one of your completely-unexpected-but-later-deemed-brilliant story shifts that changed everything about what you thought you were writing? Or both? Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Dog's Way Home: An Editorial Love Story

(2011 marks the year that books that I've both acquired & edited begin making their way out into the world, so consider this the start of a new blog series: editorial love stories! Hope you'll enjoy reading some behind-the-scenes tidbits about these books I've been busy making.)

Today's a special day. It's the official publication date for Bobbie Pyron's middle grade debut, A Dog's Way Home! I like to say that A Dog's Way Home is a love story, the kind that warms your heart and leaves you happy for days after reading it. But it’s a tween book, so this isn’t about sparkly vampires, or dark, sexy werewolves; this is about the love between a loyal dog and his beloved owner, both of whom are determined to find one another after being separated at opposite ends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Daddy says, "Most folks got a north star in their life—something that 
gives their life extra meaning. Mine is music." 
Without even thinking, I say, "Mine is Tam." 

Abby knows that Tam, her Shetland sheepdog, is her north star, and she's pretty certain she's his, too. But when an accident separates Abby and Tam, it feels as though all the stars have fallen out of the sky and nothing will ever be right again. As the days between them turn to weeks, then months, dangers and changes fill up Abby's and Tam's lives. Will they ever find their way home to each other?
Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, A Dog's Way Home is an unforgettable tale of the many miles, months, and mountains that divide two loyal friends—but that can't possibly keep them apart. 

To celebrate the publication of this positively wonderful book, I thought I'd share some bits of the book-making story-behind-the-story of A Dog's Way Home, from the editor's side of the desk. I first met Bobbie, and read the opening pages of the book that would become A Dog's Way Home, at the Utah SCBWI Conference in 2008. Yes, this is one of those wonderful SCBWI Conference success stories! As I recall it, I actually didn't have a lot of comments to offer to Bobbie, and I was worried she might think she wasn't getting her full money's worth at her manuscript critique session. But the reason for my lack of comments was a good one, at least in this editor's mind: Bobbie had given me some of the most polished manuscript pages for critique that I've ever seen (and I've seen hundreds and hundreds)! We talked a little bit about starting the story in the exact right place: the pages she'd given me began the story with what is now Chapter Two, where (mild spoiler alert!) Something Tragic Happens. I suggested to Bobbie that such a scene might have more impact if we saw a bit of the "Before" for the characters first, so that we'd already know and care about them, and thus be more affected as readers, when that Something Tragic Happens to them. At the end of our session, I told Bobbie that I'd like to read more of her manuscript when it was ready, and she replied that she'd been thinking about trying to get an agent. I told her that based on what I'd read of her book, she was absolutely ready for that step.

Months passed. Actually, more than a full year passed. (Publishing means patience on both sides of the desk!)

During that time, though I didn't know it, Bobbie found and signed with a literary agent who loved her story, and they worked hard to make parts of it even stronger. When her agent submitted the manuscript to me, it had a different title than it had when I first encountered it (though neither of those ended up as the book's final title), but something about the description sounded familiar, and within a few pages, I knew why! It was the same story I'd read pages of at that Utah Conference, and I was delighted to finally get to read more. There was so much I instantly loved about the entire story: the southern flavor, the mountain musicality to the writing, the descriptive language, the vivid imagery, and most of all, the way two voices (first-person Abby and third-person Tam) alternated chapters to tell a story that, when blended together, was more complete than it ever could have been with just one point-of-view. I was even more delighted when my boss loved the story as much as I did, and when our Acquisitions Committee did, too. All of us could see this book being one that readers would read over and over, in the same way generations of readers have loved other stories about animal loyalty, like The Incredible Journey or Lassie Come-Home, and we were proud and pleased when Bobbie accepted our offer to publish it. Editors are often asked about their "wishlist," about the themes and topics they're seeking. Just as often, you'll hear us reply that it's hard to know exactly what we're looking for--until we find a story that we know we can't live without! I didn't know I was looking for a dog book, but I couldn't be prouder to have this one on my list!   

Now here's the funny thing. I like dogs. But I’ve never quite been what you’d call a dog person. We had a dog growing up, but he was more my brothers' dog than mine. And I've had friends whose whole lives have been changed by getting a dog, but that's something I never imagined would happen for me--especially living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn with a firm "no pets!" rule. Working on A Dog's Way Home changed something for me, though. Somewhere in the midst of the rounds of editing it, I realized I was starting to pay attention to dogs differently. I was noticing them in a way I never had, seeing them sitting outside of coffee shops and restaurants, and on street corners, as they often do in a walkable neighborhood like mine. And I was doing more than noticing them: I was pausing to say hello; I was wondering what inner dialogue was going through their minds as they waited patiently (or not) for their owners. Most of all, I was stopping to observe their interactions with their owners on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. That’s the power of A Dog's Way Home—it makes you understand, so vividly, the bond that exists between dogs and their people. And really, that's the power of a good book, right? It changes something inside of you, so that you're not quite the same person you were before, once you've read it. And so I thank Bobbie Pyron for changing me--for turning me into more of a dog person than I ever dreamed I'd be, all through the power of her storytelling! A book-dog like Tam...perhaps that’s the dog for a city girl like me. It doesn’t need me to walk it, or a big apartment—it just needs readers who will find it and take it home and love it as much as I do. And oh, I hope that you'll be one of those readers, because I think everyone should have the chance to fall in love with this book and its tribute to loyalty, to perseverence, and to having profound faith in those we love.

Want to help celebrate the publication of A Dog's Way Home? Well, then, here's a few things you can do:

1. Follow Bobbie Pyron's blog: currently she's running a great series of interviews with children's book authors and publishing types about the dogs in their lives! (You can read about Gary Schmidt's dog, Kathi Appelt's dog, Kathryn Fitzmaurice's dog, and more!)

2. If you're in the Utah area, make plans to attend Bobbie's first book signing for A Dog's Way Home at The King's English on Saturday, March 12th. I'm told that there might even be some shelties at the event, so it's going to be quite a party!

3. Buy a copy of A Dog's Way Home for an animal lover in your life, young or old. Buy another copy for yourself, and settle in for a heartwarming read. Yes, there will be some tear-jerker moments, but don't worry, all those scarred by books like Where the Red Fern Grows...this dog doesn't die!

4. Spread the word! Great books need great readers to be their champions, and to help them live full lives in bookstores and libraries and in the hands of young readers. So if you read and love A Dog's Way Home--or any book, really--let the world know about it!

5. Go snuggle a pet you love. Or a person you love. Or a book (or manuscript-in-the-making) that you love!

6. Follow Bobbie Pyron on Twitter and wish her a very happy publication day for A Dog's Way Home!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

These are the days to remember*

Today I found this short film (via my pal Storybird), and really, you must stop everything and watch it. It's four minutes and three seconds of pure wonderfulness. Or, as you might also care to see it, it's essentially the heart of many a contemporary YA novel, in under five minutes.

YOUTH from Tommy Petroni on Vimeo.

Sometimes I get reflective, as writerly (and editorly!) types do, and I start poking through my life, looking for connections, because connectivity is a theme that matters a lot to me. And sometimes, like with this video, I just stumble upon the connection, unexpectedly and all in a lovely flash.

As I think I've occasionally mentioned on this blog, before I was an editor, I was a youth minister who worked with teens all across the U.S. and Canada. It was a very different life than the one I have now, but the core is surprisingly the same. And that's a truth I realize again and again, as I uncover the elements that bridge the two: Like building relationships. And helping others to grow and believe. And searching out the heart of what matters. And watching people transform because of the possibilities that they've opened themselves up to. And offering and sharing in no-holds-barred honesty. And most of all, at the core of both are the moments of becoming, like those captured in this video--the moments that are both ordinary and wondrous, the incredible friendships (and betrayals) that shape us, the memories and choices that become indelible part of who we are. Because being a teenager is one of the most powerful, profound, epic, meaningful experiences we'll ever have, as human beings.

I loved working with teens. And I love creating books for them now. Watching this video helps me to remember that: though it's writers and artists and agents and other grown-up publishing folk that I work with most closely now, it's still the readers, the teens and tweens and wee little kiddos, that I'm truly doing it for. The days when we can all remember that--that the books and stories we create are for them, most of all--those are the days when I think we can call this industry its most successful. And I'm so proud and lucky to be a part of it.

Thanks, sixteen-year-old Tommy Petroni, for reminding me.

*Yes, that line, and everything else about this post, also reminds me of this song, which was totally a part of the soundtrack to my own teen years. Anyone else make the mental link between the two?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hooray for new books!

I read a fantastic book recently! In fact, it was so good, I read it twice within just a few short weeks. I'm planning to read it many more times, actually. And give it just a little while (till, oh, say, tentatively 2012 or so), and you can read it, too.


From PublishersMarketplace: "S.J. Kincaid's INSIGNIA, in which a teenage video gamer becomes a government weapon in a futuristic world at war, to Molly O'Neill at Katherine Tegen Books, in in pre-empt, in a significant deal, in a three-book deal, by David Dunton at Harvey Klinger."

In the meantime, while I get busy editing, head on over to the author's blog to read a truly inspiring tale of one writer's growth and perseverance.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eight Years In, And Still In Love

(Warning: annual sappy post ahead!)

When I was growing up, my Dad gave me the same piece of career advice over and over: "Find something you love to do, because you're going to spend a lot of time doing it." (Fun aside: during my first year as an assistant in publishing, as he helped me over the phone with doing my taxes, I reminded my Dad of this comment. His response: "Well, I sure hope you love it, because you're not making any money!" Oh, publishing....) His advice was so very right, though. Life's incredibly fulfilling if you're doing something that you believe in, that you love.
Eight years ago, I started my first job as a Marketing/Publicity Assistant at Clarion Books, which I talked about here, this time last year. A lot's changed in those eight years, even though it's not really all that long ago at all! Somewhere in the eight years, I moved over to HarperCollins, and I was also finally able to make the shift from marketing/publicity into editing, which was so very worth all the scrambling and persistence and backtracking and side-stepping it took to get there. But beyond that, back when I started, publishing's landscape looked pretty different: there were hardly any blogs, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, and even author/illustrator  websites were a relatively new phenomenon. There wasn't daily talk of e-books, or e-readers, or digital publishing efforts, either. 
As we all are, eight years later, I'm currently watching this industry re-invent itself from the inside-out, and I suspect it won't be the last time I do so in my career. But the thing that mattered most to me when I started that job eight years ago is the same thing that matters most to me today: there were books, incredible ones. (And I got to work on them! And they paid me to do it!) And there were stories, as there always have been and always will be. And there was a long-standing community: a brilliant, welcoming, intensely passionate and intelligent community of authors and illustrators and librarians and literary agents and educators and booksellers and publishing folk and readers. Eight years later, I find so much inspiration and meaning in being a part of that community, and in this Dream Job of mine, which is so much about connections, about passions, about ideas, about children and teens and the books that shape them--and that shape all of us, too, as we go about making them.
This eighth year in publishing is an especially important one for me, because it's the first year in which books that I acquired as an editor (rather than ones that I assisted another, more senior-level editor on, or that I marketed/publicized, back in my previous role) will begin hitting the shelves. In months to come, as their publication dates approach, I'll be sharing some stories of acquiring those books, and of working with their tremendously talented creators--"editorial love stories," if you will, and I hope as readers, many of you will be as enchanted and thrilled and moved by reading those books as I've been during their making.
For now, though, I'm just quietly, abundantly grateful. This business of making books for young readers is one that I believe in with my whole heart, and I'm constantly proud and humbled to be a part of it. Thanks to all of you, who are part of it, too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Poetry Friday: "A Winter Twilight"

Every year for the past few years, one of my New Year's Resolutions has been "Read more poetry," and every year, it's been a resolution that's just purely good for me, and keeping it makes me happier, which seems to be the key to successful resolutions. So I'm officially using my first post of 2011 to see if I can get back into the Poetry Friday habit again. Because I'm not sure if y'all have missed it here on the blog, but I have!

"A Winter Twilight"
(who has quite an interesting history as a writer and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance.)

A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh, a breath;
One group of trees, lean, naked, and cold,
Inking their crest 'gainst a sky green-gold;
One path that knows where the corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the fields went brown.

Ahhh...the cadence of those last two lines is just supremely lovely, and somehow chilling and warming all at the same time. And I love how the poem starts out feeling "big" and all-of-nature-encompassing, but by the end, it's narrowed in to pinpoint a singular, resonant image. Beautiful!