Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let It Be Enough

On one of the kid-lit writers’ chat boards, a multi-published author was lamenting her lot. Yes, she has a great agent, a strong major publisher, and commercial success. But she has yet to get a single literary award, and now she must come to terms with the notion that maybe she just isn’t that kind of writer. A No-Newberry Nelly. Never.

The discussions on this board are always thoughtful and, not surprisingly, articulate. Writers chimed in to say that they only dream of the sort of success she has. That they can’t get their foot in the door of a New York publisher, or any publisher. Some said that while they are published, their trajectory pales next to hers. Others went on about how much they and their kids adore her books.

But then the conversation made a wrong turn.

Writers poured in their angst at all things literary. They declared they would read her amusing and joyful books over any Newberry winner, any day. To my un-humble mind, this was sour grapes. The fox can’t reach them, so he declares the grapes not worth having. 
©Von Bandersnatch
As often happens on the board, someone brought sanity back in. A writer told of the first time she saw her own book in print, and knowing the insatiable appetite for more worldly success and recognition, she said to herself, “Let it be enough.”
Wherever you are today, I wish you just this. May it be enough.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Author, AUTHOR!

We’ve all heard we must not let others define us. But last Saturday I did, and it was one of those *moments.* Whatever you may say about shoulds and shouldn’ts, there they are.

I attended a regional SCBWI conference. This unwieldy acronym stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You’d think such a literary bunch would have come up with a less awkward name, longer than some picture books. Regardless,  it’s a good and supportive organization run entirely by volunteers, and it welcomes all from the never-published to veteran professionals.

I’ve attended this very conference before, three years ago. Back then, my father had just been admitted to the hospital in what I sensed would be the final time, and I hadn’t had any book accepted for publication. I felt my ever-present shyness more than anything else.

This time I returned as a PAL author. (PAL=Published And Listed, and “listed” refers to SCBWI’s own list of "legitimate" publishers. They are not as accepting of vanity and self-publishing.) Their conference had my book for sale, and I had a desk with my name on it for signing.

I feared no one will buy my small and un-jazzy looking book, stacked next to the very spectacular offerings from other authors. (Three of the authors are famous, at least in kid-lit, and others have very trendy looking books.) But it did sell, and I did sign some, and the separate session for published writers was useful to me. My father is in the next world.  All an all, now is not three years ago…

I returned home with what DD described as a strange glow.

 “I’m an author,” I said to my husband.

“I know,” he said. “That’s what it says on our tax returns.” He was looking at those on screen. I squinted and looked also.

“No, it says ‘writer,’” I said. “I’m an author.”

He and DD looked at me funny.

“I sign books!” I said. That was about all they could take.

They didn’t get it. But you might. The very act of signing a book I wrote, which a stranger had just purchased, was one of those moments.

Yes. I’m an author. And I’ve got the sign from the conference^ as a memento.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Some years ago, when thought of writing with the intention to publish was still a private one, I got the best advice. This bit of advice sustains me to this day.

It was a cozy morning of light rain falling outside, and tea and cookies inside. I was the mother of a kindergartner and a preschooler, and another mother from my son’s class asked me to her home for tea. I thought it was a getting acquainted sort of invitation. It turned out to be more than that.

The other mother showed me her work space, a corner oak table with a computer, and printed manuscript pages scatted about. She was writing a novel. She had asked me over not to talk about our sons or their school. She asked me to her home because she was hoping to pick my brain.

Really? With what I thought I had put out, I couldn’t imagine what pickings were there. But a comment I had made about a biblical character had sparked her fire, and now it was smoldering, just like the logs in her fireplace. I am so immersed in Old Testament stories it had not occurred to me that whatever I said reverberated. I didn’t even remember the comment. Now her fire was dying down and she had invited me to re-ignite it.
© Baba Buffalo
I no longer remember what her novel was about, only that the biblical character of Rachel bore some resemblance to her main character. But the whole setting sent me into a place I had neglected.
Except for my husband, on our very first real date, I never told anyone I intended to write for children. The chance of ever being published seemed remote, and it was better to keep such an endeavor private. But for some reason I told this mother, who I barely knew, about my secret hope and ambition.
“I have a few stories I would like to tell before I die,” I said.
She asked if I’ve been writing, and I said, “Not yet.”
“Maybe,” she said, “just maybe, if you don’t think of it as something to finish before you die, you might start and then even finish one.”
It was one of those sacred moments. Someone I barely knew had given me the key to unlock the door.
I have lost touch with this writer long ago. I heard she was agented and that her novel had sold. I looked for it periodically under her name, but never found it.
Wherever you are, KC, I owe you this chapter in my life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. And inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho Marx


Let me linger with my favorite friends for a wee bit longer. Books. And this time I mean, specifically, paper printed books.

It was suggested, in a comment to my last post, that the solution to the space guzzling of my book-addiction is the great innovation of E-books. So true. So efficient. And also so contrary to the idolater in my nature.

To me a book is more than content. A book is presence. You can hug it like you would a dear friend, and glace at it with gratitude months after you met, got to know each other, and became part of each other’s lives.

It’s the idolater in me that keeps insisting the book, that physical presence in the form of a rectangular flattish sort of box, is a being that reciprocates to me what I am to it. I have hugged a book I loved, and even kissed a volume that opened my eyes just as only a dear friend could.

How do you hug an E-book? Pray tell. Really.
There is something ephemeral about all of e-things. Maybe it brings us back to the illusion that is all existence, or all matters of this world. Maybe there *IS* only thought, and E-books are a far closer representation of it. That’s a nice and very spiritual way to look at it. But I’m not evolved enough for this Jorge Luis Borges sort of ruminations in my everyday life.
I need my physical books, the way others hold to religious artifacts. I need physical reminders for what is supra-physical. 
And back to that deep thinker, Groucho Marx. E-readers now come with their own light. You now can read even inside of a dog.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I generally avoid temptation, unless I can’t resist it.

I should avoid bookstores when money is tight. I always tell myself I’ll just look, read a little, and only purchase if it is a must.

And must it almost always is.

I don’t have issues with chocolate, or intoxicants. I have an issue with books.

Now it occurs to me why, no matter what living space I’ve occupied, I was driven out by books. First they asked me to just move over, squeeze a little. I’d do it for books, because they are worth it, and each one asks for only a little. Then they took over.
©Painting by Shelagh Duffett
I may have to sleep on the lawn, but I most certainly wouldn’t think of leaving my books there. They might, you know, get wet.
Now that I think of it, my parents’ home was walled with books. When they divorced, my father left with, as he later put it, only his books.
Briefly we had some shelf space, and then we didn’t. My mother eventually replaced the space he left with more books.
And my father’s home with his second wife got lined with books.
With such a legacy, what chance did I have?
I read them, I write them. But most of all- I get them. Then I get more.
I really should avoid temptation, unless I can’t resist.