25 Years of Scribbling – My Journey So Far

Twenty-five years ago, September 7, 1992, my youngest kid went to first grade. While I was a little sad to see her get on the bus, I was excited that she would be out of the house all day, like her older sister. I’d been working as a freelance journalist for years, mostly working nights for newspapers and whatever magazine or trade journal that didn’t write rubber checks. Suddenly I had a few more kidless hours a day.

The dream I had been harboring for years demanded that I pay attention.

I wrote an oath in my journal: I would focus on writing for children in the hours before the kids woke up and when they were at school. I gave myself five years, until September 1997, to get a children’s book published. If I couldn’t make the goal, I swore I would go to nursing school, which my mom had been bugging me about since forever.

I should have given myself 10 years.

I had no idea what I was setting out to do. I didn’t know how tough it was to get published. I didn’t even know how to get published. And I certainly did not know how to write. But I knew that I wanted to try.

If you’ve ever heard me present at a conference, you’ve heard about my years of failure. The fact that I honestly thought I was supposed to send in a first draft instead of revising. That I wrote the world’s worst 7000-word picture book manuscript. I made every mistake possible and invented a couple of new ones just for fun. Rejections piled up for years.

The point is not that I screwed up. Everyone does that. The point is not that I almost quit many, many times. The point is that I kept trying. I had an audacious dream – to write books that kids might like – and it (mostly) made me happy to pursue that dream. So that’s what I did.

And a funny thing happened. I learned.

I attended SCBWI conferences and found a critique group. I started analyzing what worked and didn’t work in books. I found that revision was even more fun than writing first drafts.

I got better. I worked harder. I dreamed bigger.

I had huge plans for today. I was going to write poetry at dawn, write a letter than I could open on September 7, 2042. Thought about sipping champagne.

Instead, I worked. I’ll be on the road for most of the next 8 months, so today was a Dealing With Travel Email day. I walked to my local indie and picked up a copy of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. I treated myself to Tandoori chicken and saag paneer, with blueberries for dessert.  I made a cup of chamomile tea, instead of opening champagne.

My first book (a picture book now long out of print) was published in 1996, one year before my deadline. Since then I’ve published 35 books that have collectively sold millions of copies. More importantly, I’ve been blessed with the chance to meet readers, their families, and their teachers and librarians across America and around the world. I’ve worked with incredibly talented people, become friends with my heroes, and had the chance to give voice to the causes that I care about.

I am a very lucky and grateful girl.

I decided that the best way to celebrate the last 25 years was to do the work that got me here – some creative writing, some book tour preparation, too many email, and a nice walk to the bookstore.

Tomorrow morning I shall write a paragraph or two in my journal with a couple of goals for the next twenty-five years.

Who knows what adventures they’ll bring?

 

Starting Over, Again

Well, hello there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

For all intents and purposes, I stopped blogging in the fall of 2013, after I posted the book tour details for The Impossible Knife of Memory. I didn’t talk about it too much, but that was when my father took a turn for the worse. He had enjoyed ridiculously robust health, but suddenly he suffered some strokes and started having terrifying delusions. In March of 2014, he fell and hit his head, and died two days later.

To say that I was devastated doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind.

My father was my hero; a WWII veteran who became a minister, marched for Civil Rights and faced down the Klan, wrote poetry, raged at injustice, and tried to make the world a better place. He was also plagued by PTSD, depression, and alcoholism.

When I was a kid, I adored him. As a teen I was afraid of him, angry, and terrified he was going to kill himself. After I left for college we entered the Cold War phase of our relationship.

One of the most delightful aspects of my adult life was moving my parents back North from Florida so we could take care of them.  I went to the gym and then breakfast with him a couple days a week, talked with him constantly, and basked in the good fortune that we had so much time together.

When he died, I needed to withdraw a bit. Blogging did not happen and updating my website was not a priority.

We tried to get on with the business of living. Our children started to have children. We hosted my oldest daughter’s wedding at our house. I finally finished Ashes, and went on adventures to China, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I tried to write and threw out a lot of horrible pages.

But I finally learned how to walk with my father in my heart.

So I’m back. My website has been rebuilt from scratch thanks to my wonderful assistant, Jenn, and Deena Warner.  I have a lot of fun travel coming up, am working on several new books, and have Many Big Thoughts that require blogging again.

Do you have specific topics you’d like to see me blog about? Writing advice? American history? How to live out of a carry-on during book tour? Put your ideas in the Comments, or reach out to me on social media and I’ll see what I can do.

Thanks for your patience, my friends!

 

BOOK TOUR INFORMATION!!!

The Impossible Knife of Memory cover image

Publication Day will be Tuesday, January 7, 2014. (That means you can buy the book with the gift card or gift certificate you receive over the holidays!)

NOTE!!! The tour stops, bookstores and conferences listed below are all confirmed. In some cities I will be making appearances at a school in addition to a bookstore, but I don’t know where or when yet. As soon as I have more details, I will post them.

Additional conferences and stores may be added. I can guarantee, for example, that I’ll be speaking at River’s End Bookshop in Oswego, NY at some point. Check back here for schedule updates.

Official January Tour

7 – Eagle Harbor Books, Bainbridge WA

8 – University Bookstore, Seattle, WA

9 – Rakestraw Books, Danville, CA

10 – Alamosa Books, Albuquerque, NM

11 – Boulder Bookstore, Boulder, CO

12 – Red Balloon, St. Paul, MN

13 – Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI

14 – McLean & Eakin, Petosky, MI

15 – Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

16 – Harleysville Books, Harleysville, PA

17 – Georgia Center for the Book, Decatur, GA

18 – Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

19 – The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

20 – Oblong Books, Rhinebeck, NY

21 – 92nd Street Y, New York City

Not Exactly Part of Tour

January 28 – February 14 – Muscat, Oman and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates  (Technically not part of book tour, but previously scheduled school visits)

Conferences and Festivals

March 11 – 14 – Public  Library Association, Indianapolis, IN

March 15 – 16 – Tucson Festival of Books, Tucson, AZ

April 8 – 11 – Texas Library Association, San Antonio, TX

April 26 – Houston Teen Book Festival, Houston, TX

April 27 – May 4 – Kindling Words West Writing Retreat (no public appearance)

May 17 – Rochester Teen Book Festival, Rochester, NY

June 6 – 8 – Moravian Writing Conference, Bethlehem, PA

Look!  A Google map so you can find me! 

ANOTHER NOTE!!! You can always order personalized, signed books from my local independent bookseller. They are very happy to take orders over the phone or via email and they’ll ship books anywhere.

Where will I get to see you?