Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


An Abundance of Ebenezer

Early this month I had the pleasure of seeing the Guthrie Theater's excellent production of the Christmas Carol. My favorite line was when Scrooge claimed he wasn't "rich," but instead was a "job creator." I was pulled into the story even though I've seen it multiple times and was struck by Scrooge's first ghost visit, that of his former partner Jacob Marley. Marley's ghost, who's dragging around heavy, clanking chains warns him of the danger of being so focused on money and accumulation if he wants to avoid a miserable afterlife. It's Marley's ghost who sets the stage for Scrooge's transformation.

It's interesting that we now associate the word Scrooge with selfishness and stinginess. It's a measure of the extraordinary way Dickens had with names but also our focus on the unredeemed Ebenezer. For this post I am focusing on the generous, giving, and kind Scrooge at the close of the Christmas Carol. This is the spirit that infuses so much of my experience in the world of writing for children. From editors who have been generous with their time and comments to marketing and publicity people, librarians, teachers, my KTM critique group, my wonderful agent, Andrea Cascardi, parents, and readers of all ages, I feel fortunate for such kindness and support. One other group stands out as well--my fellow spud bloggers.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday and please look for the New York Times on Sunday with the beautiful piece by my sister about my mother in the magazine. Watch for the watering can.


Scrooged and being Ebenezer

Ever since I published my first children's picture book in 1996, I have found myself in the generous world of children's literature. My experience has been more like Scrooge's visit with the ghost of Christmas past as I visit my childhood memories frequently, in order to paint  and write better stories. The ghost of Christmas present has been the creative spirit of my amazing editor, Allyn Johnston. I have been fortunate to have had such a collaboration -- almost a mentorship in the world of creating picture books for the past 17 years. And the ghost of Christmas future? As I grow older and maybe a little wiser, I have become painfully aware of how precious creative time in the studio is-- and the privilege of making picture books about subjects that excite me and help me grow in my awareness of this world is something I never take for granted, so I do what I can to share what I know of books and their makings with others, young and old.

As for being "Scrooged", I have led two lives as an artist and it was during the transition from one to the other where I was scrooged-- when I was the more vulnerable, of course. After college in California, I moved to NYC where I lived my twenties making art, hoping to get into a gallery, be discovered, perhaps even be invited into the Whitney Biennial?! I applied for grants, artist residencies, fellowships, and found some success and many rejections. Eight years later, I met my husband, moved to the midwest and continued to paint, sculpt, and show in local galleries and museums here in the Twin Cities. It was not a gallery dealer who scrooged me or a publisher, critic, or mentor, but a peer. With the tongue of a witch foretelling my future she snapped: "You will never be a serious artist because you got married and left NYC." That is all she uttered, but it hit me to my core. "Friends" in NY had told me the same thing, but I laughed it off, yet this time it stung. I was pregnant at the time with my first child, so there was no turning back and I was beginning to illustrate my first children's picture book, which at the time, did not feel like making "real" art. Tonight my first-born is coming home from college for the holidays. She is almost 20 years old. For the past twenty years, I have been "seriously" painting picture books and writing stories, sculpting and painting in-between deadlines. Perhaps in this person's eyes, I am still not a "serious" artist, as what I do now will never be in the Whitney Biennial. But who knows? Perhaps some visitor to the Whitney museum will will be walking through the galleries with their child in a stroller and that little girl or boy will tire of looking at the "new" art and instead read through one of my books pulled from the stash of books in the back of the stroller, as my children did on visits to art museums. And to this "peer" with her stinging tongue, I say: "Bah! Humbug!"


Does Bad Luck Count?

I feel lucky not to have encountered any real Scrooges related to my writing. My friends still tell me to stick with it, and many, such as the other members of this blog, offer frequent encouragement. My few interactions with editors and agents (conferences, rejection letters, a handful of publications) have all been congenial; I emphasize few: to be honest, I don’t get out much. I attend a conference every year or two, meet monthly with a small critique group, and occasionally submit stories or poems to magazines, along with three novels over the last fifteen years. It’s a slow pace, and I’m sure that as I continue to work on my craft and finish more projects I will eventually cross paths with somebody in the publishing world who will treat me rudely. So far, I’ve rarely even met anyone having a bad day! I’m serious: I need to get out more.

So no Scrooges – unless you count bad luck. Like the time twenty years ago when I had a story accepted for publication in the Sunday arts supplement of the Oregonian. My only previous publication had been in my college’s literary magazine, so I was absolutely thrilled with the acceptance letter (which included a check for $200). But a month later the arts section was cut from the newspaper, the editor who loved my story was out of a job, and I was back to submitting the story elsewhere. I could keep the check, though.

I never did find a home for that story. I think I gave up after a couple of years and maybe twenty submissions. The check stub is in my envelope of acceptance letters – but I’d rather the story was published.


The Three Scrooges

I have three short scrooge stories. The first scrooge experience happened when I told my mom that I was planning on writing children's books. She immediately answered, "You can't do that." It was such a surprising response from my usually supportive mom and it took a lot of courage for me to answer her, "You can't talk to me like that mom. I need your support." When she realized what she had said, she immediately apologized and has been positive ever since.

My second scrooge moment happened at the hands of my mentor, who is no longer alive. When she saw the artwork for Zoom! she said that she didn't like it and that the book seemed a little too simple to her. I was devastated and it took quite awhile to recover from those remarks. Truly, I wish she had lied to me. It was my first book and it would have meant the world to me if she had simply said congratulations.

My third scrooge event came in the form of a letter from a well-known editor. Before I was published I sent her a manuscript to look at and she replied in a very short note that her publishing house only published special books and that mine was not! Ouch!! It helped that she sent a fellow writer a similar letter, and it actually had the least sting as my friend and I laughed and laughed about that charming editor and her sharp quill.

So there you have it. Three scrooges - one reformed, one no longer alive, and one still writing those lovely rejection notes.