17 Jul

Whew — a rejection!

In an oddly appropriate coda to my bizarrely good fortune these past several months, I felt genuine relief today when I received an editor’s rejection of Arbor, my last remaining active submission.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to see Arbor published. I would dearly love to work with the editor and the mouse house that employs her. And years of conditioning have left me with an instinctive yearning when I get home each day to check the mail and see if it contains something that is not a rejection.

But even the possibility of having an editor-requested revision of Arbor sitting on my to-do list for months or even years before I could get to it was making me fidgety. And I’ve begun feeling a little self-conscious about the fact that each of my four books will be with a different publisher — being on the roster of a fifth one right now wasn’t going to make me feel more at ease. (I’m also concerned that my health is too good, that my children are too smart, and that my complaints are not insufferable enough.)

So, yes, it’s good news that Arbor still does not have a taker. Now I can relax a little, focus on the work I’ve already got… and trust that my subconscious will get on the case as soon as I fall asleep tonight, trying to figure out how Arbor can be fixed.

27 Mar

What am I waiting for (3/07)?

News from editors on Pasta, James, Smith and P.O.

Submission (or revision) news on J.R. and Arbor.

Word on whether, where and when I’ll be traveling to do some on-site research for one project or another.

The Cybils post-mortem. Get your comments in now.

The receipt through Interlibrary Loan of an obscure figure’s autobiography — a book that might well be a crushing bore but might also inspire yet another research project. The two are not mutually exclusive, you know.

Official confirmation on a couple of fun pieces of news that I can share with you all.

The arrival of my very first issue of Horn Book, which I ordered over the weekend. It seems like it wasn’t very long ago, when I was first getting started in this business, that subscribing to Horn Book seemed like a total cart-before-the-horse extravagance.

07 Mar

What are you guys still doing there?

Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t look back: Something may be gaining on you.” For me these days, it’s more like, “Don’t look back: A pair of old manuscripts may still be sitting there waiting for you.”

With J.R. out the door and Pasta still making the rounds, I’ve recently turned my attention to Arbor, a middle grade novel that’s been in the works for about a dozen years. Half of that time, it existed only in my head, but that still leaves a long history of development on paper. I’ve been happy with Arbor for a long time, too, but parts of it still aren’t clicking with editors, so I’ve gone back and worked some more on the first few chapters, where I think the problem lies.

Then there’s James, a biography I began researching about five years ago. On Monday, I read four “final” drafts of considerably different tellings I’ve tried along the way in attempts to make the story resonate enough with editors for them to want to help me shape it further. The most recent draft, which I last touched a year ago, I like very much. Still, I may be on the verge of yet another approach to James’ story.

The thing is, I don’t mind. I feel like my writing has come a long way over the years, but I really want these old projects to come with me.

21 Feb

What am I working on? (2/07)

At the moment, not so much:

The ending of J.R., still. I’m now on the third version, since version 2 — dashed off Friday evening while waiting for my takeout order of cheese enchiladas — turned out not quite as brilliantly as it seemed to at the time.

Arbor, again. I’ve been working on this middle-grade novel for years, and the latest round of editorial feedback showed that it’s still not quite where it needs to me. What’s funny, though, is that the main thing I need to work on is something that hardly of the editors mentioned at all — my main character. I figure that when your main character doesn’t seem to register with editors one way or another, that’s not such a good thing.

06 Nov

What am I waiting for? (11/06)

Half a year since I last posted about this, I’m still waiting for more things than I’m working on. Including:

My first glimpse of the art for The Day-Glo Brothers.

News from editors about several manuscripts:

  • My biographies of James (picture book) and Smith (middle grade), which are both with the same editor. This editor gets them, I think, but there’s a big difference between “gets” and “buys.”
  • My middle grade novel, Arbor.
  • My proposal and sample chapters for Pasta.
  • My picture book/graphic novel series P.O.

Copies of the books nominated for the Nonfiction Picture Book category of the Cybils.

The next big industry/literary event I plan to attend: the Texas Library Association annual conference in San Antonio in April.

Next summer, when — a year before The Day-Glo Brothers‘ publication date — I’ll get cracking on a full-fledged web site, curriculum guides, and whatnot.

30 Jun

This, that, these and those

The details are out regarding my next highly anticipated (by me) public appearance. Here in Austin on Friday, August 4, I’ll join Nathan Jensen, Janice and Tom Shefelman, and recent compadres Anne Bustard and Mark Mitchell on a children’s literature panel at the conference of the Texas Christian Schools Association.

At the same conference, another local author, Lindsey Lane, will be celebrated for Snuggle Mountain, the honor book for the 2006 Children’s Gallery Award.

In other developments, I’ve put the (possibly) finishing touches on Arbor, a middle-grade novel that I first “finished” in 2003. At my agent’s suggestion, I took another pass at it this spring and made some further tweaks this past week. I had forgotten how much I enjoy that story — I’ve got some really high hopes for it.

When I last wrote about Toast, I was still trying to catch VR for an interview. Well, we spoke two Fridays ago and had a great, warm conversation. My CB and VR interviews have made the story much richer than it was before. I’m now trying to get a new draft finished by Wednesday, in time for Don to read it at our next critique meeting. After that, I’ll have about a day and a half to make further changes in time for my agent’s monthly manuscript-reading week.

Meanwhile, there’s been some progress on the submissions front. Smith, James and Pioneers all went out to an editor this week. I’ve been told not to expect a reply right away, which was not the case when another manuscript — P.O., perhaps a picture book, potentially a graphic novel — went out this Tuesday. It came back the same day. But those were six suspenseful hours, let me tell you.

I’m taking a long weekend, so have a great, safe July 4th (and 1st, 2nd and 3rd), everybody.

21 Feb

Exciting tales of online library catalogs, vol. 1

I probably won’t lose any sleep over this the next couple of nights, but I am plenty excited that the Austin Public Library is scheduled to roll out a new electronic catalog on Wednesday. The APL’s existing system, among other drawbacks, doesn’t wake up until 6 a.m. on weekdays, sleeps in until 10:30 on Sundays, and takes holidays off, which — given my early-to-rise “writing” schedule — means I miss out on a lot of good book-finding time.

For some reason, this reminds me of one of my favorite research stories. (What? Doesn’t everybody have these?) Nearly three years ago, I was researching a middle-grade novel — a hybrid of historical fiction and tall tale — and needed names for a pair of Mahican children.

Shortly before 6 a.m. Central time, I e-mailed a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian to ask for help. Within an hour, I’d heard back from her with a recommendation: Schmick’s Mahican Dictionary (collected, of course, by Prussian-born missionary Johann Jacob Schmick).

From there, I made a quick search of the online catalog for the UT Austin libraries and found that, yes indeed, they had it. I took an early lunch hour, and by noon I had at my fingertips more Mahican words than I could shake a stick at. (Sorry about the cliché. If only I’d thought to write down the Mahican word for “stick.)

On its own, my brief quest for those Mahican names was highly satisfying, but it was especially so considering how long such a search would have taken me in the era before e-mail and online catalogs. Not to put any pressure on the APL, but so long as my every experience with the new electronic setup is just as satisfying, I’ll be a happy man.