Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rejection Redux

Tonight is my last class for this semester's Writing for Children's Books at RISD, and it’s rejection night. That’s right: this is the evening that I bring in my teetering pile of rejection letters and my students look aghast for a little while. A depressing way to end? I don’t think so at all.

They’re going to get rejection letters. Everyone does. The more rejection letters they get, the closer they’ll be to an acceptance. Each one is a necessary step. Each a rite of passage. Each an opportunity to revise and try again. And rejection letters do tend, after a while, to evolve, as I explain in class.

There’s always a student who says, “You actually keep them?!”

Of course I do. I was sifting through the pile this morning and found six “positive” rejections for a picture book I’d shelved some time ago. Now I’m thinking it might be time to get that text out and revise it. Take a good hard look after letting it ferment and see what I can do to make it viable. Apparently there’s something there to work with, which I wouldn’t have considered without the letters.

As I was researching author rejection statistics, I also came across this great little interview with the wonderful Kate diCamillo who apparently was rejected 397 times (sources vary on the number, and I saw as many as 500 times) before she found a  home for the 2001 Newbery Honor book Because of Winn Dixie.

So today I thought I’d repost my thoughts on rejection from last year:

Rejection is What You Make It

My first form rejection made me cry. I think. I really don’t remember it that well, though at the time I probably felt I'd never forget the sting. In the twelve years since then, I’ve had many rejections. Somewhere along the way, ‘positive rejections’ began to outnumber form rejections, and after a time I gathered a few non-rejections—um, I mean ‘acceptances.’ Form letter induced tears have given way to forced laughter, then grim-but-determined smiles, wry sighs, and now indifferent shrugs.

All of this is par for the course. And it’s a challenging course. It’s not for the faint of heart. It will:

  • bamboozle the uninitiated
  • overwhelm the lazy
  • shrivel up the gutless
  • stymie the passive aggressive faster than they can wail, “It’s not my fault, it’s theirs!”
  • quickly teach you whether or not you’re a quitter.

 Achieving publication requires:
  • guts
  • stamina
  • passion
  • hard work
  • vision
  • professionalism
  •  a hearty dose of mindless, blind faith that success is just around the corner… or the next… or the next...
  • the belief that the journey, the lovely people met along the way, and the countless hours spent learning, creating, crafting, revising, and editing are worth the struggle
  • niceness.

Glorious and bountiful form rejections:
  • force you to be a better writer
  • show your developmental arc as a writer
  • teach you to accept rejection (any kind of rejection in *Life!*) with dignity, learn from it, shrug off any residual pain, and bloody just get on with it
  • tell you you’re probably gutsy, strong, passionate, hard-working, accepting, professional, and if you’re not already, at least on the way to being nice. And cool. And dignified. And visionary! And possibly slightly delusional, but that’s ok... You’re a writer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunday Hikes: Adventures at Cair Paravel

Yesterday, in an effort to fit in a hike before Easter lunch with family, I found myself at the Monastery in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Part of this former monastery now houses the Cumberland Public Library (history here). 

There's a pleasant, flat, easy walking/running/exercise path charmingly named the Peace Mile, but some more interesting trails when you leave the beaten path. Deep in the rocky, rolling woodland, we found the quarry and the massive blocks of rock hewn and discarded by the Trappist monks who quarried the stone and constructed the first building in 1902. 

We felt as if we had stepped straight into the ruins of Cair Paravel. 

There's a lot of evidence of human impact here, but it was certainly an interesting place to explore.
And at its edge, beyond an ugly yet quite interesting working quarry, we were rewarded with great views across to the city of Providence. 

Difficulty: easy to moderate
Distance: variable, lots of trails to choose from
Dog friendly: yes...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bird of the Week: Piping Plover

I am excited to see that the piping plovers have just returned from their southern wintering to the Narrow River end of Narragansett Beach. 

Some pictures I took early this morning:

This species is classed as endangered by habitat destruction, and their nesting area on Narragansett Beach is cordoned off to protect them:

Learn more about piping plovers here. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Hikes: Long Pond Woods

Since I hike nearly every weekend and I take a lot of pictures, I thought I might add a new Sunday Hikes component to the blog. 

Today I went birding at Long Pond Woods in Rockville (yes, its highly appropriate actual name), Rhode Island. This is listed in Audobon's 'Passport to the Trails' as a medium/difficult hike, and that's an accurate assessment. Parts of the trail are the bare rocky ridge-line high above Long Pond.

Other sections are steep and somewhat slippery in places. Wear suitable footwear. But it is absolutely worth it, and it's possibly the coolest, most enchanting place I've visited in Rhode Island to date.

Exciting rock formations. 

The biggest lichen I have ever seen.

Fabulous fungus!

We didn't see much bird life, but the woods were alive with their song and from the pond came the melodious honking of Canada geese. But this is an awesome place to see turkey vultures, which I love, and when you're high on the cliff-top, they are so close. Trying to photograph them as they circle right above you is a bit of a challenge as you can see...

   And if you travel back east along Route 138, make sure to visit the Richmond Antique Center, where I picked up this amusing vintage (1918) German postcard:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sensory Research

I've been thinking about an interesting discussion during critique in my RISD class this week, in which I encouraged two of my students to physically immerse themselves in the setting they were writing about, one to run barefoot through the woods, the other to dive to the bottom of a pool. I hoped this would help each of them to fully connect with their protagonist's experience, and open them even further to the language and rhythms that would bring each story to its full potential. This morning, I (somewhat unwittingly) took my own advice. 

I often run on the beach in the early hours, and I always have my camera at hand, my idea of the absolute perfect start to any day. My current picture book project involves a young gull in a puzzling predicament, and so off I set this morning in the hopes of capturing some early morning gull activity to use as reference material.

 My dog and I had the beach almost to ourselves. The light was stark and unearthly.

The sea was churning and roaring, and we had to jump and race the waves in places to pass.

Sanderlings darted along the shoreline.  

And I knew this was one of life's pure and perfect moments.

And then the sun rose. 

I'm aiming to get a gull's-eye-view in my illustrations, so I like to get down low. Also, I thought this seaweed was quite beautiful. 

By 7 am when it was time to leave, I realized I'd seen no gulls, not one. Which means I will happily be back there tomorrow morning. 

I may not have captured seagulls, but I immersed myself in the sensory experience of the beach, the visual, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the sand and the damp salty air on my skin, all things I look forward to using as I revise my text later today. 

And I realized that while my text has beach scents, textures, and visuals, it is (almost) lacking in the sounds of the beach. My challenge now is to capture the rhythm and feel of the ocean in the language I'm using, and I feel that IF I can achieve that, I will have done something I'll feel quite pleased about.

What about you? Do you immerse yourself in your settings and characters' experiences, or do
you 'wing it' with imagination and memory? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Digital Love, Part 2

One day last week, I found a chance to use my new Wacom Intuos4 tablet, and here is my first "oil" sketch. I used Corel Painter, and I have to say I am really thrilled with the tablet and with that program. (Resolution is much better if you click on the image.)

I'm quite astounded by how much like real oil paint and brushes it feels, and I found that, very quickly, I was able to focus not on manipulating the technology, but on just enjoying the feel of painting again. 

The paint moves, blends, and gets dirty in a strikingly similar way to the real thing, but I love the ability to undo something that isn't working. It is easier on the whole to keep colors rich and bright. I started with a dark background: with a tap of the pen... no drying time. I am looking forward to exploring means to better achieve fine detail, as I found that the pixelation was a little trying when I zoomed in. Perhaps I just need to start with a larger canvas. I do miss the smell of the linseed oil...but I don't miss the clean-up. 

I doubt I'll ever give up the real thing, because there's nothing like the real thing, but I'm quite certain that digital is the way for me right now as I work toward producing this current picture book dummy. I'll keep you posted on my results...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kidlit 4 Japan: Another Update!

Kidlit4Japan has now raised nearly $7000 to help kids in areas affected by the devastating March 11th Sendai earthquake and tsunami! 

There are still many wonderful items such as signed books and services including manuscript critiques and editing up for auction.  

Let's see how much higher we can push our donation! Click HERE to peruse our offerings and bid. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Musical Interlude: 'Alchemy' by Deuter

If you've taken one of my writing classes or workshops, you'll have heard this music. This has to be just about my favorite piece to write to once I have the words flowing. 

I like to put it on repeat and drift away... through a sun-dappled woodland, over a sparkling ocean... I imagine a protagonist running toward their goal, whatever it is, with increasing urgency. It reminds me of synapses in a person's brain, sparking and firing with creativity energy and inspiration. It puts me in a happy place, but has enough tension to keep the action going. 

Where does it take you?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Digital Love

By my daughter, Jonquil, aged 8.
Created via a Wacom Intuos4 tablet.
A couple of exciting things happened this past week, chief among them the fact that I finished revising a book I've been working on for nearly a year. After suffering substantial writer's block during the second half of last year, it's a great feeling!

The other thing was that, inspired last weekend at Whispering Pines by a conversation with author/digital illustrator friends Liz Goulet Dubois and Carlyn Beccia, and availing myself of a substantial RISD faculty discount, I finally bit the bullet and bought a drawing tablet. Yes, I am on my way to digital-artist-hood. Hurrah! Huzzah! Hoopla! 

Of course, the only one who's really had a chance to use it so far is my daughter, but she kindly painted something she knew I'd love. Hell, she could have painted anything and I would have loved it, but my love for this is has sprinkles and a cherry on top. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kidlit 4 Japan Update!

I am thrilled to hear that Kidlit4Japan has raised over $4100 so far for UNICEF and Save the Children, to help kids affected by the March 11th Sendai earthquake and tsunami.

There are still plenty of great items up for auction. Please bid generously here: