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Becky’s Favorite Picture Books

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I really do love making lists. Lately I’ve been so tickled to share picture book recommendations with friends that I got the idea to compile a list of my all-time favorites. This list could go on forever, so let’s see if I can limit the number to fifty—for now. It should be noted that I haven’t included any Dr. Seuss books here, as the Doc really deserves his own list. Also not listed here is Winnie-the-Pooh, which falls somewhere in between picture books, chapter books, and middle grade, but just know that no matter what, Winnie-the-Pooh is always on the top of my list.

I do so deeply love picture books, and not just because I write them. I love them because they introduce human minds to the concept of reading. How weighty is that? I love them because they are a perfect marriage of the written word and visual art. We don’t get that enough in the “adult” world. Much of the art you’ll find in picture books is daring and experimental. I love them because when you condense storytelling into such short form, you often can’t help but end up with myth and fable. To read a brilliant new picture book is to witness a fairy tale being born. It’s exciting.

If you’re wondering about my taste, okay I’ll tell you. I like books that pull on specific strings in the old heart. I like books that make me cry hard, laugh hard, or feel weird inside. It’s like I’ve got these book-shaped holes in my heart and my favorite books are the ones that were meant to fill those holes. I’m not one for lukewarm books. That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. There are plenty of books in the world that are solid from beginning to end and I read them and I didn’t necessarily cry or laugh or question much, but I liked it a whole lot. Knuffle Bunny comes to mind. It’s a great book. It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s solid. You should read it. I just wouldn’t put it on my fifty list.

Here they are, in some particular order but certainly not in any sort of scientific ranking. My favorite picture books:

  1. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
  2. Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood illus. Don Wood
  3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  4. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
  5. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  6. Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard illus. James Marshall
  7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Clement Hurd
  8. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  9. Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick illus. Sophie Blackall
  10. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers
  11. Penguin Problems by Jory John illus. Lane Smith
  12. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
  13. Dream Snow by Eric Carle
  14. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  15. Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman illus. Adam Rex
  16. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  17. The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Christian Robinson
  18. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  19. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka illus. Lane Smith
  20. Waiting by Kevin Henkes
  21. Egg by Kevin Henkes
  22. Tough Boris by Mem Fox illus. Kathryn Brown
  23. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
  24. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt illus. Oliver Jeffers
  25. Flotsam by David Wiesner
  26. The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh illus. Chuck Groenik
  27. A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
  28. Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
  29. Otis by Loren Long
  30. Lon Po Po by Ed Young
  31. This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary illus. Julie Morstad
  32. Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett illus. Christian Robinson
  33. The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin illus. David Shannon
  34. The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson illus. Diane Dillon
  35. The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell illus. Charles Santoso
  36. Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming illus. G. Brian Karas
  37. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds illus. Peter Brown
  38. Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
  39. Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds illus. Matt Davies
  40. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto illus. Ed Martinez
  41. Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
  42. Tea Rex by Molly Idle
  43. The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
  44. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illus. Michael Martchenko
  45. Aberdeen by Stacy Previn
  46. President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett illus. Chris Van Dusen
  47. Journey, Quest, and Return (Journey Trilogy) by Aaron Becker
  48. The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
  49. Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum illus. Keika Yamaguchi
  50. Guess Again! by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex

Oh goodness there are many more, but I promised to stop at fifty. There are lots of books that I love for specific reasons, e.g. how they address a certain issue, but for this list I tried to stick to my general favorites. What do you think? Any big ones that I missed? What picture books would you add to the list?

 

top illustration from A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers

Running Home . . . Take Two

Imagine a cottage in the woods. The siding, dark walnut panels, blends with the trees, but the sienna door gives it away as a house. On the deck, rocking chairs lilt back and forth in the wind. They are old and inviting. Cats take naps there. Before you go to the sienna door, you walk along a path lined with stones and brush, to the back of the house where you discover a fire pit with logs for sitting and sticks for s’morseing. There is a back deck and a canopy for when the sun barrels down through the trees. It is cold now, no sun barreling. At the way back of the property sits a tiny shed, with nothing inside but many vases full of silk flowers, a desk, chair, and a small fireplace.

You follow the path back around to the front of the house and walk inside, feeling the crunch of cold pine needles with every step. The sun is setting, and you can see your breath. You hope there is a fire burning in the living room. You walk up the steps, onto the porch with the comfortable chairs, and grab the handle with your mittened hand. The door is unlocked and you are welcome.

Your boots thud against the hardwood floors until they find a soft area rug stitched with Navajo patterns in bright colors. You take off your boots and curl your toes. In front of you a staircase leads up to a loft, where you will sleep, but not yet. The room feels like being inside a drop of amber. Everything is warm and bright. On the walls you inspect the various accouterments of adventure. A vintage canoe re-purposed as a bookshelf hangs above a gray couch, the bookshelves filled with camping manuals and cookbooks. On a ledge that makes its way around the room sit glass lanterns and baskets, plants, and the occasional teddy bear. Rustic California whimsy—you call it.

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To your left a desk is situated against a large window where you will sit and spend your weekend writing. You run your hand against the oak, a perfectly fine surface for creativity. Outside, the sun has disappeared and a gentle snow falls against the moonlight and dusts the trees. To your left, a stone fireplace rages, sending crackles all the way through the living room and back to the kitchen, which opens up on the other side of the staircase.

In the kitchen you find your husband, or friend, or mom, or adventure partner. They have joined you for the weekend and got here early to start cooking a stew while you investigate the area and pick up extra firewood from the market in town. You give him, or her, a kiss, or a hug, and sneak a taste of the beef stew to which he has just added dijon mustard for that extra kick he knows you love. Your nose follows something sweet, and you look through the window of the oven to find a strawberry rhubarb pie bubbling in the heat. You know that means there is vanilla ice cream in the freezer, and your heart skips a beat. You sit down at the red table in front of the kitchen, and turn on the Craftsman lamp that hangs above your head. There are hummingbirds stained onto the glass, and when the light shines through you think they might fly away.

Your husband/friend/mom/adventure partner brings you a cup of coffee.

“Long drive?” he says.

“Not too bad, just an hour and half. I left Venice at 3:30.”

“Good time. Took me closer to two hours but that’s still not too bad.”

You walk back to the staircase but instead of going up it, you open a small door underneath it, where you place your bag and your boots. You look around for Harry Potter—like always—but alas, just a plain room under the stairs. You walk back through the living room and see there is a hallway behind the stairs leading to a bedroom with bunk beds that look like a tree, and a downstairs bathroom. That’s good because it was a long drive and you suddenly realize just how badly you have to pee. The cold stones of the bathroom floor send a shiver up your spine, but you like it. You try to decide between a long soak in the clawfoot tub, or a quick wash in the stone shower so you can get back to that stew—and pie. You opt for the shower. There will be time for a bath tomorrow.

After dinner, you engage in a snuggle session by the fire, reading books and talking about which hike you’ll take this weekend. Perhaps around the lake? Or up to heart rock? Once its decided, you agree to turn in early. You walk up the staircase, which is painted to look like Seussian plants and warm sunsets, and collapse onto your queen-size four-post bed. You crawl under the white sheets and handmade quilt, and lick your lips, enjoying the remnants of strawberry-rhubarb that linger there.

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For the rest of the weekend you hike through the trees, dip your toes in the freezing lake, and seek inspiration in the best possible environment—where people pepper Mother Nature, not the other way around. You hike, you eat, you shower, and then you write. You designate hours of writing time where your adventure partner knows not to disturb you, other than to bring you the occasional pot of tea and perhaps a lemon cookie. You turn off the heater and don a cable-knit sweater, because it’s better to write when the world around you is cold. In the evening you read some of what you wrote that day to your husband/cousin/neighbor/adventure partner, and they love it. Of course they do. You know they are not the best test subject but that’s alright; in this moment all you need is encouragement. Tests will come later.

Before you pack up for the weekend you look around your adventure cabin and imagine all the other worlds available to you because of it. You can make a movie. You can host a retreat. You can rent it to fellow adventure-seekers. You can offer it to friends who need to get away from the rat races and the hullabaloo. You can host Thanksgiving, or Christmas. You can name it. You’ve always wanted to name a house.

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Sounds good, right? I think we’ll take it.

Brad and I are running home. A little less than a year ago we proclaimed our tiny plans. Little did we know at that time how very unwelcome tiny homes would be to the grumps who create zoning laws. Our dreams are still tiny, but now they look more like a tiny-ish California Adventure Cabin. It’s an us thing to do, which means it’s perhaps not the normal thing to do, or the conventional, or the completely practical, but it’s right. It feels right, and so we run toward it.

Into the woods.

 

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Chrysalis: a preparatory or transitional state

I look into my tea leaves and what I choose to see is the life of a writer. A quiet house by the sea or in the country, a child playing in the living room, a husband editing in the study or rehearsing for an audition, and me in a nook with a computer diving deep into other worlds. In Maui we dove down to 120 feet at Molokini Crater—the deepest we’ve ever gone. I swam at the bottom of the sea with eagle rays and octopus, but writing feels deeper. In a marathon writing session the real world melts away and suddenly I am through the sea, on an adventure with Niguel, Iris, and Gus, trying to escape the vengeful Callum before he gets to Iris’ father, Peter Applegate.

94fac0ae1d47570c0ffb191c99cf4bc8You have no idea what I’m talking about, I know. These are characters in my book. They’ve become close friends of mine, and I know they feel neglected.

Nymphalidae_-_Danaus_plexippus_ChrysalisThe neglect is making my wings hurt. I feel them pushing hard against the chrysalis that has protected them for 32 years, and if they don’t make it out soon the bones will break. I know this to be true, so why am I making it so hard to break free?

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In writing the first draft of my novel, several challenges emerged, one of which was knowing when to finish a chapter. Often, it was clear. The chapter finished itself and I sailed on into the next. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I’d want to stay in a chapter for reasons that were perhaps unclear, but what was clear is that I knew it was going on too long. The third chapter of my novel was such a one. I kept writing and writing, knowing that nothing about the chapter was helping to move the story along. I loved the characters in the chapter. I found the action of the chapter humorous and charming (if I do say so myself), even though I knew it was irrelevant to the ultimate motor of the book. In my heart I knew I should end it, perhaps even cut out the whole thing, but I liked it too much. It was comfortable. It was clever (if I do say so myself) and it had the desired effect of distracting me from making the book truly great.

I wonder if I’m a bit stuck now, in my life, spending precious time in a chapter that is comfortable and full of clever characters. It’s hard to know when to move on.

That’s not true, I suppose. Knowing is the easy part. It’s the moving on that is hard.

1af9d0cd9c6a6ed51e786e33437282b6Growing up makes moving from chapter to chapter effortless in a sense, because the pages were turned for me. I was born. I started school. I twirled baton. I survived middle school. I went to high school. I got into college. I studied in London. I graduated from college. I moved to L.A. The outline was all there, and then—suddenly—the outline stopped. Suddenly it was up to me to structure the chapters. I’ve done pretty well so far. Chapter 10: Rebecca gets a job. Chapter 11: Rebecca joins a theatre company. Chapter 12: Rebecca gets married. Chapter 13: Rebecca works at jobs and produces plays and spends a lot of time on Facebook and watching Netflix.

Chrysalis Emerging 3In revising the third draft of my book, I got wise and removed the chapter that was gumming up the action, but I didn’t delete it. I moved it to my “Some other time” folder. I’ll bet the characters and the very humorous dialogue (if I do say so myself) will appear in a future book, but they will only find their right place and time if I let go of them for now.

My wings hurt. Soon, very soon, I need to decide how important it is for me to fly because wings can break and wilt. Of course I know how I feel. Flying is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do. If there is a heaven, I know it involves flying.

monarch-in-flight-1024x576It’s time to write the next chapter. Like a mystery shape on the horizon, I’m not sure yet if it’s a ship, a whale, a lighthouse, an island? Time to grab Brad’s hand (Brad is in every chapter you see), and swim out there to find out. Time to let go of this chapter that I’m in—turn the page. Come back perhaps “Some other time.”

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Chapter 14: Rebecca, author 

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Little Spirit

Every now and then someone can say the smallest thing to trigger the most sensitive nerve. It’s like a tiny paper cut right on the most delicate part of your ego and it makes your brain explode and your soul implode and your skin feel like an ill-fitting coat. They didn’t mean what they said to have such weight. But that’s what we always take for granted, isn’t it? The weight of words? We must be careful and speak considering the nerves in the cross-hairs of our words. We’re all fighting blind, and as we speak we never know when we’re going to hit one.

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But only malice, even the most diluted dose, can throw punches. You can speak anger. You can speak pain. You can speak frustration. And you can do it in such a way that will never strike the nerve of the other person, as long as you consider them. Are you opening your mouth to speak your truth, however painful, with the intent of making yourself clear and your relationship stronger? Or are you speaking to hurt? Perhaps you are annoyed. Perhaps you don’t like this person. Perhaps you find them ___(insert pejorative of choice). If you speak from that place you will strike a nerve. Eventually. It will happen. And nerves damage. The more you strike them, they damage irreparably.

But I’m just a stupid girl who cares far too much about rules and says silly things. I’m ridiculous, and trivial, and annoying in my hang-ups. I’m not cool, or sexy, or appealing in any way shape or form. I’m something to be tolerated, never invited, never welcomed. I’m put up with. I’m often forgotten, and the ways in which I combat invisibility are shallow and predictable. And unoriginal. I am a hack. I have no talent. I have nothing interesting to offer, or interesting to say. Ever. God knows I cannot write. Who do I think I am? I could stay in bed for a month and no one would mind. Some people might notice I wasn’t around, but they wouldn’t much care. I care too much about things that don’t matter. I don’t know how to hold onto someone because eventually I’m found out. How annoying I am. And fat. And weak. And did I mention annoying? I’m always found out. 

One little sentence triggered all of that for me. One phrase, said casually. All of that. Like stepping on a land mine.

It’s in there all the time you know. It’s in most of us. The scared little spirit that’s just waiting for the world to find out we’re a hack. It’s in there and it is so sensitive. And when this spirit is poked it’s usually told that it’s being too sensitive, and it probably is when weighed against the objective bluntness of the weapon, but being too sensitive is its entire purpose. This of course only causes the little spirit to feel more sensitive. And dizzy. And horrible.

Stranger still is that I’m fairly certain this sensitive little spirit is best friends with the most brilliant part of ourselves. Little spirit is a sentinel for our creativity, our ideas, our potential. He keeps the channel open, but must remain vulnerable to do so. He is a brave one. So easily wounded. I wonder at his resilience. It is not endless, I know that. Poke the nerve enough and eventually it will die to mitigate the pain. With the death of our little spirit comes the collapse of the tunnel leading to our best selves. We must be so careful with each other.

Time to go to bed and maybe cry. Crying seems to comfort my little spirit, and like a shot of Novocain, soothes the nerve.

You might be wondering who it was that said such a thing. Perhaps no one. Perhaps this entire story is made up. Perhaps. Either way, don’t worry, it wasn’t you. Or you. (Or you).

A Familiar Beast

I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.

We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?

Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.

He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.

 

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My Fractured Life

I have a problem. My life is fractured. Well, segmented would be a more apt word actually but I like the way fractured sounds. It captures the struggle. So for now I say my life is fractured. Maybe some of you can relate.

As much as the following statement might make many of you cringe I’ll say it anyway — our lives are becoming ever more reflected on social media. It’s not enough to create a life anymore, you must project that life on social media. This sounds horrible but I actually think it’s rather awesome. We have this amazing opportunity to document our lives for posterity in a way that might live on forever. Gone will be the days that I wished I had a picture of myself at age 4 reading a book (Curses! I wish I had that!) because from now on chances are your mom posted one like that on Facebook when you were little. I share honestly on this blog because I don’t want my cyber presence to be completely sterilized and manicured. This is a record of me, and I want it to be true, for what that’s worth.

Another rather amazing aspect of social media is how it benefits those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Most professions these days require a certain amount of self-branding to play with the pros, even if it’s just updating your Linked In profile regularly. This being the case, I envy those who have a single drive, a prevailing passion. Having such a thing would make it much easier to focus and go after one’s goals and dreams — much easier to brand oneself across cyberspace. Let’s use acting as an example. If all I wanted to be more than anything else was an actor I’d have a simple marketing plan. My Twitter account would be geared towards following and talking about actors and actor-related business. My personal website would be all about acting. My blog would be an acting blog. And that pesky Linked In profile would be rife with endorsements for “Actor” “Performer” “Theatre Artist.” There’s just one problem. I’m never ever ever, never, ever, going to be just one thing. Being one thing makes me feel like a shark that stopped swimming.

Let me cut and paste my Twitter blurb: I write kid’s stories. I act. I run. And I make pretty things with my hands. Program Administrator for The Unusual Suspects. Company member at Theatre of NOTE.

The diversified portfolio weathers the storm, right? I’m not convinced the same applies to creative endeavors. I sometimes wonder if I’m splitting my own votes. Would I gain more momentum, connections, and success if I focused only on one single thing? Some examples of my struggle:

This fragmenting all just – happened. When I started this blog Twitter was still relatively new so I started a Twitter page specifically to talk about running and promote the blog. But then I wanted one for everything else I do so along came @MsBeckyLight (SeaGirlSigl at the time). The same happened for Whimsy Do. I figured my running-specific internet friends may not have as much of an interest in my thoughts on acting, flower crowns, and children’s literature so I’ve told myself that separate accounts is a way to target my audience. Is this wrong? Should I be the tie that binds? Should I try to get my audience all in the same room?

Should I be the tie that binds? What a crazy question, right? Obviously I, Rebecca, am the thread that holds together all of my creative endeavors. They all make up one thing — me. But I’m serious about all of them, they’re not just hobbies, and so I want to promote them seriously. I want to share them with the world far and wide, and so I try to be mindful of a target audience for each creation. From a marketing perspective, should I be the tie that binds? I guess that is the ultimate question, and something I’ve attempted to do with my personal website. Maybe that can be the one place on the web where all of me exists in the same place. Just a thought.

This struggle is 35% logistical and 45% emotional. I not only struggle with the social media strategy of my unique and fractured life. Whatever, that’s just business really. I struggle with it on a deeper level. I’m in love with my various endeavors but are they sabotaging my potential? I love making fanciful flower accessories. I love writing children’s stories. I love acting. I love my job working for a non-profit. I love running. I love making theatre. But dammit, there are only 24 hours in the day and at least a few of them have to be dedicated to sleep. I’m splitting my own votes.

I hear over and over again from writers: cherish your writing time. Carve it out of your day and cherish it. If I weren’t also running half marathons, acting in plays, producing plays, making flower crowns, then I know that I could devote more time to writing. More time to write equates to more chance of success. Substitute any of my other endeavors for the first. More flowers crowns made = more flower crowns sold. More miles run = more better shape. (More better shape? Good Lord. I’m a writer. Did you know?) You see what I’m getting at? Dreams take devotion and determination. An Olympian would never make it to the Olympics if they cut their training time in half to satisfy other interests. That’s just a fact. Do I have to pick one? Or is the beautiful gift of art that varying art forms feed each other? I feel this to be true, and to be the unique privilege of being an artist, but I also feel I might be kidding myself.

So now the real burning question — one I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of for years. Who has Hermione’s Time Turner and when can I get one?

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This morning I woke up an hour and half early to write. Tomorrow I’ll wake up an hour and a half early to run. Tomorrow I’m making a conscious decision not to write. Will I pay for this? Maybe. Maybe. Or maybe the deep massage my brain gets from an hour of running is vital to the creation of new ideas which turn into new stories. Maybe the hour I’ll spend prepping a Whimsy Do order on Wednesday evening instead of writing will be just the right amount of time to let that new idea stew and cook. Maybe the shade of the hydrangeas in that new crown will unlock a new feeling in me. Maybe the people I meet at NOTE on Friday while producing Orphans will say something interesting that I’ll file away to be used as dialogue in that new middle grade novel I’ve started to write. I don’t know if these things are true. So I sigh, and I say that they are. I have to do all of these things, and that is true. I have to act in order to write. I have to run in order to create. My weird little symbiotic interests make up this crazy colorful schizo quilt in my soul. They make up me.

So I didn’t finish this post with an answer I was looking for, per se. I still don’t know what the hell to do about all of my Twitter accounts. If you want to follow me, I guess just pick one.

Patience, not-so-young Grasshopper

I’m too impatient to think of a clever way to begin this post. Gah! So impatient! The cat is out of the bag. I’m impatient. It’s a toxic state of mind. The overwhelming desire to have something extraordinary happen overnight often thwarts the possibility of that extraordinary something happening over time. This is why it’s essential to enjoy and take meaning from the journey. Not because it’s so wise, because it’s 95% of the process. You may as well enjoy it. You can’t drive from California to New York overnight, so if you don’t find pleasure in staring out your window at the Oklahoma prairie or Missouri’s rolling hills, it’s going to be a long and painful drive. Learn to savor the journey; something I’m discovering about my endeavors as a children’s book author.

Earlier this year I actually, truly, really, actively, once-and-for-all began taking steps toward becoming a published children’s picture book author. I’d dreamed of such a thing since I was 6 years old, but other than a library of ideas messily cataloged in my brain I’d never pursued it. All that changed with the new year. Knowing NOTHING about the publishing industry I began with as rudimentary a step as possible. I bought Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. Hello, dummy. *Proudly points to self*

Not even knowing how to format a manuscript properly, I needed the basics. It’s actually quite a good book. I recommend it for publishing preschoolers like me.

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I read this book. I joined Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I launched a personal website. I finished my first manuscript. I researched publishing houses accepting unsolicited material. I wrote a cover letter. I signed up for my first conference. I’m ready now! Do you hear me universe! I’m ready, so can this happen now? Oh universe, I know YOU waited patiently for 30 years for me to accept this as my life’s calling, but now that I’m ready let’s do this thing.

I don’t know if writing for children has led me to think like a child, but I am impatient with a capital I. Impatient. IMpatient.

So what has led to this impatience? Well I’ll tell you. Obstacles. There are numerous itchy realities that have put a little bee in my bonnet since I started actively writing. Here are the discouraging things I’ve learned since I’ve gotten myself in the game.

On average it takes 3-6 months for a publisher to respond to your manuscript submission. Most responses will be a rejection.

Many publishers require an exclusive submission so while you’re waiting SIX MONTHS for them to read your three page manuscript you can’t really even submit it to anyone else. This isn’t always the case but SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES!

If and when a publisher wants to buy your manuscript, which you can almost guarantee won’t happen with the first submission, it will then take 18+ months (at least) for your book to be paired with an illustrator, art directed, produced, and published. It can and does take years.

Once your beautiful book baby is born and there you are on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, unless you’re among the incredibly rare breed of New York Times bestselling picture book authors, your book will probably go out of print in 2 years and you’ll net maybe $5,000 of royalties once you make back your advance. It will most likely be 10-15 years before you’ve published enough books to quit your day job and write full time.

So here I am, eager as a little beaver for my life to begin, and all I see are obstacles and “Turn Back Now” signs. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. I’m considering children in a few years. I’d like to start saving for a home, and for kid’s education, and for retirement. I want my life to begin NOW. Now, do you hear me universe? I’m ready! Do I really have to wait years for my three-page manuscript to make it to bookshelves, if it ever makes it at all? There are no guarantees. This could all be for naught. I could be a hack. I could be delusional. I can’t wait years to find that out.

I’m realizing I’m at this point in the story:

leap-of-faith

There are many things I don’t know but I’m fairly certain of one thing. For the first time in my life I feel that I’m on the right path. I’ve started my journey down that path feeling prepared and enthused, only to now come across a chasm of unknowns, of long periods of waiting, of inconveniences and obstacles. There are signs that say “Wait here for 6 months, then proceed… maybe,” and others that read “Please pay $500 to advance,” while still others read “Congrats, you’ve earned $5,000! Now make that last for three years!”

A famous actor can indeed make millions. As can a famous author. However the majority of actors are not famous. They work. They struggle. They hustle to make $2,000 for one week on a show they don’t even really like that much and pray they’ll make enough money in their careers for health insurance and maybe a pension. It’s hard. For most, it’s very hard, so if you don’t love it, if Jiminy Cricket isn’t whispering in your ear, “Yes, this is right,” then maybe don’t do it.

Who knew writing would be just as challenging? Well, probably everyone who ever tried to be a writer, but hey I’m new at this. The difference now is Jiminy Cricket is talking to me. I’m starting to sound a little crazy but you know what I mean. It’s there! Some sort of warm omniscient speaking heart telling me that it will all be worth it somehow. This is my story. This is my path.

Okay. I accept. I will wait. I will make the leap. I will stay on the path no matter how hairy it gets. I will employ patience by enjoying the view from the window of this moving train. And while I wait, I’ll keep writing. I’ll see what I see out the window and it will inspire me and I’ll write it down. Even if I’m never published and they line my coffin with rejection letters from Random House, someone will one day clean out my desk and they’ll find what I wrote and they’ll say “Hey, look what she did.”

Hey, look what I did. Look what I’m doing. All you need is patience, young grasshopper.

Or should I say… cricket.

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