Query Nerves

I’m sitting here, ready to finally send my contemporary MG novel into the crowded inboxes of kidlit agents, and I’m relieved and overwhelmed all at once. Is this similar to how I’ll feel when I eventually send my son to his first day of school? Excited for him to stand on his own among other kids but terrified that he’s not ready to be without me?

It’s time to let go. I know that. I feel it. My novel is practically whispering, “Query me.” But gosh, it’s nerve wracking!

It all goes back to self-doubt and that nagging feeling that no matter how many times I’ve worked over my manuscript, it isn’t ready. I’m beyond proud of the story. My critique group has offered kudos and feedback on multiple versions. As the current draft stands, they can’t poke anymore holes in it. A good sign. A sign to set it free and forget about it for a while.

The writer and editor in me knows that there’s always room for improvement. That no matter how many drafts I write, there’s another direction to take the story. A different way of framing it. An alternative take on a scene, a chapter, a piece of dialogue. The possibilities never end. Iterations are endless. But at a certain point in time, after working on a novel for years, I have to let it try to stand on its legs.

The mama in me wants to coddle it, hold onto it a bit longer. But I know if I’m going to learn anything about what I’ve done, I need to set it free, at least for a little while. See where it goes, if it comes back to me, or if it makes it out there in the wide world.

So here I go.


Conference Magic

A conference hangover is the best kind of hangover. On the heels of SCBWI OC Writers Day, I find myself full of energy. It happens after every conference—I get doused with this magic that makes me want to keep on keeping on with my craft, no matter how exhausted or busy I am.

That magic helped me complete a final read-through of my middle grade novel before I soon send it off to agents. Not only that, I’m ready to start my next novel. You know that middle grade horror story I’ve wanted to write since earlier this year? Just this past week, an idea sparked and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Yep, that productivity is the result of conference fairy dust, people. And every time I leave another SCBWI event, I walk away with that magic sprinkled atop my shoulders.

To maximize my experience, these are the things I do at events. I encourage you to try one or two at the next conference you attend.

  1. Temper your expectations. Walk in expecting to learn, learn, learn. I’m not saying you can’t expect an agent or editor to swoon over your work, but remember that this industry is competitive. The more open you are to other ideas, the more you grow.
  2. Be friendly. Like you, many of the other attendees are breaking from their writer bubbles. It can be difficult to step out of your comfort zone, but making friends can lead to new critique partners, submission opportunities, and more. Plus, kidlit writers are the nicest people on the planet.
  3. Listen for the nuggets. Even if you’ve attended many conferences and have heard the same topics covered again and again, be receptive. The speakers have valuable insight that could propel you forward in some way.
  4. Pay for the extras if you can. Industry-expert feedback on your work is SO valuable. Take advantage of that manuscript critique or pitch session. Who knows, it could be a door to something great if your piece resonates with even one person.

What do you do to capture that conference magic?

Fun with Board Books

Oliver and I spend a lot of time reading board books these days. He brings one to me, turns around to sit on my lap, and waits for me to start. Sometimes we only get through a page or two, maybe half the book, and if I’m lucky, the whole thing. When he’s in a reading mood (which is basically all the time), we’ll devour 8-12 books in one sitting.

I even catch him reading books to himself. With upside-down book in hand, he babbles to himself as he turns the pages. My mama heart melts each time.

Reading and reading often is too important to skip just because baby refuses to focus for the whole book. You probably know that babies should be read to from day one. Reading (and singing) daily in the first year of a child’s life promotes cognitive and language development, and affects their ability to read later. Rhymes, rhythms, and repetition are so, so important. If you haven’t read Mem Fox’s Reading Magic, I highly encourage you to pick it up.

My days and nights are filled with a full-time job, tending to baby, and taking care of myself and my family. Let’s get real: I’ve been reading the same middle grade book for weeks. By the time I finally wind down in bed and crack the book’s spine, I’m out within minutes. All I can read cover-to-cover right now are board books. But I’m learning so much about this cute and important genre.

So here’s the first of many board book reviews. Each review will be short and sweet, which I think fits nicely with this short and sweet genre.

Five Little Ducks, by Raffi, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. Published by Knopf for Young Readers (1999)

A mama duck calls her ducklings back from their adventures. One by one, they stop coming home until all the little ducks are gone. But after some time passes, mama duck is finally reunited with her not-so-little ducklings (and their new families).

We read this one A LOT! Like six-times-a-day a lot. Justin and I catch ourselves asking Oliver, “Don’t you want to read a different one? We just read this one.” But it’s one of his favorites. You can tell by the worn corners and spine.

This book is memorable no doubt because of the rhyme and repetition. Even on a first read (and without hearing the song, which I haven’t), you find yourself adding your own sing-songy touch. Spreads are light on text, which keeps baby’s interest between page turns.

The illustrations are bright and beautiful. Some spreads have more detail than others, but the ducklings are always easy to find. Not only does it make it fun for baby to point out the ducks, but easy for mama/dada to count the ducklings with baby.

It’s a sweet, heartfelt read with happy ending. This mama duck approves.

Forever Tired, Forever Happy

Nothing makes a woman tired like motherhood. Motherhood is drinking coffee because you actually need the caffeine to jumpstart the morning (or afternoon). It’s forgetting what you just said to someone five minutes ago. It’s not eating dinner until nine o’clock, after baby is tucked in tight with a belly full of milk and a kiss lingering on his forehead. Motherhood is finally cozying down in your bed, melting into the mattress, just about to close your eyes when baby wakes up hysterical or wet or in need of a cuddle.

All of those things. Every day. Every. Day.

But what’s even more insane is how we mamas make it through every day. Fatigue doesn’t slow us down. We have our littles to thank for that. The morning smiles and babbles. The yummy sounds they make between bites of purée. The joy they find during bath time, splashing around and reaching for toys. How they instantly calm when we hug away their bad dreams in the late hours of the night. When we are their safe.

I may be one wiped out mama zombie who can’t remember the last time I woke up refreshed and filled with energy. But it’s a small sacrifice for the many gifts my son gives me. I’ll take the tired forever. Just keep on sunnying my world, my sweet baby boy.

Writing Middle Grade Horror

As I plug away at the third draft of my middle grade adventure/friendship novel, I find myself daydreaming about my next project. I really want to write a middle grade horror novel. No concrete ideas yet, but I want to write something scary for the 8 to 12-year-old audience.

The problem is I’ve never even dabbled in the horror genre as a writer. Not a-once. And even worse, I’m having a hard time finding resources and analysis that I can really sink my teeth into. The internet is full of articles and thoughts on other MG genres. But horror? Not so much. At least according to my googling.

I’m reading a few MG horror novels now to get perspective. Mentor texts are amazing. But I’d love some direction from MG horror authors. So I turn to all of you.

Have you read articles or books on the genre? Taken classes or attended webinars? Anything you’d like to share? Brilliant mentor texts?

Please and thank you!

Again and Again and Again

At the suggestion of one of my awesome critique partners, I’m listening to the Writing Great Fiction Great Course on Audible. (Side note: Audiobooks are my new jam. It is SO hard to sit down and focus my attention on reading when I’m busy entertaining an 6-month-old. Now I can get some reading done while driving, doing dishes, completing monotonous work. Hallelujah! I feel like I’m plugged back in to the literary world.)

The lecturer said something about revising that made an impression on me:

“When you reach the end of a draft that you’ve composed in a white heat, you can believe that you’re the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Then when you read it over the next morning, you can feel like the worst hack who ever drew breath. It’s enough to make you want to give up and go to law school like your mother wanted you to.”

While the lecturer goes on to suggest great revision methods, I wanted to say “SAME!” as he said this. Writers, have you, like me, felt these feelings on multiple revisions? Maybe not the going to law school part…one, because that sounds awful, and two, because mama knows I’ve always wanted to be a writer…but seriously!

So often that high of finishing a draft is deflated by my loud, obnoxious, know-it-all inner critic. It’s so hard to mute her. She’s almost always there.

But as heavy-sigh inducing she may be, she keeps me coming back to slash, revise, and fine tune. For us writers, isn’t that drive to create something better what keeps us coming back to this maddening game? I’m not sure why else we put ourselves through such rigorous work.

I think we know that we can do better than that draft, just like an athlete knows they can shave seconds off their time, or a saleswoman believes she can make better numbers next year. Despite how we feel about ourselves and our work in that moment, we know we can improve in the future. But this means pushing through feeling like a hack.

Let’s be real. None of us will ever be as great as Shakespeare. But maybe we can be ok. Even good. We won’t know unless we try. Again and again and again.

My 2018 Valentiny Entry

So Susanna Leonard Hill is a rockstar who puts on three fabulous, teeny, tiny contests each year. If you haven’t checked them out, I encourage you to challenge yourself with an entry. A great way to flex your writing muscle!

The requirements for the Valentiny Contest: write a 214-word-or-less, kid-friendly Valentine’s Day story about someone who is hopeful.

At 212 words, here goes!

Candy, scones, ribbon, bows
Signs that read, Be Mine.
But I say down with mushy gushy.
Down with valentines!

At school they all swap notes.
They laugh, hug, whisper.
Ugh. Last year the valentine I got was…
From my sister.

They pass each other cards.
One then two then three.
But I sit alone in the hallway.
None addressed to me.

Boo to valentines!

Cleo’s across the way.
She’s like a ray of light.
If I got a valentine from her,
That would be alright.

“Hey, Cleo.” My voice cracks.
“You look nice today.”
She looks at her friend Clara, giggles,
Then sprints fast away.

Which wise guy created
A love day like this?
I mean, who really wants chocolate hearts,
Sweet songs, or a kiss?

It’s not like I want one.
Chocolate hearts, I mean.
The easiest way to get candy?
Duh. Vending machine.

Go away, valentines.

Then Clara sneaks on by.
“Check out what she wrote.”
Attached to two giant candy bars
Is one purple note.

From Cleo, says the treat.
I unstick the glue.
Under “cute” in the dictionary
I hope I’d see you.

I guess it’s not so bad,
This whole holiday.
If Cleo wants to send me letters,
Hey, that’s A-OK!

Cleo, be mine.
Thumbs up for valentines!

Roll, baby, roll

Watching my son learn is magical. There’s nothing like it. Last weekend he taught himself to roll over. He was playing on the floor, babbling away, when I caught the tail-end of him teetering from his back to his tummy. And then again a minute later. And then again.

He didn’t quite remember his new trick a couple hours later. I had to swing one leg over the other to remind him. As soon as I helped him along, he was back to his cute wobble from back to front, balancing all his weight on his elbow.

I expected I’d have to show him this for another week or so before he remembered. But no. Bubs proved mama wrong earlier this week by rolling on his own with no reminding. And he continued to do so even after I flipped him on his back over and over. It became a game of sorts. Until he spit up from the excitement.

Just a few months ago he was struggling to hold his head up on his own. And before that we met for the first time in a hospital room. Last summer he was bundled snug in my tummy, not knowing that one day he would accomplish something huge like rolling over.

And now he’s growing and learning faster than I can keep up. Part of me wants him to stay this small forever, but the other part can’t wait to see what he’ll show me tomorrow.

I’m Back!

Holy hiatus.

Quite a bit of time has passed since I last posted. And I must say, it feels good to be back. Much has happened. Something life changing kept me from my blog.

I gave birth to my first baby, Oliver, last September. And boy oh boy, is he seriously my whole world. The months leading up to his arrival are now a blur of exhaustion, worry, excitement, and hunger. (Let’s be real—there were a lot of cheeseburgers involved.) The past four-and-a-half months have been filled with those some emotions, only amplified and even more wonderful.

img_9368I mean, come on. That face. Those cheeks. That smile. Ughhhhh, my bubs is magic.

Though over the past year I couldn’t muster up the energy to deliver blog content that wasn’t filled with rambling thoughts and food references, I did make some personal writing accomplishments. I finished the first revision of my second MG novel. And just weeks before Oliver decided to greet us a week early. I pushed myself hard to complete that revision before my due date. Even when it was the last thing I wanted to do, I dragged myself to the library on my lunch break to bang out another chapter. With detailed notes and analysis from my critique group, I kissed my manuscript goodnight and tucked it away to hibernate. All in time to focus my attention on my bubs.

And now that writerly itch is scratching again. I’m ready to jump back into everything—the blog, the WIPs, the conferences. Do I have lots of time? Nope. Do I often pass out on the couch by 8:30 p.m.? You betcha. Will time with my son take precedence over everything? Um, duh.

But a writer is a writer through and through, and she will find the time. Even in the sleepy hours of the day or the quiet of the early morning.

So, I have so aptly renamed my blog Moonlit KidLit: Nocturnal ramblings and reviews by one tired mama. I’ll most often post when the sky is dark and all is still, and topics will range from book reviews to writer thoughts/advice to mama stories.

Can’t wait to share more with you.

PB Gush: Best Frints in the Whole Universe

At the 2016 summer SCBWI conference I had the pleasure of attending a session led by editor Neil Porter. During that hour, he invited author/illustrator Antoinette Portis on stage to discuss and read from her picture book, Best Frints in the Whole Universe. I fell in love with this PB instantly. It has everything I love in a PB: quirk, humor, and a lot of heart. It’s one of my favorites and I’m excited to gush about it today.


Continue reading “PB Gush: Best Frints in the Whole Universe”