Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

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Breaking news! This blog post was recently featured on She Writes. Click here to read the same thing there.

Before I became a writer (or a wife or a mother), I was a ballet dancer. I danced in Europe for most of my career—in Iceland, Italy, Germany, and Austria. For nearly six years I stitched together gigs here and there, which required a mix of talent, timing, and connections. I thought I’d finally cracked the code when I landed three great jobs that would keep me employed for the next year.

But then, all in the same week, the three companies contacted me again. I sat on the couch with a letter from Austria, a fax from Germany, and a telegram in Italian—all informing me of the same news: they were rescinding the job offers. None of the companies was willing to file the paperwork to extend my EU visa. It had nothing to do my dancing.

This is the scene that came to mind this summer when I read email after email from the agents, editors, and publishers I’d come to know in the six years since I started writing the memoir about my identical twins boys who’d been born three and a half months premature.

“The writing is lovely,” they all said in one form or another. “But we don’t know how to market your book” (which, I realized, is code for “we don’t know who will read this.”) The emails wished me luck and sometimes even said that mine was a story that deserved to be told (after, of course, informing me that they would not be the ones helping me tell it.)

I had a choice. I could continue to fish for agents. I could send out a hundred queries to find the one agent willing to go to bat for me and hope that she would have the same persistence looking for editors and publishers.

Or I could take things into my own hands.

I didn’t have to go back to America all those years ago. I could have stayed in Italy and appealed the decisions. But I didn’t want to spend months writing letters in languages I didn’t quite know, filing papers and calling offices when I could just go back home and dance.

That’s how I feel about my memoir. These last six years I’ve learned a lot about writing and the publishing industry. I’ve learned a lot about building a writing community. I even helped found a nonprofit writing group for moms. Three years ago, we self-published an anthology of our essays. When I realized that I knew who to contact to edit my work, who could design the book cover, and who would be my publicist, the decision to publish my book myself was as easy as boarding the next plane for home.

Which brings us back to me crying on the couch with three rejection letters. The week after I flew home from Italy, I was offered a job dancing with a ballet company in San Francisco. Shortly after that, I met my future husband. The friend who introduced us is now godmother to my daughter.

I still wonder what might have happened if I’d tried to keep dancing abroad, just as I might always wonder what would have happened if I kept querying agents. But I also know that leaving when I did helped set the stage (no pun intended) for future accomplishments—a college degree, a family, a new career as a writer.

Sometimes it’s up to you to shape your own destiny. And when you recognize that the time is right, it’s up to you to make it happen.

 

 

THE BOOK OF KID: the origin story

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BookOfKidCoverI didn’t write THE BOOK OF KID. My daughter’s third-grade class did. I just published it. Their teacher, Ms Diamond, asked her students to give their parents some child-rearing advice. And it turns out they have a lot to tell you (spoiler alert: they want you to get off Facebook and play with them.)

It started as the classroom project for the school auction. I thought I’d get involved. After all, I like books. And I had a printer. Match made in Heaven.

The kids made a list of stuff they wanted their parents to know. For example, my daughter wanted me to know that “Just because we are little versions of you, doesn’t mean we act like you.” Which is interesting, because we look nothing alike.

From their list, each child picked one snippet of advice as the caption to a picture they drew. The picture was then traced onto foam, which became the cut for a color print. Then each 8.5″ x 11″ page was bound accordion-fashion into a book. The winning bid for the book was $800.

Since the class made two copies of their print, I had a complete set which was then scanned and put into a book-book with the rest of the students’ advice. I have to say, it’s really heartbreaking, and if I had a little more editorial control, I might have sat them down and said, “So let’s start with all the stuff your parents do that you really like.” Because it’s not so pleasant to realize how much your kids notice. Like, how often we’re on our phones or how often we complain about someone else.

Because the impetus for the book was a fundraiser, it only seemed right that the royalties from the sale of the book would be donated. We discussed it, and the students were given three options: 1) the money would go to their school; 2) the money would be donated to the middle school that many of them will attend in sixth grade; or 3) the children would donate the money to another elementary school in Oakland Unified School District.

To make the decision, Ms. Diamond didn’t just ask for a show of hands; she made them write opinion pieces. What were the pros and cons of donating money to the neighborhood middle school? The kids had to address tough questions that accompany any gift. What would the school spend it on? What if the kids wanted the money to be spent on computers but it went to something more boring, like school supplies?

After a month of discussion, each child wrote an essay and read it to the class. A blind vote was taken. The winner? Another elementary school in Oakland. Stay tuned to figure out which school will receive the royalties generated by the book sales.

The book is available on Amazon and Create Space as well as Diesel Books and Pegasus Books.

OH, and here’s what some superstar grownups had to say about THE BOOK OF KID:

“A great reminder for parents of kids of all ages: Kids are taking notes every time we swear, check our phones compulsively, or say something negative about someone else. This book is an inspiration to be the best role models that we can be. Moreover, this advice from children to parents mirrors what research shows is best for them; sometimes kids really do know best!”
Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents 

“The Book of Kid is evidence that kids hear and see and know more than we sometimes give them credit for. This book is chocked full of sound advice from kids to parents, advice that will help us be our best selves and also the parents our kids need. Read this book and then go play, listen, hug and challenge your kids. They’re begging for it!”
Kate Hopper, founder of Motherhood & Words & author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers

“This little book has the potential to transform lives – if parents follow the sage advice in these pages, relationships can improve, children will thrive, and the benefits will radiate out into the world with positive repercussions for generations to come. I highly recommend this book for parents of young children everywhere.”
–Nina Lesowitz, co-author of the bestselling titles Living Life as a Thank YouWhat Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?; and The Grateful Life.

“If you don’t want to wait until your child grows up to find out how you could have been a better parent, read this book of heartfelt and surprising third grade wisdom. These children know better than many adults what is really important. Their beautifully illustrated jewel of a book has a prominent place in the waiting room of my child psychology practice.”
–Lucinda Cummings, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

“Listen to your children, Put down your phone, swear less, don’t bad mouth family–easily the best parenting advice I’ve ever read, and straight out of the mouths of funny, honest, wise kids.”
Ann Imig, founder of the national live storytelling series, video-sharing company, and acclaimed book LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

P is for Profile

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PEvery now and again I have to find write a bio for something. I hate it. Well, I used to hate it. But each time I had to write a bio, I turned it into a blog post and tagged it as bio. (That’s on the obscure blog of Dinky Thoughts). Then when I needed to write a bio for something new, I’d go through what I’d written already. Of course it gets easier each time you do it.

Now it’s time to write group profiles and book summaries, which is just as annoying to write and wordsmith. This is what I spent the morning crafting for our Create Space page, our Amazon author page, and our Goodreads profile.

Here’s today’s extended version:

In Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit, and Grit, twenty-four moms (and one dad) share stories from their lives as writers and parents.

Essays range from finding one’s calling as a writer through adopting a toddler; a tribute to a dying wife; an account of a premature birth; raising a transgender child; the joys of sharing a favorite childhood book. In a concluding interview, authors share funny and heartfelt responses to questions such as: “How does a busy parent make time for writing?” “Why do you write, and where?” “What writing books inspire you?” and “What holds you back from writing?”

With a foreword by Kate Hopper, author of Ready For Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers.

If you are a mother who dreams about writing, here’s all the inspiration you need…

 –Rachel Sarah, author of Single Mom Seeking

The Write On Mamas follow a simple but effective formula: meet regularly to write together, read the work aloud, and repeat. It has worked for them for years, and now their anthology gathers the very best of all that writing. These writers dig deep and don’t shy away from tough subjects, but their essays sparkle with humor and energy, too. From gauzy preemies in the NICU to a grown son, brooding with piercings and dreadlocks; from dreams of being writers (or mothers, or mermaids) to dreams of just one good nap—it’s all here, and it makes a great read. 

–Caroline Grant, editor-in-chief of Literary Mama and associate director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation

Here’s a book full of promise:  You, too, can raise children and stories in the same family!  These courageous writers glean wisdom from their dual creative endeavors and offer it to us with honesty, humor, and grace.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, author of Hannah, Delivered

Even for the most enthusiastic among us, motherhood can be rife with insecurity and isolation. How perfect, then, that these mamas (and papa!) have come together through their writing, supporting each other through the creative process and the baring of their hearts. I wish every mom could be a part of a community like this to remind her that she is not alone.

–Nancy Rose, author of Raise the Child You’ve Got—Not the One You Want

Mamas Write examines the things that drive us to the page both as readers and writers. […] But these essays are about much more than why mamas write. These writers are grappling with universals: love, acceptance, disappointment, grief.

–From the Foreword by Kate Hopper

D is for Don’t Do It Yourself

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DIt takes about 36 seconds’ worth of research to realize that self-publishing is not DIY publishing. It can be, just like you could calk your own bathroom or bake your own wedding cake. But if quality matters, you might want some professional help.

We outsourced a lot of the work on Mamas Write, starting with the editing.

Originally we tried peer editing our own essays. We’re smart cookies, right? We broke into four groups of five writers and each group was in charge of editing its participants’ essays. It didn’t work out so well.

For starters, not everyone has the time to read and respond to four essays while revising her own. And not everyone is comfortable in the editor’s chair. And we didn’t yet have a theme. Well, we thought we did—why we write—but that’s such a broad question and we (read: me) was just discovering that broad answers are hard to write and they aren’t so interesting to read. Oh, wait. Should that be “(read: I)?” See what I mean about editing? It’s hard!

So we got ourselves a professional developmental editor. I know I talk so much about Kate Hopper it looks as if I get special brownie points for doing so. (I don’t —not yet, anyway.)

I’m not sure what it was like for other people to send their work off to a person they’d never met and then receive feedback on how to make their pieces stronger (although many of us had met Kate before). I won’t presume to speak about anyone else’s process, but I can talk about the results—tighter, brighter prose from what was already pretty good. Like wiping the fingerprints off a mirror. You can still see your reflection in a smudgy mirror, but cleaner is better.

Kate was just the first pro we hired. We also outsourced copyediting (who among us has the time to read The Chicago Manual of Style?), graphic design (although WoM and professional photographer Allison Tierney took our cover photo), layout and probably something else that I’ve forgotten because it’s not my job to remember.

Was it worth it? We think so, but don’t you want to judge for yourself by purchasing your own copy? (See, if I had a professional PR person, she could tell me if those last two lines will be effective or not).