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Houston, We Have an Agent!

I’m so excited to announce that I am now represented by Tara Gelsomino of One Track Literary Agency!

What a journey! Sigh of Relief + Dance of Joy doesn’t capture the many feelings of landing here after a #neverthelessshepersisted trek in the trenches…and for, yes, the third time. (If you need to hear some of the saga, enjoy this post: Don’t Despair When Your Agent Leaves the Business.)

Here’s how I know Tara will be awesome to work with.

When she wrote me about NO SMALL THING, my YA novel, she said:

“I’m so excited to tell you that I really loved the story. I love Audrey’s fire and competence and confidence (even in very frightening situations). I love the light you’re shining here on the disparity in women’s and men’s teams treatment, and the corruption and unfairness of the NCAA/NBA climb that most people don’t get to witness and don’t really know about.  I love the ethics in journalism plot line and how the bitter reality of…deception forges Audrey’s faith in herself. For me, this evoked the big social issues of Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give with the fan fervor of Friday Night Lights with the additional investigative drive of The Post, Spotlight, or All the President’s Men, which I found to be an exciting and fresh combo.”

When an agent is as much on fire as you are about your story, time to do your dance thing!

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And then you should hear what her authors say about her!

“I couldn’t be happier with Tara as my agent. I liked that she had a background as an editor and wanted to be part of the writing process—something I was looking for in an agent. What impressed me the most, however, was that she wasn’t afraid to dream big for me, and it paid off. She was able to get me a three-book preemptive deal…

 “What else can I tell you? Tara is a great cheerleader, is available whenever I need her, responds very quickly when I email her, and is full of amazing ideas for marketing and publicity. If you’re looking for an agent that will provide personalized attention, you’ll get it with Tara!”

 “If you prefer hands-on, editorial agents, then Tara certainly fits the bill. Her experience as an editor really shows. She’ll brainstorm with clients, and offer detailed comments in drafts, partials, and proposals.”

I heard more stories of deals, right, and support with social media.

Suffice it to say, I am so excited.

My mom says Tara is a good name for me, because I already know some amazing Taras!

More to come later…there are many querying journey stories to tell, and I want to tell them to help so many others who feel they are languishing in the trenches. I have things to say about query stats and why they matter, and about how you get beyond the frustrations of knocking so much on what seems like a barred door.

Time to get to work!

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Never, ever, ever give up. You might just have a Tara at the end of a long, dark night!

 

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When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on Match.com and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.

 

 

 

Blessed By a Mom Like Mine

This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of those who are unable to celebrate. Those who never had a mom to begin with, even if technically, there was a mother in the house.

In my novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Sunny Revere is not a good mom. She is a classic narcissist, obsessed with finding and keeping boyfriends.  And there are many–a “revolving door,” as her daughter describes it. Also top of Sunny’s list is the pursuit of her own happiness–political dreams and artistic interests. In between, if her daughter happens to cross her path, Sunny will occasionally parent. She thinks she’s a great mom because she strives to be Wendy’s BFF.

At 16, Wendy is well aware of these stark facts. She has accepted and so far, survived her mother’s weaknesses with a certain amount of stoicism. She says, “With Sunny it’s best to sift out troubling information, as she’s flummoxed by most facts. Facts require decisions, and Sunny’s best at dithering.” Sunny has spent a lifetime flitting from one location and job and boyfriend to another, dragging Wendy along, and never facing the black-and-white truth of parenting: sometimes, you have to put yourself last.

Wendy’s built the necessary walls to handle the perpetual transitions. But the one thing Wendy finds she can’t face so easily is abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriends. She will spend a lifetime overcoming these traumas.

“My mom forgot to get me a birthday cake.” “My mom didn’t show up for the one award I got in middle school.” “My mom pretended the abuse wasn’t happening.” Over the years, I’ve heard such stories from students or friends, or I’ve seen them happen without the person complaining. It was just assumed Mom had too many things to do, or that she had a date, or that the house is always a little bit crazy or chaotic whenever mom is there.

Those who grow up with a non-mother can turn out to be many things. They might be resilient, persisting no matter what life hands them. They may be possessed by their own victimhood, demanding much from a world they feel owes them something. They may be hardened, even flat-lining, or addicts, liars, and cheaters. They may be loving and embracing caretakers, giving relentlessly to others, swearing to never inflict on others what they suffered. They can be so busy trying to prove they are worthy that they achieve great success. However they evolve, the mark of the bad mother stays with them.

When I write about a situation like Wendy’s, it’s out of sympathy, not empathy. I try to relate, but am blessed to be a spectator. In my book, I was able to write a dedication to both my parents: 

All I know is, I am so loved I can’t measure it. I am able to write today because you always gave me hope and space as a child to l1_Maman_and_meet creativity flourish. You gifted me with trust that my ideas matter.

My mother, Katherine Fairchild, is a loving, brilliant, and beautiful woman. She is incredibly selfless, having sacrificed herself for me countless times. My accomplishments, my hopes, my joys, and my sorrows have always been of great interest to her. She is delighted for me, concerned for me, and willing to listen endlessly. She is happy to spend time with me, anytime. She has never been one to ask, “But what about me?” Unconditional love is my mother’s specialty. I credit her with being the mother of my inventions.

Now she is gradually doing more and more for herself. We call her the best writer in the family and celebrate her occasional focus on herself. She recently published a story called “Sunday at Aunt Seri’s,” a vignette from her childhood that captures the beauty and strangeness of a visit to an aunt’s hardscrabble farm where turkeys swarm her like oncoming and relentless waves. My mother is gifted at capturing images and moods, and her characters are authentic. She has also crafted several stories where oddball characters muddle their way through life in great seriousness that turns slapstick.

For someone who never has said, “I deserve,” my mother deserves far more than she’s ever given herself. I hope this Mother’s Day weekend she will take a note from her daughter who has been allowed to grow up self-directed and self-confident, without someone else’s black hole of neediness interrupting her development. In other words, I want my mother to give herself the same attention she always gave me.  Meanwhile, I have a role model who inspires me to ask how I can be less self-focused and more selfless.

Not everyone gets a mom like mine. Today, I celebrate Katherine Fairchild and the blessing I have in her. I also celebrate those who have overcome their mothers with grace and courage. 

Writing Prompts:

  • What is a line your mother often said to you, and when would she say it? Why do you think you remember it now?
  • How much are you like and unlike your mother?
  • Have you been blessed by a good mother, or challenged by a non-mother? Have you survived a bad mother? How do you know what good motherhood is?
  • What are your maternal instincts, and how do you pursue them?
  • In How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Sunny yells at Wendy, “No one gives a damn how I feel!” Should mothers say this, and if so, when? If not, why not? Why does Sunny Revere say this?
  • How does Sunny’s mother and Wendy’s grandmother, Virginia, relate to Sunny? How does their relationship explain some of how Sunny turned out?
  • How does Virginia relate to Wendy? How can grandmothers be better and worse at motherhood, when it comes to their grandchildren?

 

I Did It

“I lived to write, and wrote to live.”

Samuel Rogers

Draft #2 of my latest novel is done.

I wrote hot, and I wrote fast. For six months I wrote daily, and I printed out what I wrote and revised that. When I was too tired to create anew, I entered those edits. I also began some research and the findings fueled changes. I composed while I drove; ideas came to me constantly in the car, so a notepad was a tremendous help at red lights.

Now the draft is bound, courtesy of Kinko’s. I take it out today to a retreat space and I’ll read it like I just bought it. This experience will tell me what I need to change before I hand it off to a writing partner (we’re swapping novels) and a few who’ve offered to take a gander.

More drafts will unfold in the next months. I am on a relentless pursuit that is somewhat different from my last novel. That manuscript ballooned at one point to 1200 pages, then slimmed to 800, then got hacked to 400-something. I blogged about my intent to only add back in what was necessary, but after so many years and too much attachment, I no longer had an idea of what was necessary. So I shelved it after 15 years of relationship. There was no drama at this break-up; sometimes you know when a union is broken. Especially when you meet somebody new.

This relationship with this book has been very Johnny Cash-Loretta Lynn, we-got-married-in-a-fever, and I believe authors such as Stephen King would approve. Write the durn thing as fast as you can, letting plot and momentum drive the process. I did indeed. King also cautions, Don’t make life serve your writing. This is said by a guy who writes every day save his birthday and Fourth of July.

Life has somewhat served the writing of this lately. There are sacrifices of time for family, friends, and whatever it is the rest of you do on weekends. When you have a day job, it isn’t enough to write an hour or less a day. The weekend must be offered up, too.

Aside from the intensity, there’s little romance to the story of how I came to 400 bound pages. I applied seat of the pants to seat of the chair daily, and I printed out faithfully, and I carried the manuscript around like a wedding ring. So in a sense, it was a fly-by-night marriage, but the union is monogamous and faithful. I tried to sustain some short story revision and creation while the novel was being written, but that’s fallen by the wayside now. I just can’t see other people; it’s against my faith.

This morning, I know one thing, and it’s not just thanks to caffeine: I did it, and now, a new phase of the union begins. Revise, revise, revise.

Send me whatever they send couples on their six-month anniversary and I’ll send you photos of the celebration.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Elementary Prompts:

— What is something you’ve done you are proud of? It does not have to be the biggest thing you’ve ever done. It could be that you made someone smile; that you helped someone who needed help; that you did something for the first time ever. Think about a time you made a new friend, learned to tie your shoe, rode a bike, sang in front of people, or drew a picture. Write about any of those times and how it felt.
— Have you ever met someone and right away knew this person would be a great, close friend? Write a list of all the things about this person that told you s/he would be your good friend.
— Imagine you have a time machine and you have just traveled back in history or forward in time. You land in a place you’ve only heard of in books. What place is it? You stumble on a magical book that will unlock the mystery of where you are and what you must do next. Write the first page of that book.
— Draw the cover of a book you would like to read. Then, write the paragraph that explains what this book is all about.
— Finish this sentence with 25 more words: The best thing I’ve ever done is…

Secondary & Adult Prompts:

— Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. Think of a time that gives you fond memories because you accomplished something you hadn’t before–something small. It could be that you made someone smile or offered help; it could be that you came to a realization you’d never had before; it could be fixing something that was a mystery to you before. What happened? Relive that moment by writing about your experience.
— There is a phrase for a person with whom you just click: “kindred spirit.” Have you ever met a person and knew immediately that this individual was destined to be a close friend? Write a description of this person and your encounter. Then, if you wish, write a list of “how to know” someone is a kindred spirit.
— Imagine you have a time machine and you have just traveled back in history or forward in time. You land in a place you’ve only heard of in books. What place is it? You stumble on a magical book that will unlock the mystery of where you are and what you must do next. Write the first page of that book.
— Finish this sentence with 100 more words: The best thing I’ve ever done is…

This One’s For the Teachers

“He was so much master of the good-will and hearty service of his soldiers that those who in other expeditions were but ordinary men displayed a courage past defeating or withstanding when they went upon any danger where Caesar’s glory was concerned.”

Plutarch’s Caesar, translated by John Dryden.

O glorious day! My latest book, Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach, is now available to high school and middle school English teachers.

I wrote this book because of teachers and what they give each day in a tremendously challenging profession. Not many understand the extremely hard work that is teaching; or, if they do, they may be surprised to learn there’s an actual art to it. There is the constant, minute-by-minute process of lesson design, not just prior to the bell but while you’re on your feet in the classroom. There’s also the many lone hours logged trying to create the right mix of activities, meeting the right goals, and driving the right outcomes and work, surrounded by research, state standards, student feedback and products, materials and supplies, and countless other pieces to juggle. And somedays, when all you hear are the critiques, what a lonely, unsupported, and massive task this is.

There are so many dedicated teachers who come to work each day with hours of preparation already behind them, hours certainly not available between 3:00-5:00 PM. I’m thinking of my friends Laura and Karen, Angela and Robin, Roma and Joanne Galen and Gordon, Caroline and MyLinh, Erin and Patrick, Allison and David, and Cindi who just published Finding Mrs. Warnecke. Hours spent grading, making calls to parents, coaching teams and running activities, reporting and solving disciplinary issues, and serving on committees. Let’s not forget classroom cleaning, troubleshooting tech maintenance, and doing supply reconnaissance. Note I haven’t even mentioned “planning” in this list.

So yes, back to the lesson plans. A decent lesson plan takes me hours, and that’s just the first time through. I always revise and revise, and sometimes, throw many out and start fresh. And how about this: if you work on a team, there is the very special art of getting educators to collaborate.

Differentiated instruction is about juggling many complex elements–the readiness levels of your kids, their interests, and their learning styles–and trying to get the whole group engaged while satisfying individual needs. No more “blast to the masses” from the “sage on the stage.” Somedays, sage mode is good, but differentiated instruction calls for ringmaster, coach, and “guide on the side.” So, take this best practice and current demand on teachers, and place it on top of the list I just made.

This is why I write.

There are so many amazing teachers who work tirelessly and who are a joy to students. Like Plutarch’s assessment of Caesar, they are “so much master of the good-will” of their kids that those frisky souls behave when an administrator walks in; hang around after school with nothing better to do than tease their teacher; friend their former teachers on Facebook because of all the great memories; and remember this educator as a key person in their “raising.”

I’m thinking of Beverly and Julie, amazing teachers who now are administrators. Thank you to all my friends who stay in schools and serve.

There’s little glory in educational writing, simply because we teachers don’t pack a ton of cash to buy up bookstores. And that’s okay. Royalties help pay bills, but it’s the last reason I sit down to write these books. I write to walk alongside my colleagues who get up every day and teach.

Filed Under: publication, success