I write. I teach. I mom.

Yup, that’s pretty much what I do. I’m not new to blogging, but I am in the newest phase of my writing journey. During those moments when I daydreamed about being a writer, I never thought that I’d try writing children’s literature. To be fair, this writing daydream changed a few times.

Version 1: I’ll write a bestseller and become a household name for my wonderfulness.

Version 2: I’ll write something super deep and it’ll be in college campuses across the United States.

Version 3: Maybe I’ll just try to get a book of poetry together.

Version 4: Hey, I love reading to my kids. Who doesn’t love picture books?

Clearly, we’re going with Version 4.The question still stands: Who doesn’t love picture books?

So, thank you in advance for continuing my journey with me. I’m sure we will have a few laughs along the way. There will likely be frustrations, but there will always be hope. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with that.

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A girl now has an agent

Yeah, that’s right. I officially have a new agent. The whole process of initial querying to phone calls to stressing out and losing sleep over the decision took less than a month.

I know being in the query trenches can be time consuming, so I was shocked at how quickly this happened. I was honestly just hoping to find an agent within six months.

This time around, I was more prepared. Since this would be my second agent, I knew exactly what I wanted and didn’t want. My list of questions was detailed and reflected my writing and career goals.

I ended up with three offers out of the five agents I queried. Narrowing it down to two was ridiculously hard.

So, who is my new ridiculously fantastic agent? No other than Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Lit.

::Happy Dance::

 

 

 

 

My only resolution: Try not to stress

I am a high-stress person. I’ve been that way my entire life. My mom has always referred to it as my ability to predictably “get easily worked up.” I accepted it as just how I am and didn’t really pay it any mind until I hit my 30s.

Boy, the 20s can make you feel invincible. The 30s will snap you back to reality like “Nah, my dude.” I stress to the point of having chest pains. Where they do that at? Not cool.

Are there things I want to accomplish in 2018? Of course! I want to be healthier. I want to find an agent. I want to sell another book. I want a better work/life balance. I want to not stress about finances, health insurance, potential car trouble, how many words I can get written in a day/ month/ week, so on and so forth.

But, I can only control so much. As long as I’m trying my best–really putting in work–I need to ease up on myself. I also need to recognize the difference between stressing over something and worrying about something. I think I somersault past worry and perfectly land on stress every single time.

So this year, I’m going to try to stress less. It may be by exercising more, drinking more tea, praying more, doing yoga…I don’t know. All I know is that I’m going to actively work at it, and that’s good enough for me.

StoryStorm 2018…I’m doing it this time.

StoryStorm will always have a special place in my heart because it was one of the first community writing tasks that I did. Back then it was called PiBoIdMo (still not sure of the correct pronunciation), and it was the jumping-off point that helped me to start networking and discovering some of the many writing tools and communities available.

I was still plowing through the previous year’s ideas last year, so I didn’t participate. This year, I’ll be jotting down ideas in my sparkly, new notebook courtesy of one of my best writing buddies, Caitlin LaRue.

I’m a sucker for a new notebook and gel pens. (Don’t mind the stars all over the table. The kids and I are having a glow-in-the-dark party later.)

I love colors, glitter, and sparkle. Maybe that’s a testament to the days when I was absolutely in love with all things Lisa Frank.

While we’re on the subject of mini obsessions, I don’t know who in my Twitter feed posted a color sequins pencil pouch, but I can’t stop thinking about it and it’s taking all I have not to buy it. Well, there goes that. I didn’t make it to the end of the post without buying the horribly ugly yet adorable pencil pouch. But, I used a gift card. (Thanks, Amber!)

I have a laptop and frequently write on my cellphone, but I cannot get away from writing by hand. There’s something about it that makes me feel extra legit. I’m a writer. I have quirks. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was approaching a mini rage yesterday because I wanted a pink pen to do my edits and could only find turquoise and purple. I’d already used those colors when revising earlier sections and wanted a different color. See, now if I’d had my hand sequins pouch, all of my different colored pens would’ve been in one spot. See! I had an obvious need.

Will my unicorn notebook hold the idea of what could be my next big sale? I have no idea. But, I will be in a good mood while writing my StoryStorm ideas in it. And who can really put a price on a good mood?

When a girl who has no agent starts looking for one

This is it! I’m back in the query trenches. Don’t roll your eyes. Yes, I know that there are plenty of writers out there who are in the trenches. I know that there are plenty of writers who have been in the trenches for quite some time. What makes me so special? I never spent that much time in the trenches in the first place! That’s why I am currently terrified. When I pushed send yesterday, I felt physically ill. And this isn’t be trying to be poetic or speaking in hyperbole.

Before landing my last agent, I’d queried maybe 10 agents (15 tops, but I think 10 is pretty accurate). Then, thanks to that whole flood thing, I’d all but given up. I got an agent thanks to a Twitter event that I entered at the last minute.

Now, here I am looking for a new agent. It’s different this time because I now know how brutal querying can be.

I’m also different this time around. Now, I have an idea of what qualities in an agent. Before, I just wanted one. I wasn’t picky. Another difference: I guess I’m considered pre-published since my debut picture book is scheduled to come out Summer of 2019. I’m also not querying picture books this time around. Nope! I’m querying a chapter book. If I thought few agents were interested in picture books, there seem to be even fewer interested in representing chapter books.

As usual, I have lofty goals. That’s my thing. I’ve said several times that I want to write stories that I wanted as a kid and stories that I want for my kids. Brown and black kids can do some amazing things too. I hope I get to show this in the stories I have been blessed to create.

Blessed? Yes! Creating something from nothing isn’t just talent. It’s a gift and a humbling experience when it all comes together. So yeah, blessed. Now to find an agent who wants to help me share this gift with the world. Wish me luck!

 

Tinkering around with a new revision strategy

I wrote a picture book story of Black Creole girl a while ago. The few editors that responded did like it, but they either a) weren’t in love with it enough to buy it OR b) wanted me to up the stakes.

One particular editor commented that as she read it, it made her want to get up and dance. This is actually my favorite piece of criticism so far. It stuck with me.

Last week, I decided to dust off the manuscript and try it again. I printed it out and took notes directly on it. I made a list of things that I wanted the new manuscript to do. I went through with my trusty pen and crossed out everything that I didn’t think would help  to reach my list of manuscript goals.

I have about four sentences left, and they’re still not fully exempt from the chopping block. I even changed the title! Was it hard to get rid of that much text? I’ll admit that I did pout for like two minutes. I got over it though.

I feel fortunate that I”m not one of those people who gets extremely attached to their writing. Did I love this manuscript enough to revisit it? Yes. I guess that does show some attachment. However, I’m not so attached to it that I’ll horde words just for the sake of keeping them, especially if they’re not beneficial.

I’m sorry! I haven’t touched upon the title of this post yet. I mentioned that the editor mentioned liking the sound of the manuscript. So, that’s one area of focus I’m really trying to bulk up. Remember the cartoon Madeline? I loved how it sounded as a kid, so I’ve started listening to old YouTube episodes of it as I do my revisions.

Will this land me an agent or result in a sale? I have no idea, but I”m having fun. Never stop having fun on your writing journey.

I got a critique that hurt my feelings.

So, here’s what happened. I’d written something that I thought was great. Like…every time that I read over it, I expected some sort of holy light to shine down on it. Real talk. I am just that ridiculous.

So, I sent it over to my faves at Rate Your Story, and it came back with some straight to the point feedback, definitely no compliment sandwich in sight, and a score of 6. 6?! I friggin love this story, and 10 is the lowest score possible. How dare they give me a 6. Don’t they know I have a book coming out? I know what I’m doing!

Nope! I do not. And to be honest, I had to laugh at myself. The whole reason I was extremely eager to send the story in for feedback is because I’m trying out different genres. (Disclaimer: I’ve taken PB, CB,and MG courses, so I’m going into this totally blind.) But, as I’m sure you know, executing what you’ve learned when crafting your own story and really making it your own is completely different that reading some text from a class and being like “Oh yeah. I totally get that.”

So, I spent an hour or so being bitter, and then I printed out the feedback sheet. I printed out my story, and then I got excited. I underlined different parts of the feedback that I thought were spot-on and took notes about possible changes to make and where.

That’s the thing. Feedback should challenge you. At the end of the day, yes, I am the writer and the final decision is mine regarding what changes to make. However, a good writer will take the time to truly assess what will make the manuscript stronger.

I tell my students this all of the time. Feedback isn’t meant to hurt your feelings. It’s to help you grow. It either affirms things about your writing or challenges them.

Honestly, this set of feedback made me wish I knew who’d actually given it. I’d write them a note letting them know that their comments made me pout but then push harder. Thanks.

Oh, and do I recommend Rate Your Story for critiques? I do. I’m a fan. Honestly, I’m currently saving my coins to buy another year of membership. Besides, they did give me some solid feedback on the manuscript that I did end up selling (hoping we can soon get another dose of that magic potion brewing).

And with that, I’m off to do some revisions.

On leaving my agent

I know you’re probably shocked to see me post since I haven’t posted in ages, and for that I apologize. You see, when your life revolves around your use of words, you sometimes have to know when not to run your mouth.

I’ve posted several times about my desire to be transparent with you about my writing journey and all it entails. My time of silence was not at attempt to keep you in the dark. Instead, it was a self-check. Yes, sometimes you have to check yourself. Deciding to leave my agent was one of the toughest decisions that I’ve had to make since embarking on this writing quest. I chose to confide in family and my trusted writing friends (new and old). What I didn’t want to do was to blog away while still all in my emotions.

That being said, after making a tough business decision(it wasn’t personal at all), I am back in the query trenches. It’s a scary thrill right now. I actually plan to start querying in about two weeks. I’ve been working on my query letters and new manuscripts. I’m ridiculously excited about the new manuscripts that I’m working on! (Judge your mother. I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. What of it?!)

Am I sad that the path I thought I was on came to an end? Of course! But, if I’ve learned nothing else, I am definitely learning to hang on and enjoy the ride. You’ll never know what you’ll learn and who you will meet along the way. If you’ve hit a few bumps during your own writing journey, know that you’re not alone. Take time to regroup and press on.

So, here we go again (smile).

“But what if the other kids bully me?”

This is the reasoning my 5yo gave me as to why he doesn’t want to tell the kids at his new school that he is Muslim. I’m torn between a wth and an ugly cry. I was prepared for his other questions:

  • Will I make friends?
  • What if I don’t make friends?
  • What if I can’t make the other kids like me?

I was equipped with my standard answers. You can’t control how people treat you. You can only control how you treat people. You try to be the best you that you can be. Know who will always be your friends (Mommy, Daddy, your brother ).

I was bullied in school. I’ve always struggled with my weight. (We have a love/hate relationship, but this post ain’t about us right now.) But that didn’t come until like 3rd grade or so, and it was minor compared to what kids go through today. I, however, do not recall being worried about being bullied because of my religion at the age of 5.

What is happening? Why is this the new normal?

The other storyteller

You may recall me saying that my kids prefer my husband’s stories since they’re predominantly action-driven. Well, it looks like I’ve been one-upped again, this time by my mother-in-law.

I was in the middle of reading a story when my 5yo interrupted,”Where’s grandmother?”

“Ummm…in the kitchen doing grandmotherly things.”

“Grandmother was telling me stories of Mama Frizz last night. Do you know any?”

“Nope, so I’ll see if Grandmother is available.”

Of course she made herself available. That’s what grandmothers do. She set the mood and told stories of Mama Frizz. She told stories of being in the country as a little, city girl.

She gave him a bit of family history for story time. It was wonderful. As she left the room, she said something that I couldn’t help agree with.

She said, “For stories, I think that sometimes the real thing is best.”

 

A little Aesop, a Bit of Thunder & Self-Actualization of my Writer Self

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: my mom was all about representation when I was younger. Sure I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood and attended a predominantly Black church, but school was on the other end of the spectrum.

I was in one of those gifted and talented programs, and there were only a handful of people of color in it at any given time. Clearly I learned a great deal, but there were also a few experiences that clearly stand out from the rest.

  1. My third grade math teacher was a Black woman. I don’t remember her last name, but I remember her first name was Bathsheba. She probably didn’t know it, but she made my day–Every. Single. Day. Her being brown made me feel less awkward, less alone. Seeing her made me feel like maybe I could grow up and feel like I could have an important job too. Maybe I could even be teacher.
  2. In my elementary years, I was also introduced to the first Black characters in a school-assigned book. My English teacher was white, and I couldn’t tell you her name now if my life depended on it. But I am thankful for her. Having followed the traditional route of reading what most kids read, what you naturally assume are books featuring non POC–Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, etc., imagine my surprise when we started reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Brown characters! Brown characters all around! I guess this class was also when I had my first of what we would now call “woke” experience. I was surrounded by white people and was reading about ill-intentioned white people. It was a new layer to the feeling of difference. But, I was reading about brown people. It was also the first book I remember making me cry. It was also important because it was the first POC book that I remember beyond Aesop’s fables. Yes, it was also dated, but it made me feel relevant.
  3. The first two events sparked something another first-the first time I changed my mind about what I could be when I grew up. Maybe I could write too. I vaguely remember that we had a reaction assignment. I remember writing about slaves. My Uncle read it before I turned it in, and I remember him asking if I’d really written it because it was really good. My teacher also thought it was good. Maybe that’s when I first became a writer. It just took me until my 30s to remember my purpose and step back into it.