Issues

So I’m having a bunch of stupid stuff going on my my life with now. Some of it is health related for me. Some is health related for family. One is health related for a far-away friend, which is resulting in me not getting to talk to this friend. That’s super stressful in itself, really.

I’ve been wallowing in self pity a little bit, but today I’ve tried to move my mind to other things and get some work done. It went reasonably well, except I did have to do some paperworkey type things for my health thing and certain family members kept haranguing me about things I felt a little overwhelmed to deal with. But I did get several things done for SCBWI that I’ve been putting off, and I got the downstairs part of the house fairly clean. Only about a third of the things on my to-do list are checked off, but some of those things have to wait until tomorrow anyway, so that’s okay.

I feel like a lot of things that have been happening to me will work their way into my future writing, so that’s at least a positive way to look at it.

In other news, I decided to listen to the soundtrack for Hamilton today, and it is amazing. I haven’t even heard all of it and I want to buy it already. I’m sad because I can’t listen to it now because I have company.

I also have an actual important blog post to do, for my friend Evelyn. I signed up to be part of the blog parade for her debut novel. It seemed like a really good idea when I did this, but now I’m afraid what I do is not going to measure up. I have no clear idea of what I’m going to do, although I might do better with that when my company is not talking to me about the things running through her head that are a little much for me to think about today.

I’m rambling. Time to check off the box next to “Write a blog post” and then work on the next one. “Write the parade post.”

#ok16scbwi

So. It’s February. Cold and wind and ick, right?

But today was different. The wind wasn’t attacking, the clouds were in hiding, and the thermometer was reasonable. It was a crazy seventy-four degrees today, so I went for a walk.

Even though I knew I was supposed to have already published this blog post, in anticipation for the conference. Whoops.

After all, the conference is sixty-five days away, right? There’s time.

But then…I went for my walk. And whoa it was nice outside. And suddenly, spring didn’t seem that far away anymore. Spring is just about here, and the conference is coming with it. And that’s exciting. But it also means that it’s time to dust off the manuscripts and get ready.

I just procrastinated here because this is such a rambly post, and went to twitter. Our social media coordinator, Valerie, mentioned that she was looking forward to some great animated gifs in this post. So I’m going to go find one now.

best croissant everBest croissant ever.

So, if you’re a procrastinator like me, you’ll really want to get going on this thing, because there’s less than a week before the deadline for paid critiques and pitch sessions and other awesome stuff like that. That deadline is Feb. 17. That’s seriously coming up.

You can check it all out on the Oklahoma SCBWI web site, and then get signed up.

Do that first. And then eat your croissant. But it won’t be as good as hers.

 

 

I have an agent!

IT HAS HAPPENED.

And I am so excited to announce that I am now represented by literary agent Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency!

yes

Every time I write that, it seems a little more real. It has happened!

But I already said that.

So.

Here is the story of how I got an amazing, perfect agent!!!

I went into this journey like many, with an optimistic attitude and a fresh new novel. First off, I was astounded that I was able to complete an entire novel at all. That was my sci-fi, PAIRS. And yeah, I still love it. And so did my betas.

But I didn’t get an agent with it.

But that was okay. Keep writing. Keep trying. So I did. I wrote THE LAST LETTERBOXES. I poured my heart and soul into it. And I queried that.

And I didn’t get an agent with it.

wait what 2

But I DID get chosen in Pitch Wars, an incredible contest ran by author Brenda Drake. Back in the olden days (2013), mentors in Pitch Wars selected a mentee and two alternates and helped polish their query and manuscript for submission to agents. And I was lifted out of the slush pile by the amazing, gifted Evelyn Skye, who helped me, and guided me, through a query revision and the first few chapters of THE LAST LETTERBOXES. It got SO MUCH BETTER thanks to her wisdom.

The first chapter was posted online, for agents to read and request. And request they did. I got ELEVEN requests, which was kind of a big deal. It was going to happen. Finally.

But…it didn’t. I got a lot of nice rejection letters.

And the nicest rejection letter of all came from Rena Rossner.

I teared up when I was reading it. She read my story (MY STORY!!) in one sitting. And it made her cry more than once. But ultimately, she thought she wasn’t quite the best person for it, and she referred me to a friend. And the friend seemed enthusiastic. So on we went.

But then…that agent never responded.

Okay.

So in the meantime, I wrote another book. Well, I actually wrote two, but one of those seemed a little more ready than the other. So I entered it in Pitch Wars for 2014.

And I didn’t get in.

I didn’t get in.

That was hard. Really hard.

Even though I knew not everyone could be picked. And I knew that the competition was amazing. It was still hard.

I was in a pretty dark place. So I did something to try to help lift myself up.

I read that old email from Rena. I reread how she had enjoyed the manuscript, and how she identified with the characters. How with a few tweaks, she thought my story had a great chance.

It had been more than a year since I’d heard from the agent she referred me to. And she’d been so encouraging with LETTERBOXES.

And I desperately needed some encouraging.

So I sent her CANDID DATES.

That was February 2014. In May, she requested the full.

And in June, she responded.

With a revise and resubmit!!

And the things she said! Like, if it was 20,000 longer she would have offered rep right then. And that she knew exactly what she thought I should do to get it to that point.

It was amazing!

And so I dove right in, right? Right?!?

Yeah. I didn’t. First, I had just started a new manuscript. So I thought I’d just get that out of the way. I’m a pretty fast writer – my first novel was done in about 21 days. And I was really excited about the one I was working on. Plus, another agent had a full of mine after we met at the spring 2015 SCBWI Oklahoma conference. And she had critiqued my first ten pages and chose me as the best of her conference submissions, and met with me. And I felt like we clicked. And she’d loved my first ten. So I thought I had a pretty good chance there. (And this wasn’t CANDID DATES. This was MAYBE, BABY, which I was incredibly swoony over at the time.) Also, revisions are HARD.

So I piddled around. Did a little here, and a little there. It was stupid. Incredibly stupid. This is what I wanted. What I’d been working toward for YEARS. But I’d had R&Rs before that hadn’t gone anywhere. Excitement that hadn’t gone anywhere. I really was losing my optimism. Even with an R&R.

But then an amazing thing happened.

Rena reached out to me. To ME. About CANDID DATES. In late August. Asking how revisions were going.

You remember those revisions. The ones where I basically had been thinking about it, but not actually putting anything down on paper.

So I patted the manuscript I was working on (YES, the same one, and YES, it had definitely been longer than 21 days) on the head and started work on CANDID DATES. Hard. For real. And that was September and October. (Yeah, that’s a long time, but it was like 27,000 new words and I homeschool my kids so be cool, okay?) My goal was to finish it before our SCBWI Oklahoma fall conference. And I did. With several minutes to spare. Seriously. I didn’t start packing for the conference until after I finished the rewrites. Which meant I had about an hour and a half to pack.

But I did it.

And then I sat on it some more.

Of course.

The conference was so good, and I felt so inspired. But I was giving the manuscript the old “wait a couple of weeks before rereading” treatment. I wanted it to be perfect when I sent.

And Rena reached out again, BLESS HER.

Because she was going to be in New York for two weeks, and she wanted to be able to talk about my novel with editors if she ended up offering me rep.

Whut.

I reread that bad boy IMMEDIATELY, corrected a handful of typos, and sent it off.

And after the longest eight days of my life, she offered representation!!!

AMAZING!!

I felt like breakdancing. I didn’t, but I felt like it.

Shot out the emails to agents who had my other stuff. No one had CANDID DATES, but I had some fulls and partials out. I even sent an email to the agent who had never responded to my other nudges. She didn’t respond.

But the others did! The congratulations and good luck passing emails came back in, nice and neat.

Except for one. A request for more time. And it was from…my dream agent. The one I’d had an agent crush on since meeting him at a conference in 2013. (Hey, just an agent crush, okay? He’s married. And I’m married.) But he was funny, and charismatic, and he liked my stuff. He’d had a couple of my manuscripts, always had good things to say, and always asked for more. I’d sent him LETTERBOXES. Because why not. And he asked for more time to finish it.

And this was a problem.

Because I talked to Rena on the phone and I fell head over heels. Her vision for my novel…the way she gets it…gets me…I don’t think it could ever be replicated. This was what I wanted. Exactly what I wanted.

But dream agent…

Did I mention that he’s consistently on the top sales lists for young adult novels? And he’s practically an icon in the industry?

And everyone I had let in on the secret kept asking. If he offers, what will you do? I tried not to think about it. To not put the cart before the horse.

To my overwhelmed mind, it looked like on paper, he was the obvious choice. But my heart wanted Rena. I really felt like she was the one.

And I’ve generally always listened to my heart over my head.

But I’m also a person who can’t let go of the past. I didn’t want to spend my entire life wondering what would have happened if I had gone the other way, regardless of the choice. I hate decisions. And somehow I’m the main decision maker in my house, which SUCKS. But this decision was a little different than buying a car or what color to paint a room. This one would be a life-changer.

And so I prayed. I prayed hard.

And my prayers were answered.

He passed.

His email to me was so complimentary, so encouraging, so warm and kind. No wonder I loved him for so long. (I still do, actually.) I teared up at the wonderful things he said about my writing. But he also said that it sounded like the offering agent was really excited about my work, and he would step aside for that.

And I couldn’t have been more grateful.

It happened just the way it was supposed to happen.

I can’t wait to get started.

Happy, busy days

We had our awesome, amazing, SCBWI Oklahoma spring conference this weekend. I had an amazing time. Great speakers, fun with friends, and lots more made for an unforgettable time. I’m still daydreaming about all the many amazing moments throughout my day. I might do a recap, but I might not, since I know Valerie Lawson will do better than I could over at her blog.

Something really good did happen at the conference…like unbelievably good, and it’s done a lot for my overall mood and confidence, yay.

I also came back even more excited for my next novel. I haven’t quite gotten it condensed down to a quick pitch, but I have the title over on my Current Works page, so that means it’s gonna happen for realsies. I also made a new board on my Pinterest for it, so I can start collecting things that make me think of this manuscript and characters. This one might take a little more research than before, but I’m excited about it. I can say this – it’s about identical twins.

Also, my niece is coming this week to spend two months with us. She’s six! There’ll be FOUR kids hanging at my house needing schooling and to be fed and stuff. I’m still feeling good about it! This is going to be a pretty thrilling spring, I think.

So…yeah. Currently feeling cautiously optimistic, plus stoked about getting back to creating a new first draft.

Let’s do this.

What to expect at an Oklahoma SCBWI conference

Our Okahoma SCBWI spring conference is next month!! This year’s theme is “Ignite the Spark,” and it’s going to be incredible. There’s a great lineup of publishing professionals on the roster, and I can NOT wait.

And check out this awesome poster for the event, designed by our regional illustrator coordinator, Jerry Bennett!

Conference Ad (1)
It’s funny that it’s only been two years since I attended my first spring conference. That one was in Tulsa, too (we alternate between Tulsa and Oklahoma City) and I was really nervous about it. I had only joined SCBWI a few months before, but I made a point of attending the Critique-a-thon in January and both OKC Schmoozes before the conference, in February and March, so I had at least made a few friends. I asked if anyone wanted to rideshare (partially to ensure I’d have someone to hang with) and got three lovely ladies who agreed to ride up with me. We left early in the morning and came back late that night, and it was hands-down the best day I’d had with SCBWI, up to that point.

Anyway, I still remember how scared I was about it. Having others around me who knew what was going on helped. I was worried about 1) driving to TULSA (the horrors); 2) finding the hotel; 3) knowing where to park; 4) knowing where to go when I actually got inside the hotel…

And this was all before I even made it to the conference room!

But luckily, I had friends, I had a new dress and new shoes and a manicure and a pair of spanx and I was ready to wow everyone with my shiny new novel.

And also scared.

And if you’ve never gone to an Oklahoma SCBWI conference, maybe you feel like I did. Or maybe you’re super confident in all situations and awesome, in which case, woohoo for you! Maybe we can hang when I have to go in a new situation next time.

In the meantime, I’m gonna post a few thoughts about what you can expect at an Oklahoma SCBWI conference. Your experience may vary, but I think some things are universal.

1. People are gonna be really, really nice and welcoming.

 

As soon as you see our crowd at the registration table, you’ll be greeted by sincerely friendly people. We’ll be happy to see you! We want you to succeed in your publishing dreams, and we can all make that happen together!

2. The speakers are excellent – informative and highly motivational.

Also, are speakers are actively looking for new talent. Even if they’re not living in a van down by the river. (But if they are, then even more reason for them to want your fabulous book, right?)

3. Our speakers are also wildly entertaining. Always.

At least, that’s been my experience. I’ve only been to four Oklahoma SCBWI conferences now, two spring and two fall, but I’ve never been bored.

4. You’re going to learn a TON. 

The speakers WILL be incredible. Bring a notebook or laptop because your brain won’t even be able to take it all in at once. Your mind will be blown.

5. The speakers will be accessible. 

I mean, you don’t want to smother them, but they will be hanging out at certain times, and you’ll be able to visit with them. For reals.

6. You’ll get to pick up some new reading material. 

books in a wagon

Both traditionally and independently published Oklahoma authors and illustrators will have books there to purchase. You can even get them signed and take a big pile home with you!

6. You’ll meet a whole lot of people who get it.

People who love books. Who love creating books. You know…people like you.

8. You’re going to get really, really excited about writing and illustrating for children. 

big bird on roller skates

There’s an amazing energy in the air at SCBWI conferences, and it’s contagious. Before it’s over, you will be super ready to do fantastic things.

9. And you’ll believe in yourself! 

Shake off all the doubt because you CAN do this! You WILL do this! And it’s gonna be GREAT!

10. And finally…the FUN!

so fun

It might seem scary before you go (or maybe not) but trust me, it will be fun. It’ll be really fun. Yes. Seriously. As much fun as Rapunzel is having. Maybe funner. You won’t regret it.

So…will you come? Please? PLEASE?

Registration information for the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring 2015 conference

SCBWIOK on twitter

 

 

critiques and things

Our Oklahoma SCBWI spring conference is drawing near. Manuscripts for critique are due in less than two weeks. We’re really gearing up with publicity efforts. And I am turning a seriously critical eye to my first ten pages. I’m reading others’ work too, and critiquing, even though I’m not sure I’m super-fabulous at it. I’m trying.

So. I wrote that first paragraph, and I wanted to find an animated gif to go with it, and I’m not finding anything I wanted. So I went through all my gifs that have usless names like tumblr_n8wwtwooV11tuo5ngo2_250 and rewrote them with better names, like hans anna love. You know. Important stuff. And none of them were what I wanted.

And I was going to write about how I’ve been critiquing for people, and I’ve asked some people to critique my new 10 pages, and how I have critique group tonight, and now, two hours later, I’ve kind of lost steam.

So here’s one of the gifs I forgot I had. This is how I’m rolling today.

 

Starstruck

I met Jay Asher on Saturday.

He was at Best of Books in Edmond as part of his 50 States Against Bullying tour. I blogged earlier about it, because, HELLO, New York Times bestselling author Jay Asher in Oklahoma?

YES.

So we had our Oklahoma City SCBWI January critique-a-thon that morning, at a member’s beautiful, perfect house (thank you, Christy)! And afterward, some of us hurried to the bookstore – less than a mile away! How destined was that?

So we got there early and got numbers for the signing. I got #4. Sweet.

Then Jay came in. I retreated to a corner, so I could stare at his writersly perfection without being too scary. Some of our SCBWI Oklahoma members were together, talking like normal people and being cool. I relocated to their midst and pretended like my palms weren’t sweaty.

Jill, our assistant regional advisor, went and introduced herself to Jay because she’s awesome like that. Then she brought him over to meet us.

IMG_1684I remember very little of the words that led us up to this point. I do remember Jay saying that we should stand under the regional sign (because SCBWI is broken into regions). I also remember him commenting on my t-shirt, which has the Ghostbusters car following Inky and Blinky from Pac-Man on it. This was an actual thing that happened.

Ahem. So, then he spoke to us about the stories behind his novels, and his road to publication, and that was really interesting. Gave me a lot of good ideas about writing, and about patience (of which I have very little, it seems.) Afterward, we got in line, and I had him sign my copies of 13 Reasons Why and The Future of Us, plus my nephew’s copy of 13 Reasons Why. I had to buy new stuff for myself because I only had it on kindle. Stupid, stupid me.

While he signed my multitude of books, I blathered about my own writing, my blog, my twitter, and probably a bunch of other things. I thought I was playing it cool…but probably not. He was so nice though.

And then my wonderful friend Catren offered to take a picture of us.

IMG_1921

Jay posted about his trip to Oklahoma on his blog! It includes a link to video of his appearance on News 9, his thoughts on the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, and pictures from his visit to Santa Fe High School.

 

A cool look at the OKC Zoo

Today I have the pleasure of featuring a different type of book on my blog!

SCBWI Oklahoma member Amy Dee Stephens writes fiction, but is also the author of two books on the Oklahoma City Zoo. I got a chance to look at her book recently, and it’s a must-see for anyone who has interest in animals, Oklahoma history, or a first-class zoo’s transformation through the years.

From the book’s description: What started as a small menagerie in 1902 officially became Oklahoma City Zoo in 1903. Journey through the second half century of its illustrious history in Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960–2013. Meet the staff and animals and explore the exhibits that propelled it from a third-class animal facility to one of the best zoos in the United States. In the 1960s, its animal population exploded as knowledge of animal care improved. The zoo soon assembled the largest-known collection of hoofed animals. Later, a rare mountain gorilla named M’Kubwa stole newspaper headlines, a third leopard escaped, and the zoo met its first cheetah babies. The opening of Aquaticus in the 1980s “brought the ocean to the prairie” in the form of a dolphin and sea lion show. Elephants, however, remain the queen attraction at the Oklahoma City Zoo. In 2011, the birth of the zoo’s first baby elephant baby, Malee, was a crowning achievement in its 110-year history.

Personally, I remember a lot of the changes that took place at the zoo, like when they built the Great EscApe when I was a kid, and the transformation of the big cat areas and new habitat for the elephants. It’s pretty dang great. If you’re in the area, you owe it to yourself to check out our zoo – and maybe pick up a copy of Amy’s books while you’re at it!

Amy was nice enough to share a press release with me about her newest book, including an informative Q&A that I enjoyed reading. Hope you do too!

Amy Dee Stephens

Amy Dee Stephens

Amy Dee Stephens announces the release of her second zoo history book,Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013. Journey through the second half-century of the zoo’s history and explore the staff, animals, and exhibits that propelled it from a third-class animal facility to tone of the best zoos in the United States.  Stephens, is the education supervisor and historian for the zoo.  Her previous book,Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, covers the zoo’s first half century. 

Through text and over 250 photographs, learn how the zoo assembled the largest-known collection of hoofed animals in the 1960s.  The opening of Aquaticus in the 1980s brought the “ocean to the prairie” in the form of dolphin and sea lion shows.  Elephants, however, remained the queen attraction at the zoo, and in 2011, the bird of the zoo’s first baby elephant, Malee, was a crowning achievement in its 110-year history.
  
Zoo:  Why did you write this book?
book cover front 2014Amy: The zoo is such an interesting community-based institution—its story needed to be told. The publisher actually contacted me in the fall and asked that I write this volume because the first book was so successful.  I’d planned to write Part 2 someday, but that was good incentive to start. I initially planned on ending with year 2000 to round off the century, but they felt that visitors would enjoy the most current history.  Plus the zoo was coming off the major success of the elephant exhibit, and elephants are so important to our history—so the decision to write through the year 2013 was clear.  
 
Zoo: How long did it take to write the book?
Amy: I took off the entire month of November to work on it, and logged about 250 hours of research, writing and photo selection.  My first book took about 500 hours, but that was because the information from 100 years ago was harder to dig up, and the zoo didn’t yet have a historical archive.
 
Zoo:  How did you pick the stories to include? 
Amy:  I had to read thousands of newspaper articles and zoo newsletters to fully understand everything that happened over the last 50+ years.  I’ve worked here since 1998, so the recent years were easy to write because I basically lived it!
 
Zoo: How did you pick the photographs you used?
Amy: I went through about 20,000 images in the zoo’s archive, but many of the best photographs were from local newspapers.  The Daily Oklahoman had just donated their collection to the Oklahoma History Center and they were still unprocessed in boxes in the basement.  The staff let me go downstairs and search through those until I found 3 boxes of zoo pictures labeled “Parks, Lincoln Park.” I spent 2 days culling through those for the ones I needed.  
 
Zoo: Did any clear themes emerge through your research?
Amy: The influence of Zoological Society leaders like John Kirkpatrick and Byron Gambulos is profoundly clear.  In the 1960s, and 1970s, they directed the zoo both financially and foundationally.  During that time, the zoo separated from the parks department, established the public trust, and purchased large amounts of Lincoln Park land.  These decisions gave the zoo both space and freedom to further develop.  This, followed by the passage of the 1/8th cent sales tax in 1990, allowed the zoo to continually upgrade and improve.
 
Zoo:  Talk about the zoo changes that occurred from 1960 to the present…
Amy:  The 1950s “circus” attitude toward animals had almost disappeared at the starting point of this book.  All six zoo directors during this era were highly-motivated to keep up with the industry’s newest practices.  Some had more interest in research, others in marketing or exhibit-building, but in all cases, they were keeping an eye on the industry and saying, “Let’s do that!” Each one was an “animal person” who was very concerned about the state of wild animal populations—and conservation continues to be the growing mission of the zoo. 
 
Zoo:  In what ways is this book different from Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959?
Amy_5499Amy: During the writing of this book, I was extremely aware that this book would receive more scrutiny—because most of the people in this book are still alive. Over 200 people are mentioned, quoted or pictured, and many more deserved mention, but I had to be true to the goal of the book: to give a positive overview of the zoo’s history and represent favorite guest memories. Most of the information from the first book was “forgotten and rediscovered.” 
 
Zoo:  To whom is the book dedicated?
Amy: To Donna Mobbs, who has served as administrative assistant for 30 years, for five different zoo directors—you bet she’s had an influence on this zoo!  And to my Grandmother, Myrtle Davidson, who passed away in November while I was writing the book.  She was proud of me and I miss her.    
 About Amy: Amy Dee Stephens is the education supervisor and historian for the Oklahoma City Zoo. In 2011, she curated the opening of the zoo’s history museum, the Patricia and Byron J. Gambulos Zoozeum. Her previous book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902–1959, covers the zoo’s first half century. 
“Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013” published by Arcadia Press is available at the zoo’s gift shops, local bookstores, and online.
You can pick up your copy of Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013 and Amy’s other zoo history book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, on the Arcadia Press website.