I am fragmented this month, even more than usual:
- I sold my home of 35 years in California.
- Most of my belongings will be in storage for months.
- A few precious belongings are with my husband in the wilds of Texas.
- My son’s wedding is in three weeks and I still don’t have “the right” shoes. - And I haven’t figured out the babysitting schedule for my granddaughter yet.
That’s only the beginning of my fragments.
So, for this month’s blog, I’m going with the flow. Fragmentation rules.
Fragment #1 – Coming Home
You may have noticed the tag going around Facebook: “What 10 books have influenced or stayed with you?” It reminds me of my last two blogs for Children’s Book Academy, “The Books We Can’t Let Go.” The subject is perennial.
Those special books that stay with us are like coming home, holders of our memories, lessons, challenges, and friends. Just as the fragrance of lilacs takes me to my grandmother’s Kansas farm and the smell of cinnamon reminds me of my aunt’s kitchen, so a book can stay with us for decades. When we need comforting, when we want to smile or to ponder, we often return to a moment in time or a book on the shelf.
Phrases and characters from picture books can even become part of a family’s language. I can say to my now adult child, “I do not know yet what that might be,” and we’re both taken home to the days when Miss Rumphius was a nightly tradition.
I’d love to know the phrases or characters from books that have stayed with you, that take you home to a comfortable, warm place.
Fragment #2 – Letting Go
Over the years, I’ve encountered many talented writers who are terrified of letting go. These writers aren’t illustrators, but they think they can instruct in how to illustrate. In the traditional picture book world, it just doesn’t work that way.
I’ve always been an advocate of “letting go.” It can lead to wonderful surprises.
When I wrote Lost. Found., my 22-word manuscript consisting of two repeating words, I knew I was instructing the illustrator what to draw, but not how to draw. I also knew I wouldn’t be choosing my illustrator. That is the editor’s well-deserved right.
Still, when Neal Porter told me at a NYC lunch (Yes, dear writers, dreams do come true.) that he’d chosen Matthew Cordell, I was surprised. I’d just dared to suggest Erin or Philip Stead when Neal asked my thoughts. I felt their sensibilities were in keeping with my story. I thought Matthew’s style a bit cartoonish, loose, and wacky. Never mind that he’s also prolific, funny, and brilliant. As I’ve always done, I did not debate, cry, or plead. I “let go.” I trusted. I admit that was relatively easy sitting across the table from the rock star of picture book editors. My story could not be in better hands.
But I’ve “let go” many times before. I trust my editors to choose the illustrator, who I trust in turn. Sometimes the letting go brings delightful surprises (Brad Sneed’s illustrations were entirely different from what I’d imagined, yet The Pumpkin Runner is a Smithsonian Notable and still in print after 16 years.) and sometimes not-quite-so delightful surprises (I’m not telling!). But it’s all okay. Truly. Because unless you let go of your daddy’s hand when you want to walk, of the side of the boat when you want to scuba dive, of your rigid ideas about your story when you want to join a picture book team, you won’t get far and you won’t get to be as joyously surprised as I was this week when I saw Matthew Cordell’s early sketches for Lost. Found. Oh, what wondrous things arrive from letting go. I can’t wait until you all see the delightful surprise too, in January 2016.
Fragment #3 – Bittersweet artist’s life
Two days ago I posted a simple thought on Facebook: “A rejection and a contract in the same day. Life is bittersweet.” I didn’t expect a landslide response, but that’s what I got. Several aspiring writers thanked me for sharing how the publishing business goes, so I want to share again here. Remember that some of our best writers are rejected regularly. As with life, it’s best to keep a steady keel and vision and endeavor to take all things, rejection and celebration, with calm.
Fragment #4 – Courses and books
At Children’s Book Academy, there’s a potpourri of interactive ways to learn how to write for children. These include videos and online chats, which are such fun methods to gather information and inspiration. But sometimes a book still proves handy, especially if it’s a book like 2015 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. Fellow Children’s Book Academy blogger, Miranda Paul, and I were honored to be interviewed for it and we proudly mentioned our courses and blogs at www.childrensbookacademy.com. Multiple tools are wise when you have an important job like writing for children and with editors like Chuck Sambuchino and Harold Underdown, you know this book is a great roadmap to publishing. Consider a copy.
Even without the life changes causing my current fragmentation, I often feel fragmented, as do many writers and illustrators I know. But fragmentation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fragments of thought, of life, are often what our best stories are made of. Consider the kaleidoscope as your example. Fragments, when we gather them, can turn into a beautiful whole, a complete creation to share with others.
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author with eleven traditional books, two digital apps, and an e-book to her credit. Represented by Red Fox Literary, in 2013 she sold four picture book manuscripts to Neal Porter Books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin, and Tamarind, Random House UK. Her agent is currently in negotiations for two more books. Marsha grew up on a Kansas farm and for decades created imaginative worlds and wacky characters in northern California. She’s now creating those worlds in southwest Florida.
Her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books course has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. You may read about her books, school visits, and life at www.marshadianearnold.com
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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