Writers at Work: Wait for It, Part 2

Hi everyone,

It’s my turn today with Part 2 of WRITERS AT WORK: WAIT FOR IT! Please remember to share with either of us via e-mail any similar experiences you’ve had with resuscitating an oldie in your files and finding a home for it after all. We’ll share as many as we can on the final Tuesday of this Month. Here’s the link again for the collected series of WRITERS AT WORK. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com

October 10, 2017
Writers at Work: Wait for It
Part 2: David

Well, Sandy, you’re younger than I so I hope you’ll forgive me for having a story that tops your 18 years by three. But my tale is slightly different from yours so we may both claim the title in separate divisions.

I made my first trip to New York City for an editorial visit in 1969, the same year my first children’s book was published. Forty-eight years later I can look back on many such trips, but that first one led me to write THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES.

From March through April, 1969 I wrote three stories in forty-seven days for the collection: The Secret, Little Boy Soup, and The Giant Who Threw Tantrums. When the stories were sent to the artist, Philippe Fix, he had an idea for his own story to add. I said no to that but agreed to write the story he wanted to illustrate, which I called, The Giant Who was Afraid of Butterflies. I didn’t realize until it was too late that Little Boy Soup had been pulled from the group and replaced by the butterfly story.

I couldn’t complain. I loved my editor, the book was gorgeous, it won a Christopher Medal, and contracts for translations started pouring in – from Denmark, Japan, Italy, Africa, Finland, Germany, and half a dozen others. But what was I to do with the single story, Little Boy Soup? I guess I didn’t know. According to my records, I never sent it anywhere else to see about placing it as a picture book on its own. Maybe my contract prevented me from publishing another giant story at the time. That was long ago and I don’t remember.

In 1988 I finally sent Little Boy Soup to my friend Ronne Peltzman, who had become the children’s editor for Ladybird Press in Loughbourough, England. The picture book was published in 1990, twenty-one years after I wrote it.

As we all know, Sandy, these late bloomers sometimes come with additional rewards. In 1989 my Sandy and I took a trip to England and while we were there I caught a train to Loughbourough to see Ronne. Another U.S. visitor was at Ladybird that day and we were introduced. Christine San Jose explained that she worked with Kent Brown at Highlights. When I told her I’d been focusing on poetry the past three years, she urged me to send my work to Kent because he was starting a book publishing division called Boyds Mills Press and one of the imprints, given entirely to poetry, was Wordsong.

The story of my growth as a poet as Wordsong grew is a tale for another time. The point here is that a story that lingered in my files for nearly as long as it takes an infant to be born, grow up, and graduate from college finally made it into print. Between 1969 and 1990, I left my position as editorial manager at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City to become president of Glenstone Block Company in Springfield, Missouri. In 1969 I had published two books. By 1990 I’d published thirty-nine. In 1969 I had a nine-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. In 1990 my children were college graduates. Sandy and I had our first grandson. Sandy had left her teaching job in Kansas City, earned her master’s degree in guidance and counseling, and become a high school counselor in Springfield.

Could I have written Little Boy Soup in 1990 the same way I did twenty-one years earlier? Impossible. I don’t know if a later version would have been better or worse, but it would certainly have been different as a reflection of all the changes in my life during those years. What I can say for sure is that I’m glad I hung onto the story that got squeezed out of THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES!


Writers at Work: Wait for It

Hi everyone,

Sandy Asher and I are bringing you another series of WRITERS AT WORK this month, on Tuesdays as always. We’re calling this one “Wait for It,” as we reflect on those times in our own careers when unsold work from the past has eventually found its way into print. We know that many of you have had the same experiences and hope you’ll send them to Sandy or me by e-mail so we can include them in the last (fifth) Tuesday in October. Thanks and welcome! For anyone interested in reviewing our previous fifteen series of WRITER AT WORK, here’s the link. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com

Topic 16: Wait for It
October 3, 2017
Part 1 — Sandy


David, you’ve inspired this exchange of thoughts with your recent comment about finding an old manuscript in your files that seemed to be asking you to come back and work on it. Thank you!

That reunion with an old manuscript really struck a chord. It’s something that’s happened to me many times over the years. I’ll bet it happens to most writers, at least now and then. And yet we hardly ever hear it mentioned in advice articles or courses or workshops. Sure, we’re told to put a new manuscript away for a few days or weeks so we can revise it with fresh eyes and renewed energy. But what about manuscripts that have been lying around for years?

They don’t get enough respect!

In fact, they’re kind of a secret, aren’t they? Maybe we’re not comfortable admitting there are incomplete or unsuccessful manuscripts languishing on the back burner — or off the stove altogether?

Well, let’s shout it out here: I don’t throw anything away! Not even if it seems hopeless and I think I never want to look at the useless thing again, let alone spend another minute of my precious writing time wrestling with it. I hang onto it, anyway.

One just never knows when that idea’s time may come. Circumstances change. Markets change. Editors change. But perhaps most importantly, WE change. Sometimes we just have to live a little bit more, learn a little bit more, grow a little bit older and wiser — or do a whole lot of that stuff — to solve the puzzle certain pieces present.

Some ideas simply knock on our door too soon, but they’ll wait until we’re ready to answer. The very first of my successful file-digging finds is probably something of a record holder. It was a story I wrote for a college creative writing course. It earned a respectable grade at that time, but it wasn’t until 18 years later that I hauled it out, revised it, and sold it. Yes, you read that right: 18 years!

Fresh out of college, I tried sending it off to what I thought were appropriate publications, but it never found a home. No doubt, that’s because I was aiming at literary journals. I just didn’t know enough to understand what I’d actually written, or even what kind of writer I was meant to be — a children’s author. After the story collected a depressing number of rejections, it went into my file cabinet and there it stayed, abandoned and, eventually, forgotten.

Some years later, I enrolled in elementary education classes at Drury College (now Drury University) where my husband was teaching. (I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, I just didn’t know I was supposed to be writing for them!) One required class changed everything: Methods of Teaching Children’s Literature. It was there that I first read young adult novels. Suddenly, I felt as if I’d been wandering all my life and had finally found home. My whole approach to my work — and its marketing potential — shifted.

Not long after that epiphany, I read about an educational publisher looking for stories about teenaged protagonists for a graded reading series. I found my old college story, reread it with new perspective, and sent off the requested query. There was interest. BUT. There were also a few requirements for this series: I had to count not only word length, but average number of syllables, and I had to work in six new vocabulary words twice each. Considerable revision was in order!

The ensuing labor only made the story better. After it was accepted, I enjoyed a long, productive, and profitable relationship with that publisher. Plus, with each story needing to comply with stringent length, reading difficulty, and vocabulary requirements, I honed my revision skills. Big bonus!

So, in 18 years, my focus changed, and my writing improved. I also learned something about patience. Sometimes an idea just has to wait for its time to come.

And, now, David, your time has come!