Sunday, December 7, 2014

Derailed

Tara Lazar invited me to write a post for her 2014 Picture Book  Idea Month Challenge in November. Typically authors and illustrators offer helpful, encouraging strategies or as Maggie might explain: "magical-rainbow-universe stuff."

I told my hard truth. An overwhelming 500+ people commented. So I turned out to have been helpful and encouraging after all. Copy and paste this link to read their interesting remarks.

http://taralazar.com/2014/11/04/piboidmo-day-4-karen-henry-clark-gets-derailed-but-travels-on-plus-a-prize/
  

PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR DERAILED
By Karen Henry Clark

PiBoIdMo readers arrived today with packed suitcases, believing I had the inspirational ticket for guaranteed passage on the gleaming picture book express.

This is not that train.

Once upon a time I thought I had the golden ticket, but it turned out to be a day pass. Here’s the story.

By the time I was four, I wanted three things: a husband, a daughter, and a book that I wrote myself. I was sketchy about how to accomplish the first two, so I tackled the book. In purple crayon, a popcorn ball rolled through perilous adventures across our living room walls. My mother patiently explained that books belonged on paper, and my father wrote my story on a notepad as I recited it.  

I kept writing (on paper) and eventually received a master’s degree in English. I had official jobs, but secretly I wrote picture books.

Then I found my husband, an elementary teacher who believed my stories were wonderful. He read them to his classes and asked students to draw their favorite part. He believed I had promise.

In a twist of fate, I met Florence Parry Heide, a successful children’s author who told me to join SCBW, long before they had added the I to their name. Early newsletters had pages of editors and addresses. I submitted manuscripts for almost seven years. When I complained about my rejections, Florence said, “Do you want to see mine? I have boxes of them.” So I kept trying. An editor finally called because she loved my story, but the project ended when a new publisher was hired. The editor told me not to stop writing, but I did. It seemed pointless.

Then we adopted our daughter Maggie from China. Her government document said: Baby found forsaking. I realized eleven months of her life would always be a blank page. When her first English word was moon, I imagined it had been the magic in her orphanage nights. Perhaps her favorite toys represented animals she had seen in China. I invented naptime tales about her adventures with them. [Insert picture of toys.]

When Maggie was five, she asked what I had wanted to be when I grew up. I read her the manuscript that had come close to publication. She liked it and said, “You should write more, Mama.” How could I expect her to believe in dreams if I gave up on mine? So I put her on my lap and began to type a story called Sweet Moon Baby. 

Rejections arrived, but Maggie’s faith in me never wavered. In second grade, she wrote to me as Editor at Clark House Printing and Loving Company. Not only did she love Sweet Moon Baby, she asked if I had others as “wonderful and enchanting.” [Insert picture of Maggie’s letter.]

Then one day I received the long-awaited yes I had waited for almost my entire life. Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, illustrated by Patrice Barton, was published by Knopf in 2010. [Insert picture of Maggie and me at book launch.]

The three-point dream of my four-year-old self came true. Entering the Random House Lobby to visit my editor was my Homecoming Queen moment. At author events when parents announced: “This is our Sweet Moon Baby,” I was proud to have given a lovely name to adopted Chinese children.

But things change. Now my book is out of print. None of my other manuscripts have worked for an editor. My agent search is unsuccessful. I’ve derailed at the station. My engine flew over the edge, crashed at the bottom of the canyon, and someone spray-painted loser on my caboose.

Still, I can’t quit. And for that I thank my mother and the picture books she read to me constantly. Because she grew up on a farm with no electricity or running water, she favored stories about hard work. Wispy princesses and their vain wishes did not interest her. The Little Engine that Could was her favorite. Through chores, we chanted: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

My mother (and Watty Piper) gave me the metaphor for my life.

Determined little engine that I was, my first story was about a journey.

Sweet Moon Baby was about a journey.

What I’ve come to understand is that success requires more than writing a great story. You have to understand your writing journey. Whether you’re published or not, your writing can derail. Sometimes you land in the canyon, but you can write down there, too. I am.

My adventure is mine, stop by stop. And that’s not failure. It’s just my track.   

Karen Henry Clark has been a high school teacher, college administrator, advertising copywriter, newspaper essayist, and book reviewer. Earning ISBN 978-0-375-95709-3 for Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale was her proudest professional achievement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dktVrXxg5E) She chugs on, hoping to earn another one. Meanwhile, she blogs erratically (but with good intentions) on “For All I Can Tell” at www.karenhenryclark.com.  


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