As someone who is just starting out in this world of kid lit, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy my sheltered existence. I have not yet knocked the socks of an agent. I have not yet jumped for joy and wept sweet tears of success at the sale of one of my manuscripts to a publishing house. Nor have I experienced the elation of Disney branding my book's characters, creating a summer animated blockbuster hit based on the aforementioned book, where I as the author attend red carpeted movie premieres in Cannes and meet the Sundance Kid in Utah. Oh wait, excuse me...I think I got carried away a bit.. Eh hem... let me see. Oh yes. As much I would love for my work to be in the hands of little ones and their adults, I much appreciate being green for I know that someday (do you HEAR THAT Universe?!), I will experience the struggles even the most experienced and talented writers face, such as those so honestly described here by this week's amazingly prolific author, George Shannon.
Banana Peels or Yellow Brick Road?
In the 33 years since my first children's book was accepted I've experienced a variety of banana peels. There's nothing like having everything rejected for nearly three years to make you think it's over. And there's always the book your editor loves, marketing loves, and yet it dies a quick death upon publication. There's also the orphan book. The book accepted by one editor, and passed on to another when the acquiring editor leaves by choice or eviction. Perhaps the most bitter of banana peel experiences is the editorial letter stating something like "beautifully written, great characters, but out of style". Those are the moments that bring out my inner curmudgeon. "What? So you'd like it if I added a flatulent fairy whose best friend is an imaginary vampire?"
My most personal banana peel moments have been with my writing group of the last twelve years. Those sessions where I arrive totally infatuated with my newest project. Feel certain it's my best yet. Can't help fantasize how it will rock award committees. Then I share it with my group, and a deathly silence fills the room as they struggle to put a gentle spin on their thoughts that clearly range from "I don't get it." to "Dead on Arrival."
These moments certainly feel cold and disheartening, but I've learned that how I react makes all the difference. When my mother was learning how to walk again after a major stroke the therapists advised, "If you start to fall don't fight it. Don't get tense. Just relax and melt to the floor." The same advise works well for writing groups.
When I'm able to relax and not get defensive I give myself an opportunity to listen and learn. Truth is, when we writers get defensive about our work it's really our egos we're trying to protect not our creation. I may still believe in my manuscript, but having people I respect "not get it" tells me the best thing I can do for my story is relax and put it aside for a while. Like a romance, I may have been so smitten I couldn't see the train wreck waiting to happen. It often turns out to have been the failed experiment I needed to do in order to explore a different direction that leads to a gold.
There will always be banana peels. But how we fall can make the difference between bruises and broken spirits and Dorothy's yellow brick road to Oz and home.
George Shannon began his professional work with children in 1973. After experience as a children’s librarian and professional storyteller, his first children’s book, LIZARD’S SONG, was accepted by Greenwillow in 1979. Since then he has had 40 books published including 30 picture books (among them DANCE AWAY, CLIMBING KANSAS MOUNTAINS, WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY, THE SECRET CHICKEKN CLUB and BUSY IN THE GARDEN). TIPPY-TOE CHICK, GO! was selected as a Charlotte Zolotow Award Honor Book for picture book writing in 2003. 2008 brought both the Washington State Book Award and the Worzalla/Burr Award for RABBIT'S GIFT, and the "Life time Achievement Award" from PNWA.
His forthcoming books include WHO PUT THE COOKIES IN THE COOKIE JAR illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Holt) and TURKEY TOT illustrated by Jennifer Mann (Holiday). He has also published essays on various aspects of children’s literature, and continues to work with children around the world on their own creative writing. Conferences, workshops, and author visits have taken him to schools from the Arctic Circle to Jakarta, and Kuwait to Japan.
*********************************************************As if his honesty was not enough, George has offered to generously give away two of his wonderful books, Wise Acres AND The Secret Chicken Club! To enter to win, please leave a comment below and mention you are interested in the giveaway. The winner of the two lovely books will be chosen at random, by none other than Random.org. (Imagine that!)