For Writers

Are you ready to hone your skills in Ready Chapter 1??

Hello Mixed-up Files! Today, I’m sharing with you an incredible opportunity for your writing journey that is taking the craft world by storm (not a stormy night) called Ready Chapter 1.

Ready Chapter 1 begins its inaugural year-long workshop dedicated to propelling writers into publishing in February.

The faculty is an All-star group of writers, agents and editors, including middle grade gurus Jonathan Maberry, Greg Neri, and Henry Neff.

Writer/illustrator Fred Koehler, who facilitates the first class on “Story Ideas the Sell”, is the mastermind behind this new and innovative project.

Here are some thoughts from Fred on the website, www.readychapter1.com, as they prepare to launch:

Writers are the nicest people you will ever meet. There is nothing quite as refreshing as finding yourself surrounded by fellow creatives who are passionate about the same things that ignite your spirit. Any place you find community within the writing world will become a refuge for you, especially as you deepen your roots. Because in those communities of like minded creatives, you discover that you are not alone. Others share your brand of weirdness. And every time you return to your normal life after hanging out with fellow writers will leave you feeling wistful. Like making friends at camp and then having to say goodbye till next summer. 

There are two writers inside each of us, and success requires both of them. The first writer, and the one that comes most naturally, is the pure creative. It’s the one that revels in the descent of the muses. The one that finds joy in the perfect turn of phrase or the plot twist that not even they saw coming. The second writer is the public persona of an author. It dresses up. Pushes past insecurities. Delivers the keynote. Invites others into the circle. Without the first writer, the writing itself will be transparent and shallow. Without the second, your stories may never see the light of day.

You can’t make Luck, but Luck can make you. I have had several serendipitous moments in my writing career to which I can attribute no amount of effort or talent on my own part. There was the TV station manager I met in line at the coffee shop. A month later I was on the CBS morning show. And then there’s the editor who thinks I bear an uncanny resemblance to their firstborn son. That editor always responds to my submissions. The more time you spend putting yourself out into the world, the more chances you will have to cross paths with Luck. And if you have a great manuscript ready when Luck comes knocking–that’s when the real magic happens.

Getting discovered is a dream come true for more than you. Yes, I realize that sounds a little bit like Dr. Seuss but we’re going to run with it. Everyone gets excited about the buzz of a shiny new talent. Publishers love to debut their latest rockstar, fingers crossed for chart-topping sales. Editors and agents build reputations on bringing brilliant books to life from previously unknown voices. And let’s not forget about all of your writing friends who get to dress up for the launch party. When and if it happens, embrace it. You only debut once so enjoy the ride!

Publishing takes its own sweet time. The publishing industry is the grocery store equivalent of that person who gets in the ten items or less lane with 25 items, asks for three price checks, tries to use expired coupons, and then insists on paying with a personal check for the part that the gift card doesn’t cover. Put otherwise, publishing is slow. If you write a story about the latest greatest pop culture moment of today, it will be forgotten by the time your book comes out. So write to trends instead of fads. Better yet, write from your source and ignore everything that is currently popular.

The book is never done until the publisher sends it to print. There are so many times I have thought that a story was (mostly) perfect just the way I wrote it and nobody else better say otherwise thank you very much. The crit group loved it. The agent said it was ready for submission. Editors who got a chapter asked to read the full. The story never would have gotten that far unless it was good. But good isn’t good enough for a publishing deal, much less a publishing success. Be prepared to trust your editor when they say that it needs a lot of work. Perhaps even a substantial revision. Fight for what matters in your story. Rewrite the rest.

If you’re not careful, you can forget why you’re here. If it’s money and fame you’re after, you will never be happy no matter how much money or fame comes your way. But if you create for the simple delight of exploration, letting your curiosity roam free until it hooks on an idea you can elevate to art–you have a lifetime of joy ahead. Everything else is gravy.

In addition to Koehler, Maberry, Neff and Neri, the award-winning faculty contains authors Janice Hard, Lisa Cline Ransome, agents Michaela Whatnall and Joyce Sweeney, and editor Lorin Oberweger and Harold Underdown.

Sweeney, also an author of 14 YA novels, represents a plethora of middle grade authors and will deliver the August workshop on Stakes and Tension for Ready Chapter 1.

Here are some of her thoughts on the website:

For RC1 Academy, you will be teaching Stakes and Tension in August. Can you give us one example of who has done this brilliantly in a book?The last thing I read like that was a graphic novel. THIS WAS OUR PACT by Ryan Andrews. It was non-stop surprises, yet every plot turn was satisfying. In recent picture books, I felt it in DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Le and Dan Santat. In middle grade, Christina Diaz Gonzalez would get the prize from me.

Describe the perfect client. No wait. Describe an imperfect client that you are willing to invest in. Perfect client participates in the process, wants to be an equal partner with me, trusts my business judgment but also holds to their own creative vision, is willing to pivot, revise or do whatever it takes to get to the goal. Is fun to talk to. The imperfect client has all the same traits, but perhaps projects that are harder to sell.

If your goal for 2022 was to finish drafting or revising a novel with a community like Ready Chapter 1, how would you prepare? I would pick a project that I know has a good hook and could sell, regardless of how much work I feel it needs. RC1 is the place to do that work. And I would write down every question I could think of to ask this amazing assembledge of teachers.

 

Hope this information on Ready Chapter 1 was helpful. To register, visit the website  www.readychapter1.com/ The first class starts Feb. 1 and there are still some spots available.

On Writing Resolutions and Goals… and Puppies

For many years here on the Mixed Up Files there is an annual pre-New Years post where MUF bloggers list their writing and reading resolutions. At the end of 2020 I knew exactly what I would put, which is that I wanted to keep a tally of everything I read throughout the year.  I also took some time to privately write down for myself what I had accomplished writing-wise in 2020, and some specific writing goals for 2021. Like many people, and notwithstanding immediate evidence to the contrary, I was hopeful for 2021. Despite all the fear and uncertainty and sickness of 2020, I felt like we had gotten through it and things would surely move forward.

Oops

Well, my public MUF resolution went down the toilet fairly quickly—like, within days—the ones when my kids didn’t go back to school after winter break.

My state of the union from this time last year

In January of 2021, exactly one year ago, I wrote to my editors to check in about the draft of my novel I was working on. This is part of what I wrote:

“It seems like everyone I know who wasn’t sick the last time around is sick now or has been sick in the last 5-6 weeks. Thankfully they seem to be getting through it ok but the hospitals are overwhelmed and even with the vaccine rollout the government is indicating that schools will be closed until the end of March. My kids are in kindergarten, 4th, 6th and 9th grades and to be completely honest I am drowning.

Last week I learned about the solar system for 4th graders, how rivers flow, how to write a beginner’s code in microbit, what an algorithm is to a 5 year old, the solar system for 6th graders, and how King William used the feudal system to consolidate power. I have broken my head on 4th grade math and worked on an essay on Of Mice and Men. I go between feeling like I got this, and my kids will be ok, to feeling like my kids are being emotionally stunted and that I am being graded and must be the dumbest parent in the class, often within the same hour. Their lunch break is at 4 different times spanning 2 hours. Getting them (and myself) outside during daylight is a challenge. My son in 6th grade with ADHD presents special challenges (including to my sanity!) At the same time I really know that we are exceptionally privileged that, among other things, in the three schools my kids are at the online provision is pretty good, how much most of the teachers care and are working their butts off, and that I am able to be home to manage their schooling.

The other good news is that I am still able to find time and mental clarity to work on HONEY if I wake up very early and this method seemed to work the first time around, so this is really all to say that I am working, but pretty slowly.”

 

Metaphorical toilet times… And yet…

Art by Rose Metting; Website by Websydaisy

Things definitely got worse before they started getting better. With particular grimness I remember the six days we spent without heat when my boiler broke while London experienced several snowstorms and an unusual cold snap. Despite that, my draft did get done. When I sat down last week to read my goals from 2021 I was surprised to see that I had been able to meet most of them. I wrote the amount of blog posts for the Mixed Up Files and reviews for the mock book award Sydney Taylor Shmooze I’d hoped to, I wrote a picture book text and short story, I took a romance writing course and started my own romance novel for fun. There are a few things I didn’t do: some because they made sense to delay, some because my focus shifted onto something else that made sense to take its place. There were several disappointments about writing things I’d hoped would work out but didn’t. (At least not yet.) One thing I especially love is my new author website, which looks exactly how I dreamed my author website would one day look.

 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

One doesn’t need to have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs memorized however to know how impossible it is to think forward proactively when your immediate goals are survival. In the months my kids were at home in the winter of 2021 it certainly felt all-consuming and while this was not the same as having food or shelter insecurity— there were many days when the goal was simply to get to the end of the day. During this time I also felt that my goals had negative and positive effects: they stressed me out, amplifying my frustration–how on earth would I accomplish anything? While at the same time spurring me on to try: I really want my book published so the only way to accomplish that is to wake up at 5 am and work on it for two hours before the day starts with the kids. Trust me when I say I never thought I would be the kind of person to do that, but I did.

 

Resources and Advice for Goals-Setting:

In case anyone is interested in the research and advice on goals setting, a google search literally of “goals setting” came up with a plethora of information and tools.

  • Here is one good example of why and how to set goals.
  • And this is a great post from MUF contributor Jenn Brisendine about creating “goal statements.”
  • I especially found the life vision exercise of the rocking chair an interesting way to think about long term goals: “Picture yourself in retirement, thinking back on your life from your rocking chair. What accomplishments will you be most proud of? What will you most regret? These are your most important answers to the question, ‘Why is goal setting important?’”
  • Also obvious yet profound is the idea that goals with measurable means of success give us meaning and purpose which is a key to happiness—or more importantly, satisfaction.While for many years when I had little kids, and especially when I moved countries, I paused my lifelong hobby of knitting and crocheting, I think it’s no coincidence that in 2021 I finished knitting the cardigan I’d started during the first lockdown, made half of a new one, completed a crocheting project, and also completed two needlepoint projects. I learned to touch type! (and I’m slowly trying to get fast enough to really use it when I’m writing. )

2022 goals in the poo bags… And yet?

All that being said, bang on trend for once I started the first week of 2022 with a(nother) bout of Covid—then I spent a week recovering—and then this week my family got a puppy. Which is to say… all my intentions to look back at 2021 and make goals for 2022 have been consumed by life, especially said puppy. But if the past two years have taught me anything it is playing both a short game and a medium-long game. By which I mean, being aware of deadlines and goals (eg doing some last-minute revisions on my debut middle grade novel Honey and Me, coming out with Scholastic this fall 🙏) that must be met and take priority over everything else; and having the clear-eyed discipline to make them happen if at all possible (while being aware and accepting that at certain times things just won’t be possible) even if it’s slightly slower than hoped for (see above re Winter 2021.) And also being aware of more medium-term goals (say, those for the year, or the next few months), that can go in your back pocket while you’re dealing with the short term goals—they’re not necessarily visible but you can feel them on your butt. You might take them out later than you’d hoped, but by the end of the year it’s amazing to see how much that pocket has emptied—and things have moved forward.

How about you?

I’m curious how anyone reading this might use goals or wish to use them. Do you find them helpful? How small do you make them? How measurable? Do you write them down? Do you give yourself deadlines or timeframes? Do you give yourself visual cues? How often do you check in on your progress? How often do you stop to set new goals? (Which is to remind everyone—myself especially—that goals don’t just have to be set at the beginning of the year.) How far down the road do you set goals for yourself? Any tips or things that worked especially well for you? Please share in the comments!

Wishing everyone a wonderfully productive 2022 in which pursuing your goals enables you to thrive.

Interview with Nancy Tandon, author of The Way I Say It

Books sometimes have a winding path to publication, and I’m always inspired when I hear those journeys. For the author, it can be such a difficult roller coaster to go through, but it reminds us that when we work hard and persevere, our stories will find homes.

Headshot of author Nancy Tandon

Nancy Tandon

My most recent favorite story like this is from Nancy Tandon. Nancy and I met in 2017 when we were both anticipating our debut books to come out the following year. Mine, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, came out in June 2018, but Nancy’s, THE WAY I SAY IT, came out from Charlesbridge yesterday!

And the best part is, Nancy now has a double-debut year, since her second middle-grade book, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is coming out from Aladdin on Aug. 2.

It’s a very inspiring and a perfect example of why “never give up” is always great advice for writers, so I’m thrilled to have Nancy on From the Mixed Up Files to talk about her journey.

Here’s what her two books are about:

THE WAY I SAY IT:

Rory still can’t say his r’s, but that’s just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent started hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with brain-damage and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him?

THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT:

Twelve-year-old Parker has grown up in his family’s Home Away Inn, nestled on a wooded peninsula in Maine called Spruce Point. His best friend, Frankie, has been staying at the inn every summer for years with her family. Together, they’ve had epic adventures based out of a nearby old treehouse that serves as their official headquarters for Kids Confidential Meetings.

But lately, business at the inn hasn’t been great, and Parker is pretty sure he knows why. It’s long been rumored that Mrs. Gruvlig, one of the few year-rounders on Spruce Point, has unique abilities of the supernatural kind. And Frankie is absolutely sure she saw a ghost on Mrs. Gruvlig’s property! As more and more spooky happenings occur around the Point, Parker and Frankie are convinced Spruce Point has been officially cursed.

Samantha: Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files, Nancy. These books sound so great! Tell us about your inspirations for the two books you’ve got coming out this year.

Nancy: Thank you for having me here on the Mixed Up Files!

Bookcover for middle-grade novel The Way I Say It by Nancy TandonMy former clinical work as a speech/language pathologist was the inspiration for THE WAY I SAY IT. In the outpatient setting, I worked with several kids with articulation disorders who specifically had trouble saying sounds in their first names. When I began to create my main character, I started with a question: What would middle school be like for a kid whose first name speech-sound difficulties persisted past early childhood?

My second novel, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is my attempt to capture the magic and atmosphere of my children’s summer vacations on the coast of Maine. They were together with their cousins, and I watched in awe as the kids grew and changed each year as they explored the gorgeous natural playground of the peninsula where my parents retired. Another inspiration came from a news story I watched about kids with an uncommon allergy to the sun. The resilience of the kids in that interview stayed with me for years and kept coming back to my mind, almost insisting I do something with it! Finally, I did.

Samantha: We were originally in the same debut year, since your debut, THE WAY I SAY IT, was scheduled to come out in 2018 along with mine. What happened that pushed that book back?

Nancy: Ah yes, and I’ll never regret meeting you and the other wonderful 2018 debut authors!

But around that time, the small press that had bought my book was acquired as an imprint of a larger publisher. And the good news was, that new house was willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.

However, after a year of working to negotiate an addended contract, I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. (At this point I was un-agented, and I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide (a book I highly recommend) to know the offer on the table was not favorable to me). A while later, the second publisher decided not to move forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone I knew about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.

Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together. I’d had a previous very enriching career as a speech/language pathologist. I began the process of reinstating my license.

Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.

After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors who would be open to submissions from conference attendees and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.

The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with an agent. I reached out with a plea to switch my original submission (the second novel I had been working on) to pages from my first (what I thought of now as failed) novel. The timing was early enough that the agent agreed.

That agent was Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group: the one and only Samantha M Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow)! You alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the head’s up about my manuscript’s twisty past. It was absolutely an essential connection I’ll always be grateful for!

That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, even better, it resulted in Rachel passing my work to a new agent at Prospect who responded to my work with the enthusiasm needed to take on a new client. I was agented at last!!

Samantha: Yay! I was happy to make that connection, and so glad it led to you signing with your agent. How did THE WAY I SAY IT find its new home with Charlesbridge?

Nancy: Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, was one of the editors I had submitted to as an NESCBWI attendee. After she reviewed my query and first chapters, she requested the full manuscript. Over the next several weeks, we exchanged emails as she kept me informed of where they were in the process. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. Then finally it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…

This time, I didn’t have to negotiate the contract on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.

Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening! But then, due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022. And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time, I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web. And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. It is winging out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m at the copyedit stage of my second novel and am in love with the amazing cover art.

That is my very long answer to your short question! And yes, I can finally say: it was all worth it.

Bookcover for middle-grade novel The Ghost of Spruce Point by Nancy TandonSamantha: So wonderful! Unlike most debut authors, you’re now in the unique position of having two middle-grade novels coming out this year. Tell us how THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT found its way to Aladdin.

Nancy: In early 2019, I spent time revising GHOST with my then agent, Emma Sector, who is also a wonderful editor. She really helped me get the manuscript in top shape. She had a very targeted list of editors to submit to, and in fall 2019 THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT sold within a week of being on submission, confirming the old adage: publishing is weird!

Samantha: What were the biggest challenges for you over the last few years during this process?

Nancy: The number one biggest challenge for me in all of this was not giving up. I’m usually a “half-full” kind of a gal, but there were times when it just felt like it made no sense to keep going. And it was hard to explain to people outside of publishing what was going on, and at times I honestly felt embarrassed. Where was this book I’d been talking about for years?

But then I’d have a good writing morning. Or my critique group would give me another shot of encouragement. (Or just another shot, haha.) I was also watching the trajectories of my 2018 debut friends, and learning that publication isn’t “the end,” but just a stop on the journey.

Samantha: I love that. So true. Are there any things that have happened that, while difficult at the time, you feel happy about now?

Nancy: In hindsight, I am grateful for the entire string of events that THE WAY I SAY IT had to endure. The book is much stronger than it would have been – in part because I am a stronger and better writer than I was in 2016. And also because of all the talented people who had a hand in helping it and me along the way. I’m so grateful that I got to work with Karen Boss (editor at Charlesbridge) because she pushed me to elevate the work in ways I couldn’t have on my own.

Samantha: Do you have advice for other authors who are going through similar situations?

Nancy: Do. Not. Give. Up. And if you’ve read this far, you can always say to yourself, “well, what’s happening to me isn’t as bad as that one lady who was in four different debut groups. If she can keep going, so can I!”

But seriously, when you are feeling especially disheartened, dig down to the reasons you came to this endeavor in the first place. For me, it boils down to the joy of writing and the incredible people I have met. Once I placed those two things front and center, I knew I could go on forever, whether I was published or not.

Samantha: What are you doing to celebrate your double debut year?

Nancy: I am drinking all the champagne and saying YES to everything that comes my way! I’m also planning a special trip with my husband, who has been an incredible support through it all.

Samantha: Are you working on other future books that you can talk about yet?

Nancy: Nothing I can talk about yet, but I do have a manuscript for a third book that I’m revising. It’s another middle grade and I’m in love with the main character, a girl who is searching for home and finds it in an unexpected place. “Found family” is one of my favorite themes of all time!

Samantha: That sounds wonderful. And finding a home in an unexpected place is exactly what happened with your publishing career. Congratulations on your double-debut year.