Posts Tagged michelle houts

Query Cowbells, Yard Art, and Other Ways Authors Celebrate (and Why)

I’ve been reminded lately that celebration is something we should do more often. In the writing world, we are happy when we get to make big announcements – book deals, releases, signing with an agent. Those announcements almost always lead to a celebratory dinner, a launch party, a champagne toast, or a hearty round of “Huzzah!” on social media.

But those BIG announcements can be a long time coming. Some writers are still waiting and working toward them.

That’s why I was so excited when critique partner and illustrator Jane Dippold presented our critique group members with Query Cowbells.


According to Jane’s detailed instructions for use, one should:

  • Ring the Query Cowbell once with extreme exuberance upon hitting “send” on any email query. Twirl in a circle like a puppy and settle into your favorite spot. You did it!
  • Shake the Query Cowbell vigorously two times upon receiving any form rejection: once for perseverance and once for your amazing, but not yet accepted, manuscript.
  • Upon receiving a personal rejection with vague but important revision suggestions, put the Query Cowbell down and REVISE!  Ring the Query Cowbell softly, once, when you finally go to bed at 3 A.M.
  • There are many more Query Cowbell instructions, but you get the idea. If you are submitting, you have reasons to celebrate! 


Author Sarah Aronson has one of my favorite reasons for celebrating. “Every time I get to page 100 of a draft, I make this soup,” she says.  100-Page Party Soup. Why not? Click here for her recipe and you can make it yourself.

Author/Illustrator Lita Judge celebrates in really BIG way. She explains, “I have always felt a strong connection to Stonehenge and other ancient rock circles. I fell upon the idea that I would erect my own stones, adding a pillar each time I finish a book. When I step into the yard or look out my windows the pillars remind me of all the projects I have been fortunate enough to create. Each one is hard won and will stand for my lifetime. They are my special way of celebrating this rich life of creating.” 

Lita’s husband Dave sets an 800-pound stone in their yard.

Lita poses with three of her celebratory monuments.

Author Nancy Roe Pimm also celebrates each book with an addition to her garden.  “I always loved concrete lawn ornaments, even before the well-dressed geese began making appearances on lawns throughout the country. I would never buy a lawn statue for myself, because let’s face it- it’s not a real “need.” When I found the winged fairy reading a book, it suddenly felt like a need. I had two books out that year, Colo’s Story and the Daytona 500 book. I decided to celebrate and treat myself to the book reading fairy.”
There are so many reasons to celebrate.
You finished a draft.
You started a draft!
You conquered that revision.
You found a critique partner.
You’ve signed up for your first writing conference.
Don’t wait for the big stuff. Celebrate every step along the way.
This has me thinking. I’ve just completed a blog post!
Champagne, anyone?

Dreams and Rejection in the Writerly Life

Last night, I dreamed I was at a resort. There was some sort of reception on a beach, and people from my high school were there. Everyone spoke to me, even the ones I had perceived as more popular, more attractive, more intelligent, more likeable than me in high school.

Someone called for the group to move toward the restaurant, and we did. Once inside, the tables filled quickly with groups of friends, chatting, taking seats, and saving chairs for others.

I couldn’t find a seat.

I asked at one table, and the friendly chatter ceased. A woman shook her head “No” and placed an arm over an empty chair, guarding it. Not quite sure how to deal with this shifted level of acceptance, I went to the buffet, where instead of a plate, I was handed a brown paper bag.  I filled the bag with fruit, cheese, and bread, and then took it outside to sit alone on the grass. I fed the bread to the birds nearby.

Now, I know where this dream originated.  It came from two fresh sources.

First, I had a book launch this past week. A high school classmate, who was and still is a dear friend, came the book signing, which happened to be in her town, two hours from where we both grew up. We posted pictures of us together on social media, and as a result, high school friends commented. Even ones I had perceived as so much more popular, attractive, likeable … you get it.

Second, a writer friend this week posted a research question on a writer’s group page. She asked, “At what age do you think children start being exclusionary when it comes to allowing others to sit at their lunch table?”

So, the dream – with its themes of acceptance and rejection – had solid origins. Still, when I awoke, I was amazed by how very real, raw, and current old feelings (and I mean old; high school was a long time ago) could be. As a writer of books for young readers, I feel fortunate that I can recall what it felt like to be thirteen, fourteen, even ten.

And then it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I am writer that I’m still able to connect in such a visceral way with feelings of rejection. Rejection, after all, is a large part of every writer’s life. If it’s not, you’re not putting your writing out into the world.

Early on, writers face lots of rejection. Nearly every book published was once (or twice or twenty times) rejected. We’ve all heard (various versions of) how many times J.K. Rowling was told “No, thanks” before the Harry Potter series was published.  We’re rejected by editors, by agents, we don’t win contests, we send our work out into the world and … crickets.

But even amid success, published authors continue to hear that their work, or sometimes worse yet, they are not wanted or needed. We create brilliant proposals for workshops, we apply for faculty positions at conferences, we hope to be invited, included, asked, or needed. And sometimes, we get what we hoped for. And often, we don’t.

The inimitable Jane Yolen – you might know that she’s now published more than 365 books in her career, hence #Yolen365 – frequently posts her rejections on Facebook. Yes, publishers reject Jane Yolen. Even today. She reminds us that you’re never too successful to cease the hard work that made you successful in the first place. You must put yourself and your work out there. Often. Even if it means you’re rejected more often.

So, in Jane’s spirit, I’ll give you a glimpse into my year so far: I’ve had 5 manuscript rejections and 2 offers. I joined a stellar cast of authors to create a well-thought-out STEM-related panel proposal at a major national education conference – and we were rejected. I’ve applied for faculty positions at four writing conferences – and I’m happy to say that I’ll be on the SCBWI Regional Fall Conference faculties in Ohio and Wisconsin, but not in two other states. I applied for a prestigious children’s book festival and was rejected. I admit, it was a little difficult seeing fellow authors post their pictures from that festival, but I am invited to four other book festivals in 2018. I applied for and was accepted into a select program for published picture book authors. I’ve stretched my wings with a submission in a brand new genre (for me), and I’m patiently, but realistically, waiting to hear about that.

If I could go back to sleep and reenter that dream, I’d confidently approach another table. I’d find someone else who looked alone, I’d smile and introduce myself to someone. In other words, I’d try again.

We can’t let rejection isolate us. We can’t let self-doubt creep in. Writers must persevere even when it feels easier to give up. Otherwise, we find ourselves alone, feeding our dinner to the birds.




A triple Book Birthday for Mixed Up Files Author Michelle Houts

It’s always a treat to feature the book birthdays of Mixed Up Files members and especially today when we are celebrating a new series from our long time contributor Michelle Houts, the author of the novels The Beef Princess of Practical County, Practical County Drama Queen, and Winterfrost; the biography Kammie on First; and the picture book When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike. Michelle has headed off into new territory again with a young middle grade series for 1-3rd grade readers. It’s called Lucy’s Lab and here are her first three covers. Nuts About Science and Solids, Liquids, Guess Who’s Got Gas, came out last fall and the newest title is The Colossal Fossil Fiasco. 

1) Were you a science loving kid? What inspired you to make science the focus of your series?





I wanted very much to be a science-minded girl in the 70s. In fact, I begged for a Chemistry Kit, and got one the likes of which would never be legally sold these days! It had all kinds of chemicals and glass beakers and tubes in it! The sad part is that I don’t remember doing a lot with it. It wasn’t that I lack interest. I lacked confidence. In recent years, I have seen how important it is to build girls’ confidence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. So, initially, as a writer of middle-grade novels, I set out to write a middle-grade science girls series. I thought of it as: The Babysitter’s Club meets Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Okay, interrupting this interview to say–how is that not a thing? Please write this series! I know, you’re busy. I’ll write it with you! Or ask our fellow science writer extraordinaire Jennifer Swanson. We could do this!

Michelle here, jumping back in to say, NO WORRIES! My hope is that Lucy will grow into that series for which she was originally intended. I mean, she can’t stay in second grade forever, right? So, ideally, someday that amazing middle-grade series will exist – with Lucy at the center! Back to you, Rosanne!

And also I can’t resist sharing a picture of my science girls and their project on on fermentation that involved home-brewed rootbeer using champagne yeast.
And now back to our scheduled interview.

2) You’ve written stand alone titles before and for older readers. What prompted you to switch to series writing for a younger audience?

My idea for that middle-grade series was quickly derailed by my other job. In my non-writing life, I was a Speech-Language Pathologist.  As a school-based SLP, I worked with second graders. I heard their stories, listened to their interests, and quickly realized that girls identify as science-minded (or not!) long before the middle grades. By seven years old, many girls I met had already decided that math and science were “hard” or “for boys” or “gross.” I knew then that my science series needed to target grades 1 – 3. 

 (Did I mention that the art for this series is done by the truly fabulous Elizabeth Zetchel!)
3) Do you have a favorite research story?
So far, my favorite topic in the series to research has been fossils. Lucy’s Lab Book #1 is about Habitats and Book #2 is about States of Matter, both of which I felt I had a decent knowledge of.  But Book #3 is about Fossils, and I found myself fascinated by all the research, digging deeper (no pun intended!) than I needed to simply because it was so interesting. When I discovered that one of the most famous nearly-intact fossils every found was named “Lucy,” I couldn’t believe the coincidence! 
You know I had wondered when I first saw the series if she would be a paleontologist because of the Lucy fossil. I’ve also heard that a surprising number of great fossils finds have been made by children.
4) Do you have a fact checker at your publishing house?
There isn’t anyone whose sole job it is to check facts, but my amazing editor, Alison Weiss, is a master at asking questions and she’ll look up anything that seems not quite right. I feel a lot of responsibility to make sure I have my facts straight before I turn in a manuscript. 
Shout out to the wonderful Sky Pony Press who publishes your books, and from this bookseller’s perspective, is doing a great job of promoting it to indie bookstores.
5)How far ahead do you plan the series and do you have science topics picked out for future books? Do you have a larger character arc for Lucy across several books or do you take them one book at a time?
As of this moment, there are three books in the Lucy’s Lab series, but more are proposed, and, yes, each has a science topic I’ve hand-picked for the first – third grade reader.  I do have thoughts about how Lucy, her sidekick and cousin Cora, and her classmates grow over the course an entire series.  Stay tuned for more news on this subject! 🙂
The cousin relationship was the other thing I loved about this book. Most kids have cousins they love and very few books have a cousin relationship.
Congratulations on your beautiful series from all of us at The Mixed Up Files. I hope we see lots more of Lucy and her lab in the future.