January 26-27, 2010:

Interesting (to me) writing few days. Got one rejection, received the dummy of Tiger Rose Says Goodbye with wonderful sketches by Jim LaMarche, an illustrator I have long wanted to do a picture book with. It means a few revisions, which is what happens once an artist has laid out the entire book. Suddenly things need moving about, changing, deleting, smoothing.

Also, I had to go over (again) the speech I am giving this weekend at SCBWI New York, and then print it and my schedule out.

In fact this entire week has been about revision. First The Emily Sonnets, which went to both the editor and Jane Wald, the executive director of the Dickinson Museum. And of course Jane had a few more things which needed attending to. Second, I have been slaving away on Curses Foiled Again with my notes from the conversation with the editor by my side. It is needing quite a bit of deepening, character arc-ing, explaining without sounding as if I am explaining. In fact, though I also need to get started on talking with Adam about the revisions for BUG, I simply cannot do two novels at once. Though I can stop for a minute and deal with Tiger Rose.

I love starting new things, so not being able to do that has been frustrating–to say the least. But revisions bring their own surprises and pleasures.

Also in these two days, I had physical therapy, water therapy, my writers’ group meeting, made good (not dynamite) chicken stew, fought with an insurance company, had problems with my home security making false alarms (fixed now), and realized I have to start working SOON on my taxes. And on a more dire note, a Scottish friend has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given only a few months–and she is a (relatively) young woman.

Life happens. Death looms. Even when I would prefer just writing.

January 18-25, 2010:

The rest of the Minneapolis trip consisted of lunch on Monday with the president of Creative Editions who is doing two and possible more of my picture books. Tom Peterson and I have absolutely meshing ideas about publishing for children and it was delightful sitting with him at Christos, my favorite Greek restaurant, talking business.

Tuesday Adam and I spent all day talking to classes at the Minnesota Friends School because that is where grandlings Alison and wee David go to school. Tiring but invigorating, too. Smart kids and great teachers.

Wednesday I flew home, though the plane left Minneapolis an hour late because of something mechnical that needed fixing. So I hurried from the airport directly to Amherst and a dinner party in honor of Ted and Betsy Lewin, two of my favorite children’s book friends. (And a long loving, and fruitful friendship indeed.)

Thursday, Heidi and I had lunch with the Interlink folk, talking about the Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts and other stuff. Lovely to have local publishers so we only had to go into Northampton, twelve minutes away!

That evening was a WMIG meeting (Western Mass Illustrators) so it has been a very bookish week.

Scattered in between were physical therapy appointments, work on final revisions of The Emily Sonnets, the Eve chapter of Girl’s Bible, a letter from the editor of BUG which needed thinking about, and more work on the revision of Curses Foiled Again.

How do I feel about revisions? Normally I love them (once I get over The Letter!) but having so many piled on me at once has felt a bit daunting.

Saturday Barbara Goldin was over and we thrashed through the Eve chapter, but were both quite pleased with the revisions so far. ope the editor is as sanguine.

Sunday, Heidi and I went to do a mini-reading as part of a fun raiser for the Greenfield Public Library which has been in danger of being closed. 450 wonderful folk showed up with children. The Head Librarian was in tears at the response.

That evening, Bob Marstall and I went to dinner at friends Robin and Carol’s house where we watched the movie “Vitus,” a charming Swiss movie about a musical prodigy. Though there was glare ice when I drove into Northampton, and the thermometer on the car read 32 degrees, by the time dinner and the movie were over, it was 34, ice was melting.

Monday, back in the writing saddle, dealing more with both the Curses revision and working some more on the proposal for Joey Dante’s Trip to Heck. Dinner with friend Ann Wheelock completed the day. I stayed home as much as possible because–though the temps had soared to 48 degrees (in January!) there was a monsoon out there. My barn’s basement is flooded from a broken pipe. And all I can count is the cost.

Interstitial Moment redux:

Lee Bennett Hopkins wrote again: “As one starts to think, there are several other editors who come to mind who have created many books, including Pat Ross, editor at Knopf, who created the M&M series as well as picture books and adult books. (JY here: Though–I must quickly add that she left publishing to start a lovely boutique in New York City.)  Susan Pearson, editor at Lippincott, who wrote picture books and an anthology. (Another JY note: A friend and a neighbor here in Western Mass, Susan is a freelance editor these days.) Margery Cuyler, still active as an editor who writes many picture books.”

True. All true. But still the minority, Lee. I am sure, though, that often many editors think, “I can do better than this author.” Or “I need a book on. . .” and write it themselves. And many others have actually told me, “I am not a writer.” (And a few of those have gone on to write a book or three!)

However, I must say, watching editors wrestle with writing flap copy that most authors could sneeze out in a few hours–flap copy being based on something already written and usually quite small in comparison to the books we authors write–I have to believe that the majority of editors are not writers.  Nor do they pretend to be.

Of course, the family joke here has always been that the piece of writing of mine that had the longest shelf life was the flap copy I wrote for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was a young editor.

Interstitial Moment (additional):

Lee Bennett Hopkins sent this on, to add to the discussion below of editors who write: “Add Beatrice Schenck de Regniers, an editor of Scholastic’s Lucky Book Club who wrote quite a bit under her name as was as Tamara Kitt. Also Ann McGovern, first editor of SEE SAW Book Club at Scholastic, who went on to create quite a body of work.”

Lee, thanks–how could I have forgotten them? Beatrice wrote one of my favorite retellings of Little Red Riding Hood in rhyme, with the the author addressing the wolf as “You old sinner, and did you eat Red Riding Hood for dinner?” And Ann wrote dozens and dozens of well-researched nonfiction books, including one on Deborah Sampson which was the first time I’d ever heard about the young woman who disguised herself as a man and became a soldier.

January 12-17, 2009:

Getting ready for a big trip often means that writing takes a back seat to arrangements. (Laundry, packing, lists, bills, cleaning out fridge, stacking piles of things to do on return.) Add to this getting an absentee ballot for the Massachusetts senatorial race to fill Kennedy’s seat, bringing soup to a sick friend, going to the movies (“Avatar” again), dinner with Heidi and Maddison, check over and fiddle with speeches, make sure someone will be picking me up at the airport, meeting with handyman about the forthcoming work on downstairs bathrooms, meeting with the tree man and insurance company about a tree that has fallen on one of our barns, talking to my agent several times, helping a friend find an agent, meeting with the writer’s group, lots of trips to physical therapy and water therapy, etc.

Also mourning (briefly) two rejected manuscripts, working on two poems, revising yet again and sending off the first section of Girl’s Bible to co-author, revising and sending off the first two chapters of Curses Foiled Again to the editor.

In other words, not a lot to show for the run-up to the trip.

And then very early in the morning, in the middle of a January thaw (high 40’s), off I went to the airport to fly to Minneapolis. Luckily I started early. About four exits before my turnoff to the airport, a tractor trailer had jack-knifed across the entire southbound lane minutes before I got there (perhaps the driver fell asleep at the wheel?), closing down Route 91. Police were on the job already and, in the still-dark early morning, sent us all off on a detour through Enfield, Ct. and into the unknown. I was nervous about where I was going, since I didn’t know that part of Ct. Trusting in the sudden increase traffic on route 5 to take me where I wanted to go since there were no shops open to ask, I kept going south until I saw a sign for Suffield, Ct. and that town I knew! Saved, I thought, and right after that was an entrance onto 91. I got back on and, within minutes, was at the airport hoping that little detour was not a warning for the rest of the trip.

Well, yes and no. I misplaced my boarding pass and passport after being wanded. (I am always wanded, since I have a titanium knee! And clearly I profile as a terrorist, being 5’3 and a 70-year-old pleasingly plump white woman.) I discovered this as I was about to sit down at the gate. I raced back to the security area. They looked aroubnd for my missing items, I re-searched my suitcase. Luckily I found both boarding pass and passport under the stuff I had jammed into my suitcase after the wanding. So two minor problems averted. Would there be the necessary third to make the story complete?

My seat mate was an Indian gentleman who slept through much of the only-sightly bumpy ride, only to disappear for far too long into the bathroom, setting off alarms in my mind. But then he returned to the seat in plenty of time. We landed with hardly a bump. I found the Starbucks where I was to meet my ride. But when she was late, I tried to call her only to discover that the return number from her call to me reached someone else’s message machine. It could have been a husband/spouse/son I suppose, but was useless for my purposes. Then I realized there was a second unread message from her that had arrived that very morning. I managed to pull it up. (I am a cell phone luddite.) She said she’d gotten things mixed up and was not supposed to pick me up after all but would get me later at my son’s house. So I called Adam, told him I’d grab a cab. Third small disaster averted. Not much of a story here, but at the time all three mini-disasters loomed large.

Spent time with Adam and wee David. Betsy and Alison were off at her acting class. When Betsy came back from delivering daughter to class, she and I whipped out to our favorite clothing store, Fawbushes, where I bought us each three wonderful tops. I wanted to spend time with her since she was leaving the next day for a week in Cancun, a much-needed vacation. Then home again where I was picked up and taken to dinner with the Hamline University MFA professors/teachers. Then off to the college where I did an hour’s reading to students, faculty, others. It was a full room, wonderfully attentive audience. I read a variety of things–short stories, picture books, poetry both published and unpublished. Got a standing O at the end. Did a signing. And then back to Adam and Betsy’s where I quite literally fell into bed.

The next day (Sunday) was a full day at the university where I did an hour and a half Q&A with the graduating MFA students, and then lunch with them. Got conscripted into (volunteered actually) singing with faculty members for the party after the graduation. Then off to the rehearsal of the songs, all based on well-known show tunes (“Tomorrow”, “Hello Dolly”, “Summertime,” and the like.) Next came the graduation ceremony where along with the other faculty members I got kitted out in a a black graduation robe. Then we marched in and–after welcomes by the dean and an invocation–I gave the graduation speech which was acclaimed by everyone which was very pleasant indeed.

At the party/dinner afterwards, everyone was very jolly. Wine flowed. As did tears. I performed with the teachers and added a fillip to the singing of the “Summertime” song by getting up on the piano chanteusey- style (channeling Michelle Pfieffer in the “Fabulous Baker Boys”) which brought down the house! Luckily, however, it didn’t bring down the piano.

And again, got back to Adam’s house and fell into bed. Asleep before the children.

Interstital Moment:

TAK asked: “how did you go from being an editor to being a published author? Is it common for editors/people from the Other Side of Publishing to have their own work published (and are there any writers who also have jobs in publishing)? “

Well, TAK, I was a writer first and got into editing because I needed money to support my writing habit. But becoming an editor taught me a lot about writing as I had to begin to analyze what I was doing. I was not then (and not really a lot now) an analyzer but a more of an instinctive writer. But as an assistant editor and eventually editor in chief of my own line of books, I had to learn how to take a piece apart, discuss what worked and didn’t work, and help the author put it back together. It serves me well to this day, though I do self-editing as instinctively now as I do my writing.

The number of editors who write more than a single book is tiny. Usually an editor has little time to do his or her writing. The problem is that editing is not a leave-the-job-at-work kind of business. Good editors take manuscripts home, read on the train and plane, take them on vacation. Tbey are always reading. They are always thinking about someone else’s work before their own. And they are also always somewhat worried that they are going to unthinkingly borrow from someone else’s manuscript, which can be crippling.

A few editor/authors come to mind. Patricia Gauch just about gave up writing for the twenty-five years she was an editor. Arthur Levine and Kevin Lewis have done a little writing but not enough. Lauren Thompson writes a few books but might write more if she weren’t editing. Ann Beneduce didn’t start writing until she’d been retired for some time. Linda Zuckerman started writing after she was no longer an editor. Ditto James Giblin. Etc. Of the writing editors I know, Charlotte Zolotow managed to write the most at the same time she was editing, though poet Lilian Moore probably comes a close second. And then there are young editors, like Rotem Moskowitz at Scholastic, who write novelty books and branded books like Curious George spinoffs and work for hire books and anything else that comes down the pike.
I love working with editors who are also writers because I think they understand stuff that other editors don’t. But there is a danger, too. They sometimes want to help you a bit too much. They know how to write so they are more than ready to assist. The best author/editors are the ones who recognize this about themselves and are careful to ask questions, not rewrite the piece for you. I think my biggest failing as an editor was this desire to just do it for the writers and not wait for them to do it themselves!

January 8-11, 2009:

A slow four days except for writing and various therapies (physical, water), so not much to say. I worked on two new retold tales for Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts (one with cooked carrots, one with roast chicken), fiddled a bit with a fairy book, and worked quite a lot on my website. My back remained in pretty good shape.

Wrote a poem about my first real kiss in which I actually participated (lost in the mist of time here, since I was thirteen and at summer camp.) But otherwise very s. . .l. . .o. . .w.

January 6-7, 2010:

I wrote about the two rejections I just received on FaceBook which occasioned much tearing of hair, renting of clothes, as my fans and “friends” remarked about how awful it was that a Personage Of My Account should still get rejected. And what underlay the over-reaction (a thought that only a few actual spoke outloud) was the destruction of a myth. The myth that says that once one gets reasonably well-known in the field, all is smooth sailing ever after. Which meant, of course, that they simultaneously saw themselves as having even less power now since I (the reasonably well-known one) was being rejected.

And I was quick to remind them that rejection is actually an opportunity to find the right editor and the right publishing company. After all, you doesn’t want to be taken on by a grouchy editor just because she has to take you on. Besides, I have so many manuscripts out making the rounds (just because editors are over-burdened, just because the process is creakingly and achingly slow, doesn’t mean I have to sit on my hands!) that odds are some of the manuscripts are going to get turned down. OK–a lot of them will be. Turned down more than once. As I have reminded myself and my audience over and over, Owl Moon was turned down by five editors. Sleeping Ugly by 13. Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery-award novel A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 29 editors. Dr. Seuss’ first by well over 30. Etc., etc., bloody well etc. My husband used to say that “It is easier to sell an ordinary book than an extraordinary one” and there is a great deal of truth in that.

So on to Book News: A book of adult poems was turned down with such a lovely letter it was astonishing the editor didn’t take it! A picture book first suggested by an editor was turned down because her boss didn’t think it salable. My agent and I are sending both on of course. They will find the right places eventually. I hope I am still around and with full faculties to see them completed!

I worked on two new retold folk stories for Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts, a bit more on Girl’s Bible.

Had an hour-long talk with the fabulous Tanya McKinnon, editor extraordinaire of Foiled on what needs to be redone on Curses Foiled Again. The magic word was “earned” as in “Do the characters really earn the magic, the good, the rewards that happen to them?” We discussed a bunch of stuff. Especially stuff to do in the first two sections of the book, and after I hung up I spent the next four hours working on the mss. Got some idea of how to get where I need to go but of course I am still a long way from that. Will let the sections sit for a day or two and come back to them fresh.

Other Stuff: Bills, physical therapy (back has been good for a couple of days, which is always a plus,) water therapy.

Held long discussions with Dan the Handyman about redoing the downstairs bathrooms. (Please everyone, send barrels of money!) Heidi took notes, Dan did measurements, I sent for two tile murals I have had my eyes on for some time.

Answered mail, email, made overdue phone calls, signed up for a swine flu shot for Saturday with Heidi, made sure the various calendars were in synch for the next two months. Did a small grocery shopping. All the minutia of life that is boring to do and even more boring to tell.

January 4-5, 2010:

A word about my journal–it is sporadic, episodic, more about writing than personal stuff, and antic. Meaning basically I write it when I want to, say only as much as I care to, and amuse myself. Sometimes I give writing advice, sometimes I review books and/or movies in sound bites rather than in any orderly or academic way. And always I have to amuse myself or boredom would lead me to drop it for good. So enjoy. Take away from it what you will, what you can. Notice, it is not interactive in the usual way of blogs. That would make it too much like work. Certainly send me email–janeyolen.com–to comment or critique. I may or may not answer you. But if you have a question that could lead to a mini-essay, I will write it under the rubric “Interstitial Moment.” If you scroll down, you can find many of those Moments here and in the archives.

Book stuff: Writers critique group Tuesday, as always some stunning work by the ladies who I am honored to claim as my friends. My amazing agent Elizabeth is chasing down editors who owe me word on projects or money or both. I worked a bit on Girl’s Bible, wrote a poem for the Miss Rumphius Effect poetry stretch, a short essay for someone else. Skype visit with some lovely kids in Kentucky.

Personal: Lots of physical therapy stuff, all really helping. Went to see “Invictus,” with friend Bob Marstall, about the first days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency and the astonishing win by the Springboks rugby team for the world cup which helped relations between Boers and Blacks in South Africa. The movie was surprisingly good but a little slick. Have to do some in depth research to find out how true it was to the actual history.

January 1-3, 2010:

Adam and family left promptly on Jan 1, and I spent the next two days being a slug, slowly getting the house back to pre-holidays semi-neatness, reading, watching tv, but not otherwise doing much. I think I was wrapping my head around the new year. I had made no resolutions, just carrying on carrying on. But something in the back of the lizard brain must have been working because after a lovely brunch on Friday at Rabbi Yechiel Landers and his lovely wife Rose’s house, I began to sort through writing priorities.

By Sunday I worked on an essay, some titivating of old poems, and stumbled back into the GIRL’S BIBLE by reading (and re-reading) to get myself up to speed.

Sometimes the writer-brain goes into a kind of stasis, like a mini-hibernation. Never for very long. But even a couple of days can be worrisome. There is always the thought: Is this the day/week/year I lose it entirely? Because honestly, it sometimes seems as if the gift I have–big or little, take your choice–is on loan. Like a magic trick that may not work. Or a piece of machinery likely to rust out. Any metaphor will do. I am not actually afraid of it happening, my friends. If my writer-brain stops for good, I will have had more than an excellent run of it. I will have had a passionate eternity in comparison to some folks. OK–most folks. But the question that I fight with is this: What on earth will I do if/when that happens? After all, it has been my life–stories, poems spilling out of me since I was a child.

Yeah–I could just read. Lay about in a hammock or on the couch, eat bon-bons and. . .

Nah. Not me. I’d probably teach a lot. . .I mean a LOT of seminars, master classes, set up my house here for intensive weekend workshops. There’s room for six or seven people to stay over at a time. More if they are married or partnered. Such workshops would keep me busy, brain-sharpened. Maybe sign up as a scout for several agents. Read mss. Pester my daughter, my friends.

So that’s my Master Plan. Suggestions, petitions, petty carps all invited.



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