8 Stops on My Train to KidLit Land
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
How did someone who does research on aging and teaches adults get into children's writing? Here's how my story begins.
So what brought me here? An as-yet unpublished writer of children's stories, established in a completely unrelated career, setting up a website in anticipation of some agent, publisher, and--hopefully down the line--reader wanting to find out more about me. I am either incredibly optimistic or ridiculously naive, I suppose only time will tell which.
In this first blog post, I am sharing the major experiences or events along the way that have led me to this point--or as I call them, stops on my train to KidLit land.
STOP 1: "Weed, weed!"
My earliest memory is from when I was about 2. I had gathered a stack of Little Golden Books that I could barely see over, and was carrying them into the livingroom for my parents to read to me. I know that this is a personal memory and not a reconstruction from a story because I remember being really annoyed by the pant leg of my PJ's, which had ridden up--I tried stomping my foot a few times to get it down, but then decided messing with my pant leg wasn't worth delaying the fun that comes with reading books.
My parents also love to tell stories of how I was constantly bringing something to them to read for me--"Weed, mommy, weed!"--and whether it was a board book or an issue of Popular Mechanics, I was enthralled. This began what has become a lifelong love for reading, and is a testament to children's books as my first love.
STOP 2: "The Crayon Box that Came Alive"
In my first grade classroom, we had "activity stations"--a blocks station, a kitchen station, a baby-doll station, etc.--well, my favorite was the computer station. This was 1991, so it was likely an old school IBM, and the only thing on it (at least that the kids were allowed to access) was word processing. I found it enthralling--I start writing a story one day, save it, and then keep working on it another day; the teachers would then print off my story with blank space on the page for me to augment with illustrations (the quality of which is what you'd expect from a 6-year-old, lol).
I LOVED coming up with crazy stories. One of my favorites that I mention on the home page is "The Crayon Box that Came Alive," where the different colored crayons had different personalities; everything was great until the gray crayon went crazy and started trying to eat the others (purple tasted like grapes, red tasted like apples...). Apparently I had a rather dark relationship with my crayon box... I see this first exposure to the joy of writing as laying the foundation for my love of writing fun and creative stories for children.
STOP 3: My Creative Corner
Throughout my middle childhood and early adolescent years, my heart was full when I was creating--sometimes it was writing (I wrote a mystery novel in 6th grade), sometimes it was creating images (I loved painting watercolors and then drawing black silhouette shapes over the painted background), sometimes it was crafting (I went through sewing, crocheting, weaving, pottery phases). The bottom line is that throughout my childhood, I sought out time and opportunities to let my creative juices flow, develop new skills, and just enjoy the process of creating something of my own.
At one point when I was about 12 I asked my parents if I could turn a corner of our relatively-unused butler's pantry (this was a 100+ year old house) into my "Creative Corner," where I could have my art supplies at the ready and a space dedicated to my crafts. That my parents were willing to let me do this is a testament to how supportive they were of my passions--I will be forever grateful for that! Looking back, I remember being so at peace, so centered, so "myself" when I was working and creating in my "Creative Corner." Every kid should have a space like this!
STOP 4: "I'm a Poet and didn't know it!"
My writing pursuits began to take a more sophisticated turn in adolescence, and I started writing poetry as part of my daily journaling habit (all teen girls in the 90's had journals, am I right?). At one point I learned about a national poetry contest for teens, and my mom convinced me to submit one of my poems. I was one of the "winners," meaning my poem--a non-rhyming ode to my favorite season, Autumn--was selected to be included in a compilation publication of the contest organization. I suppose you could say I caught the published author bug!
STOP 5: It's a BOY!
Fast-forward a decade--I pursued very "practical" degrees in college and graduate school, and landed a coveted tenure-track job as a professor in my chosen field. I really enjoy my job, but it does not permit as much creativity as my soul yearns for. After having put my more "creative" pursuits on hold for a over a decade, I was launched back into the wonderful world of children's literature with three simple words: "It's a BOY!" That's right, we were having a child, and now I had license to go load up on all of the wonderful children's books I had loved as a child (and discover all of the amazing new ones that have become classics since!). It didn't take long for us to have two shelves full of books, which I started reading to my baby from the time of his birth--I loved reading them to him, and he loved hearing my voice, so it was a win-win.
My oldest loves books, and has a collection in his room so he can snuggle in his reading chair with his blanket and his "buddies" (stuffed animals) to read when he wakes up early in the morning. The love of books is even stronger in my second-born--he is like his mommy, following us around at all times with a pleading, "Boo! Boo!" (book), overjoyed when we can sit down in that moment and read to him. Because my boys love books so much, we read a lot (both from our own collection as well as the treasures we pick up on our weekly library adventures), and all of this reading as ignited in myself a love an appreciation for children's stories that I have not had since my own childhood.
STOP 6: "Tell me a story."
When my oldest was 3, he started asking me to tell him a story each night before bed, after we had read our three bedtime books. I took this as a challenge--what story can I come up with tonight?--and decided it would be fun to have him determine the topic of each story so that I could test my ability to craft a story on the fly. So each night, when he would say, "tell me a story!" I would respond with, "okay, what should the story be about tonight?" His responses were all over the place: "candyland!" "A flying blanket!" "a tummy monster!"
Needless to say, some of my stories were more developed than others. But each time, I was able to come up with some tale to satisfy his itch for a "story I've never heard before!" I see this practice as a great exercise in thinking about what makes a good story and what children like to hear stories about. After several months of this, I also got to thinking--hmm, some of these stories aren't bad...maybe I should start writing a few of them down...
STOP 7: Getting Serious
In September 2018, I headed back to full-time work after my maternity leave from my second-born, and soon found myself yearning for a creative outlet that wasn't being satisfied by my day job. So, I started writing down and polishing some of my stories. At first, I was doing this haphazardly--while proctoring exams, during my lunch half-hour, or on mornings when I happened to wake up early. There was one weekend in November 2018 where I was away for work, and had some extra kid-free time to focus on my writing in between work obligations; it was during this weekend that I did a blitz of online research into children's publishing looked into how to craft a query letter, identified some children's publishers that were open to un-agented submissions and seemed to publish things like mine, and submitted my first piece--Your Shadow's Escapade--as a simultaneous submission to 3 different publishers. Now for the 3-6 month wait...
In January 2019, as I was still waiting to hear on those submissions, I decided it was time to either get serious and go all in on this whole children's publishing thing, or stop (this is my personality--all or nothing). So, I decided to go all in. I started getting up at 5am every morning so I could have time to write, revise, research, etc. before the kids woke up. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I started attending the regional gatherings of the Michigan SCBWI chapters. I started actively seeking out critique groups, webinars, and other resources to help myself further understand this whole kidlit world. And finally, I set up a website, putting my dream out for all the world to see.
STOP 8: Publication?
As yet, I am still waiting on hearing back on those November 2018 submissions. If I do end up getting rejections, I have already identified several things I could improve about that manuscript (and my query letter) now that I have a better understanding of the industry. Right now, I'm continuing to create and polish new stories, with hopes to submit a few of them within the next month or so. Is publication in my future? Only time will tell! :)