Life Fact Fiasco

So, as promised, I have to confess why you should always, always, always, always, a million times always, double check your facts, even when it comes to your own life.

In my school visits throughout the year, I have shared with the kids about how my creative writing class in high school led to three big breaks for me. First of all, we had to write a poem for a local magazine and submit the poem. I did and they loved the poem so much they put it on the front cover of their magazine. The magazine was Chalkdust Magazine, the October 1992 issue. For another big assignment we wrote to our favorite author. I chose Bodie Thoene who, I am still ever so grateful, actually took the time to write me back. Based on her advice and the final important assignment, I wrote an article and sent it off to a national magazine, Campus Life. They accepted my article, paid me thirty-five dollars (the kids are always so impressed) and mailed it out to teens all over the nation--all before I graduated from high school at eighteen years old.

At least that’s how I remembered it happening.

When I filled out my publisher’s bio slip, I mentioned that I have been a nationally published author since the age of eighteen and this in turn found its way onto the book jacket. I also included it in the “How A Boy-Crazy Little Girl Who Sneezed A Lot Became A Writer” feature on my website for kids.

After the book printing, after the book headed to bookstores all across the country, and after I finished my website, proud as punch, I e-mailed everyone in the world who contributed to the crazy, sneezing girl becoming a writer. I received lots of congradulation e-mails back from people. Including, bless them, Bodie Thoene and Chris Lutes, editor of Campus Life. Chris Lutes immediately wrote me back; he remembered me, so kind of him, and decided to reminisce by pulling up the article. He asked me what year that was and I e-mailed back 1993.

He e-mailed me back that he couldn’t find it.

That can’t be. I took the class my senior year . . . And then it dawned on me. What my crowded memory had failed to recall is that the publication process takes six months. I had submitted the article before graduation, but it was accepted just after I graduated. Chris Lutes had written me a letter in August (which I framed) of how much he enjoyed working with me.

I e-mailed Chris back to have him check 1994.

He found it. I had turned nineteen on January 1st. The article had come out when I was in college, exactly two whole weeks after I turned nineteen years old. I finally remembered the moment I carried it up to my dorm room. All the girls crowded around me for a look. We all sunk to the floor right there in the hallway, reading it together and passing it around.

So the book jacket tells an altered tale. I have not been a nationally published author since I was eighteen. It feels good to come clean, after keeping up the charade all year to avoid explaining the long story over and over. Some people know. In fact, we’ve made a joke of it at the local library, using our fingers to put quotes around how I’ve been a published writer since I was “eighteen.” And I’m keeping up the charade as I speak to schools and conferences and libraries and teacher’s meetings . . . It’s too time consuming to fit the whole long winded explanation into my speeches unless I speak on the significance of fact checking. Only here in my confessions will you find the truth.


I'm What?

This year has been absolutely amazing, filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, light bulb moments, and--most of all--embarrassing "I can't believe I'm going to tell you this" moments that definitely fall on the learning curve. But I'm a writer, so of course I have to blab it all, if only to enjoy the karma from distributing laughter and lessons for emerging writers. I’m starting at the beginning, so here goes. . .

My first confession is that I had no intentions of being a children's author. Not that I thought it was beneath me—it's actually a pretty demanding form—but the truth is that my mother had an in-home daycare throughout my high school years and always wanted me to be a children's author. No one wants to be what their mother wants them to be. So instead I worked as a freelance magazine writer and as a playwright. Then shortly after marriage, motherhood completely caught me off gaurd. My hormones went so completely nuts that I actually didn’t reply to two job offers, one from Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales and one from Michael Zietner of Everland Entertainment. I still have the evidence to prove it. Just didn’t reply!! Jobs of a Lifetime!! I just went all-out zombie and sat on the couch watching the old B.B.C. “Emma” for three months: over and over. When the first trimester was over, I dragged myself off the couch, stopped praying to the porcelain alter, and took a temp job until the baby arrived. I slipped out of the business then and into comfortable clothes for the next phase of my new life.

During those years at home, I wrote just enough to keep my name out there, committing to one project at a time during times I knew I could be reliable and then when things got really tough--when my second child was born and we learned our older son had a nervous system disorder they would later call Asperger Syndrome (Autism)--I resigned myself to barely writing at all. My kids had to come first.

Then, when naptimes finally coincided, I began writing again. I didn't take on a writing assignment though, because again, I didn't want to adhere to deadlines when I was knee deep in therapy appointments for my son. However, I refused to stop dreaming. I decided this was the time to do what I really wanted to do, without the pressure of the writing business crushing over my shoulder.

I wrote. I wrote in my head. I wrote in my heart. As soon as the kids were asleep, day or night, I ran to the computer to put the words, floating through my head like the froth of a cresting wave, onto paper. During the next several years, I completed five screenplays and one novel. This was absolutely crazy-girl heaven.

Then as the kids got older, I had to face the challenge of getting someone in New York or L.A. to pick me out of the crowded piles laying about their office. I entered a few contests, came out with fairly good standings and great reader notes of admiration, but not a top win. One reader even went so far as to write me a personal note, suggest some formatting changes, and tell me that if I made those changes and shopped the manuscript around, I’d certainly pick up an agent. I then got some great input from Dave Trottier, format guru of the industry, made the changes, but shopping it around became the problem. Hmmm. How DO you get notice in Hollywood when you live in Missouri? An interest from one producer who ended up saying "no", just one trip to Hollywood, could have pushed us over the edge financially and the contest fees, printing, and postage to interested parties were not exactly pocket change for us. I decided to go back to magazine writing for one summer, just to earn the money to market myself to Hollywood.

One of the stories shifting through my mind that summer was a story about my grandmother's tradition of planting pecan trees for each of her grandchildren. My grandmother had made her last batch the year before and decided to hand the responsibility over to me. As I made several batches over the summer and froze them to save for the big Christmas get-together, I couldn't stop thinking about how much she had loved us, how much work goes into making them, and how her diabetes had prevented her from EVER, EVER tasting the turtles. I also couldn't stop thinking about how our days with her were growing slim. I knew I had to write the story. It started out as a draft for a magazine, but as I wrote the manuscript I couldn't get the images out of my head that should go along with the story. I knew it had to be a children's picture book.

On a whim, I again avoided New York publishers, picked out the best Midwest publisher on the Internet and wrote out an e-mail query. I received a response within a few days. They wanted to see the manuscript. I had been in the business long enough to take this as a compliment but not to get too excited, so I mentioned it to no one but my husband and sent off the manuscript.

A week later, I received an e-mail stating they loved the story, but they didn't buy holiday stories over the summer. If they bought it, it would be a whole year and a half before publication. They wanted to know if I had anybody else interested that I would choose instead if they waited to make up their mind. I e-mailed them back, not mentioning that I thought they were the best in the Midwest and their other books were stunning. That would have put too many cards on the table. I just told them I had several other projects I was working on and could wait for their decision.

They e-mailed me back a few days later. They decided they loved it enough to buy it in the off-season. They were sending a contract. It had been about three weeks since I decided to send out the manuscript. Blown away by just having made the fastest sale in the history of publishing, I read the e-mail over and over, my eyebrows furrowed, one thought mulling over in my head:

How in the world did I end up as a children's author?!?!?

We met my parents in St. Louis shortly after for a planned trip to the Railroad Museum. Grandma came with them and the boys were rushing about in line ready to see the trains. That's when I told them.

"A publisher bought my book."

"Your novel?" my mom gasped.

I shook my head. That was still in the closet, in dire need of more editing and now on hold indefinitely. "No, it's a children's book I wrote." Then I turned to my grandma. "It's about you, Grandma, and your chocolate turtles." She smiled really big and nodded her head -- she has such a great smile that speaks volumes of how pleased she is, even when she doesn't say a word. She gave me a big hug as everyone else rushed in to hug me, even the boys who had no idea why everyone was hugging Mommy. My mom of course was stunned, but as soon as she recovered she began giving me ideas for all the other books she thought I should write. It took her months to stop. Oh, Mother!

My mom now holds the record for having sold more of my books than any single person. Probably more books than the entire marketing team at Purple Sky Publishing. Thank you so much, Mom, for being so proud of me that you aren’t ashamed to pull out the book in restaurants, the teacher’s lounge, doctors’ offices, even the ones you’ve sold talking to people in the check out line at Wal Mart. You’re amazing!!
Tune in next time when I confess why you should always, always, always, check your facts, even when the fact is from your own life history and going on the book jacket.