Monday, June 23, 2014

The Little Book That Could

Sometime around 1990 my writer friend and fellow bibliophile gave me a copy of Pauline Baynes' Good King Wenceslas. This simple picture book fired up my imagination, and I wanted to know MORE about this young man, since there was obviously a great story beyond the scene portrayed in the Christmas carol.

I did a lot of old-fashioned research, reading everything I could find about Wenceslas. I found a copy of a rare book through interlibrary loan--a "Life of Saint Wenceslas" published in 1929, the thousand year anniversary of his death. I discovered this 10th century ruler had been a duke, not a king, and his Czech name was Vaclav. I decided to write his story through the eyes of a servant boy.
Another great NF source

I first submitted a summary and sample chapters to an agent I met at a writer's conference.

The manuscript won first place in our local writer's guild contest.
I received a lot of good feedback from editors, but no one wanted to publish it. Since I'd immersed the reader in the raw, gritty tenth century where human sacrifice and slavery and all kinds of yucky stuff was going on, it was either too raw or too Christian.
Editor critique at SCBWI conference, later rejected

Eerdman's wanted to publish it, and held it for about three years, but they finally went with a "safer" picture book version that merely illustrated the Christmas carol. My manuscript must have influenced the artist, though, because it's the only one featuring a young "Good King" Wenceslas.
Then I was distracted by cancer and working on Leandra's Enchanted Flute while poetry gushed from me in every possible form, so I didn't do much with the manuscript for almost ten years.

Then my energetic writer friend, Sally learned that Pauline Books & Media was publishing fiction, and I sent a query. They had actually rejected this story in 1994, but I'd always thought they would be the best publisher because Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Pauline asked to see the whole manuscript, and a few weeks later asked if I could make Poidevin a little older when the story began (he was originally eight years old) so they could fit it in their YA catalog. The oldest I felt I could make him was twelve, since Wenceslas/Vaclav was fourteen, and they liked it and sent a rather intimidating marketing survey for me to fill out.

That worried me a little since I still haven't learned the secret to successful marketing, but I ran it by my critique group, and they said it looked great and gave me some more ideas. I didn't hear back for a few more weeks so began to worry they weren't going to publish it after all, but the office manager sent an eleven page contract, and a follow up email from the YA editor I'll be working with gave a tentative publishing date of January 1, 2016.

All of that was pretty exciting, but it was even more exciting when I received a thick packet of information and a "Welcome to Pauline Books & Media." I think I better understand Sally Field's Oscar gush, "You like me! Right now you like me!"
Years between first submission and acceptance: 22
Rejections received: 17

Stay tuned for more updates as this publishing process progresses! (Alliteration intentional....)

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Good Thing About Rejection

A recent comment by a new writer acquaintance made me realize that receiving rejection slips is not the same as it used to be. Indie writers who self-publish without first trying to navigate the publishing jungle as well as new writers who are dealing with editors and agents and their "if you don't hear back from us in xx weeks, consider yourself rejected" policy do not share a common experience with me and other older writers. (Eek, I said it--I am one of the "older writers" now.)
My 1st reject--on a yellow sticky note from 1985
Even though I'd written short stories and poetry since third grade, I didn't begin to write seriously for publication until 1985. I was prolific then, churning out fantasy and science fiction stories as well as a few children's stories as fast as I could write them. I usually let my writer's group read them before sending them out to magazines, but sometimes I was premature in my excitement.
1st reject for my 1st novel
While I was writing dozens and dozens of short stories, I also began researching and writing my first novel, which was (thankfully) never published. Most of my rejects for that one were form letters, but the first rejection was a personally typed letter. Those types of rejections are always encouraging, because busy editors will NOT take the time to give you feedback unless they believe you have some hope of developing into a better and publishable writer.
Over the years I sent multiple stories to the same encouraging editors, hoping one of the stories would "connect." But alas, it took me over 600 rejections (yes, you read that correctly) and 7 years of writing, writing, writing and improving my craft to finally receive an acceptance.
Some editors are brief.
Some have neat handwriting!
This one always wrote real letters! (And did buy one of my fantasy stories.)
This one had a manual typewriter & really skimped on paper.
Form postcard with added note.
Form letter with brief encouraging note.
Sometimes the reason has nothing to do with the writing.
Sometimes they'll suggest other publishing houses.
I now have over 1,000 rejections crammed in an overfull folder (which I used to take to school author visits to show students the "reality" of publishing, but I may have to rethink that). The majority of them are "form letters" with no feedback.
Some form rejects are sort of "personalized"...
And others not--just stuffed in a SASE.
But those several editors who took just a few minutes to share positive feedback with a young and clueless writer encouraged me to keep writing, keep polishing, keep improving, and NOT give up submitting until I found the right editor/magazine/publisher for each publishable project. I now view my seven year journey to publication as my apprenticeship; in a way, these wonderful editors "mentored" me.

For all the acceptances I've had over the last 22 years, there are many more submissions that were never accepted: Some because they weren't good enough to merit publication, but others simply because of bad luck or timing. After all, good ideas happen simultaneously to more than one writer, and whoever "gets there first" is the one published.

And sometimes a well-written project just has to wait until the right time--but that's a subject for another blog. (Anyway, I'd rather wait until I have the signed contract returned and the advance check in hand before I write about that book's long journey. Stay tuned!)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Missing my Dad on Father's Day

This will be the third Father's Day since my Dad died. While looking for a card for my father-in-law, it hit me forcibly that I can't ever give my Dad another funny card. So I thought I'd share this photojournal of the remarkable journey of a remarkable man.
My father, Walter Harvey Huth, grew up in a German-speaking family, the son of immigrants to Texas who settled in a small farming community southeast of San Antonio called Lenz. In the 1930's Lenz had a community hall, a store, a mill, and a two-room schoolhouse where church services were held in German by a visiting pastor. Dad remembers the men sitting on one side and the women and children on the other side.
Because each of his parents had ten siblings, Dad had many cousins, several of whom lived nearby. He also knew all four grandparents as a young boy.
Possibly because his parents weren't able to go far in their education (his Dad 8th grade; his Mom 6th grade), they encouraged both their sons to eventually earn college degrees. At first my Dad wasn't an enthusiastic student; he preferred hunting and fishing after chores were done, not studying like his older brother did.
My Dad made a great Boy Scout.
My Dad was very athletic, playing football, basketball, and baseball. He and his buddy Alvin Greaves were known as the "Lenz Flashes" once they got to high school because they could run so fast.
Dad graduated from Kennedy High School in 1948 when he was only 16 (he turned 17 on August 29) and went to Texas A&M the first year. His grandpa Mueller was an Aggie, but I don't know if that influenced his choice of schools. He transferred to UT Arlington his sophomore year. Several years ago he told me he was "too young" to go to college because he hung out with older boys and got in "a lot of trouble."
Dad joined the Army in 1951 and because he had some college went to Officers Candidate School (OCS).
Visiting his parents and nephew after boot camp.
Freezing in Korea--he trained spies as an expendable 2nd Lt.
Still managed to hunt in Montana on leave.
Dating my Mom in Washington D.C.
While on TDY (temporary duty) as a German translator with the CIA, he met my Mom, who also worked for the CIA. Their meeting and courting would make a great romance novel, since they were part of the Berlin Wall project at the time. I hope to write that story someday.
Their wedding December 6, 1956
Expecting their first child--me!
Me & Mom meeting Dad's folks for the first time
Pilot training, Camp Gary, Texas.
Stationed in Hawaii 1962-1965
Chopper pilot in Vietnam 1966-67
With his 3 girls
The consummate fisherman.

After retiring from the Army in 1971, Dad worked mostly in landscaping but also as a German translator. He and my Mom opened an arts and crafts store which made money every year, and they sold it at a profit, allowing them to retire early and travel to all 50 states, most of Canada, and to Europe.

Once Dad got too sick to travel, he and my Mom realized how lucky they'd been. After all, he'd survived two wars, and most of their investments had made money, giving them time and opportunity to do what they enjoyed for several years.

My Mom's surprise 70th birthday party.
With his 3 girls at their 50th wedding anniversary.
My Dad was always my hero, but he was also a kind, generous man, and it still doesn't seem possible that he's no longer with us. I'm thankful he lived as long as he did, against all odds, and that I was blessed to have him as my father.