Friday, May 28, 2010

Saving Ebersole

Ebersole is a nature preserve owned by Lansing (Michigan) School District. All four of my kids (and my husband and I, as chaperones) enjoyed camping there and communing with nature in extended outdoor science lessons led by smart teachers.
It's a great resource -- a reason to remain in a school district that sometimes feels too big to care about our kids, and a perk from living in Lansing that families in other districts envy. (At most of my author events I show my sketchbook from Ebersole. It's also on my website. Some people are in awe)

And now the Lansing School Board is planning to sell Ebersole.
It's not far from Lake Michigan. This prime, beautiful land will probably become condos.
A petition has been started
with the goals of raising awareness and saving Ebersole. I signed it and commented.

Here's my comment:
"The Lansing schools and I are playing a game of chicken. They're cutting programs and resources I consider important, and I'm defiantly standing my ground, refusing to move my last kid out of Gardner into a nice school in the suburbs (where many of our good friends flocked over the years).

"I watch Lansing Schools decimate their best programs and pink slip wonderful teachers (how could they let Darren Webb go? He would have brought more kids INTO Lansing schools!) and I wonder who will keep their kids in Lansing -- and what will be left for those who stay.

"As a parent whose 4 children adored Ebersole, as a chaperone and resident artist for a couple Ebersole camping trips, and as an author who featured Ebersole lessons in my Ellie McDoodle books so that kids outside of Lansing could benefit from nature contact, I ask that the School Board reconsider: Don't sell this resource which benefits our children so greatly.

"If Lansing Schools must cut something, cut the buses that pick up students less than a mile* from the middle school; there are too many mostly-empty buses and too many kids riding instead of walking.
Or -- better -- brainstorm with us on ways to save or raise money. The school board hasn't even tapped its largest resource, caring families. Bake sales, garage sales, book sales, car washes -- surely we can raise a lot of money if we work together.

"Don't cut Ebersole, one of our brilliant gems that opens minds and connects our children with science and nature. Read Last Child in the Woods, about nature deficit disorder -- and be glad our kids don't suffer from that because they have Ebersole... for now."
*Some will argue that only kids further away than one mile are picked up. This is technically true. But if Gardner unlocked the northwest gate and cut down the blocking poles at the southwest end, students wouldn't be forced to walk around to the front of the school. This would cut a half mile off my kid's route.
And -- here's a radical thought: What if we encouraged kids to ride bikes to school?

The petition is here. If you're a Lansing Schools parent, teacher, student, former student or former parent, please pass the word, and please sign the petition. Maybe this is one bad decision that we can prevent.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Opinionated me: Five Reasons You Don't Need an Agent

Sometimes I answer an email to a writing group and what I wrote seems worth saving in case my kids decide to become kids' book writers.
I'm going to start pasting some of them here. They're 100% opinion which means you may not agree at all. And they're tweaked to make sense in the context of this blog.
Here is the first.

The precipitating event:
Harold Underdown wrote Five Reasons Why You Don't Need an Agent.

My response:
Very interesting article, Harold! (As usual)

I remember at my first SCBWI regional conference, wayyyy back in 2003, an agent stood on stage and told us all the reasons we didn't need an agent. Her talk was much like what Harold wrote, only a little more pessimistic. ;)

I thanked her personally, took it to heart and resolved to not waste her time, but to come up with something so great that an agent couldn't resist it. (I figured it would take five years)

Two years later I signed with an agent because of a referral by a writer I'd never talked with or met.
At the time I had a work in progress inspired by
promptings from fellow writers to write something in my sketchbook style -- which they'd become familiar with because I'd shared my 2005 SCBWI National NYC Conference sketchbook on my website (And it's still there).
I'd never heard of Marissa Moss's Amelia series nor Jeff Kinney's soon-to-debut Diary of a Wimpy Kid
-- I'd been working in picturebooks, and knew very little about middle-grade novels.
I worked hard to make
the new idea work and was alternately excited and defeatist, until I met my new agent. Other writers also played a huge role in my happy publication story, and most of them I met on the CW (Yahoo Groups: childrens-writers) list.

What this whole learning process has taught me:
- When it's a good idea to have an agent, it'll probably be very easy to get one.
It's a lot easier to get an agent if you have a contract in hand, a very marketable manuscript or a body of strong work (several manuscripts) ready for minimal tweaking and submitting.
If you have all these things and agents still decline representation then I don't know what's wrong.
How do you know if your manuscript is highly marketable? Show it to a few established writers. If their eyes pop while reading it and they encourage you to finish it and SUBMIT!!, it's probably very marketable.
- Just because someone stands on stage and says everyone needs an agent doesn't make it true.
They might be interested more in self-
preservation than in you -- a couple editors-turned-agents are guilty of this and I dislike their calculating insincerity.
We all know writers who sell novels without agents. Agents are very helpful but not an absolute necessity. Though I can't speak to where the industry is headed, this is true today.

- If you write picturebooks and agents only want novelists, don't switch to novels.
Write what's best for you. The world doesn't need more
copies of greatness, it needs more original greatness. I don't know about your work, but when people look at my work they seem to be able to tell if I labored over it or if I enjoyed doing it. Surprisingly, it matters.
- Fellow writers often have more to do with shaping our decisions and helping us get to our goals than editors, agents or paid consultants.
It's funny to see writers fawning over editors and agents at conferences, hoping for a mentorship. They're overlooking many who possess the skills, time and inclination to help them hone their skills: their fellow writers.
- Desperation is ugly, awkward and hard to watch, and it detracts from the true goal.
It's better to
be desperate to do excellent work than to be desperate to be published or desperate to have an agent. The only shortcut in this industry is self-publication or lowering your standards and signing with a sub-par publisher. Though there's a respected place for self-publishing, I don't recommend it for non-niche children's fiction.
- Be patient.
Every facet of publishing demands patience so it's a good
idea to cultivate it early -- because whether you want it or not, you'll develop patience.
- Work very, very hard. If you build it, they will come. Things might not turn out like you'd planned (they sure didn't for me -- I thought I'd be doing daily comic strips for newspapers right now), but if you're doing the work you have passion for and you're putting lots and lots of time into it and you're pushing yourself hard to improve, you will get something amazingly good out of it. Everything else here might be opinion, but to me this last part is fact.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I'm off to write

If I don't answer your call, if I'm late getting back to you in email, if you don't see me at events around town, it's because I am writing.
I'm working on my fourth book, a novel about a girl who loves to read. I owe three chapters to my agent and editor as soon as I can get them done.
I traveled a lot in the past month and a half -- a week in Texas, a week in Chicago, a couple days in Grand Rapids and then Battle Creek -- and while I tried to work on the novel while on the road, it turned more into thinking and analyzing than actual writing.
I was afraid to start writing when I got home, but now I've started and it won't stop until it's done. That's the way it usually works.
I'll tend to the important things (MRA paperwork, Gango sketchbook uploads, Elliot and the Goblin War by Jen Nielsen, protecting Ebersole, school events in Bloomfield Hills and Farmington, a few other things), and will concentrate on getting this book into shape.
Here's one of the characters:

So if you see me in the bookstore, say hello but don't ask what I've been up to -- it's too long an answer! ;)