Sunday, March 25, 2018

Spring Break!!! (Or is it???)

Time for seven days of relaxation mode. At least that's how it's supposed to be. So far, things have been a little bit wacky around the Bradford household.

There was a raccoon hanging out in our front yard, right in the middle of the day. I think he was injured or feeling unwell, and so I called Animal Control. But I wanted to just give him a hug.

The Animal Control Officer was very friendly, and also very patient. It took him about two hours to get the raccoon into the cage. I was worried that he was going to euthanize the poor critter -- because at first the officer suspected distemper. But then he determined that the raccoon had probably been in a fight and hurt his leg. So, if the human was telling the truth, the raccoon should be hanging out at the local rescue center -- which I think is somewhere in Placerita Canyon. 

My eldest daughter is on spring break as well, so she is back home! She spent a "girls weekend" with her grandma and cousins. They played around the beach. Here she is doing a cool karate move. 

She had such a great time at the beach it made her want to fully embrace her Californian heritage by buying a surf board. So you used some Local trade App and found someone who wanted to sell their board for a very reasonable price. Thirty minutes later, she bought a surf board.

(Now all she needs is an ocean.)

My youngest daughter has spring break from her English class. However, that's not the case for her Calculus class. She's taking it online through LA Mission College, and they don't have their break until April. So while I'm being lazy, she hunkered down at the computer working on this kind of stuff... 

(Makes perfect sense to me!) 

She has also been cast in her favorite musical: In the Heights. On top of that, she is working back stage in a show that opened this weekend. So her busy schedule is a sharp contrast to my weekend of watching Netflix shows and taking naps. 

In truth, however, I don't have any right to be lazy at present. Even though I don't go back to work until April 2nd, I actually have a ton of essays to grade. That's what I get for forcing my poor students to write argument essays. As my good friends often tell me, if I don't want to grade papers I need to stop assigning them. 

So far I've graded six of them. Only 84 left to go! 

In the world of writing, I might have a little bit of good news on the horizon. But it's not locked in yet, so I can't report anything until it's more official. (It's nothing huge, by the way, but a nice little potential feather in my figurative cap.) 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Boom LatinAmericano

In the 60s and 70s, Latin America experienced a surge of immense creativity brought forth by young authors, a literary wave known as the Latin American Boom...

My favorite among these writers is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Here he is being very serious:

And here he is being not so serious...

I've been using his stories for years in my classroom. In particular, "A Very Old man with Enormous Wings" is an excellent way to teach students about Magic Realism. (And it's also an excellent companion to Kafka's "A Hunger Artist."

These authors are famous for combining the fantastical with the mundane. 

Julio Cort├ízar's novel Hopscotch instructs the reader to digest the chapters out of order. 

He also has a story about a traffic jam that lasts so long that a unique culture is born from it.

Another of my personal favorites is Octavio Paz... Here he is looking old and distinguished...

But here's another photo of him looking young and putting on the smolder...  

Oh wait, that's from Tangled... Here's young Octavio.... 

Octavio is actually in the height of his writing a bit before the so-called "Boom." One of his most famous short stories, "My Life with the Wave," is published in 1949. But as you will discover if you read it, his work is very much in sync with the Magic Realism movement. 

And since we are speaking of those who have influenced the Boom Latinamericano, we would be remiss to leave out the amazing surrealist Jorge Luis Borges (author of the mind-blowing "Library of Babel") and the beloved poet/politician, Pablo Neruda. 



Sunday, March 18, 2018

Papa Bear's Page Fright: Common Core Teaching Guide

It is getting very close to my book's birthday. My third literary child, Papa Bear's Page Fright, will be on book shelves this April.

ABOUT THE BOOK: "This is the story of a little girl named Goldilocks. Well, that’s what it was supposed to be, but there’s a problem. When Papa Bear discovers that he’s inside of a book and there are people outside of it looking in at him, he gets very nervous and forgets his next line. Poor Papa Bear . . . he has Page Fright! Can Mama Bear, Baby Bear, and Goldilocks help him find the courage to remember his lines and finish the story?"

To celebrate the event, the good folks at Peter Pauper's Press have created a free Teaching Guide to go along with the book.

Check out the free PDF of Papa Bear's Page Fright: Common Core Teaching Guide...

Friday, March 16, 2018

Meet the Rejections: Five Different Types of No

For a writer, there is nothing as scary nor as exhilarating as sending off your manuscript. Well... maybe bobsledding.

But working on a novel for weeks, months, maybe years is a long, laborious process. If you do it right, you put pieces of your soul within that document. So, it's not easy to send your literary baby out into the world.

It's hard. If we leave our manuscript in our desk drawer or (perhaps more likely) in the databanks of our computer, then our story won't find readers. Our stories deserve readers. Our characters deserve an audience. We have to believe that if we want to write. And so... even though it may be difficult, we must send our words out into the universe.

Most of the time. It's not going to go how we want it to go. Although, maybe that's just me. I've been writing for decades -- which means I've dealt with rejection in many different forms. Here are the five different forms of rejection that I have met over the years. 

1) Mr. Impersonal (AKA Mr. I-Don't-Even-Bother-Reading-Your-Shitty-Manuscript)
Sometimes rejection comes in the form of a form letter. Ah, yes, the impersonal rejection letter... the one that makes you wonder if the person at the other end even bothered to read it... 

(This isn't one from my personal stash of them, by the way. In fact, I believe I threw all of mine away back in 2009 when I received my very first offer to publish a children's book. Now, I wish I'd kept them -- if only for the sake of this blog post. But the above letter is very much in the spirit of the dozens -- perhaps hundreds--I received.) 

Nowadays, many writers are actually thrilled just to get a response no matter how impersonal. Why? Because a lot of agencies and publishing houses don't send them out anymore. When I started submitting work (back when I was 16 years old) it was all about postage stamps and self-addressed envelopes. If you wrote a story for a magazine, and you included proper postage you were practically guaranteed to get a response. So, even though the Mr. Impersonal response is disheartening -- at least it's a definitive answer. It's ways better than... 

2) Mr. Ignore-U

 Sometimes the most dissatisfying form of rejection is no response at all. In the age of unfriending and ghosting, this seems to be the most common style of saying NO to a manuscript. Saying nothing. If an agent or editor reads a query letter or a first chapter, and it's not her cup of tea, she simply moves onto the next email, continuing her search for literary gold.

By the way, as frustrating as this type of rejection may be, I completely understand the point of view of the gatekeeper. There is only so much time in the day to go through the slush pile. And then if you add in all of the time it takes to respond -- even if it's just a matter of attaching an impersonal response -- those minutes easily add up to hours wasted. If we extend the "searching for gold" metaphor, we wouldn't expect a prospector to spend his time crouched by the river, examining a rock and then taking five minutes to explain to the stone that he is pyrite instead of a gold nugget. That prospector is going to look for value, and if no value is found, he will toss that rock back into the stream. 

Also, I think there is another reason why agents and editors choose not to respond. We in the age of instant messaging and back-and-forth tweets. Also, it's an age of online trolls and flame wars. 

If an agent receives a picture book manuscript via email, reads the work, and thinks "This is definitely not good," and then she writes a polite rejection saying, "Thanks, but it's not for me..." then what happens next? Hopefully, in most cases, the writer thinks "Well, guess I better move on to the next person or the next project." But probably what happens a lot is that angry unprofessional writer sends a message right back, demanding to know: "WHY WON"T YOU PUBLISH ME?!  WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME?!!" Restraining orders ensue.

Who can blame an agent for resorting to Mr. Ignore-U? 

3) Mrs. Been-There-Done-That

This one doesn't sting so much. This is the type of rejection that happens when an editor reads your manuscript, thinks that you are a good writer (at least that's what they tell you), but that your story is too similar to something they already have in the works. 

At this point in my career, I get this one a lot. And, if I'm going to get a rejection, this is one I like getting. Here's an example of this type of rejection (sent to my agent). It's from a couple years ago:

I appreciate the opportunity to consider Wade's work—he's a talented and funny storyteller! Ultimately, though, I'm afraid this project isn't the best fit for me. The meta element feels a bit too familiar, and I'm just not sure I have a clear vision for differentiating this story in the marketplace. 

So, this was a rejection of a meta-fiction picture book about the Papa Bear from Goldilocks and the Three Bears freaking out when he realizes that he's being watched by the readers of the book.

Since I'm a bit of a narcissist, I like the fact that the editor boosted my ego by saying that I am "talented and funny." It's shallow, I know, but it actually makes me feel better if the rejection letter says a couple nice things before ultimately saying no. Also, the reason for the NO seems to be that there are already too many meta-fiction picture books (stories about storytelling) in the market; so this one might be a tough sell. I get that. (I also know that if they read something that they ABSOLUTELY LOVED they wouldn't care about the project being a "bit too familiar" -- but if you're going to let the writer down easy, this is a fine way to do it.) 

The good news about this project, called Papa Bear's Page Fright, is that even though it was kindly turned down by twelve editors who all felt there was too much meta-fiction in the marketplace, the book was eventually accepted by Peter Pauper Press! Shameless plug: It will be released the April!!!

4) Ms. Oh-Hell-No

This is the type of rejection in which the editor/agent hates your work and doesn't sugar coat it. They don't send a form letter. They send back your manuscript with a red-inked rant in the margins. They tell the writer very clearly that there is no possible way that this will ever be published. 

It doesn't happen very often (I hope), but when it does, it can be very jarring. And, for some writers, this kind of rejection can permanently cripple one's enthusiasm. Then again, how would we develop thick skin if not for the harsh critics of the world?

When I was eighteen years old, I worked on a project called Running Through the Apocalypse. It was about a teenager who finds out he's the Antichrist, but all he wants to be is a cartoonist. I wrote it as a screenplay first, and then adapted it into a novel, and when that didn't work I turned it into a stage play. 

There was a literary contest at a local theater in Seattle, seeking new plays. So, I worked up the courage to polish my script and submit. Five winners would be selected for a staged reader, and one grand prize would be the mounting of a professional production. I did not win any of those prizes. However, whoever judged my play decided to mail back the script with their notes. They ripped it apart -- not just declaring that my jokes did not work, but they proclaimed that I was a closed-minded misogynist. (I don't believe I was -- but maybe I'm just too closed-minded to see it!) Needless to say, I was taken aback. I knew my script topic was controversial -- but I had no idea that someone would view the message as anti-feminist (mainly because of the lack of female characters)... or that they would write notes filled with disdain on every page. This freaked me out a bit, because I wanted to write something thought-provoking, not hate-provoking. After that rejection I was a bit gun shy at writing "serious" or "cutting edge" plays, and started playing it safe with the kinds of kid-friendly comedies I still write today. 

5) Mr. Close-But-No-Cigar

This is the most tantalizing of rejections. This is one someone genuinely admires your work, and they aren't just paying lip service (as might happen with Mrs. Been There Done That). The rejection letter is ultimately a NO -- but you receive precious feedback explaining what works and what doesn't. Plus, you might also be given encouragement to submit something new. 

Here's one of my Close-But-No-Cigar emails from ten years ago when I first started writing picture books: 

Thank you for sending us Uncle Ant and allowing us to consider it for publication. There are many things about your story that I enjoyed. The description of where the ant's relatives work is very vivid. The dialogue between the ant and his mother is very funny, especially when she forgets his number. 

Your writing style is smooth and enjoyable, and details like the spider web thread that Uncle Ant uses to tie up his leaf boat add texture to the imaginative world of the story. 

Beginning at the moment that Uncle Ant meets the young ant, the story becomes a little heavy handed in terms of teaching a moral. I would recommend writing a new story without the intention of teaching a lesson. All stories have messages inherent in them. It would be more effective to focus on plot and the character. 
We invite you to submit another story, and with your permission, I would like to hold on to this submission for reference should you choose to send us another manuscript.  

As you can imagine, getting this email was thrilling. It made me want to write more. It made me feel like I might have a chance in the world of children's books -- and that meant the world to me. 

These types of rejection letters told me to keep going. So I did. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Back to Work - Thank Goodness!

Well, my hard work has brought me to a weekend that is free and clear off essays. Whew! To celebrate, I returned to the land of Children's Book Writing. I dropped my Time Travel book (for now) and started something brand new.

Maybe it's a bad habit to stop and project and switch to something new, but I needed something silly and fun to recharge my creative batteries -- and I think this little chapter book is doing the trick. I have already written five pages, and hopefully there will be more to come in the very near future.

Here's to a bit of free time... Artists of the world, make the most of it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was the first person from Asia to win a Nobel Prize (for Literature). He wrote essays, poetry, books, plays, and songs. In fact, he wrote India's national anthem.

He was an activist who worked along side Mahatma Ghandi, endeavoring to free India from British Imperialism. 

He turned down an offer of knighthood from England. His refusal was an act of protest against the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre. (You can get a sobering glimpse of this atrocity depicted in this scene from Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi.) 


Here's a photo that immortalizes the meeting of two great minds: 

Also... Rabindranath Tagore --as if he wasn't accomplished enough -- was an accomplished painter... 

Kafka's Metamorphosis

Here's an excellent biographical overview of Franz Kafka's life and work. 

Defining Kafkaesque... 

And, this is just for fun... 

Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful life

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Does It Get Easier?

Right ow the answer is: No. Writing does not get easier.

For me, at least, writing is like exercise. The more you do it, the stronger you become. However, if you pause from your daily exercise/writing... Then it's going to be hard to get back into the process, and the more you put off the process, the harder it becomes.

Publishing doesn't seem to get easier either. (That's not exactly true... But first let me tell you what's truthful about that statement.)

I have written over thirty plays now... But that doesn't mean that publishing companies are saying yes to everything I write for them. If they don't think one of my plays will sell, they won't offer me a contract, plain and simple. And I've noticed that if I let a long stretch of time go by between my plays, then I'm not on the forefront of the editor's mind. They might not get back to me as quickly as they did.

Writing and selling books doesn't get easier. Before I was a published author, I day dreamed that I would be visiting the offices of my editors on a weekly basis, and that we would have lunch and chat about upcoming projects. Nope. That was just a daydream. It might happen someday... But right ow I am still in the trenches. I am still only as good as my last submission. And that's actually not a bad thing. In fact, it's a very good thing. It's just not an easy thing.

but in honesty, selling my work has gotten easier over the years. I have made contacts. i have an awesomely amazing agent. I have editors who are looking forward to seeing future manuscripts. My life as a writer is far more industrious than my clueless 20s. So, I am blessed to have doors open to me (maybe not open wide, but at least I have my proverbial foot in the door.)

Which reminds me...

I am about to become a mentor. I am going to work with a fellow SCBWI member, and hopefully, I will be able to make one writer's life just a little bit easier. Cross your fingers for the both of us!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

March Is Feisty Month

If February is a month in which we fall off the wagon of life, March is a time for us to pick our selves up, dust our selves off, and give the middle finger to the horse who gave us the trouble in the first place.

My old roommate and best friend, Joshua, came up with the concept of Feisty Month. This is thirty days of moxy, gumption, and a gungho attitude.

This month I am already exercising more, creating more, and grading more papers (in an expedient manner).

Whatever your 2018 goals are, I hope that you will redouble your efforts and join me on a quest for feistiness.