Blog

The terrible parent or the good one? On publishing your children’s books

The terrible parent or the good one? On publishing your children’s books

Quite a lot of buzz in the author blogosphere has centered around the New York Times article about books that parents have paid to have published for their children so that they can become authors. In that story, authors weighed in on how inappropriate this action was, as kids are still learning, and false expectations of both success and what it means to be an author were damaging.

Maureen Johnson also weighed in on this, separating the act of writing from publishing. Writing was good. Going public was not.

On the forums I participate in, both public and private, the overwhelming sense has been that these parents were dead wrong, that publishing is a business meant for experienced and seasoned writers, and kids should stay within the printed-and-stapled variety of book production.

Whew.

I tended to stay out of the threads, because goodness knows I had done this very thing myself. And the backlash among authors was pretty hard to bear.

Yes, I published my daughters’ book. I had started a little publishing company and done all the paperwork, the filing fees, the accounts. And couldn’t do the book I planned to because it was full color and the overseas run was just too expensive for me right after my divorce. I had a company and no books. I was going to chuck the whole idea.

And that summer, the girls got a book idea. It was something we could do together, a picture book where we’d use my photography rather than drawings. When I checked for similiar titles on the subject on Amazon I was shocked to see there were NONE aimed at children. (A couple have come out since.)

My friend had just gotten her masters in publishing and was willing to design the book for us to have a sample (the world was smiling on us.) We all spent about eight weeks producing the title. I had no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter, so I really had to rely on the girls. They dictated; I typed. I ran changes by them. I did help make sure the sentences were consistent, especially for the part my seven-year-old did.

The book now pays much of the overhead of my small press two years later. It’s sold thousands of copies. The girls had an event at Barnes and Noble, by invitation. We look at each invitation to do an event, or talk to a classroom, and decide if they want to do it or not. We turn down most things, as they want to go on with their normal kid lives. The book has gotten some criticism, which I talked to them about and they realized–hey, good points! But they had their reasons and still stood by their ideas. These were all teachable moments, to learn about the personalities of people online. As long as I was there to introduce it, to remind them—whew, people can be mean! It became an excellent conversation on how people act online (before either of them got exposed to it WITHOUT me being there to give them perspective.)

It’s been an incredible experience, and I think even if this hadn’t happened, if we had sold ten copies to grandparents and gone on, that wouldn’t have mattered either. It was something we did together, and a project we’re proud of. We didn’t expect fame or fortune—it started out as just something to put through my press because I had nothing else. The fact that the girls have money in accounts to go toward college and that I had seed money to put out the book I dreamed of is just—well, life smiling on us.

I think anything any parent does can go well or go badly. Maybe it’s publishing a book, maybe it’s forcing them to try out for commercials, maybe it’s never encouraging them or taking their artistic sensibilities seriously. There are a thousand ways we can err, but only the parents and child within any given situation can really know if a path they’ve chosen was a good one, or something that can do harm.

 

 

Recording an audio book on a good hair day

The room buzzed with awesome people. Judy Maggio, an anchor for a local TV station, dropped her bag on a chair and said, “I have to move my car! Just wanted you to know I was here.”

Author Pamela Ellen Ferguson (Sunshine Picklelime) had just finished recording a session. “Louis Sachar is going to be here later! You’re in good company!”

I wondered if I could skip picking up my children from school to meet Sachar (Holes, Wayside School) as he would arrive the same time as the dismissal bell. No, my kids would kill me if they found out. We’d watched the movie of Holes together and later read the book at bedtime.

Mainly I worried I would have a coughing fit in the middle of recording Baby Dust, or more likely, burst into tears. At least I didn’t have to worry about how I looked. We would be hidden in little booths the whole time even though I was having a rare good hair day.

I was introduced to volunteers of Learning Ally, a local branch of a national organization that records books for use by people with dyslexia or visual impairments. They are currently in the middle of their Record-a-Thon, where local celebrities, authors, politicians, and others record one-hour sessions to raise awareness and help them fund the coming year.

“What is your book about?” one asked. “Is it a lovely little children’s book like Pam’s?”

I couldn’t bear to tell her that mine was about death.

I should have practiced saying the hard stuff then, though, as when Project Director Carter York led me to a booth to teach me how the recording would go, he said, “The first thing we’ll record is the dedication.”

Whew, boy. My little babies, all dead. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I could read a single page.

But Carter made the transition to reading the book super easy. I made mistakes, and laughing about them made reading the difficult material more bearable.

Afterward, I met some of the members of Learning Ally who actually use the services, listening to books that range from essential textbooks to beach reading. I wondered who might choose to listen to Baby Dust, and what circumstances they might be in. While my novel has been chosen as required reading for a college social work program in another state, I know it’s tough material.

I’ll be a regular at Learning Ally, which, I’m sure, is what they hope for from their Record-a-Thon.  I am thrilled at the opportunity to read my book aloud.

Before I left, staff took a million pictures. Me, in headphones. Holding my book. With volunteers. With another author. Someone whispered, “I should have done my hair!”

Yep, I was glad for the good hair day. And waterproof mascara.

To learn more about Learning Ally, or to donate during their Record-a-Thon to cover costs of producing audio books for people with visual or learning disabilities, visit: http://www.recordathon.org/

Whew, boy, Valentine’s isn’t for everybody

Valentine’s Day can be tough. I’ve had a few of those nasty holidays where your friends might remember you’re in misery and try to prop you up, or you might end up sitting on the floor of your room, eating cheap chocolate and throwing wrappers at the wall.

Certainly, those of us who feel things a little more deeply than others take this day in, really feel the burn of it, even if it’s really just a fake holiday to sell flowers. Doesn’t matter. It’s a reminder. And all the red-and-pink romance around you is definitely going to make things worse.

In my bad years, I wrote short stories. They are not especially flattering to people in my life, but once you’re 40, you kinda say f*ck it and write what you want. I wanted this collection out in time for the big VD this year, as not everyone feels like teddy bears and roses.

So if you are NOT handling your breakup or divorce with dignity and grace, this collection of short stories was written just for you.

Ranging from hilarious to harrowing, each of these seven stories has a song playlist to set the mood for characters who are bitter, tormented, or just plain pissed off.

An extensive list of songs themed by misery, rage, or revenge also appears at the end of the collection to provide the perfect soundtrack for your bad breakup or anti-Valentine’s Day.

When allowed, lending is enabled so you can pass your collection on to the friend who needs it next.

Available for:

(This book is no longer available, although ask Deanna, and she can still send it to you.)

The songs listed in this collection are just wow. Remember that no matter how popular or mainstream a song gets, it starts from somewhere, and often that place is exactly where you are right now, if you feel the same thing when you hear it.

Reviews of Single Edged Blades from readers on Amazon:

The characters in these stories draw you in, then keep you emotionally off balance–torn between sympathizing with their passionate embracing of life and love, and wanting to shake some sense into their heads as they careen, almost naively at times, toward total self-destruction.

This is gritty material artfully realized. From the young woman having difficulty removing her former lover’s Nuvaring, to the woman impelled to cut herself, they react to love’s ardent promises and its bitter disappointments.

J Jones

 

The characters are so real. I understood what they were going through and felt myself right there in the middle of their stories.

K Hinshaw

 

 

If it ain’t broke, I’ll break it

I know just enough about web sites to be dangerous to myself and others.

Back in the days of Geocities, it was all so easy. Toss in a few animated GIFs, make a little flashy text. Everyone was WOW, ZOINKS!

I learned some HTML. I bought FrontPage. I put up sites pretty quickly and had great fun with them.

Now, I seem to break them.

Flash, HTML5, mobile sites, JavaScript. I can’t keep up. I get by with WordPress and buying portfolio templates I barely know how to customize.

Today I broke a site totally. I’ll have to get someone to bail me out of this one as I knew enough to make it go blank, the giant text “FORBIDDEN” stretching across it like a banner, but not enough to set it right.

Someone take away my Internet connection.

But here, for your enjoyment, a link to the internet archive of one of my early sites. Too hilarious. (Yes, I was still married back then…)

http://web.archive.org/web/20010702232236/http://deannaroy.com/family/

The Etta James Experience

I think maybe all of us have an Etta James song that speaks to us, maybe ten.

The singer, who died a few days ago, had a way of making those words spear straight into you. You didn’t just listen, you ached.

One of my favorite songs is one of her most famous, “At Last.” This song ate me up during a time in my life when I felt it utterly described the love I was feeling.

 

I’m glad my “I’d Rather Go Blind” days are behind me, as that is sometimes the way that “At Last” feeling ends up. That one did for me.

I can finally listen to it now without feeling the misery of it. But there was a time when this song would force me to pull over my car, as I couldn’t see to drive anymore.

I’m lucky now. Today’s “At Last” moment will actually last. I’m getting married (again) in June. Let’s hope we can keep it going like this. Thank you, Etta.

What *I’m* gonna do in 2012

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore. People who know about my last one remember how THAT turned out. (She’s nine and STILL doesn’t eat vegetables.)

But I do have plans for this year, hopefully on my timetable:

1. Complete Stella & Dane, my honky tonk romance that is a prequel to my published novel Baby Dust

2. Create a short story anthology of indie writers of middle grade light fantasy to benefit Dell Children’s Hospital

3. Complete Marcus Mender, the sequel to my published middle grade book Jinnie Wishmaker

4. Create an anthology of essays on loss by various leaders in the baby loss community to benefit a miscarriage/stillbirth organization

5. GET MARRIED! The big day is June 9 in Manhattan! Everything is already selected except the photographer. Sigh. The hardest part.

I hope your 2012 is eventful and full of joy!

 

The mixed blessing of the holidays

I don’t think anyone who has lost someone close to them ever feels purely happy during the holidays.

I remember as a child, having a very clean joy. I was full of anticipation of presents and cookies and days off from school. In Texas, we never knew if it would be cold, or if we’d be wearing short sleeves, and I only recall one white Christmas in all those years living at home. In fact, I was lucky. Because my parents were young, my grandparents young, I didn’t lose anyone close to me until I was an adult, the biggest loss of all.

But the Christmas prior to the bad year was not too happy either. We’d been trying to get pregnant since March. Babies were popping up all around us. My parents finally knew not to ask anymore, realizing something was awry.

There is a picture of my husband and me that year, by the tree. I’m wearing a shiny gray outfit, my hair up in a bun, and I look perfectly miserable, annoyed that someone is taking my picture. I’m devastated to be around family, but grateful that babies are not appearing yet. Tucked just a room away, within the drawers of my nightstand, were sheafs of basal body temperatures. I was trained to recognize ovulation and pregnancy, but only years later, when I became much better at reading the charts, would I see what was happening. Early miscarriage after early miscarriage. Cycles that I thought were wildly erratic, going from 25 days to 45 days, were not normal cycles at all, but low progesterone cycles, failed implantations, and early losses that were not even picked up on the tests of those days, where 100 was the minimum hormone threshold for a positive (today it is 20.)

What I didn’t know as I took that frowning picture was that I was indeed pregnant. And that by some miracle, it would stick for twenty long weeks. But only twenty weeks. And by the next Christmas a new ornament would appear on my tree. Casey’s.

This year, Elizabeth found Casey’s ornament first. She tugged it out, puzzled over the name for a second, then realized whose it was with an elongated, “Ohhhhhh.”

She brought the little plastic soldier bear to me. “I think you should put this one on,” she said.

I could not have pictured this moment that Christmas, that one day one of my children would hand me the ornament bearing the other’s name. I just knew then that I couldn’t carry babies, and that yet another one in my belly that year, the second or sixth, however you might count them, was in danger. My high-risk doctor was hopeful that I would make it to 25 weeks and give the new baby a chance of surviving. But that Christmas was strained and frightening, and the holiday never returned to that purity of joy I had before my twenties.

Now, with two lovely daughters and so much to celebrate, I make sure their Christmases are as lively and pure as my own (although this year it looks like we might be wearing SHORTS!) Elizabeth hands me an ornament, but the pain doesn’t stick to her. And once I put it on the tree, and admire it for a moment, I also return to our task, decorating and cooking and wrapping, for a holiday that can be as merry and bright as I am able.

My middle grade novel is out in the world — welcome, Jinnie Wishmaker!

I’ve been kinda quiet about a little marketing experiment I got involved in with BooksonBoard.com. This company, one of the largest independent e-book retailers online, decided a few months ago to open to independent authors. What they wanted was to create a second tier of service for indies to spotlight those books they thought they could really sell.

While I had not really planned to self-publish, this seemed like a great opportunity. I could always pull the book if it wasn’t chosen. But my novel for 9-12 year olds was indeed selected to be one of the first ten books in their program under their own imprint, Travis Press, and then I was one of five authors chosen to be spotlighted with an author page.

Within just a few days of their marketing push, Jinnie Wishmaker rose to the #2 most popular book in Youth/Young Adult and #120 in books overall.

I’m not sure of their plan for the book beyond this, if they will move the title to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s all very new. If you’d like to stay on top of what happens with Jinnie, as this is a series that will continue in the spring, go hang out at my kids’ blog (I had to use a pen name for obvious reasons, given THIS blog. 🙂 ) If you are a subscriber, you will get information about those books as well as the progress on Stella & Dane, and the short-story collection coming out in 2012, Single Edged Blades. Now that I’ve embraced the whole indie movement, I figured I might as well move forward with all the previously published things I have the rights back to, and get them out there.

It’s a very exciting time to be a writer!

Shutting out the world, 30 days at a time

My life gets pretty crazy.

Two kids. A split household. Two small businesses.

Sometimes you can’t see my sink.

Okay, usually you can’t see the sink.

But despite the day-to-day essentials of lunch packing, homework helping, books balancing, order filling, photo taking, and household managing, I know that what is most essential about me must also be nurtured. And that is the writer.

The trouble is, I’m the must-really-focus-and-be-bathed-in-silence kind of writer. I wish I weren’t. I’d love to be a put-on-the-headphones-and-shut-out-the-world type of writer. I’d also like to be able to write in short bursts, say, in between dropping off and picking up for trumpet lessons.

But no, I need to feel my time won’t be disturbed, to settle in. If I get on a roll, then sometimes, if I’m super lucky, I can keep that momentum, gliding through the day slightly above its rushed activities, doing what must be done but still keeping the story whirring in my head. It’s a delicate balance, much like riding a unicycle on a tightrope.

With people tugging at your elbows for a snack.

National Novel Writing Month re-prioritizes my world for 30 days.  I’m supposed to write 50,000 words. I’ve achieved that five times. Last year I only managed 35,000. (But I added moving to a new house and setting up a new studio to the month—priorities didn’t budge.)

All of my novels have started out as NaNoWriMo projects. I don’t draft by the seat of my pants, but using an outline. I always have a direction for my stories, so I’m not writing total blather. While often I end up keeping 15% or less of the November words, they still serve an excellent purpose. Several, in fact:

  1. It tells me whether my story idea is one I want to live with for the next year through editing.
  2. It gets all the “junk” out. We often reach for familiar story lines and overused character types in our first drafts.
  3. It helps me find the “voice.” Slow drafting with breaks in between often means the character will pick up characteristics and mannerisms based on the new experiences and influences around me. Fast drafting helps me keep the voice consistent through the first version.

I never “come down” from the story. I leave my laptop powered up and open to the novel document at ALL times, sitting on the dining room table. Passing it keeps the action fresh in my mind, so when I sit down again, it all starts flowing, as if I’d never stopped.

Usually I take December off from the book. Most years the story isn’t done, as an adult novel is 80,000 words, so I’ll review what I did in November, edit the story line, make notes on changes, and finish out the draft by March. Usually by summer I have a good first draft, revised and rearranged, to start presenting to my critique group.

Stella & Dane, my current project, has been part of an experiment to keep readers involved since I’m writing a prequel to a novel just published last month. I’ve released bits and pieces of it, knowing that those scenes may not end up in the final draft at all, and certainly not in their current state.

Editing them, which is usually forbidden, has slowed me down just enough that I might not make the 50,000. But I’m very deep into this book, and the characters live with me now. And that’s the single best part of NaNoWriMo—immersing myself in a writing world, making it the first thing I do each morning, if only for 30 days.

On writing love scenes at 7 a.m.

On writing love scenes at 7 a.m.

So last night Stella and Dane finally got to meet, carefully dove tailing this introduction to the way it was described in Baby Dust.

Of course, Dane already HAS a girlfriend, but that doesn’t stop Stella. It’s not like he’s married, and besides, they’d been together all of what, two weeks? She had zits older than that.

But the meeting doesn’t quite go as she planned, and Dane takes off with Darlene on his motorcycle. And in Chapter Four, the book switches point of view. So we start to get to know Dane himself.

Last night I found I’d written myself in a corner. I was so afraid of Dane’s POV that I ended the scene at a page, which technically made it a sequel, not a bonafide scene. So I shut down for the night and lay in bed thinking about how to write myself out of the hole. I needed a problem for him, something with some meat in it. That’s when I wondered–what would Darlene do? She saw the sparks with her long-time rival. She’d go for broke.

And so Darlene leads Dane out to her uncle’s hunting cabin in the Ozarks, planning to make her move.

I had the scene.

Unfortunately, I woke up early, and with the sun just entering the horizon, and me in my decidedly unsexy flannel jammies, hair in some indecipherable knot, I made my first attempt at a sex scene from a man’s point of view.

Did I succeed? And more importantly, did Darlene? I’ll assess the scene tonight and decide if it’s worthy of inclusion in the next excerpt, going out in Thursday’s weekly newsletter to subscribers. Not on the list yet? Click here to get on it! New subscribers will get links to the content they missed in previous emails.