Friday, January 30, 2009

A Typical Writing Day - Friday, Jan. 30

6:45am Rouse slightly, glance at clock. Close eyes again.

7:45am Yikes! Get out of bed. Put on exercise clothes.

8am Eat bowl of oatmeal with raisins. Pour cup of tea.

8:15 - 9:15am Critique manuscript chapter for member of Writing Group; check email

9:15 - 9:30am Drive to gym practicing Italian lesson on MP3 player in car, thus killing two birds with one stone, only not literally.

9:30 - 10:30am Yoga -- try to imitate movements of far more agile (and younger) instructor.

10:30 - 10:45am Drive home again repeating useful Italian phrases such as: Voglio comprare un belle cappello. (I want to buy a nice hat.)

10:45 - 11:15am Shower and dress.

11:15- noon Turn on computer, check email. Respond to question about a March school visit. Try to open an attachment unsuccessfully. Abandon attempt and continue yesterday's work on second chapter of first draft of current project. Write two or three paragraphs.

12 - 12:30pm Feed dog and self. Dog jumps up and down for canned food as if it's the best thing ever. How can he feel this way when he eats the same thing every single day? My lunch: 1/2 ham sandwich; cottage cheese with black pepper and green olives (yum! You should try this, it's a good combination); broccoli salad; one Dove dark chocolate square (for medicinal purposes, of course).

12:30 - 2pm Back at computer. Write one and a half pages.

2- 2:45pm Drive to eye doctor's office. Pick up extra pair of contact lenses. Listen to more Italian: La metropolitana non pasa spezzo. (The subway doesn't run often.)

2:45 - 4pm Write one more page to finish chapter.

4 - 4:20pm Go for short walk with husband and dog.

4:20 - 4:30pm Change a couple sentences in chapter ending I thought about on walk. Check email again. Write a couple non-work emails. Turn off computer.
Another writing day is done!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thoughts of Norway

I just finished reading The Klipfish Code, a middle grade novel about a young girl who, along with her younger brother, is sent to live with her teacher aunt and fisherman grandfather after the Germans bomb Norway in 1940. Though Norway was occupied for five long years, Norwegian resistance efforts were strong. For refusing to teach Nazi propaganda, one of ten teachers was sent to a concentration camp. Marit is troubled that her grandfather seems unwilling to "rock the boat" and stand up to the Germans, even after her aunt (his daughter) is taken away one day. But when Marit happens upon a wounded Norwegian soldier, her own fear of what could happen if the Germans caught her assisting him almost causes her to turn her back on the man. Somehow she finds the courage to hide him, and to finish the mission he begs her to take on. The last few chapters had my adrenalin flowing, they were so gripping and suspenseful. The author, Mary Casanova, lives in Minnesota. Her ancestors are Norwegian. Though mine are not, I feel a special connection to Norway these days because my daughter is living in Oslo.

For those of you who also have adult children living far away, I feel a special sympathy. It's not easy. But with email, text-messaging, and Skype, staying in touch is not as hard as it once was. And it was wonderful to have both Emily and her Norwegian boyfriend Vegard here for Christmas. Vegard was thrilled with our (uncharacteristically) big snowfall because "a white Christmas is the way it should be." Next June my husband and I will be spending two weeks in Norway--our second trip there--and we look forward this time to meeting Vegard's family and seeing more of the country outside of Oslo. By the way, I'm told that in Norway the saying goes: "When the cat's away, the mice dance on the table." I love that!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Taking Stock, Making Changes

I think it's the combination of a new year and Obama's presidency that's inspiring me to take stock of where I am right now in my writing/speaking career and where I want to go from here. A book I read recently, The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Any Change (and loving your life more!) , talks about our "Change GPS" and how the only two questions that matter are: Where am I now? and Where do I want to go? One change I'd like to make is to do more speaking at schools and conferences. This week I spent time updating and revamping two presentations I'll be giving in Milwaukee, WI in a couple of weeks at a reading conference. I want to do my best job so that I'll get more offers to speak. I also decided that my website is sorely in need of a facelift. I've never had a professionally-designed site before, so I'm excited that Dana Arnim, who designed SCBWI-Western Washington's site, is going to do the job. Sometime this spring I'll have a brand-new site with a brand-new look that I'll proudly be able to point others to. Naturally, I'm hoping the new site will help attract more speaking offers too.

As for writing, I've got a couple of projects that will take me through at least the first half of the year. My friend Joan Holub and I are co-writing four books for a middle grade series to be called Goddess Girls. The stories will be loosely-and humorously- based on Greek mythology. Joan and I have been working on the first two books since late summer and should be able to send them to our editor at Simon & Schuster (Aladdin) within the next few weeks. The series will pub in 2010. Two more books in my Fairy Blossoms series are yet to come out, but the writing for those is finished. I'm also working on a commerical story project, thanks to a referral from Kirby Larson. And after my current projects? I'm not really sure. I've got several ideas simmering on the back burners of my mind, and a few new series proposals making the rounds of publishers.

That's enough about my projects and in-the-works-changes for now. What projects and changes are you in the midst of right now--career-wise or otherwise?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Money Matters: How I Moved From Writing as a Hobby to Writing as a Career: Part II

During the late 1990's my writing and speaking income had increased to the point where I made as much or more from those two things combined as I earned as a half-time librarian. I began to dream about quitting my librarian job, but was nervous about doing so since there was no guarantee that I would continue to sell books and get invitations to speak. However, something had to give. I was doing so many school visits in the spring, scheduled on the days I didn't work as a librarian, that I had little time or energy left to write.

One day I came across a book called Smart Choices (Subtitle: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions.") I devour (good) self-help books the same way some women devour gothic romances, so I eagerly bought the book. After reading it, I realized that I hadn't identified my decision problem correctly. Instead of asking myself "When should I quit working as a librarian?" I needed to ask "Should I become a full-time writer?" I identified three objectives I wanted to achieve: to further my writing career, to lead a more balanced life (with time for family and friends, hobbies, travel, and volunteering, in addition to writing), and to make an adequate income.

Thinking about my objectives, I realized that remaining in my "day job" was not going to help me further my writing career or live a more balanced life. The day job did help with my third objective, of course. But if I could make an adequate income from writing and speaking, then I wouldn't need to continue working as a librarian. Now an adequate income will obviously mean different things to different people, but for me it meant a minimum of about 30K a year. I could get by with that little because, even though my children were in their teens by now, my husband and I had faithfully put money aside for their college educations from the day each was born. It was the smartest thing we ever did. (But that's a topic for some other day.) When my income shot up in 1999 (see the cool chart my husband helped me make), I took a year's leave from my half-time library job, then a second year's leave, and then I resigned.

Though my income has varied quite a bit in the eight years since I quit my day job (see the blue line), it's only once dipped below my 30K minimum. Overall, my writing income (the pink line) has gone up. My speaking income has declined in the last few years (as it has for most children's authors I've spoken to), but I hope to do more speaking in the years to come.

Here's an interesting thing: six months after I became a full-time writer I sold my first series. Since I hadn't intended to write a series, but was offered one on the basis of the "stand-alone" story I thought I had written, I decided to take that as a "sign" that the universe supported my decision to become full-time. In the last eight years I have published four series, and three more picture books.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Money Matters: How I Moved From Writing as a Hobby to Writing as a Career: Part I

I had been an elementary school librarian for ten years before I began to write for children. It helped at first to think of my writing as a hobby. That way I could enjoy the process without setting unrealistic deadlines for when I thought I had to be published. I was lucky. I got an offer on a story within a year of the time I began to submit things to publishers. That story became my first picture book, Mommy Doesn't Know My Name, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1990. (The book is still in print as a paperback and has also been published in Spanish and Japanese editions.)

Even though my advance was only $3000 (fairly typical for first-time picture book authors in 1990), I wanted to give myself more time to write by working half-time at my "day job." Elementary school librarians don't make a ton of money, of course, but it was still scary to give up half of a sure thing not knowing what I could make as a writer. If I'd been independently wealthy I could've thrown caution to the wind, but I wasn't then and am not now, either. My husband's income as a musician wasn't enough to support both of us, plus our two young children.

After poring over our finances and much discussion my husband and I decided I should give half-time a try. My school principal let me take a half-time leave for a year so that I could go back to being a full-time librarian the following year if I needed to. Well, one year stretched into two years and two years into three. By the end of the fourth year, I knew I would be okay working half-time indefinitely.

So, did I make a lot of money from my writing those first few years? Not at all. In fact my records show that from 1991 - 1995 my income from writing (and a few school visits) varied from a high of around $10,000 to a low of just $1800. However, there are always ways to cut back on expenses, and my husband and I are frugal (we drive our cars until they fall apart before we replace them, for example), so we were able to get by. So for ten years, from 1990 -2000, I continued to work as a half-time librarian. During those years I published five more books and began to do more speaking at schools and conferences. In my next blog, I'll explain how I finally decided the time was ripe to become a fulltime children's book writer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Race Relations

Jenny, my new daughter-in-law, teaches third grade in Seattle. She has a girl in her class who is a big fan of Library Lil. When the girl mentioned that the author's last name was the same as her teacher's last name, Jenny told her it wasn't just a coincidence, that I was her mother-in-law. Later, the children were reading a magazine article about tennis pro Serena Williams. "Are you related to her too?" a child wanted to know. A boy laughed, saying that their teacher couldn't be related to Serena--the tennis pro was African-American and their teacher was Asian. Someone else, having seen my photo on the back jacket of Library Lil, pointed out that I wasn't Asian either. The kids all laughed about that.

I love the "multi-ethnic" nature of so many of our families today, don't you? And soon we'll inaugurate a president who truly represents that blending of families. Speaking of which, if you haven't yet read Sundee Frazier's wonderful story of a bi-racial boy, "Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It," rush out and buy a copy. It's about a boy finding his place in the world, and making friends with a white grandfather he'd never known. Among other honors, the book won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award just after it was published. Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

Well, obviously I've decided in the affirmative. But like many of you, I'm guessing, I feel like I have no business doing this. I've kept a paper and pen journal for years and years, and I'm wondering if I'll be able to keep up with that in addition to this. Besides, there's my "real" writing to do--my writing for children. And then there's the daily round of life itself: preparing meals, running errands, walking the dog, READING, talking to friends, emailing (my #1 favorite form of procrastination), etc. Egads, what a whiner I am. I'm sure I don't have half the commitments that some of you have. After all, my two children are grown. (No grandchildren yet, but my son just got married in August, so there's definitely hope for the future.) But I'm meandering. When I brainstormed ideas for topics I could blog about, here are some I came up with: Money Matters (posts on the business side of writing, including how I decided the time was ripe to quit my day job); School Visits (I've been on both sides of the "aisle" as a librarian hosting authors AND as an author doing the visiting); general advice on how to get started writing for children; stuff about my books, and the books I'm currently reading. If you've stumbled upon my blog and would care to comment, please let me know what topics might interest you!