dawn_metcalf (dawn_metcalf) wrote,

How'd It Happen?: Part I

I've noticed that a lot of authors like to share their stories on the road to publication. I remembered reading these sorts of stories as a hungry, hopeful writer and found them to be poetic tales of hard work, perseverance, and beautiful storytelling.

Mine is not that story.

Don't get me wrong, I am one of those stereotypical people who began writing when I could hold a crayon in my hand, say that I write because I breathe, that I can't not-write, blah blah blah -- I'm sure you've heard it all before. And once I discovered that my odds of getting published improved significantly if I actually sent something in to an agent or editor, it wasn't long before I started treating my writing as a career, i.e.: Writing for Publication as opposed to writing for the entertainment of myself and my ficus. (The cats, of course, didn't care. They are more like this.)

But I want to be honest: I was both humbled and stunned when I got my offer. I don't remember hearing a lot of that; it sounded to me like most folks were "just discovered." So since we all know that deus ex machina is a bad thing in writing, I've decided to share my story in this journal in several parts. It's not poetic, it's not beautiful storytelling, but it's 100% true and I'm going to post it here so that any hungry, hopeful writer can see just how this process really was like -- for one person, at least -- without all the polishing that hindsight may bring.

Note: These are actual emails that I sent to my critique partners (which I am so blessed to have!) with only minor modifications for tangents, links and names. This first one was sent shortly after my first national SCBWI Conference in New York.


I am just...wow. Literally mind-blown & couldn't *wait* to come back & write to you all. Does it sound silly to say I missed you? Not just the daily emails of my dear ladies, but when other people said they were here with their crit groups, I was a little sad I couldn't introduce my own. (However, I settled myself to bragging about you shamelessly.) Needless to say, I had an amazing time. I hardly know where to begin, so you may get spurts of emails instead of everything at once.

First off, business: remember when I said I take copious notes? Well, it's true. 13 pages of notes, to be exact. Now there is no way I can transcribe these all, and I'm wondering what to do. I can hit highlights & will be transcribing the breakout sessions since I promised note-exchanges to others, or I can photocopy the lot and send them out to each of you...? Any ideas? I *promise* you will get this information somehow!! Just help me out in figuring "how."

Second, some advice I learned: 1) Go to EVERYTHING! I knew people who ducked out while there was a speaker or a subject going on they thought they weren't interested in & went to MOMA or a show. Don't. Okay, I know we're in NY, but *DON'T*! I had a completely transformative event happen TWICE this weekend because I went to something I figured was irrelevant and it may have changed the rest of my writing career/life. [More soon.] 2) Be Yourself Times Ten. I thoroughly enjoyed just being the quirky, friendly and real me & got more contacts because of it. People remembered me (some of them from my first conference regionally some 3 years ago!) and it helped me *a lot*! 3) Talk to Everyone. I mean EVERYONE! Talk to people in line, talk to people in the bathroom, in the hall, on the escalator, at lunch, everywhere. I think I learned more and got more contacts and personally-relevant information from them than from the session leaders HANDS-DOWN. Examples are sure to follow, but my real winner was on the train home, you know? -- when the conference is already over? Well, someone from the conference was on my train, too & asked if we wanted to chat together. I'd honestly wanted to work on my writing on the hours back, but figured 'Why not decompress with someone?' And, as we had a marvelous time going from conference to writer's advice to just talking, I blurted out, "So, you know anything about the Day of the Dead?" (a struggling subject I need for the YA I'm working on) and she said, "Actually, I give workshops on the subject in San Diego." I was floored. She worked closely with one of the North American experts on Dia de los Muertos and not only did I whip out my notebook and took a SLEW of notes, I have her email and contact information for said expert and she thought my book idea sounded wonderful! WOW!!!

Third, me: three things happened. Two from the very first Writer's Intensive (which was amazing and I'm certain they'll do it again!) & one at the end of the conference. So, the Intensive was like a critique group with one important member being an editor or an agent. I was bummed that we didn't get a chance to meet any of the other 23 editors or agents from the other tables -- neither face-time or even a chance to see their faces in order to recognize who they were later on -- but I digress... There was a panel. It was good. More on that later. I learned a lot from the 7 new perspectives at my first table and was inspired (and sometimes not) by what other people were writing. Some of the other authors' lines or images still ring with me & when I saw them throughout the day, I told them so. Anyway, my first was an agent & I read her bio blurb and decided to share my 500-word excerpt of BOY. She and the group were enormously helpful with suggestions and pointed out new things with fresh eyes. I was quite happy with the results. I went to lunch with my roommate and some people she'd met. We had a lovely time but service was slow, we didn't get to eat much so I was a tad distracted when we returned to go to the second round. However, I *did* learn that some groups allowed an invitation to submit and that hadn't been mentioned in mine. The woman who suggested it had asked forthrightly. I kicked myself that I hadn't thought to ask. My second group had an editor, Julie, who had a different style than the agent and wanted more from the author to explain around the text. Since we were missing two people, we had extra time for some Q&A. So I jumped in and asked about "voice" (the buzz word for this conference, it seemed) which she answered was subjective and a sort of 'You know it when you see it,' (another common answer for this whole conference, as it turned out...) The group read GLOP and gave almost *NO* suggestions for improvement which made me sad. But it was praise -- "You asked about voice," said the editor, "THIS is voice." -- and that made me feel better. At the end, I remembered to ask, into a laughter session, if, by being accountable, that meant she didn't want to hear from us. She kept laughing and brushed off the question, Oh well, I tried. So I went to the final panel and started talking to whomever new was next to me.

That's when I got the tap.

Someone tapped me on my shoulder and I turned, it was Julie. She handed me her card and said, "I couldn't say it before in front of the others, but I really liked it. Send it to me." then she left because, well, she was on the panel. I was in shock. I looked around disbelievingly as the others next to me started smiling and congratulating me. OMG! I couldn't concentrate on ANYTHING (but I dutifully took notes, don't worry!) Afterwards, I hunted down my roommate, bursting to tell her what had happened, when the agent stepped out of the crowd and asked if she could speak to me. Okay. I thanked her for her great insight and she said if I make the changes, she'd like to see the first five chapters. I accepted her card and smiling, thanked her again.


Two requests. One agent, one editor. Two different manuscripts. It couldn't be a fluke... Some part of my brain wondered if the agent saw the editor tap me and THAT is why she asked, but she couldn't've known it was for separate projects.

Addendum: While at the wine & cheese book signing and art auction at the event, I was trying to find some of the agents/editors I'd heard about/from but had never met. One lady I met was a RA (Regional Adviser) who got to go to exclusive parties and met these people twice, so she could point some out to me. I spied editor, Julie. I went up and thanked her, shaking her hand and promising I'd send her stuff and then went to make my escape. She didn't let me. She introduced me to her friends and clients. She showed me photos of her son who was 15 months old since she knew mine was a year and that I had written GLOP in the wee hours while awake with him. She said she'd talked to her husband about me and wondered what I'd been "on" while writing it. We joked, laughed, and when I asked what she thought of the premise of my fractured fairy tale, said that if I was comfortable with it, SHE WANTED TO SEE THAT, TOO! I walked away on Cloud Nine, stopping briefly to finally meet Cheryl Klein & connect with other authors I had met.

Dawn scored three requests in six hours. Ta-da! [Now I just have to get them up-to-snuff and out...!]

Lastly, it's Sunday. The last day. Some people skip Sunday entirely or bow out early. I figured I'd go to everything so, even though it was from an artist, Brian, I'd go and listen. Well, I didn't just listen, I was completely rocked. Brian has, with no small struggle, completely reinvented the book. He's created a new kind of graphic novel in that it has graphics (no words) and then novel text. The reader participates in forwarding the action by turning the pages, forwarding their visual narrative down a path without any words to guide them -- they have to mentally dictate TO THEMSELVES what is going on -- and then they hit words, now having to visualize TO THEMSELVES (as with traditional books) what is going on. I am doing the book no justice, but the first pages are two-page spreads of an image drawn introduced like a 1930's pre-talkie movie (complete with black border and filigree design on the edge!) which pans cinemagraphically into the narrative which is, in itself, an inspired tale. PICK UP "THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET BY BRIAN SELZNIK RIGHT NOW!!!" Sorry. Well, his multi-media, humorous, honest and humbling presentation left me with a big blank space in my head. I didn't know what had just happened, but SOMETHING had just happened. As I stood in the long line waiting for Katherine Paterson to sign my books & tell her that 'Bridge to Terabithia' was my introduction to real books, I marveled at what I'd seen. The SCBWI book store had run out of his books almost the moment he finished speaking. I wondered what I could have him sign...I called home and checked when the trains ran and confirmed I could go back any time I wished. I debated for a second then went to the concierge and asked where the nearest Borders or Barnes & Nobles was. It was 6 blocks.

I walked and ran, praying all the way.

I came back and the line was dwindling, but still there. I was the last one. I handed over my book and thanked him, saying I didn't know what he'd sparked, but he'd indeed sparked something. He seemed genuinely pleased (actually, he seemed like a very genuine person period.) I said what I'd done to get this book to him and mentioned Girl Genius which is what his cover reminded me of. He asked to take down the information and said he'd check it out. On a whim, I said, "Well, tell me what you think of it. I love sharing great things with people and thanks again for sharing yours." He took my card and maybe -- just maybe -- he will.

Then I met the woman on the train. I have a copy of KP's book for a poor woman who would have missed her train, but I volunteered to have it signed for her and mail it back so she could go. I have promises to exchange notes with people at other sessions and met more than one person who might be a good critique partner for the full manuscripts Take Three. I'm exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, a little sad, undernourished, under-slept and certainly overwhelmed, but I have three projects to get a move on so I better get going!

Yours truly,

Me (Dawn)

Tune in for Part II at a later date!
Tags: my story

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