Stuff you might want to know about me…
Q. So, where do you get your ideas for stories?
A. I get my ideas everywhere, including: overheard conversations, childhood memories, street signs, TV commercials, song lyrics, dreams, books, movies, and funny stuff my son does and says. Part of being an artist is being a present, observant person: I try to keep my eyes and ears and mind open all the time. Unless I’m trying to sleep.
Q. How many books have you published?
A. Eight so far, with three more in the works.
Q. How many books have you NOT published?
A. Too many to count. I have tons of manuscripts that I started and never finished, because I lost interest or the story just went nowhere. And I have a whole stack that were submitted to publishers but never found a home. One of the most important lessons to learn as a writer (one I’m still learning!) is that not every story is meant to be published — some are just learning experiences that get you to your next great idea.
Q. Can I send you my manuscript? Can you help me get published?
A. Sorry, I don’t review or edit manuscripts anymore. My creative energy is a precious commodity (to me, anyway!), and I need to reserve it for my own work. But there are plenty of amazing freelance editors out there who review and consider manuscripts.
As for helping you get published, I’m afraid I don’t have any magic or instant solutions; if I did, I’d have much better luck myself! But I can give you this advice: Be patient. Write and read as much as you can. Share your work with others you trust, and consider any and all feedback. Seek out local and online writing communities, and network yourself. (Check out this link if you’d like more info.)(This chart is also super-informative, imho.)
Q. How did you get published?
A. I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote (mostly questionable poetry) in college and received my MFA in creative writing, then went on to work as a children’s book editor (in Cambridge and New York, and then in a freelance capacity) for almost fifteen years. I surrounded myself with writers and other smart, creative people. I read many, many books. I wrote many, many stories (most of them hilariously awful). And then, finally, after years of educating myself and dedicating myself to my craft and learning from my (many, many) mistakes, I happened to send one of my stories to an editor who had the right sense of humor, and was in the right mood at the right time, and I got a book contract. This has happened to me approximately a dozen times in the fifteen years since I’ve made writing my career. As you might imagine, I cherish these moments.
Amidst these successes, I’ve experienced my share of adversity. I’ve had editors with whom I just didn’t connect, ultimately. I’ve had books go out of print (or out of stock indefinitely, a kind of hellish limbo). I’ve endured some stinko reviews. And I’ve submitted many, many stories that have been turned down. But the feeling I get on those occasions when people enjoy my work and GET IT keeps me going. Plus, this is who I am, and I really can’t imagine any other life for myself. If I could, I would most likely be doing something else.
Q. Who’s your agent?
A. The incomparable Barry Goldblatt.
Q. So…speaking of adversity…you had cancer? How did THAT happen? And are you okay?
A. Yep. After struggling with some chronic shoulder pain for about a year, I was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma (a rare cancer of the soft tissue) in early 2010. I underwent a resectioning (i.e. removal) of the tumor in February 2010, which left me with some paralysis in my right arm; shortly thereafter, the doctors removed a section of nerve from my lower right leg and grafted it into my shoulder. Since then, I’ve attended regular physical therapy sessions and do daily exercises to keep what I call my “noodle arm” in shape. It will never be perfect, but whatever. It’s a small price to pay for being alive, and it keeps my life interesting.
After I recovered from the surgery, I underwent three months of radiation and four months of chemo. It sucked. But through it all (including the aforementioned paralysis and surgeries), I was very lucky that my hands were never affected, so I could still write. I kept in touch with supportive friends and family and colleagues via Facebook and Twitter, and I worked on a weird novel (that now sits in my “unpublished” pile) and a picture book. Writing kept my soul hopeful and my mind sharp. You always hear people talk about how art saved them, but in my case, it literally did. It also helped me to realize I needed to focus more on my own writing, which led to my decision to retire from editing and write full time.
As for the stupid sarcoma, it’s gone, and I’m fine now. I have CT scans every now and again to check for recurrence, but they’ve all come up clean. And after every scan, my husband takes me out for pancakes, which is awesome.
And then…because one malignancy clearly wasn’t fun enough for me, in the spring of 2011, I was diagnosed with a second form of cancer: cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. It is, as my dermatological specialist calls it, a “low-grade lymphoma,” which means it is very treatable and not very threatening. I’ve been pretty successful at keeping it at bay with phototherapy.
Q. And then…you had a baby?
A. Yep. My husband and I were just as surprised as you are. He was born in May of 2013, and he is awesome.
Q. What challenges are you facing lately?
A. Insomnia (a lifelong challenge); wrangling my toddler; whether or not I can make a living as a full-time writer; how I will translate my newest idea into a workable (and saleable) story; what I’m going to make for dinner.
Any other questions?
Q. Not right now, but what if I think of something to ask you later?
A. Drop me an email. I might even add your question to this list!