Monday, July 26, 2004

Author's Life

"As I write, I create myself again and again." --Joy Harjo

Author Angela Shelf Medearis (DAISY AND THE DOLL (Vermont Folklife Center, 2000) is working on a children's books program for PBS, and despite effort, there just wasn't a day Greg and I could go interview for it that fit her schedule. I can't believe how hectic my life is sometimes.

I first began working with my Harper editor, Rosemary Brosnan, when I was in my late 20s, which is young for a children's/young adult author. Okay, it's not young compared to Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, but generally speaking.

I attribute this to my mentors, Jane and Kathi, the support of my husband, Greg, my amazing agent, and the fact that I had a lot of first-rate writing training in college.

It does substantially change-up your life, though, when you move from being a writer to a writer-author.

No one is complaining because it's certainly a blessing to be published. But being an author brings with it a number of extra responsibilities. Certainly, production is a process unto itself, and authors are involved to varying degrees. Promotion is a burden and opportunity, one of those things where you can always do more. At some point, you must learn to say no or there will be no time for writing future books. But if you say no too often, you fret those already on the line will die.

All of this is to say, looking back...

Before I was published, I used to feel that would be so important for validating what I did. Maybe it was because I'd quit a (more lucrative and responsible-sounding) law job to do it. Maybe it's because many people don't believe in you until they hold that first bound copy in their hands. Maybe it's just plain old fashioned self-doubt.

But in any case, the apprentice phase should be a glorious one. All you have edging against your writing is your supposed "real" life, whatever that may hold. Embrace it, rejoice in it. You can never go back to that place again.

Later, much will be good--even great--and some, well, will not.

I was really frustrated a couple of years ago by the direction of the publishing business. (Actually, I still am at times).

But Franny Billingsley told me to just shove it all aside and focus on craft.

In a dive-in-head-first-like-air-doesn't-matter kind of way.

It helped.

Of course competing responsibilities and temptations do still permeate, but I'm more selective about which to accept. And, for that matter, initiate.

Craft is good.

If you're stuck, exhausted, or otherwise can't go there, read instead. You'll be doing the same thing, only more subconsciously.

By the way, Joy Harjo is a Creek poet, songbird, children's author. Her books include: THE GOOD LUCK CAT, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000). Aunt Shelly says that Woogie is a good luck cat. As he survives one scrape after another, her analysis seems to be right on target. But one day when he doesn't come home, we wonder if this good luck cat's ninth life has run out. This is a delightful look at the friendship between a cat and a young girl. And it's -- yahoo! -- a children's picture book with Indian characters wherein Native culture isn't the main focus. Of course, it's wonderful to have children read accurate, respectful books that touch on Indian themes; however, they should be balanced with charming stories like this one that depict daily life. Ages 4-up.

People on my mind today: Joseph Bruchac, Laura Ruby, and Jenni Holm. Jenni's site has this really cool online game in conjunction with her 2003 Harper suspense novel, THE CREEK (which is not a reference to mine and Joy Harjo's Indian tribe). In any case, turn up your volume and check it out--spooky!

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