WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR

TAKING THE PLUNGE

oI’ve been away from the journal for a while. I needed some time to reflect, to ponder, and to dive into some research for a future book. But during my time away, I have been able to consider the many people for whom I’m thankful and who helped along the way. It was in 1984–a lifetime away it seems now–that I decided to take a plunge. I had been writing since my college days (well, for as long as I can remember) and having things published here and there–the California Highway Patrolman, San Diego Home/Garden magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sunset magazine, Country Living magazine, NCTE’s English Journal, and numerous poetry journals. But in my heart of hearts, I wanted to write books for young people. So in 1984 at the age of 34, I walked away from my classroom. It was a risky decision. I had some savings in the bank, three or four credit cards that carried no balances, a roof over my head, and a car that was paid for, but no guarantee that any editor would be interested in what I wrote…or wanted to write…or would agree to write (which was just about anything at all). The driving force in my decision was that I didn’t want to reach the age of 40 and not have tried. I didn’t want to reach the age of 60 and wonder Could I have achieved my dream? And so I took that plunge.

I continued to write for magazines and newspapers after I left my high school classroom, but in 1986 I sold my first children’s book–a nonfiction title called BMX Freestyle–to Franklin Watts, Inc. In the interim, my delightful friend and former professor, Dr. Paul Erickson, had recommended me for a position that opened at San Diego State University. Reluctantly, I agreed to fill in on a temporary basis–one semester. That semester turned into a long-term teaching gig until 1992. By then, I was thinking that this writing thing was going to work out, but still there were slim years. My editor, Frank Sloan, was so happy with BMX Freestyle (it became a best-selling title)–that he wanted more titles along the same line and came up with ideas when my mind drew a blank. Footbagging, Karate. Snowboarding. Rock Climbing. I became the maven of individual sports. Russell Primm picked up after Frank left the company and together we expanded my writing repertoire. He was followed by the wonderful Mark Friedman. Russell and Mark introduced me to Children’s Press and Rookie Readers and fought for this writers’ royalties and escalations (which made it possible for me to continue to write and keep a roof over my head). Sandra Jordon became my first picture book editor at Orchard Books, followed by Simone Kaplan at HarperCollins. Laura Godwin bought my first chapter book at Henry Holt, while Kent Brown and Larry Rosler of Boyds Mills Press helped me introduce the world to Max & Felix, the “odd couple” of children’s literature. More recently, Marilyn Brigham, of Two Lions, helped me bring Puppy & Bear to life.

Soon approaching my fourth decade of full-time writing, the number of Brimner-books has grown now to more than 200. Yes, I think this writing thing might actually work out. Carolyn Yoder, at Calkins Creek, tells me that we’re “going to grow old together.” To that I say, As long as we work on books for young readers, we shall never grow old.

Of course, the librarians and teachers who enthusiastically brought and continue to bring my titles to young people have been essential during this journey. I don’t know all of you, but I am grateful to each and every one of you. To my mind, a good librarian is the heartbeat of a school, while a good teacher is the life flowing through its veins.

Looking back, I’m thankful that I took that plunge so many years ago (although in geologic time, it is but a flash). Yes, I miss my teaching days and MY students (who all played a role in my journey), but I am happy to be where I am. I know that I don’t express my gratitude often enough to those of you who have given of your knowledge and experience to guide me, but please know that my life has been enriched by you. And because of you, my heart is full.

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A NEW BABY! ! !

The new baby: Puppy & Bear: The First Day of School. There is nothing like holding a newborn in your hands for the very first time and giving it its first official read. Available July 18 or you may pre-order it now from Amazon here. How you can help? If you’re so inclined, please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads. Thanks.

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IDEAS and DOCTORING

It is amazing how many approach me with a character, topic, or general premise and tell me I absolutely have to write about it. It usually begins something like “Do I have an idea for you.” Ninety-nine percent of the time, their effort is wasted. You see, an idea has to resonate with an author before he or she can write about it and have it ring true. Editors sometimes come to me with ideas they want to add to their lists and, as often as not, I turn them down because they’re just not something I’m interested in or they aren’t something I feel I could devote a substantial block of time from my life to research and write about. The author needs to “own” an idea, to make it his or her own. This brings me to yesterday. I was sitting in my cardiologist’s office. Kirk is young. He’s from the East Coast. Most of the 45 minutes of my allotted appointment with him every six months is spent in chit-chat–the swarm of bees he found hanging in the mesquite tree–“almost like an old man’s beard”–over his BMW one morning when he came out to go to work, jogging trails in and around Tucson that we’ve tackled together and individually, and/or old-school versus new-school doctoring. (He’s of the old-school philosophy where time spent with patient is more important than corporate bottom line, which explains why he’s in private practice.) Then, without the do-I-have-an-idea-for-you prelude, he launched into telling me something from his childhood upbringing about which he is passionately fascinated. “Tell me more,” I said, and he did.

“You know,” said I, “I see a book in that.” It sounded like a topic I could make my own.

And he told me even more. He pulled up information on his laptop, showed me pictures, and offered his materials to me if I want to use them.

At the end of our now seventy-five minutes together he said, “Keep jogging. Keep cycling. You’re doing all the right things to be heart healthy and strong.”

I will also keep listening because out of every one hundred ideas pitched at an author at conferences, online at the market, and at the doctor’s office, there may be one that proves to be a gem.

I’m taking some time off to write, but plan to return in late fall. Have a happy Memorial Day and take a moment to remember your blessings and those who have helped to make them possible. Happy Summer, all!

 

HUSTLE BUSTLE

I look out from the terrace on this lovely California day, with the early morning sun shining brightly and–importantly–the tectonic plates quiet and still. All around people are hustling and bustling to get to work, to do the work before them, to walk the dog, to stroll with friends. Cranes silently swing through the air, seeming likely to collide with the buildings that surround them. They don’t. The trains and trolleys arrive, depositing more people from the north, east, and south to fill the office towers. Planes land at nearby Lindbergh Field. I feel blessed to have something to do when I wake in the morning to perform my own hustle and bustle. I wish you all things to do that bring you pleasure, that provide value.

 

 

FRUSTRATION, OF SORTS

Yesterday was the day of internet fear! Not so here. I turned on my computer as usual, I ran off to Superior Court to collect some information. Superior Court forgot to turn in my request for information, so it wasn’t ready. I paid another $20 and waited while they placed the call to retrieve it from wherever ancient records are kept. (They call it “Iron Mountain.”) They tell me it will take three to five days for them to receive it. This is interesting, because I will be here only another three to five days. I cross my fingers. Back in my space, I continued working on the second of two proposals I’ve promised my editor. By 4:00, it was finished and I hit save. Now I usually simultaneously save my work to the cloud, but I hadn’t eaten all day. I was hungry. Darn those hunger pangs! I had some al dente carrots and broccoli and returned to my computer to save a copy of the proposal to the cloud. Error! File does not exist! Corrupt file! Okay, my system wasn’t corrupted by the malware bug going around, but still. I was less than happy.

On the bright side, I was able to retrieve MOST of the proposal, or at least the part that is the most difficult to write. Today I will finish the proposal for the second time, then off it will go. Technology is great, until it isn’t.

MASTER CLASS IN NONFICTION

Word from the Highlights Foundation tells me that my Master Class in Nonfiction is “completely sold out” with eager writers. I look forward to meeting with everyone in July (16-20), when we’ll have an outstanding cast of faculty members lined up: Peter Jacobi, Don Tate, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Gwendolyn Hooks, Rich & Sandra Wallace, and editor Jessica Echeverria. Come prepared to learn, to share, to picnic, and to consume a few S’mores. I’ll see you there, then.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out an opening keynote and a session. Session suggestions are welcomed. What do you want to know, to learn? What questions can I answer for you?

 

JULY 16-20 WORKSHOP

I hope to see some of you at my July 16-20 Nonfiction Master Class for the Highlights Foundation, and if nonfiction doesn’t ring your bell there are dozens of others to choose from. Take a look at the schedule of offerings over the summer and pick one. You owe it to yourself! https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/upcoming-workshops/

About the Nonfiction Master Class:

MASTER CLASS IN WRITING NONFICTION FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS 2017 | JULY 16 – JULY 20, 2017

Nonfiction matters.

Publishers crave it.

Teachers and librarians need it.

Nonfiction connects our children to the world. Stories about real people, real places, and really interesting world events are more important now than ever.

Our master class explores nonfiction from many angles: the editorial, the business, and, most importantly, the art of telling true stories. Work with our talented group of mentors to explore factual writing through a range of topics, including nonfiction voice, biography, memoir, nature writing, science writing, and narrative nonfiction. Your mentor will help guide you in your revisions or explore story ideas during daily one-on-one sessions.

Additional opportunities include:

  • connecting with acquiring editors;
  • developing necessary research and interview skills;
  • exploring today’s magazine and trade-book markets; and
  • investigating visual design through illustration and photography

About the faculty:

Larry Dane Brimner, Gwendolyn Hooks, Don Tate, Peter Jacobi, Rich Wallace, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Sandra Neil Wallace. Special Guest: Jessica Echeverria.
Work with our talented group of mentors to explore factual writing.

WILL I SEE YOU THERE?

 

EPHEMERA

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Ephemera is defined as “items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness.” Some publishers also refer to it as “dead matter.” I prefer ephemera, and while it typically is applied to that which has a short-term usefulness, sometimes it lasts longer. Much longer. Today, as I’m feeling a bit wistful and melancholy, I look around my home and see another sort of ephemera–the ephemera of a career. Scattered across this page are gifts from schools I have visited over the years that have meaning to me and still bring a smile to my heart. Sometimes schools ask what sorts of collections I have or what my hobbies are, and other times they simply surprise. These gems aren’t necessary, certainly not a condition of my Performance Agreement. But the extra thoughtfulness of librarians and teachers and the schools they represent is and always has been meaningful to me. A dazzling red and yellow sock puppy from a school in Europe. A sock monkey from a school in Georgia. A mosaic banana slug paperweight from Humboldt County (California). A sea snail shell, also from Humboldt County, but a different school, which was part of a Max and Felix box of letters from students. The young lad who contributed the shell said he didn’t want me to forget the ocean because I live in the desert. (I have not forgotten the ocean and I still have the letters, each and every one. The box sits prominently on a shelf in my guest room.)

A couple of blue-and-white ceramic love birds from the American Embassy School in Mexico. A colorful and fun original painting by Brian Andreas from a school in Iowa. It’s caption says a lot to me: “There are lives I can imagine without children but none of them have the same laughter and noise.”

There is more ephemera from this career. So much more. But looking back over the 30-plus-years that I have been writing and visiting schools, I realize I have been blessed to cross paths with so many wonderful people and outstanding schools. Thank you all for being a part of my life and bringing me such joyful memories.

 

 

WHAT NEXT?

Hello, Friends. I’ve been busy, but not accomplishing what I want to do. Yesterday I spent the day re-reading (for about the nine thousandth time) the ARC for the November book. It needed to be done. I think the ARC is now ready to go, so I sent that off. There is a pre-first-pass revision waiting on my desk. I’ve been procrastinating on it because there’s a NF picture book I had hoped to have finished by Friday last. That didn’t happen. So today I may dive into the revision. And then there’s the book I should be working on and just haven’t been able to drag myself into it. I know it will be fine once I begin researching in earnest, but for now . . . I guess I’m still in that “Do I have to” stage of the process. Happy Writing!

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Happy Birthday, Bayard Rustin!

Bayard Rustin, civil rights pioneer and the “intellectual engineer” of the civil rights movement, was born 105 years ago today in West Chester, Pennsylvania. You can read his story in We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin.

WAO

We need more leaders like Bayard today. Especially today.

(Published by Calkins Creek Books / Highlights Press. For grades 4 and up.)