Last week I had the honour of reading from my work at Humboldt’s Reid Thompson Library, sponsored by The Writers’ Union of Canada.
Posted recently on the CANSCAIP Sask and national CANSCAIP sites on Facebook:
I’m deeply thrilled and honoured to report that Timefall has been selected as one of the finalists in the Young Adult category of the 2019 Aurora Awards, which are sponsored by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.
The Auroras essentially are Canadian “readers’ choice” awards, with numerous categories ranging from best novel, best YA, best short fiction, best cover art, and more. After books are initially nominated and then selected by the committee, ballots go out to all CSFFA members, who then have a couple of months to read and become acquainted with the works, in e-format. Voting will open up on August 3, and will close in mid-September, with the winners being announced at Can-Con 2019 in October.
Once again my sincerest thanks to Lorina Stephens of Five Rivers Publishing, and to Dr. Robert Runte for his insightful comments during the editing slog, which stretched out over couple of years.
And, finally, deepest thanks to the individual who saw merit in Timefall, and nominated it for this year’s Auroras!
Rejection is our constant travelling companion during this journey as writers. Sometimes it can provide useful learning opportunities rather than being a mere dismissal of our work and who we are.
In this business we have to put our work (and thus ourselves) out there. As many writers are somewhat quiet by nature, this can seem to go against the grain – millions of us introverts with something to say, having to step forward to put our work under the scrutiny of rushed, overworked editors who must deal with mountains of submissions. It’s not easy to get in the door.
We’ve all heard of the many rejections J.K. Rowling received before her first Harry Potter novel was accepted; we’ve also heard that Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) received something like 26 rejections before his breakthrough book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street came out in 1937. We hear jokes of writers papering their office walls with rejection slips. Once in a while during a school visit, a child will ask me how many rejections I’ve received over the decades – and frankly, I have no idea.
My first acquaintance with rejection came as a 10-year-old aspiring writer. My mother took me to the library one day to check out Writer’s Market and, with her encouragement, I began sending my stories to children’s magazines (with self-addressed stamped return envelopes) – because that’s what writers do. And so I submitted, putting “Alison Lohans, Age 10” in the upper left corner of the first page, where we place our contact information. Before long I was receiving more mail than I’d ever received before! This was my gentle introduction to the revolving door of submissions. Quite a few editors noticed the “Age 10” part and took the time to write an encouraging note on their standard form rejections, which made me feel good. Once in a while an editor even made a suggestion or two…which admittedly made me feel a little odd – (What? Isn’t my story fine already?!) Because this is what writers do, and because I was determined to be one, I kept “doing”. One day when I was 12, I opened a thin envelope and found…a letter! Not my story with a rejection slip! My first publication was in the August 1962 issue of Wee Wisdom magazine.
My first acquaintance with book markets came in the 1970s, when I began submitting what eventually became Don’t Think Twice to publishers in New York. Perhaps there was less competition back then; perhaps editors may have been less rushed? Or perhaps there really was that special “something” in the manuscript I was submitting titled “Sunflower in My Trumpet.” The rejections came, of course, but often with a letter detailing the strengths and weaknesses of my novel, sometimes including the first readers’ comments. In a few instances, there were offers to look at my book a second time after I’d done some revisions. Thrilled, I promptly did the revisions – and each time managed to make the book worse! (This, borne up by the anonymous first readers.) So I decided to work on other books for a while. When I sent my first-to-be-published book, Who Cares About Karen? to those same publishers, the quick response was always a form rejection. So I moved the setting of that YA novel from northern Idaho to British Columbia’s West Kootenay country, where I’d lived for a year, and sent it off to Scholastic Canada. After a very long wait, the familiar bulky padded envelope arrived in the mail – but this time with a highly detailed 5-page letter of suggested changes, and an invitation to resubmit. “And the rest is history,” as they say…
The submission process has changed drastically over the decades. Publishers began shredding paper submissions but would reply – with a form rejection most often but occasionally a letter – as long as writers provided the standard SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). I once received a friendly “rejection phone call” from an editor with whom I’d worked previously – and counted myself fortunate. And then the process became even less personalized as many publishers adopted the stance of not replying at all, unless they were interested in a submission. Murky waters, indeed!
Technology has been a good friend for the most part. It saves huge amounts of paper as well as postage costs, not to mention time. It’s great to have that built-in filing system, as opposed to charting everything on paper. Submission management software (such as Submittable) provides an easy-to-follow format for getting our work where it needs to be, with an immediate email confirming receipt, a means of tracking where any given manuscript might be (more or less) in the submissions process, and also allows ways writers can further communicate regarding a submission – or even withdraw it.
One way or other, rejections will inevitably occur with so-called “traditional” publishing. Whether it’s a non-response; a form email response; an email with feedback; or an invitation to revise and resubmit, a rejection can be indicative of (a) a manuscript not fitting a publisher’s needs; or (b) timing that’s off … or (c) serious flaws in a submission, which we may not have noticed. One of my online writing groups has been comparing and discussing rejections – definitely an enlightening process!
Sometimes we wait indefinitely. But not always. My fastest-ever rejection came last year, a mere three hours after I’d emailed an editor with whom I’d worked in the past. Kindly, she took my submission right off the top of her slush pile and replied in a chatty email reminiscing over the book we’d done together, and regretting that my present submission lacked the “literary” tone they were seeking just then (but saying she loved its humour).
Now I’ve had two rejections within the past couple of weeks: one on a picture book manuscript that’s been making the rounds for a while; and the second on a first-chapter-and-synopsis package for one of the Harlequin lines. Both of these rejections included some positive feedback, and one provided several tangible suggestions, so I count myself fortunate – inspired, in fact – in this ongoing learning curve of “being a writer”.
A learning curve that changes with every new piece we write.
As a kid, I loved reading Beverly Cleary’s books. They stood out from others on the library shelves with their quirky characters who behaved like real people, their humour, and their vivid Oregon settings with unusual place names.
For a certain 9-year-old girl who wanted to become a writer, Beverly Cleary was a terrific inspiration. For a certain 20-some, then 30-some, woman who was learning to be a writer, Beverly Cleary was someone I hoped I could emulate someday.
Obviously, nobody else can be Beverly Cleary, or write with her unique voice and verve.
Happy birthday to an amazing role model!
As a writer I’ve always been blessed with friendly peers who share this so-personal (and often lonely) journey of working toward publication, and finding ways to flesh out our dreams of establishing careers in this challenging, ever-changing literary world.
As long ago as the late 1960s and through the 1970s, I had the good fortune of my connection with kindred spirit Kathy Kennedy Tapp during our college days in southern California. Although we both soon married and literally moved several thousand miles in opposite directions, the strong link remained through our active correspondence and frequent exchange of our children’s and young adult novels, and short stories, for critiquing. This process of learning to provide honest and constructive feedback was daunting at first. But our shared passion of wanting to publish books for young people, coupled with a friendship too precious to put at risk, led us along the challenging path of learning to help one another work and grow toward our shared goal. As things turned out, books #1 and #2 for each of us came out during the same years – 1983, and 1986.
By the early 1980s I was comfortably settled in Canada for the long term, in the prairie city of Regina, Saskatchewan. Regina has a very strong arts community that includes the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, and the Writer-in-Residence program at Regina Public Library. Naturally I took advantage of the opportunity to bring my work to then-Writer-in-Residence, the late Janet Lunn who is and was extremely well-known for her award-winning works for young people. Thus far having had my writing connections take place courtesy of the postal service, it was a true godsend to have a real, live connection with another writer – in person, no less! During one of Janet Lunn’s public workshops, I met kindred spirit Gillian Richardson who had a work in progress (WIP), and who said she’d love to get together to “talk writing” once she had a completed draft. This marked a very significant beginning.
The province of Saskatchewan, with its total population of about 1 million, consists primarily of wide-open prairies and, to the north, the Canadian Shield and boreal forest. It’s one of those sparsely-populated places about the size of all of Britain and most of Ireland combined. Saskatchewan happens to have rather a lot of writers per capita. I had already joined the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, and the national organization of CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators & Performers) but there weren’t many connections locally. Gillian and I got to talking about how great it would be to get to know more children’s writers in the province. So in 1984, I submitted a blurb to FreeLance, the publication of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, wondering if there were other children’s writers out there interested in networking.
Letters began to arrive in the mail! Within weeks, we had a committed group of eight or nine writers scattered across the province. How we were going to function across the distance posed some interesting questions. For the first four years we circulated a package of letters “round robin” style. Here we talked about our writing, our publishing experiences, and shared (and answered) questions, and may have done some critiquing. By 1989 we were ready to meet in person. For that first occasion, we gathered at a more-or-less equidistant point that involved a drive of an hour or longer for each of us.
The in-person dimension opened up a world of difference for sharing this very complex, challenging, and ever-changing creative journey. Firm, lasting friendships have developed across the decades. Some of the original members diverged to go their own way; others died – and every now and then the spark of a new voice has joined our group. We continued with the round robin letter format for a few years after our first meeting in person, but this eventually became redundant when technology brought us e-mail and other speedier means of communication.
For thirty years now, the Saskatchewan Children’s Writers’ Round Robin has met in person twice yearly, in various parts of Saskatchewan. Some members have moved away – but two of these women have continued their active, vital participation, commuting from other provinces for our gatherings. Our activities have ranged from initiating and running a biennial conference for those working in the children’s book domain; advocacy for regional children’s writers; voicing our concerns about urgent issues in the publishing world; liaising with teachers and librarians; and hosting events to raise awareness of local writers’ work; to setting up book sales tables.
Some of us are now writing and publishing in other genres as well – and some Round Robin members’ books have been published in places as distant as Australia and New Zealand. Over the decades, many awards have come in for our books, as well as our short pieces in other areas such as poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. Two of us have now also served as Writer-in-Residence at Regina Public Library! Many of us give writing workshops, teach and provide editing services, and most of us still love visiting schools and libraries to talk about our work. Our books range from picture books; early-reader chapter books; illustrated books for classroom use; and middle grade novels on up to “mature” young adult novels – including contemporary fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, and fantasy/science fiction. All told, our present membership of eleven writers has produced something like 150 books including translations to other languages.
Through all of this, our primary commitment is to aiding and supporting one another during this very complicated business of creating books for young people. We all have many works in progress – and, as writers, we are also eternally “works in progress”. We celebrate one another’s successes; we commiserate when things go wrong; and always we are committed to promoting growth in our craft through critiquing one another’s work, and open discussion of the often-puzzling dynamics of being a creator of children’s books in the ever-changing publishing climate.
Of the original members’ list from 1984, Gillian Richardson and I are still avidly involved as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Saskatchewan Children’s Writers’ Round Robin. Our current members (listed alphabetically by first name) include: Alison Lohans; Anne Patton; Dianne Young; Gillian Richardson; Judith Silverthorne; Linda Aksomitis; Myrna Guymer; Pat Miller-Schroeder; Paula Jane Remlinger; Sandra Davis; and Sharon Plumb Hamilton. At this very moment, we’re all gathered at Manitou Springs Hotel at Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan, on the shore of Little Manitou Lake.
Check us out at our website: https://books4kids.ca/
…is a necessary part of this writing business. At times we feel jumpy, and need to burn off steam. Somehow. Seems like I’ve been doing more than the usual of this, lately.
At the moment I’m waiting for:
– the Spring 2019 issue of Transition Magazine, which will include a much-loved creative nonfiction piece that took over 10 years to find its home. “This Place of My Father’s Heart” addresses my late dad’s love of the family cottage in Dorset, Ontario, where he spent all of his childhood summers – intersecting with my own visits to Dorset, the last of which was to bury a portion of my dad’s ashes near the shore of Lake of Bays. It’s one of those pieces I’ve fervently believed in, from the start. After bouncing around the marketplace for so long, in fall 2018 it was named one of the prose winners in a Saskatchewan-based literary competition. Validation! But still not published… So I continued sending it out. Just a couple of months ago, I heard from an editor I’d sent it to well over a year ago, with no response. Was my piece still available? Technically, it wasn’t – because I’d recently submitted it to one of the high-profile Canadian literary magazines. But…the wait time there would be at least 8 months! I quickly pulled the piece from the literary magazine, to hand over to this editor with whom I’ve already worked several times. (No revisions! And the cheque will be nice, too.)
– Also in the publications department: I know it’s still a couple of months too early, but I’m very eager to receive my copies of Caught in the Crossfire, due out from Pearson Education Australia in June of this year. I’ve looked to see if the cover might already be posted on their website – but no such luck. In June of 2018 I was ecstatic at a completely unexpected invitation from Pearson Australia to write a very short historical fiction book for classroom use on how pacifism affected kids during World War II. This wasn’t a totally random thing. Before Pearson Education New Zealand sold out to Pearson Australia, Pearson NZ published 7 of my books including This Land We Call Home, which addresses the forced relocation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast to primitive desert camps. (It so happens that my mother’s first teaching job was at Poston Camp III in Arizona – and in school where I grew up in Central California, about 20% of my classmates’ parents had been in those camps.) One member of the New Zealand team apparently thought so highly of This Land We Call Home (which coincidentally won the 2008 Saskatchewan Book Award for YA literature) that she passed my information on to the Pearson Australia team. Actually, it was a perfect fit for me, as I was raised pacifist and all of my uncles were Conscientious Objectors during World War II. Deadlines were extremely tight, and I guess there were no major changes because they never sent me any revisions to work on(!) In this case, I was paid nicely, pre-publication (in New Zealand dollars). Caught in the Crossfire will be one of 40 titles in Pearson Australia’s newest Mainsails Literacy package for classroom use with middle years students.
In the “will they possibly say yes???” department, I’m waiting on a whole bunch of things:
– a much-loved YA science fiction short story, “Crystal Sister”, which has been bouncing around the marketplace about as long as “This Place of My Father’s Heart”.
– a new picture book manuscript, “The 1-Dogpower Garden Team” which is on its first visit “out” with a U.S. publisher I’ve never tried before.
– and Harlequin! In November I sent 3 sample chapters plus synopsis of a completed novel, “Strong As a Pharaoh”, to their Special Edition line. (If this happens to be accepted, I’ll be using a pseudonym!)
– and the real nail-biter, also with Harlequin. Last month I submitted chapter 1 plus synopsis to their search for new authors for their Love Inspired line (in which a friend of mine, Donna Gartshore, has already published two books). At this stage we are all guaranteed feedback (how I hate writing synopses!! – particularly for a book that hasn’t been written!) This, as of April 30 at the latest, and some people have already received a “yea” or “nay”. If “Lost & Found Dog” (working title) happens to be approved for Round 2, I’m going to be extremely busy writing another 50,000 words to make the August 1 deadline…
….and I’m also waiting to hear back on several other things in the children’s book realm – an early chapter book “Tyler Evans the Great”, and at least two other picture book submissions.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of unfinished manuscripts in my files, ranging from my adult time-slip novel, “Murder at Glencoe”; to YA historical “Free to Come Home” (sequel to This Land We Call Home); a young middle-grade novel “The Hole in the Ice” …. and a whole bunch of others.
So there’s plenty to do – supposedly the perfect remedy for waiting…
Live today, an interview on my writing:
Timefall, the new omnibus combined version of Collapse of the Veil and Crossings, has been bumped up to a September 1 release by new (to me) publisher, Five Rivers Publishing. The two original YA fantasy novels were “orphaned” when the initial publisher changed hands and all young adult novels were jettisoned. This publication date came as a surprise to me, for my contract indicated a December 1 release.
I greatly appreciate the interest of Lorina Stephens of Five Rivers in taking on these two books, which developed slowly over a 25+ year span after the initial riveting idea hit in 1984. I also really appreciate the wonderful editing of Dr. Robert Runte, who helped make this new, combined edition even stronger than the original works.
Blurbs on the two original novels:
Collapse of the Veil: “A tenderly urgent journey through time, love, apocalypse, and unexpected hope. Readers will emerge with new insights for our world’s problems and possibilities.” Sharon Plumb, author of Draco’s Child.
Crossings: “One world, two very different times, three misfit teens and a baby. Alison Lohans’ spare and certain prose transports us into their journey, pitting love and hope against the coming apocalypse.” Marie Powell, author of Hawk.
I was saddened to learn of the death of distinguished Canadian children’s author Janet Lunn, who was a generous mentor who helped shape my early work during her term as Writer-in-Residence at Regina Public Library, 1982-83. During that time Janet read virtually all of my work, offering good advice and friendship, and was there in her office when I ran in to show her my first published book. Thanks, Janet, for all that you offered.