Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Duck Dreams Party....

Last Sunday afternoon my son Ken and daughter-in-law Sara were kind enough to throw a party celebrating the publication of my book.  They invited their friends--very special people--and a few friends of mine, particularly those who had helped me with the book.  Many of their friends had children of the right age to enjoy Duck Dreams.

To begin the more formal part of the event, I had asked my three granddaughters to read interesting passages of Duck Dreams and Naomi, 7, Abigail, who had turned eleven a week before, and Isabel, 14, all read with enthusiasm and clarity.

Then I read about an event in the book that seems to me very central (parts of chapters 19 and 20).  It noticed it brought tears to my husband's eyes (and not for the first time).  

I invited questions which gave me a chance to explain that the boyhood memories of a favorite uncle sparked the book, but 95% of it is fiction.

As people purchased copies (at the reduced rate for friends and family :-)), they came up for autographs.  Mostly, I was asked to autograph the book for one or more of the children who were there, but one guest after requesting the autograph, expressed admiration for what I've accomplished with Parkinson's, a disease which she sees close-up in her own family.

Sara and Ken had laid out delicious snacks attractively in the dining room.  We're at the age where we've begun passing family possessions on to our children, and it is such a treat to meet up with them in a new setting.  Sara and Ken have a gift for being hosts and I deeply appreciated the happy event. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

With a lot of help from my friends....

When the Little Red Hen didn't get help from her friends, she said: "Then I'll do it myself"--and she did!

I've been more fortunate.  As luck would have it, two remarkably talented people have signed on to work with me on my book: Duck Dreams, City Boy to Farmer Boy.  First, Todd Sanders agreed to be the designer of the book (and turned out to be so much more).  I found Todd through Liane Norman, a dear friend who had used him for a number of attractive books--mostly poetry.  She recommended him highly and I'm so glad she did.  Not only did Todd make the book handsome in every detail, he researched costs, set up this blog, worked on my Author Page for me and more.  It would have been another year before Duck Dreams appeared in print without Todd's efficient and knowledgeable help.

Now I needed an illustrator.  Todd showed me a few drawings from the portfolios of 8-10 artists.  None seemed right--some drawings were more fantastic than my story; some more comic.  Then I had the bright idea that numerous artists posted samples of their work on the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) website.  Well, I was right, but there were hundreds of illustrators.  I didn't have the patience.

Suddenly I thought of Liz Jones, a member of my writing group who sometimes illustrates her own stories.  Her lovely impressionistic illustrations wouldn't work, but perhaps she knew someone whose work would fit this warm family story, historical fiction for middle-grade children.  Anni Matsick was perfect!  I was bowled over seeing her first sketches and then gradually viewing the characters come to life.  She worked very hard on three illustrations that capture my vision of Simon, his family, and his experiences.  She chose exactly the right scene for the cover.  This must have been difficult because few scenes in the book involve a close-up of Simon and a duck and it was Duck Dreams after all.  Anni remarked "I chose the one scene that represents a happy triumph," and she was right.  

Another example of Anni's acuteness: she asked if in the interior scene it might be a good idea to show a menorah on the mantelpiece.  It was a good idea indeed.  The menorah, the candelabrum which Jewish families light each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, subtly shows that this is a Jewish home.

Anni has gone on working for the success of our book.  She is very knowledgable about "spreading the word."  She advises me on arranging readings and such.  She lives in State College and makes a brief appearance fairly regularly on a TV station there.  Recently, she kindly featured Duck Dreams in her interview, showing how she builds a black-and-white illustration.

We learned while Anni was working on the illustrations for my book that we were both going to attend the western Pa. SCBWI conference in November so we planned to have lunch together.  It was delightful to meet.  We look forward to telling folks about the process of independent publishing as it worked for us.  Todd may attend the conference next fall too.

Todd signed on mid-July and Anni started work in August, I believe.  The first copies of Duck Dreams: City Boy to Farmer Boy  arrived at my home on November 22 or thereabouts.  A wonder indeed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I've been thinking about the feedback from children on one draft or another of "my farm story," as I've called it.  Some time ago I had the story copied and spiral-bound.  Then I gave it out to grandchildren and the great-nieces and nephews.  The feedback was helpful to me, though I trust that every writer reading this knows that it's the kiss of death to submit a manuscript to an editor with the words "my grandchildren loved this story."

The first to read it was my grandson Jonah.  We were on a family vacation and since I had had a recent hip replacement, I came into the cottage when others were still outside, the children playing Frisbee and the adults watching.  Jonah came in too. I had brought along a copy of what is now Duck Dreams but was probably then titled The Chicken Cheater, Duck Disasters, and the Rough Road to Friendship.  It was an awful title but seven-year-old Jonah didn't comment on that.  He flopped on his belly and began to read.  Again the next night, he came in when the other children were still running around and he read until bedtime.

When his mother asked how he liked the book, he said "It's great." The next evening I asked: "Jonah, is there anything you didn't like or didn't understand?"  I was a little worried about the anti-Semitism that enters into the story at one point.

"Nope.  It's great," he said again and that's all he ever said.  It was enough to encourage me.

Two Israeli family members were young readers as well.  Roi was eleven, I think, when his uncle Joel came from the U.S. and left spiral-bound copies of the story with his nieces and nephews of the right ages.  Roi was one of the recipients.  He emailed me that one night he had been reading a book he loved and had read many times when his dad suggested he try instead this book that his great-aunt Betty had written.  Roi took it a bit reluctantly but read until his dad turned off the light, then reports that he took the story to school in his backpack and read it whenever he could manage it.

His cousin Talia, age eleven, emailed: "I read your book and you know it was interesting because I hate to read English!"  

Petra, a New York child, also got a copy of the story, and her response was very special.  She drew an illustration for me and she had chosen the very same scene that Anni Matsick chose to do for the cover!

My oldest granddaughter, Isabel, read my story years ago and said without prompting: "You should publish this, Mimi."  I sent it to many publishers, Isabel.  Some gave me advice that helped me make the book stronger but none wanted to publish it,

                                        I did it myself!

                                                                    ....with help from my friends