Nothing like a good review of your work to not only make you feel proud and excited, but also relieved. Getting my work published has been such a great experience and I feel grateful that I'm able to share my work with so many people and get paid for it! It can be a little scary, though, particularly the whole review thing. It's a subjective process and you never know what's going to happen. But luckily this happened! Can you hear me breathing that sigh of relief? Now go pre-order those books!
"List-making foodie Phoebe G. Green adjusts to the addition of a new best friend. Phoebe and Sage ("who's a boy, if you were wondering") are best friends. They are both excited about being in Mrs. B's third-grade class this year. Also exciting is the addition of a new girl, Camille, from France. Phoebe is especially taken with Camille at lunchtime, when the kids compare lunches. Camille brings duck, goat cheese, strawberries and a tiny loaf of bread—and that is just on the first day! Phoebe becomes obsessed with Camille's interesting food and makes a plan to get invited to her house, where she imagines gold goblets full of fabulous food. The plan involves inviting Camille over to Phoebe's first, but the girl's fancy menu falls flat (her family is more a salad-from-a-bag family). While Phoebe is focused on Camille and her food, original best buddy Sage is pushed to the background, even though his mother does cook Indian food. Hiranandani has a light touch when exploring the friendship issues of these three likable characters. Nothing is over-the-top, and the plot is fun and easy to understand for the newest chapter-book readers. Gently humorous black-and-white illustrations pair nicely with the text. With all the foodies out there, this delightful series deserves a long shelf life…and many more courses. (Fiction. 7-11)"
The story of my life. I think it is for anyone who writes, published or not. It seems that when the writing bug bites you, it holds on tight and never lets go. When a day goes by and I don't write, I feel unfinished. I feel like one of the most important things on my to-do list hasn't been crossed off. It nags at me as I fall asleep at night and remains a dull ache in the morning that I shake off with coffee and my children's sounds both wonderful and irritating depending on how the morning goes. Then it's another day and I get another lucky chance to complete myself. By the way, there are many days that I don't write. So I feel like this a lot. It's a state of being I'm trying to make peace with. I just don't know if that peace will come from writing every day rain or shine, or being more okay with not writing.
If I have a deadline, then I do write on a schedule hitting a daily word count and it takes a lot of unexpected chaos for me not to write. Deadlines are magic. So the short answer to the question of making time to write is to create a deadline if one is not imposed on you. Take a class or start a writing group. Or simply tell a trusted friend what your deadline is. Be accountable to others. It's harder to procrastinate in public.
When I have a contracted deadline, the fear of knowing I'm too old to pull all-nighters keeps me going at a steady pace. But when I don't have a deadline, sometimes I give myself a hiatus to take care of other things and sometimes I just get lazy, but either doesn't feel great.
This last month was a true test of my writing resolve. We just moved from an old, charming, quirky house that cost a bundle to heat to a bigger, old, charming, quirky house in a nicer and more convenient neighborhood that will cost even more to heat. But I love it. I love connecting with a new space. As far as I'm concerned, houses are living things. I've been lucky to deeply love every space I've lived in, from a tiny one-bedroom in the city over a subway station with only enough space in the kitchen for a dorm-sized fridge and no freezer, to this one--a hundred year-old, beautiful, and slightly ridiculous house. My house and I get to know each other a little more when I find out on the first cold morning that the hundred-year old living room windows are probably as energy efficient as plastic wrap and that I can actually see the twinkling of the GW Bridge from my bedroom at night. I'm falling in love with this house, with all it's flaws and delights. The flaws are actually where the pull is, as long as it's balanced by beauty. Beauty without flaws is air-brushing. It's fake. It doesn't even exist.
Even if you only move a mile a way, packing up your whole life in boxes, and moving with two kids who are fresh out of camp, a husband who has to work late hours, and a looming book deadline is not very, how shall I say this...relaxing? I didn't understand if we just moved into our "dream-house" why I was so stressed-out and miserable? First, I wasn't writing when I needed to be because of all the moving and child-care logistics. It also felt like I had time-travelled. That we became another family in the future. How could we be us in this new space? Like we were pretending and that our real lives continued somehow in the old house where everything was still unpacked and arranged into a home. But as more boxes got unpacked and the rooms started to define themselves and I cooked my family their first meal in our new kitchen, and I wrote my first words in my new office, I started to see it, our old lives and our new lives merging.
It was really the moment though when I plunked down my laptop at 5:00a.m. so I could get in a few writing hours before my husband went to work and the kids were up, on my newly cleared desk surrounded by cardboard boxes, that my house became real to me, that I became a full person inside it. Flawed beauty. My fingers played on the keyboard in the dawn and the inspiration finally started to drip like brewing coffee. My heartbeat slowed. I felt such peace afterwards (not during, mind you).
I will probably never write every day, but the secret to making time to write for me is propelled by two things: a deadline, or misery. So create a deadline for yourself or choose peace instead of misery, and write. Don't wait for inspiration or a muse or everything to be just right. You'll never write anything good if you do. Just write through it. Allow both the flaws and the beauty to show themselves. It works. Good coffee helps too.
More exciting book news here for THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL. It was recently selected as a Sydney Taylor Notable Book. Do you remember Sydney Taylor and her All-of-a-Kind Family series about a Jewish family living in New York at the turn of the century? Do you remember Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie? I do. I was obsessed with these books growing up. I remember when Henny dyed Ella’s dress with tea to cover up the stain she got on it and how Ella went to a restaurant for the first time on a date and didn’t know what to do and how exotic and long their Passover seders seemed to me. In fact, Taylor’s books in some ways gave me more information about Jewish identity and culture than my family did.
I also find it interesting that this honor is only for books writing about the Jewish experience and since WHOLE STORY’s Jewish content is certainly not typical, I loved that my book and the diversity it represents was recognized. The honor came at the same time a newspaper called India Abroad, which is published in the U.S. for the Indian community, contacted me about doing a story on the book which I’ll post when it comes out. How perfect for a book about a character trying to come to terms with both her Jewish and Indian identity.
Also, the paperback of WHOLE STORY comes out February 12! I hope this will bring a new group of fans who are excited to pay the lovely paperback price ($6.99).
All this has me thinking, though. I worry about my little book‘s future. I do. I worry that it will disappear too soon and won’t reach its full potential, whatever that may be. Then I remind myself that no matter how many tweets I tweet or blog posts I write or schools I visit, my book will have the life it will have. And hey, I’m not a publicist, I’m a writer. So I take a deep breath and send that thought out into the air and start to think about my future, and the stories (there are so many) I want to share with the world.
I like to make fall resolutions. Since I have kids in school and I’ve worked on an academic schedule, fall always feels like a new beginning. I start to turn inward and get in touch with my senses. I cook more. I fix up my house. I notice scents like dry leaves and wood smoke. I enjoy the happy chaos of school starting and holidays brewing. It’s a good season.
One of my fall resolutions is to blog more. I miss the immediacy of taking my thoughts and news and sending it out into the world like a little boat made out of twigs. So here, I’m sharing now. I have lots of good news too, so much good news that in the neurotic corner of my mind, I sometimes wonder what bad luck is about to descend on me as I swim around in all this excitement. Crazy, I know, but true.
WHOLE STORY keeps selling, which is a wonderful thing. I’m delighted with the emails I get from readers all the over the country--even internationally since I just heard from a reader in Canada! It’s a miracle to me that my little book has traveled so far. So keep on reading and sharing your thoughts on my contact page!
The biggest news is that my brilliant agent, Sara Crowe, recently sold my chapter book series to the lovely people at Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin Group). I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. It’s the kind of thing that I think about all the time, except for when I forget about it. Then when I remember again, it’s like discovering a special gift left for me on the kitchen table. The working (and possibly final) title is PHOEBE G. GREEN, about a spunky third grader who actually likes to eat interesting things and slowly discovers she just might be a foodie when she befriends a new girl from France. Phoebe’s kind of the anti picky-eater who’s not afraid to be herself. This gets her into some trouble sometimes and I hope young readers will enjoy her unique adventures in food and in life! The first books will be out in about a year and a half.
Recently, I’ve also been lucky enough to contribute to the middle-grade series DEAR KNOW IT ALL. All books are published under the pseudonym, Rachel Wise, and I’ve written books #5, #6, and #8, the first of mine appearing in January 2013. The first two books by another writer are out now. It was a lot of fun and I wish I had been more like the brave, smart, but slightly anxious narrator Samantha Martone when I was in middle school!
I’m also working on another middle-grade novel. More to come about that…
Because of all this good stuff, I have decided to pause my Montessori teaching career, but I know I’ll always carry what I’ve learned with me into my life and parenting and future writing classes.
I’ve had many career paths, writing being the only constant, and now to have that part of my life move to center stage is quite amazing. I never thought it would happen and yet I always believed it would. So thanks for reading, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’m certainly enjoying the ride.
Think of a friend, a family member, a favorite book character. What’s the first thing that pops into your head? Usually a name. We are our names. We embody them like skin. I always find it disorienting when I meet someone whose child is named the same as mine. At the first sound of my daughter or son’s name, everything they are to me--the way their hair smells, the sound of their voice, the feeling of their hand in mine--floods my brain. How could anyone else have that name?
We can’t underestimate how important names are. Yes, people sometimes change their names, but usually it’s because they are changing, or wish they could change, a huge part of themselves. It’s not something anyone does lightly. Think about classic children’s book characters, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, James and the Giant Peach. What if Charlotte’s name was Susan? Susan’s Web. No way.
Before I write, I make a list of all the characters I plan to have in my story, and before I even think too much about who they are, I name them carefully, tenderly, like newborns. I look in baby name books or on the internet. I find out what their names mean. Then I try them on for size. Once in a while I change them, if the character turns out quite differently than I thought. But usually, as they develop, they become their names.
I was thinking about all this because of the teddy bear my son lost 7 months ago. The teddy bear has a name of course. It’s…wait for it…Teddy. Quite a simple name, given by my five-year-old son when he first learned how to talk. For four years, my son went to sleep with Teddy every night. Every day he played with Teddy and told him all his little secrets. Teddy was like a member of our family. One day, last July, we couldn’t find Teddy. We looked EVERYWHERE. After a few days, I knew Teddy was really gone. I told my son, almost in a whisper, that maybe Teddy went on vacation? I was heartbroken for him. He cried the first few nights without him, and then helped me make up stories about all the places Teddy was visiting—the forest, the jungle, the beach. And every time we finished a Teddy story, my son said, “And then he’ll come back.” I nodded, what else could I do?
Seven months later my daughter’s bracelet rolled under my desk. She reached her small hand all the way in the back (you know, to the part where you can’t see if you look under it), pulled out her bracelet, and a very dusty teddy bear. “Teddy!” she yelled and went running over to my son and thrust it at him. When I heard the name, everything came back to me, how Teddy looked, felt, and the particular way my son pressed his face into the top of Teddy’s head. The reunion was sweet and not really that surprising to him. After all, he knew Teddy was coming back all along.
So in writing, spend time choosing your names, and in life, spend time knowing people’s names. Spend time using people’s names. Luckily, we can’t lose those.