Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas That I Knew & A Christmas Anew

Charlie our Christmas Tree
Picture this:  Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” playing in the background dun nuh nuh duh nuh nuh, duh-nuh; the smell of Nestle Toll House cookies (with extra walnuts) wafting through the air; the chilly still morning out the front window; the fireplace crackling, small sparks of bright orange jumping from wooden logs; bits of wrapping paper and over turned stockings lining the floor; and five smiling people curled up on the sofas: 1 daddy and 1 mommy, both drinking coffee from large mugs, and 3 girls in matching red and green flannel pajamas, each with a plate full of different cookies (peppermint snowballs topped with powder sugar, bendable almond lace cookies edged with dark chocolate, and coconut bon bons with a large almond on the top); laughter mixing in with the jolly piano tunes; and warmth filling the medium sized living room, not just from the fireplace, but from the feelings of family and love surrounding them all.
This has always been my Christmas. 
This scene was usually followed by a day of movies that we received as gifts, a nap, family games like Apples to Apples or Scrabble, and of course a delicious meal my mother prepared impeccably, including a brown sugar ham, greens and ham hocks, mashed potatoes, homemade baked macaroni and cheese, and butter smothered buns. 
I thought I’d use this blog post to reflect on the childhood Christmas that I knew.  The late night chats my sisters and I would have early on Christmas morning before my parents allowed us to get up and open presents, the three of us packed inside a small room on cots, inflatable beds, or on the only bed in that room.  The compilation of holiday movies my mom recorded on a VHS when we were very young, the one we memorized and called “The Long Charlie Brown” which included not only holiday greats like “A Claymation Christmas”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, and “Garfield’s Christmas”, but also old, OLD commercials like the red-head pretending to skate in a “world wide championship” as she enjoyed a York Peppermint Patty, or the Doublemint twins riding on a bicycle while a song sings “that cool refreshing feeling of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum.  Puts a sparkle in your eye, a spring in your step, and makes things lots of fun!”  Or the anticipation of tasting cookies from new recipes I found, which usually led to me making so many cookies, that we could never finish them all!
Although this has always been my Christmas, I knew that change was bound to happen.  People grow up and move away.  Traditions shift.  Families change (grow or shrink).  But even though I knew change would come, it didn’t make the transition any easier. 
As an adult, Christmas definitely feels different.  But it’s bittersweet.  Today I said farewell to my childhood Christmas, and hello to a new chapter in my own book.  My first Christmas away from my family, but my first Christmas shared with my new family, the family of my wonderful fiancé.  And so, I welcome the change that follows, but I keep the warmth of my past Christmases in my heart.  And I hope that as I build new and memorable traditions, I will be able to capture the true happiness I felt as a child each year when Christmas came, capture it in my poems and stories, so that these feelings of happiness and joy will be forever held for others to share, and for me to look back at and reminisce.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Puzzle of Poetry

Puzzle of Poetry
by JaNay Brown

Picking perfect pieces
To portray a poignant point.
Pulling, tugging, stretching words
Forcing feeling. Force a fit.

Turning words over and over
Grasping blindly for a feel.

Is it flat?

Does it flow like summer rivers,
Or fall down like autumn leaves?
Does it spring from fruitless pages,
Or sting cold like winter’s breeze?

Does it fit?

Dragging desperate details
Into dumb deflated deals.
Smashing, thrashing, pushing phrases
Play on words. Pray for poem.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moon and Stars and More

My fiancé and I woke up early this morning to gaze at the stars and to catch the lunar eclipse happening above us.  As I watched the Earth’s shadow cover the moon, I caught a glimpse of a shooting star flashing across the sky.  That may have been the third time in my entire life (or as far back as I can remember) that I witnessed a shooting star.  I closed my eyes and made a wish. 

Moments like these: standing out there in the silent, cold winter air that captures my breath in a white, ephemeral mist; taking in the vast, early-morning sky expanding above me as Jupiter sparkles red and white and blue against the indigo backdrop; watching Earth’s shadow slowly envelope the moon like a giant blanket only until the rising sun uncovers the moon once again; and viewing the brilliance of a shooting star.  Yes.  Moments like these make me feel like a kid again, witnessing wondrous things that I can’t always explain in full detail and that I haven’t had the chance to experience very often, and feeling like I’m seeing them through “new” eyes.  
I never get tired of being mesmerized by nature’s majesty.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seriously? A series?

Sometimes I write and come up with characters that I could see playing out into a whole series.  In my mind, those characters have personalities that are bigger than just a single book, and have so much potential for more adventures.  But, I am yet to learn how to decipher which ones would really work as a series.  I wonder, when writing and submitting, if an editor is the one who pitches the idea of extending a character beyond a single manuscript; or, if the author comes with this already in mind.  It’s probably a combination of both.

Something I’m trying to think through is: what if you have a story that seems like it could be a series (I’m talking picture books, not novels or middle grade books), but you have only written book two in the series, and you have not been able to figure out how to properly introduce those characters in book one?  It would seem backwards to try to publish the second one first, before you even get the first one out.  But then again, what if it doesn’t pan out to be a series?  You wouldn’t want to not send out a manuscript when it may be something that an editor is interested in.
Oh well, I guess I’ll ponder this some more.  Who knows, maybe book one will pop into my head after all.

Here are a few popular picture book series that I enjoy: 
Mo Willems and Knuffle Bunny:

Caralyn Buehner & Mark Buehner and their Snowmen Series
And my absolute favorite, Ian Falconer and the Olivia series

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Schmoozing with my Fellow Writers

Tonight, I visited my first Holiday Schmooze for children’s authors and illustrators, an event put on by the NorCal SCBWI chapter.  I have to say, it was quite a nice experience.  Being surrounded by others with similar ambitions, and at different periods of their careers, was so refreshing.  I got to ask several writers about their work and about their publishing history.  Some offered information that I didn't know, others offered interesting conversation.  And, it felt so good to be able to say that I too have sold work (yay Highlights!).  I got to see Rosi Hollinbeck, a member from the critique group I'm in, and met some new up and coming authors.  And not to mention, there were sweets as far as the eye could see!
In addition to meeting new people, I had a chance to hear a talk from Deborah Underwood, the award-winning author of The Quiet Book and a Crystal-Kite winner.  She had provided some good information, and some tips to evaluate our own writing careers.  While she was signing my copy of The Quiet Book, I asked her what advice she would give to new writers.  At first, she said “perseverance”, but then she told me how beneficial it was for her to take a beginning illustration class.  She said that having a chance to learn about picture books from the perspective of the illustrator, really opened her eyes and changed the way she wrote.  She said that she feels it is definitely important to leave space for the illustrator to do what they do so well—illustrate.
 I think that this is important to keep in mind too.  I understand that as an author, usually, you have no say in who the illustrator is and how the illustrator illustrates (at least if you are a new author).  In other words, once your book is accepted, the editor finds the illustrator and the author may not see the pictures until the book is finished.  So, I’m sure, many books may not up the way that the author had envisioned it.  But with that being said, again, the illustrator is a professional too; picture books are a joint effort and a collaborative process.
The world of illustration seems so interesting.  I’d love to learn more about it!  I think I will. : )

Here is Deborah Underwood's book "The Quiet Book," if you're interested.  You can check out her website at:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let the Manuscripts Sing

One of the most nerve-racking, daunting, intimidating, SCARY parts of this whole writing/trying to get published thing for me is the thought of my manuscript (all that hard work, countless hours of writing, revising, cutting, rewriting, tweaking, revising, shifting, rewriting, and more revising), sitting there on the top of an editor’s giant slush pile stack of manuscripts, waiting to be read.  And then, the assistant—not even the editor—opens it.  Skims his eyes over the first two lines.  Scrunches his face in thought for a second.  Two seconds.  Three.  And then tosses my manuscript into another equally giant “rejection” pile to be returned with a form letter saying “Thanks, but no thanks”. 
I’m not trying to be a pessimist!  Not at all!  I just know that this is the reality for so many manuscripts that are sent out, whether they are great or if they are in dire need for improvement. 
BUT, I can’t think about that right now, as I seal my eighth envelope containing my cover letter, full picture book manuscript, and my SASE which I hope will come back to me containing some great news.  So, with hope and excitement, I send off two picture book manuscripts, and several poetry manuscripts, to a handful of publishing houses, hoping that my work will sing loudly and beautifully as someone—whether assistant, editor, chief editor, or whoever it may concern—reads my words, and allows my words to touch their hearts.

Off go the manuscripts, and now, comes the waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  Oh, the process of publishing.  But that’s okay, because as I wait, that gives me ample time to begin working on more work, more poetry, more stories, and more manuscripts. 

Good luck Manuscripts!  I wish you the best!



According to the Encarta English Dictionary of North America, inspiration is:
 “Stimulation to do creative work.  Stimulation for the human mind to creative thought or to the making of art” (found on the Microsoft Word Encarta Dictionary, November, 2011).

As a writer, I try to find different ways to spark “music” in me.  Something that I have realized that seems to never fail for me is nature.  Listening to water gurgle as it drifts across river rocks.  Hearing the wind dance through the wind chime hanging from my balcony.  Smelling cement that has just been bathed by the season’s first rain.  Feeling my fingers tingle as Winter tries hopelessly to freeze them through my mittens.   But especially, the brilliant colors of fall, burning like fire from the branches of trees that line the streets, freeways, parks, fields.  Out of all the poetry I have written, I think that Autumn and her vibrant leaves have been my most written about theme.

From the books I’ve read and my own experiences, finding what inspires can certainly help creativity percolate and begin brewing inside the writer. 

But, what inspires you?  What is something that when you see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, hear it, words or pictures automatically begin playing inside your mind?  If you can’t think of anything, now would be a great time to begin allowing your senses to find what inspires you!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Honing my craft

I figure, any artist or writer would probably say it takes time to perfect (if perfection is even possible) a craft.  Thus, things like practice, education, exposure, inspiration, etc. help an artist find their voice in their craft.

For a writer, of course, it is important to become very familiar with aspects of writing (tenses, points of view, grammar rules, so on).  I have taken classes in writing and have attended workshops, but my newest endeavor for honing my craft is reading the book "Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication" by Ann Whitford Paul.  This book was recommended to me by a few of my fellow critique group members.  I have been reading it thoroughly in attempts to get as much out of it as possible.  So far, this book has been a review for me, as well as an introduction to some concepts that are new to me.  I especially like how the author gives book examples to illustrate points she is making, and I really like the hands on activities she includes at the conclusion of each chapter.  I've already come up with a few book ideas while reading her book!

If you are hoping to write a Picture book or a Picture storybook, I too would suggest picking up this book.

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication
By Ann Whitford Paul

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Change

I created this blog two days ago, as you know, to document my path to publishing.  But, I wanted to replay a scene for you that happened to me about 2 hours ago:

"Hey, let's get the mail," I said to my fiancé as we walked from our apartment's communal fitness room.  We made our way through the gate, as we always did, each time we checked the mailbox.  But, this time was different.  He slid his mailbox key in and pulled out the mail.

The bright orange manila folder stood out to me like an African horned cucumber in a basket filled with apples.  I could easily identify an envelope that I myself had enclosed as a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope that writers include in a manuscript submission whenever they want their manuscript returned to them after consideration from agents/publishers).  I had a collection of those same types of envelopes in a file deemed "rejected manuscripts".

"Oh great, another rejection," I think to myself.  I slide my index finger under the envelope's sealed flap.

Then, I pull out a stack of papers, "my returned manuscripts" I think. 

The bright yellow letters of the Highlights logo stand off the page, bright red oblong rectangle and all.  I notice a lot of writing in this letter, so I run my eyes over the text:

"Thank you for your material which you have prepared for us.  We are delighted to accept this material and would like to set forth our agreement in this letter" (Cully, 2011) says the letter, signed by Highlights Editor in Chief.

I scream!  I jump!  I dance in the grass beside our mailbox!  I run to my fiancé and jump on him, hugging him closely.  "It has happened!"

It has finally happened.  Highlights has accepted TWO of my poems, and I am besides myself in excitement. 

I am soon to be a published poet.

And because of this, I realize I must change the mission of my blog.  No longer is it "my path to publishing", but "my path to publishing children's books."  Because, as soon as I return this contract, I will be published. 

I'm that much closer!  Publishing in magazines is a way to build a name and a publishing history which increases my chances of having a Picture Book manuscript accepted, and I'm that much closer.

Here's Highlight's website:

What next, what next, what next?!  :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators

In this post, I thought I'd talk a little about the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  This is a GREAT resource for those starting out on the path to publishing children's books.  This organization offers so much information about the children’s book publishing business.  Although you have to purchase a membership, if you are serious about publishing, it is a beneficial investment. 

Check out the website:

Through this website, you can find out about the region that serves where you live, upcoming conferences (around the world), as well as information about speakers and school visits, possible funding opportunities for writers and illustrators, classes, and an entire library full of resources.  It was through SCBWI that I was able to find a critique group that has helped me strengthen my writing and critiquing (which is very important to the process of revision) skills.  I have already attended two conferences, and I plan to attend many more as they come up, which I plan to talk about in later blogs.

Okay.  Done with my "sales pitch".  But in all seriousness, the SCBWI is something that I believe in.  I certainly feel that it is something that has moved me closer to my dream of publishing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Onward I Go

I have officially entered the blogosphere!

I don't think anyone knows how hard it is for most people to publish a book, until he or she actually makes an attempt to publish.  I mean, since there are so many books out there, it must be easy, right? 

Oh.  So.  Wrong. 

Let me just say, publishing is no easy feat!

From as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be an author.  I remember being so excited whenever we had an assignment to write a story!  I would lose myself in the assignment, and eagerly anticipate the next time I'd have a chance to create a new character to turn in for a grade.  And even when I didn't have a writing assignment, I'd sit at my in-home computer for hours and write, just for fun.  All in all, writing is, and always has been, a great passion of mine!

Within the last couple of years, I have tried to take this passion even more seriously.  I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (also known as SCBWI), joined a fabulous critique group with a number of incredibly talented ladies, and have sent out several manuscripts.  But to no avail!  I have yet to be published.

That's why I have started this blog.  This blog will be a way for me to document my progress in this business.  A way to share what I've learned, and hopefully a chance to learn more.  A chance to talk about things I've done, inspirations of mine, and road blocks I've hit on my publishing journey.  And lastly, a chance to just write, because of course, practicing a craft is the only way to get better at it. 

So again, thanks for joining me on this journey!  Hopefully it is one that will end with my name in print! :)