Story of a Book
This is a writing tale. A few years ago (yikes—four years ago!) I realized that while I chose to move into the country and start a farm (even though I had no idea what lie ahead), what about a kid whose parents pore over the Murray McMurray Poultry catalog and dream of raising sheep? What if she’s not an animal person, and suddenly finds herself ripped from the urban life and plopped down onto a farm?
Once again, our small farm inspired my writing. The two are now so interconnected that if we ever stop farming, I’m in big trouble as a writer!
After a few months of thinking about it, in 2006 I wrote a few chapters and called it Barn Boot Blues, imagining it would be for middle-graders, basically 8-12 year olds. I submitted the 20 pages to the annual Loft/McKnight Fellowship for Children’s Writers contest that fall. It’s an amazing program that chooses one writer to receive, over 12 months, $25,000. The award is designed to make a different in a writer’s life, and boy, does it ever.
Very early in 2007, I got the call. After years of submitting, I’d finally won. The judge was an editor from a well-respected children’s publisher. Wow! Money! A publishing connection!
My goal was to write the book immediately and submit it to this editor. However, 2007 was full of me promoting Hit By a Farm and writing The Compassionate Carnivore, so no time to work on “Boots.”
2008 was full of me promoting Carnivore and writing A Pirate’s Heart, so no time to work on “Boots.”
In 2008 I met the judge/editor when she appeared at the Loft’s Children’s Literature Festival, where I also gave a presentation. We hit it off immediately. “You don’t have to write the whole novel,” said the generous woman. “Just send me an outline and a few chapters.”
Finally in 2009 I carved out time to develop an outline and those sample chapters. My agent submitted them, and the editor and I went back and forth for a month or two hammering out changes, and then late summer…the contract came.
A contract is always good because it means an editor, a real person, is waiting for the manuscript. The downside is something called… a deadline. Mine was April 1, 2010. (This sounds reasonable until you know that I’m writing another book at the same time—that’s another story!)
Today is March 30. I sent the manuscript in yesterday, two days early.
What a relief. I met the deadline! But now comes the next step. Once the editor reads it, then I’ll get pages and pages of notes about what’s not working, and a few lines about what is. I’ll revise the novel all summer until the editor proclaims it ready to go.
It’s scheduled to be published spring of 2011. So a story idea that germinated in 2006 will have taken five years to become a book. It feels like forever, but the delays were all mine, and fell into the category called ‘life.’
Speaking of taking forever, I have two novel ideas that have been stewing in my head for three years and I want them out of my head and onto paper. I have three terrible novels that need major overhauls, and want them to be done yesterday.
It takes four years to really get a vineyard going. It takes four or five years to really get a handle on raising sheep (more, actually, if your sheep throw something new at you every year.) It can take a year for a busy fiber mill to process your fleece. It can take years to learn how to spin and knit.
If writing and farming and fiber are trying to teach me anything, it’s patience.
Those of you born with this trait, as Melissa was, feel lucky. I must face the lesson everywhere I turn. I’ve learned a lot about plants and animals and humor and generosity from Melissa, but the patience just hasn’t rubbed off.
I’d be happy to develop more patience, but it just takes too long.