Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pardon Me While I Teach

Late August/early of the busiest times in a teacher's life. A whole new batch of kids to learn their names, their quirks, their strengths & weaknesses, and the things you can use to connect to them. On top of that, the administrative duties that happen only at the beginning of the year: getting all their computer passwords set up, making sure you have enough social studies textbooks, making nametags, labeling supplies. And then there is the "training" of the kids, getting them used to your personal routines, your schedule, your preferences for where & when they turn in homework, when they can go to the bathroom, and just how much misbehavior you'll put up with (answer: none, unless they do something that truly makes me laugh). Oh--and the most important part, yet the part that ends up the afterthought to all that: teaching. Lesson plans to get the actual curriculum rolling as soon as possible because you know that come June you'll be running out of days to squeeze it all in. 

This is where I am now, one week in. A successful week so far, if you don't count the power outage and fire alarm on the first day! But, it is busy, and it is exhausting. My writing immediately took a backseat to the start of the school year. It's as it should be, seeing as I get a paycheck for teaching and writing has provided no income yet, but it is also disappointing since I had such great momentum over the summer. It just means I have to make writing a priority in my free time (like now, sitting on the couch of my in-laws' Michigan lake house listening to the waves). 

If there are any teachers out there who think writing will be a great "summer activity," think again. It's a full-time job. Sure, the summer is a great time to get big chunks of writing or research done, but if you ever want to get anywhere, not to mention if it's something you're truly passionate about, you're not going to be able to leave it alone September through June. 

So, if there are any Pitch Wars mentors reading this, fear not: If I am chosen it will be the biggest thing to happen in my writing career and I will treat it as such. 

Besides, I'm sure my in-laws will be happy to lend me some space at their lake house so I can write.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pitch Wars Is Here!

I am super super excited that for the first time ever I have entered Pitch Wars! If you are unfamiliar, check out what it is here. In short, it's an amazing opportunity for aspiring authors (ahem, moi) to not only get feedback on a finished manuscript from an experienced and, from what I can tell, lovely and fun mentor, but also to improve their writing and their chances at getting seen/snagged by an agent! I really hope I get picked by one of the mentors I've applied to, but even if I don't I've already learned a lot, improved my manuscript & query letter, and made connections with tons of great writing people! So, win-win.

And now, although it lacks GIFs, my Pitch Wars Mentee Bio. In other words, here's who I am and why you, my potential mentors, might like working with me. I love lists, so here is Nicole in a list, in no particular order:

1. I am a child at heart, truly. Sometimes my husband calls me "childish" but I prefer "child-like." You know, tomato/tomato...hmm, that doesn't work as well in type. One example: I love all things Disney. I seriously cannot get enough of Disneyworld. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

2. My favorite holiday is Halloween. Candy + costumes + spooky stuff = perfect!

Minions (i.e.The 4th Grade Team)

3. I have a MAJOR sweet tooth. Which also means I love baking cookies, pies, cakes (I make a mean chocolate souffle), and I've tried dipping pretty much everything in chocolate. Oh--and Nutella is the nectar of the gods. 

4. To make up for the sweet tooth, being active is a big part of my life. I'm a runner (2 marathons, 6 halfies, 2 triathlons, and a smattering of smaller races) and I love to dance. 

See how I combine my favorite things? 
That's me, dressed as Belle, running a halfie at Disneyworld.

5. My favorite season is fall. I'm a teacher, so back-to-school time is always fun. I think fall has the best smells: fresh school supplies being unpacked on the 1st day of school; apple cider donuts; pumpkin bread/pie/ice cream/anything; cozy fires. Mmmmm!

6. Travel is a priority. I absolutely love seeing other corners of the world and experiencing different cultures. My husband and I travelled Italy for two weeks this summer and it was the trip of a lifetime (and you better believe I had gelato every single day!) Still on the list: Thailand, Alaska, Machu Picchu, more Europe, African Safari...

7. At any given time you can find at least one children's book and one adult book on my nightstand. I love transporting myself to other worlds through reading. I also co-founded my lovely book club. Favorite middle grade book: The Giver (still debating if I'll see the movie). Favorite adult book: The Time Traveller's Wife (definitely not seeing the movie). 

8. Speaking of clubs, I'm also a member of a critique group that meets monthly. As a picture book and middle grade writer, I love that our group has every children's category represented. This group of talented women is largely responsible for improving my writing. Thanks ladies!

9. I am 100% type-A: organized, early for everything, a little neurotic, perfectionist. It makes me a bit stressed out from time to time, but also makes me a hard worker and go-getter. 

10. Which means I usually have time for an afternoon nap.

I hope that helped you to "know" me a little better. All in all, my goal with Pitch Wars is to learn, improve my writing, and meet new people in the writing world. Like I said, I already feel like those things have happened. 

But, if I am chosen by one of my mentors, I will be doing a LOT of jumping up and down, screaming, and dancing with my dog while he looks at me like I'm crazy. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

Hats Off to: Esther Hershenhorn

        Without Esther Hershenhorn, I wouldn't be where I am today in the world of publishing children's books. "And exactly where are you?" you're probably asking. You're right, I haven't actually published anything. Yet. But publishing children's books is quite a journey, and with Esther's help I now have my bags packed with all the right gear, a reliable road map, a tank full of gas, and several trusty and loyal travel-buddies.

          In the summer of 2010 I enrolled in a children's book writing course. Driving there the first night, I was surprised to find the address was residential, and even more surprised to find that the class was held in the coach-house apartment of the "instructor," who had me sit on her couch, pulling her toddler daughter's squeaky toys out from under my bum, while she told me various topics to write about and watched me write in silence. Creepy, right? And yes, I was the only student, though the instructor assured me my classmates were "sick" or "out of town this week." That was NOT Esther's course.

         Flash forward to the following summer. Undeterred by the seeming scam of my previous course, I signed up for Esther Hershenhorn's children's book writing workshop at the Newberry Library--much more reliable. (If you are a fellow Chicagoan, check out their fabulous writing workshops here.) Week by week, the clouds of ignorance parted and the warming rays of Esther's knowledge shone down, shedding light on the world of children's books. It was much more than just a writing workshop. All the students submitted works ranging from picture book to YA, and we critiqued and encouraged each other. But more importantly, Esther gently guided us into this new world, emphasizing the importance of networking and the writing community. I'd always thought of writing as an independent thing; a solo endeavor. Esther quickly turned my thinking upside-down, and by the time I finished her course I was a member of both SCBWI and a critique group...and I've never looked back. Before Esther, I had no idea how much I didn't know about writing and publishing children's books. But using the momentum she gave me, I now know what people are talking about when I attend conferences. I know what PB, MG, and YA stand for. I know what querying is, what typical word counts are, and the usual amount of rejection letters before publication (hovering in the hundreds). 

         As a result of Esther's course, I now meet monthly with a talented, knowledgeable, and ever-expanding group of writers who have helped shape me as an author, as well as my works themselves. And like our mama bear, Esther still checks in on us from time to time and is a constant supporter of our writing. 

        If you'd like a little bit of this Esther-y goodness in your life, you're in luck! Come to Prairie Writer's Day 2014, where she is on the panel. Get tips on her blog, Teaching Authors. Hire her as a one-on-one writing coach, or find a class she is teaching, by visiting her website.  

Thanks again, Esther!