Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How I Got My Agent + Winter 2018 VCFA Residency Recap.

January 2018


My favorite time suck.
Thursday, January 4th.

Picture this. I was parked in front of my kid's elementary school, waiting for the afternoon carpool. It was cold outside, but toasty in my minivan. I was playing Candy Crush, sipping on hot cocoa and still listening to Christmas music when my phone binged. It was the kind of alert you dream out.

I had a manuscript request.

Rewind.

July 2017

Before I jump into January, I need to go back to last July.

Something important happened during my summer Vermont 2017 residency. I met Julie Berry, VCFA alumni and 2017 Michael L. Printz honor title. She was one of the Visiting Writers last year.

Julie is so talented and full of life that when I was around her, I couldn't help but feel excited about books. We talked and I asked about her path to publishing. Basically, Julie told me she queried during her 3rd semester of graduate school at VCFA. She got her agent before she graduated.

I was starting my 3rd semester. She said if my book was ready, I shouldn't be afraid to do the same. She's that matter-of-fact. "Just do it, Veeda."


(She was kind of like my own personal Shia Labeouf)




















Julie helped me feel like I had the ability to make this kind of magic for myself.


After I returned from residency, I finished up another revision of my novel. In August, I sent of my first round of queries. Happily, I got requests.

Then, nothing.

Months passed, rejections trickled in.

Some agents that still had my full manuscript, I didn't hear from. I considered it a pass. It was a disappointment for sure.

Maybe, I don't have magic after all.


Come November, I was sure this book was dead in the water.

My first book, which I'd queried the year before, received way more requests. Compared to that first book, my second book was no prom queen.


(Note: Querying is the absolute worst.)

I decided to let go of this project. Finish up my third (and really hard critical thesis) semester.


By then, it was Christmas. I had a winter residency to get ready for and so many good things to bake.

How I deal with writing pressure. Stress baking. No really, it's a thing.

Now, back to:

January 2018

The manuscript request I got while waiting for carpool?

It was from an agent I'd queried back in August.

(!!!)

The agent apologized for taking so long but asked if my book was still available.


Now, this was an amazing agent. Like, super-high-on-my-list. I admire this agent's clients so freaking much.

Back in my minivan, I promptly stopped playing Candy Crush. I called my husband and had a bit of a freak out. I saw another friend also waiting for carpool and blurted out my good news.

I couldn't believe it. After so many months, an agent who I respected wanted to read my book. 




It was like the sky opened and poured happiness all over me. I had felt so depressed over this book. Now, here it was. With hope again.

As soon as I got home I took a look at my manuscript. Did some revisions. Sent if off to the agent and had a very brave thought:

"If this amazing agent wants to see my book, maybe another amazing agent who I didn't have the courage to query would like to read it as well."


I rewrote my query specifically tailored for this shot-in-the-dark agent and decided to sleep on it.

Friday, January 5.

The very next morning, I still felt brave. So, before I could chicken out, I sent a query to Steven Malk at Writers House.

That afternoon, my phone once again binged.  It was the kind of alert you dream of.

A manuscript request.



Steve's assistant wrote me back to say that Steve would be happy to take a look at my book.

When I pulled up to the school for carpool, I found my same friend and promptly told her my news. I'm sure she was like, "Veeda, that's great. Just let me play Candy Crush and check my email in peace."

The weekend goes by and suddenly:

Tuesday, January 9. 

The day before I leave for Vermont. Here's where things went bananas.

Steve wrote me back and asked if he could introduce me to a colleague of his, Lindsay Davis Auld, who was rejoining Writers House.

He thought my manuscript would be a great fit for her and hoped I would consider it.

After all the time I had spent researching agents, Lindsay wasn't even on my radar. Well, because she wasn't even an agent at the time. As an agent at Writers House, years earlier, she launched the careers of many authors I think are so freaking fantastic so I didn't hesitate for one second.

I wrote back, "YES!"

(Much more professionally, of course.)

Wednesday, January 10.

PINKBERRY! Airport travels w/ Jenilyn Toley, Erin Summerill & Becca Birkin.

Now, I was at the airport, flying back to Vermont. Just as I was about to board (because of course I am checking my phone every two minutes) Lindsay emailed inquiring when we could set up a phone call.

(!!!)

Flight attendants were giving me the evil eye. I didn't have time to message her back.

Candy Crush? Could hardly play it on the plane. I flipped through the inflight movies. Ate two bags of peanuts. Read her email over and over and over again.

When we stopped in Chicago, I quickly wrote to tell Lindsay to say that tomorrow 8 a.m., before residency started, would be so super duper amazing fantastic.

(Much more professionally, of course.)




Thursday, January 11. 



8 a.m. came, and I waited patiently by my dorm room desk. When Lindsay emailed me minutes later I realize I gave her the wrong number.

Has anyone in the history of querying ever given an agent the wrong number? (Oh, Veeda. Oh, big clumsy thumbs typing in an airport.) 

Lindsay and I talked, and I was all nerves. Even before school had started or the jet lag kicked in, here I was. Talking to a literary agent, at my VCFA residency. How is this even my life? 

Lindsay and I talked about my book and she gave me an offer of representation. She was professional and thoughtful. Forget giving her the wrong phone number. At this point, I couldn't even remember my own birthday. 

The call I've waited seven years for finally came and the events leading up to it were so unexpected. 

I wasn't prepared. 

I had given up on this book. My wonderful time of learning at VFCA was about to start and thinking about queries and agents was not something I thought I would ever do there.

Since I've been pursuing publication, I've made many writer friends. I've listened to so many journeys. Triumphs. Heartbreaks. 

Here I was, about to start a milestone on my own path. I knew I needed to talk with others. What better place to do it then while at graduate school?

I gave the other agents my notice of representation and went to work. Two authors represented at Writers House were also at VCFA this semester, so I talked with them. Other writer friends. My VCFA advisors. (I finished my draft of the book I queried while working with Kekla Magoon, my second semester advisor, pictured with me to the right. Kekla gave me the tools I needed to trust myself and my work.)

During the week of waiting, I was on the phone a lot. I called my husband a bazillion times. 

Cynthia Leitich Smith was my most recent advisor and also so very helpful during this process. She is such a great support and I feel lucky to have been one of her students. I heart Cyn, always.

My roommate Erin Summerill (pictured left) was supposed to apply to VCFA with me in July 2016. With her first book coming out, it was understandably too much. I took the plunge and went on my own. Erin started VCFA in January and I'm glad we get two residencies together. We've shared a room at many writing events over the years so it's only fitting we are bunking it up at grad school. 

I even had a chance to speak with Steve Malk who was so great to tell me more about Lindsay. I will always be forever grateful that he picked up my query from the slush pile and saw the potential in my book. 

All this communication made residency fly and crawl by so slowly. It was weird how these continuums could exist at the same time. 

Luckily, I had so much learning to do in the Picture Book Intensive. The PBI was something I applied for. I was so glad to started my last semester immersed in the study of picture books. I heart them so.

My advisor, Jane Kurtz and Liz Garton Scanlon lead our workshops during residency. One of the highlights was seeing how Liz and guest author/illustrator Ashley Wolff collaborated on their picture book, In the Canyon. I loved learning from Ashley and seeing her vibrant, original art work. If you can't tell, the visiting writers at VCFA are so great.

All this experience helped take my mind off of signing with an agent. Well, almost.













I also had a dance to get ready for. My class put on a big party for the Trope Busters, the graduating class that semester. We gave them an 80's party and it was as fun at it looks.
Love these people, wish I got pics of everyone. We are decorating and dressed up.
Clara Martin, Rebecca Kirshenbaum, Stephani Eaton, Barb Crawford, Brynn Speer.
Mercer Black, Holly Green, Mo Charles. Michelle Houghton.
Giving College Hall an 80's makeover. Rachel Stones. Sarah Beard, Jessica Lee, Holly Green
Stephani Eaton, Jennifer Kay,  Jennifer Loescher, Mo Charles. Mindy Waite. Reunited w/ grad assistant, Jenn Bailey.

When the dance was over, lectures finished and graduation tears dried, it was time for me to head home. I had a family to get back to, an agency to sign papers with.

Every residency, my kids give me one of their toys to take with me. These fortune cats really did their work.

















When I got home, I signed with Lindsay Davis Auld.

It was so exciting to start my career with someone who is starting her career again as I am beginning mine. Lindsay already has phenomenal experience working at her agency. Her past clients are authors of some of my favorite books.  She's thoughtful and kind and I feel grateful to have her as my agent.

I decided seven years ago when I was pregnant with my third child (the very one I was picking up from carpool) to write children's books.

If you would have told me back then that the child I was carrying would be a first grader by the time I signed with an agent ... I may have given up.

Or, maybe not. Writing is something that I just have not been able to quit. I've spent so much time (and I'll be honest, money) mastering this art that I love.

I've invested in so many conferences. So many manuscript consultations. Spent so many hours doing dishes and listening to podcasts on children's book writing.

I can't give it up.

I've said VCFA has given me magic. When I think about it, I'm not sure if that's 100% true.

Sure, there's some luck at play. How was I to know that Lindsay would be coming back to agenting and looking to build her list right as I decided to send out a Hail Mary query?

This wasn't my first time querying. This wasn't even my first book (more like, three and half).

I don't think being a student at VCFA gave me anything special. It has however, helped me develop a spine. (Thank you, Linda Urban, my first advisor for setting me on this course.) I believe so deeply in myself and my work.

It's a hard program. I have the stress bakes to prove it.

Yet, every semester I've managed to finish.

I really think the secret to getting published is not giving up and improving yourself. Believe in yourself.

If you are on this long road to publishing (I still am) I hope to read your own "How I Got My Agent" post someday.

I believe in you.

Shia Labeouf does, too.




Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Still I Rise.

Celebrating the third semester residency with a new class name and Vermont maple creemee.

I've meant to write about my VCFA experience at least once a semester . . . and yeah. A year later, I've only blogged about my first residency.

Instead of backtracking to share last winter semester, I'll skip it for now and write about this past July, my third residency. Even though I don't blog very often, I want to capture some of my feelings about grad school before *poof* another year flies by and suddenly -- I'm graduating.

I can actually feel it now, graduation. It's at my fingertips and in every word I type. I can't believe that only a year ago, I was starting school and the graduating class this residency was beginning their third semester.

Adrienne Kisner, Brendan Reichs and I all wore black when we helped Ally Condie with her graduate lecture on death. I'm going to miss these graduates!
I've already completed a draft of my critical thesis -- thirty pages of a subject that is personal and dear to me. Can I tell you something? I love, love, love school. Even if it sometimes kills me.

When started the MFA program, I knew I was going to grow was a writer. I wasn't aware of how much. My workshop leaders and advisors have helped me reach, deep inside myself. I've pulled out words I didn't know existed.

With David Gill, Melanie Jacobson, Jenilyn Tolley, Alison Randall, Rachel Stones.
After a trip for ice cream (a.k.a. my happy food of choice)
This art has seeped into others areas of my life. Yes, I'm a better writer than I was a year before. I think also I'm a stronger person, too.

People talk all the time about the magic of VCFA in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I caught a glimpse of it last July and feel so lucky it continues to work it's power on me today.

During this summer residency, something happened that changed me forever:

I had to rise.

I was picked to do a reading in front of the school. It was the most horrible, terrifying thing that I have never wanted to do. Oh, the fear and self-doubt that accompanied me during those ten days in Vermont! This July, they were my ever present companions.

A sneaky photo taken. Can you see the hesitation in my face?


For my reading, I had to write something humorous and share it with the people who I respect the most. My classmates, the faculty, all these amazing writers -- they were all expecting to laugh.


There was one small problem: I'm not funny.

(Or at least, I didn't think I was.)

At the time, getting selected wasn't an honor. It felt more like, the biggest joke on campus. I was going to fail and die a miserable graduate school death. In front of everyone I admired. Oh VCFA, why must you always push me to the brink?

Like everyone, I have fears. I keep a running checklist in my head of all the things I am scared of.  Fear can paralyze me. It can whisper lies, snake around my heart and squeeze out my last bit of confidence till I forget all the victories and only see failures.
Speaking of fears, these were seen around campus.
I've had it with these motherf*@#ing snakes on this motherf*@#ing plane! (or VCFA)

Since I've been at school, I've developed muscle to wrestle away this fear. Mainly because it pops up every month around my packet deadline. I've learned to look it right in it's beady little eyes and say, "GO AWAY. I'M NOT AFRIAD."

I face it, stay firm, and it leaves. Sometimes it works right away, sometime I have to eat a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Or cupcakes.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll notice I stress bake. A lot. 

No matter how many times I feel like this will be packet to undo me, remarkably, I will pulled it together before the due date. Last semester, I turned in my assignments hours before deadline (true magic).

Whenever I hit "send," bravery replaces the fear. I've hit the send button elven times now. I've turned in hundreds of pages of creative writing. Ten essays. One critical thesis and read over 100 children's books in the course of a year. Writing has given me the strength to overcome.

Except, when I was asked to do this reading.

I wasn't expecting to have to write something and share it with anyone during residency. Like I do every month when my homework is due, I said to my fear: "GO AWAY. I'M NOT AFRIAD."

"Dispose of all plastic SNAKES put out over residency."

When the time came for me to read, I stepped up and did it. Wobbly legs, shaking voice and all.

After my reading, I felt like my life ended. I felt so exposed. I hid. In my dorm room, I called my husband and cried. I told him of all my self doubt, the anxiety, the feeling of embarrassment.

Allison Ritchie, Marianne Murphy and I. Deliriously funny women.

"Go down to the Wine Pit and socialize," my husband said. "I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you think."

"No. It was worse."

He listened and encouraged me to venture out. I said I would, turned on some LCD Soundsystem for motivation and left my room. In the hallway lounge, I bumped into friends. We talked about my reading, hunting for ghost and I realized it wasn't as terrible as fear had me think. *Poof* my feelings of failure left. I needed to get out of my head and into the hall to remember my victory. I did it.

I rose.

Since I've been home, I've been studying a lot of poetry. Maya Angelou has really spoken to me. Almost, in a really creepy way. I was reading her book at the library and came across this poem:



Thanks for another great residency, VCFA. Only one packet in, and I can't wait to see what the magic does during these next five months.

I'll end with a few lines from Maya Angelou's poem, Still I Rise. It's my fight song to fear, and it's stupid nagging presence.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.


Monday, July 25, 2016

The Magic of VCFA.



I did something awesome for myself this summer. I started the Masters of Fine Arts program for Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I've had many friends ask about my graduate school experience, so I thought I'd write a blog post.

Note: My photos capture the fun, social aspect of VCFA. It's not an accurate depiction. Lots of learning + self evaluation + being away from home = one crazy Veeda.


Back to the fun part.

Most students stay in the dorms. Eat in the school cafeteria. Yes, it's hard to share a hall bathroom. Yes, the food gets tiresome. Yes. Living in a dorm.

BUT . . . there is something invigorating about a casual hello to a classmate on your way to brush your teeth turning into twenty minutes of deep observation on a lecture that inspires you both. And you forget why you are holding a toothbrush and where the 2nd floor restroom is.

Eating in the same dining hall as everyone in the program was one of my highlights. Not necessarily the food, but the good company. The faculty and students all dine together and the informal setting leads to really good conversation.

Each class has a name. School pride in the dorm rooms, right here. 

I even sat at the same table with visiting writers April Pulley Sayre (so much poetry in her writing. In a nonfiction picture book about vultures!) and Maggie Stiefvater (super cool with her tarot card readings at lunch).


Bringing home these April Pulley Sayre books for my kids. 

Fan girling over Maggie Stiefvater. Her book, The Scorpio Races, brought back my love of horses. 


I appreciate how most people didn't bring up the publishing industry during residency. So often in writer's conferences, I feel like the first things you are asked are: Who's your agent? What books have you published? Are you even worth talking too?

Dinner in town with some of my classmates. I super heart them all.

I didn't feel this comparison at VCFA. There are several authors with books out and many more with agents. These milestones aren't the things that identify them. We are all at school to learn about writing. This similarity is bonding enough.

Montpelier, Vermont is straight up Stars Hallow.

There were times when my brain felt like it was going to exploded. Sooooo much thinking. I needed a mental break. I took several trips into town. It helps. Montpelier is charming and lovely and it's like walking into the world of the Gilmore Girls.

New England homes, you kill me.

Or possibly, a J.K. Rowling novel.



Leaving campus for ice cream always helps, too.




There was one point during my residency when I was feeling all the feels and thought I couldn't make it to another lecture, or face another person. I missed my family. What am I doing, so far away from my children? What am I doing, so far way from the writer I want to be?



I went back to my dorm room and did something I do to get me in better spirits back home. I turned the volume up on my phone, and had my own private dance party.


This song ALWAYS gets me going.


Yes, it really works. After five minutes and forty three seconds of shaking it off, I was out the door again. Speaking of dance parties, VCFA knows how to have a good one. Towards the end of our time, we have a dance to celebrate the graduating class.


DJ Yamile bringing down the house with visiting faculty DJ Daniel Jose Older.

Children's book writers are young at heart. We know how to dress up and get down, get down.

A Midsummer's Night Dream meets Steampunk, and it's a beautiful thing.

Even after the dancing hangover, the next day we are right back to work. Another highlight? The experiencing of finding out your upcoming semester advisor. The list is posted on a bulletin board in College Hall and it's one crazy exciting evening.

The sorting hat does it's magic.
During my ten days at VCFA, I:

- wrote a poem for the first time since 7th grade

- was inspired to be a voice for diversity in children's literature

- Started a writer's journal and didn't make it too precious to use

- believed in my voice

 and

- made life long friends.

Thanks, VCFA. I'm so excited to be apart of this family.

Celebrating the completion of our 1st VCFA residency. Ice cream all around.