Who referred you to me?

These are some of the search strings that led users to my website this month. Some of them make sense. Others…well, you can see for yourself.

1. love words (this is the # 1 search that led to my site this month. I do love words but I don’t think that’s what the searchers meant.)

2. dempsey kids art (nope, sorry, I don’t usually post my kids’ art on my site, though they are quite talented, if I do say so)

3. kent brown (He’s a great man and there is an interview with him on my site.)

4. a crooked kind of perfect outline (Someone has a book report due veddy, veddy soon.)

5. average number of rewrites for a novel (I feel your pain. Really, I do.)

6. jobs at Highlights Foundation (This would be a great place to work.)

7. acme anvil sound effect (No idea. No idea at all.)

8. linda urban wayne state (Linda, your stalker is inching closer.)

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I can’t remember which one of my well-read LJ friends linked to this conversation between Paul O. Zelinsky and Brian Selznick, but it’s a fascinating peek into their processes and perspectives on illustrating texts and creating stories with a few specifics about their books thrown in. As I read it, I kept thinking, "How should what they are saying affect the way I write picture book manuscripts?" There were some perspective shifts for me in their conversation that I think could be helpful to my picture book process.

One of these two fabulous illustrators once turned down a gig to illustrate one of my texts. (Not that the other accepted. No, in fact, I’m 99.9% sure the other one wasn’t offered the text. And in fact the illustrator who ended up accepting is amazing and wonderful and absolutely perfect for the job.) I won’t say which one and I won’t say which text, but as I read their words I couldn’t help but be awed by the fact that one of these two men actually *read* something that I wrote. (Yes, I know I am far too easily pleased.) Anyway, their honesty about feeling unsure or tentative or downright fearful somewhere along the process of making a book was not only endearing, but made me feel empathetic twangs of insecurity flowing between myself and these two men I don’t even know but whose work I deeply admire.

Here are a couple of quotes to whet your appetite:

Paul O. Zelinsky
: Then once I’m into the process, I begin to worry and curse. It looked like a guaranteed smooth sail from sketch to finish but it isn’t; I thought I knew how it should look and work but I don’t; I thought I could do it but I can’t.

Brian Selznick: When I’m working on a book, I always have this sense that I need some kind of "permission" to draw the pictures. It’s not any actual kind of permission, in the literal sense, but it’s my own need to own the content of the book.

There is plenty more to chew on in their conversation. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

(Oh, and on a side note. I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret in Portuguese before I ever read it in English. I don’t often do that. But this translation is pretty darn good and the whole package works just as well in another language as it does in English. Even better than most picture books I’ve seen translated here.)

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Fairy Tales can come true . . .

Once upon a time there was a story, and I was in love with it. It came to me in one fell swoop and got a lot of positive feedback. I revised it and received a scholarship with the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua conference using it as my manuscript sample. At Chautauqua, Patricia McKissack read it aloud to me and I cried to hear someone put a voice to words I had written.

I subbed it once or twice and received a couple of personal rejections. And then a year after Chautauqua, it was one of the picture book manuscripts that landed me an agent — a smart, savvy agent who soon sold three of my picture books.

But not this one. We got personal responses on it, along with "please send us more of this author’s work" to the few places we’d sent it, and also two revision requests that both pointed to the same problem. You may remember my lamentations as I began to revise it. And then slowly, I gained my footing, and began to love the new version. We submitted the revision to one of the editors who had asked for it.

I crossed my fingers.

I held my breath.

She asked for more detail.

I added a bit more context and sent it to her again.

I waited. A. Long. Time. (Okay, so not that long. But it crept by. Interminably.)

And then yesterday, out of the blue (as if I’d forgotten about it), an offer.

Big Happy Sigh. This one feels like the long-coming culmination of a lot of hard work and believing and dreaming.

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A Lifetime

Today is my husband’s 40th birthday. As far as birthdays go, today will be pretty laid back. We’re having a huge party Friday night, so there’s not much planned for today. Also, he’s not particularly freaking out about the fact that he’s 40. He’s proud of the things he’s given his life to up to this point and has few regrets for the way he’s lived these 40 years. On the contrary, he’s expectant for the next 40.

I met my husband when I was 8 years old, really a lifetime ago. We were friends and nothing more for years, but we have tons of shared life experiences. We have lived a lifetime together, and with that shared life comes a lot of perspective and grace. I am not the same person he married, much less the same person I was when he met me at eight years old. Nor is he the same. He’s given me room to grow and change, sometimes hesitantly and sometimes prodding me. And we’ve learned the hard way that the way we feel about each other in one particular moment is not the way it always will be, for better or for worse.

Forty years sounds like such a milestone, almost like an arrival. I kept trying to think of something significant enough to celebrate forty years of my husband’s life. But for the most part, everything he wants, we have. Anything else would just be a token. In the end, I remembered that forty isn’t an arrival at all, but only one point along the journey. Who we are in one particular moment is not who we always will be, for better or for worse, and so I decided to write my husband a poem to try to put my gift into words. Happy Birthday, Demps.

Our Lifetime

I’ve known you a lifetime, long

enough to grow thanks for what I long ago

would have changed in you, long enough

to leave a past behind us. I’m surprised still

to think of you at nine, and me at eight,

to think those simple two would make a life

together, would live love together.

It’s not so simple now, at times, the effort

it takes to make a life, and yes, let’s just be honest,

the effort it takes to love in this lifetime.

We are hard to love, often,

slow to forgive, and worse, slow

to feel forgiven. Love seems like an apparition

there, hazy, and some do not believe,

some cannot see signs –

some stop searching —

but love has seeped into my being, like a mist,

like a wind that whispers in this moment,

and causes rain in Africa next week.

It is faith, measured enough — from

places I cannot see—and yet,

I choose it. The eight-year old me does not understand,

and when I am eighty, I will marvel at the ways

I did not know love now.

I’ve loved you a lifetime, long

enough to know

I will love you more.

–Kristy Dempsey (all rights reserved)

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