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Letters October 24, 2009

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I presented at a Lutheran school in Kansas City this past weekend and at the Young Writers’ Conference in Liberty, Missouri. In the last part of my workshops, the students wrote letters.

Just before I left the Liberty conference, a fifth-grade boy ran up to me and handed me a folded piece of paper. It was a letter:

Dear Ms. Stromberg:

Thanks for the wonderful day. You did some wonderful work on your book.

Sincerely,

[student’s name]

P.S. You are an excellent writer.

Naturally, I choked up. I had been paid one of the highest compliments a children’s author can receive:  a writing child.

I do get letters. I’m relieved that most of it now comes as e-mails instead of snail mails. Teachers used to organize snail-mail efforts in which all the children in their classes wrote favorite authors. For me, a postage stamp cost more than the royalty I received from a book, so every letter I answered set me further back financially. Thank goodness for e-mail!

My stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul books have drawn teens to e-mail me from around the world. I received several from Japan and even one from an Arab country. I’ve answered every letter except one from a prisoner. As a writer, I’m sometimes amazed where my words turn up!

Critique Group October 18, 2009

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Saturday, I met with one of the three critique groups I’m in. I can see real improvement in others’ work. This group is mostly unpublished children’s writers, and I’m encouraging them to seek agents once they’ve written and polished their novels. The market has closed up a lot since I started writing thirteen years ago. Few large publishing houses will even look at unsolicited submissions. With the recession and staff layoffs, some editors who have been let go are trying to establish themselves as agents.  This may be an opportune time to find an agent. I would probably look myself, but I’m tied up with promotions on my two young adult novels.

And I was fortunate enough to secure a critique of the first three chapters of my inspirational romance from an award-winning author of thirty-plus romances. This was the first time I actually had a published author agree to look at my work. Usually, published authors are too busy working on their own manuscripts to take the time to look at the writing of someone else not as far along. I understand that. I get requests all the time that I have to turn down. So, I was thrilled for the opportunity. And I learned a lot. Now I need to rework those first three chapters before I submit them to the editor who requested them at conference. I’m hoping to get to that this week.

I am teachable and I do persevere. I think those are the two qualities needed most by anyone who wants to make a living writing.

Literature Festival October 6, 2009

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I spoke to all the kindergartners, two sixth-grade classrooms, and a seventh-grade classroom at the literature festival of a local Catholic school. The children and I had fun while discussing descriptive writing and practicing it by describing the ugliest sweater imaginable.  They asked me to autograph their festival T-shirts, which visiting Husker football players had also signed. (The players visited the school to read picture books to children.) Anyone who knows Husker fever knows what an honor this was! I was reminded of a comment from John Archambault on Saturday that the word author comes from the word authority. That was one of my first surprises when I became an author back in 2001:  how many people view authors as authorities. 

The staff at the festival was wonderful–well organized and helpful. One teacher said to me that she would have liked to have had the opportunity as a child to meet an author. I agreed. I don’t think I met any children’s authors until I became one myself. Many schools now offer that at book festivals or fairs they hold in the fall.

My husband, like many Husker fanatics, would have rather met a football player as a child. He still hasn’t quite gotten over that I was the one who got to spend the day with all of these football players–and I didn’t even take any pictures or ask for autographs.

Plum Creek Literacy Festival October 4, 2009

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I spoke to two groups of teachers, librarians, and college students at Plum Creek Literacy Festival yesterday and had the pleasure of going to the endowment dinner in the evening. Many award-winning children’s authors–including Carmen Deedy, Richard Peck, Avi, and John Archambault–spoke at the conference or dinner or both. Talk about a polished group! After hearing Carmen Deedy relate the hilarious story of how she went from being a reluctant reader to being an avid reader, I inquired whether she had taken storytelling classes. She said she had worked on that particular speech for a year. I told her I’m a “beginning writer of thirteen years now.” She said that when she first started achieving success, people talked about her as “an overnight success,” but she had written for 20 years prior to that. Confirmation, once again, that what looks easy usually has a lot of hard work behind it.

Books in Print October 1, 2009

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I received my author copies for A Shadow in the Dark and Living It Up to Live It Down yesterday. I am thrilled with the books! They look great. The publisher said they should be listed on BarnesandNoble.com within about a week. The publisher isn’t using Amazon.com for these books, which I was disappointed about but understand. Amazon requires steep discounts, making it difficult for small publishers to make money when using them for sales.

I will be speaking at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival on Saturday, appearing as a featured author at a Lattes for Literature celebration on Sunday, and speaking at a local Catholic school’s literary festival on Monday. On Tuesday I begin marketing my new books by taking part in blog tours and media interviews. Later this month, a school in Liberty, Missouri, will be hosting me for an author visit. A nice kickoff for the release of my new books!