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Sold Another Piece I Didn’t Submit August 1, 2015

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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This is almost getting funny. The other day I came home from work and found a contract in the mail from a children’s magazine. The editors wanted to reprint a Christmas story of mine. They had published it in 2009 and now were offering to pay me again for rights to reprint it this year. I didn’t even know they accepted reprints, less enough reprints from their own magazine. I had never thought of submitting the story to them again. It seems I have a better batting average when I am not actively pursuing publication than when I was!

God, what are you up to?

Writing for the Inner Child February 7, 2015

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Standard writing advice for would-be writers of children’s books and stories is to “spend time with children.” This falls in line with the “write what you know” advice. I think the idea behind the advice is that children may be different from what they were when the writer was a child or that the writer’s memory may be faulty. I tend to believe, though, that the key emotions and experiences of childhood aren’t all that different from one generation to the next and the writer who can tap into those has a good chance of being successful–even without a lot of contact with children. We all have an “inner child” to rely on.

Who can forget what it feels like to be left out? to learn to ride a bike or swim? to receive that favorite toy you still have tucked away in a closet somewhere? to scrape a knee? to lose a friend? to make a new one? to be chosen first . . . or last? to get out of school for a snow day? to have a favorite teacher? to get a sticker as a reward? to have a grownup give you an “airplane ride” or another child give you an “underdog” on the swings? to lose a tooth? to outgrow a favorite shirt? to have a pet die?

Some of the most successful children’s authors–Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, and Beatrice Potter among them–never had children. Perhaps they could have achieved greater success if they had spent more time with children, but I doubt it.

All writers draw from their own unique experiences when writing a story, but we’ve all experienced childhood. Those childhood experiences or emotions that rise to the top in our memories may be the strongest subject we could write about.

Tough Stuff in Children’s Books September 7, 2014

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The Guardian recently published an article stating that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Pioneer Girl will be released soon. In the book, Wilder wrote about her childhood growing up in the 1800s on the frontier. Pioneer Girl was rejected by publishers, so Wilder rewrote it and sold the resulting stories as the now-famous Little House on the Prairie books. Publishers had deemed parts of Pioneer Girl unfit for children, such as the story of a drunken man who accidentally killed himself when trying to light a cigar and having the liquor on his breath catch fire and the story of a shopkeeper who dragged his wife around by the hair and set their bedroom on fire.

I’m sure Wilder really witnessed these horrific events and felt compelled to include them in Pioneer Girl when trying to accurately relate her life on the frontier. The reality is that children around the world face tough stuff like this. Those who make it to adulthood completely untouched by violence or other ugly behaviors must be few and far between. We can’t completely protect children, but should writers for children include such tough stuff in their stories?

I’m torn on this. For children who are living in tough situations, maybe it helps to read about other children in similar situations. They might be able to identify with characters more and feel more inclined to read about children who are struggling about bigger issues than finding a lost bike or securing a date for prom.

On the other hand, maybe a child in a tough situation would give anything to get away from that, even if it’s just the temporary escape of a light read.

I’ve written about both the tough stuff and the light and found the light stuff (especially humor) easier to sell. I think publishers are more receptive of the tough stuff (often even welcome it) in young adult books but are less receptive of it in books for younger children. A big part of the decision has to be about how the writer handles the topic and why. What is the point in exposing a child to ugliness or violence? I think a writer who chooses to tackle tough stuff in children’s books should offer hope to the reader or some possibility of resolution in the end.

Writing for Today’s Child September 12, 2010

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This past summer my son in elementary school spent a Saturday visiting a friend in a small town. When he came home, he said, “It was so great! You could drive your bike all over town, and there were kids everywhere. Everybody knew everybody, and nobody cared that we were just a couple of kids running around by ourselves. Mom, we should move there!”

We haven’t moved, but I understand what he was saying. I spent most of my childhood in towns like that. We live in a large city now, and I rarely see children outside playing. Children live in our neighborhood, but they spend most of their time either inside, at day care, or in organized sports–not in unstructured play unaccompanied by adults.

Recently, one of my friends received feedback from a New York editor about a children’s book she had written. The editor basically said, “This sounds as if it was written in the fifties. Today’s children don’t roam around unsupervised the way they used to.”

From what I’ve seen in the cities I’ve lived in (Kansas City, Lincoln, and Des Moines), this rings true, but as my son saw this past summer, some small towns still offer children autonomy. Once my son experienced it, he wanted to move!

All of which makes me think perhaps the New York publisher should have published my friend’s book. If children have never experienced the carefree living of a small town, they might, at the very least,  like to read about it. Isn’t that what books are supposed to do, open another world?