Life is a Cabaret

Revisioned by Marilyn Wolpin

With apologies to John Kander and Fred Ebb

What good are stories unread in your files?

Go make an agent’s day.

Life is a Cabaret, my friend,

Life is a Cabaret.

Put down the journal,

The phone and the broom,

It’s time to send WIPs away.

Life is a Cabaret, my friend,

Life is a Cabaret.

Come on hit “send,”

And then again.

Throw fear away,

Start speculating.

Right this way,

Your “nos” are waiting.

What good is writing

A story or ten

That sit in a file at home?

Life is a Cabaret, my friend,

Life is a Cabaret.

I used to have a girl friend

Known as Glorie,

With whom I shared

A page or two of my kidlit stories.

She helped me make my words

Better for a while,

But then she went out

And published her own pile.

The day she won the writing prize

My nerves began to fluster –

So that’s what comes from

So much bravery and muster!

And when I saw her stand up

And take all the applause

I knew no matter what might come,

This was my new cause.

I think of Glorie to this day

I remember how she’d turn to me and say,

“What good are stories unread in your files?

Go send them out today.

Life is a Cabaret, my friend,

Life is a Cabaret.”

Being My Own Best Agent

by Marilyn Wolpin

I just spent a most disheartening hour researching agents. The agent I’d been stalking for almost two years sent me her latest “no thank you” yesterday and since that’s the third strike, I’ve decided it’s time to move on.

I have a database with 175 agent names. I love databases. They are orderly and have lots of information. But they are not static things. They are always in flux – agents leave the business, move to another agency, open their own agency, stop accepting submissions. So it’s a thing that must be maintained, managed, and manipulated. Databases don’t complain. I can massage them without a peep of resistance.

I researched twelve agents in my database today. Not one turned out to be someone I would or could reach out to. Here are my results: Four are closed, three don’t want picture books, two were illustrator only, and I rejected three for other reasons (cavalier attitude on MSWL, not enough information on what she’s looking for, and, let’s just say, other). Can I relate that to my work? If I have a dozen stories, is any one publisher or agent out there going to be interested in just one of them? Or conversely, if I send one story to twelve editors, will not even one editor fall in love with it?

I will wend my way through this maze of information and research more agents tomorrow and the next day until I find one who seems simpatico. But until then I will continue doing what I’ve been doing: Being my own best agent.

I am NOT an Aspiring Writer

by Marilyn Wolpin

I am NOT an aspiring writer. I AM a writer. I write stories for children, haikus, letters to the editor, blogs, and queries. I don’t aspire to write these. I just do it.

According to Webster’s to aspire is to hope to achieve something. Do you “aspiring” writers hope to achieve writing? I don’t think so.

I think the hope is that we become published writers. We believe this feat is validation that we are indeed writers. This victory must mean that our words have won over the gatekeepers: an agent, an editor, a team at the acquisition meeting. Oh, how our hopes have turned to reality. Now we are truly writers.

It also means that since I am published, I can remove “aspiring” from my Twitter or Facebook profile. No.

You are defeating yourself by saying you are an aspiring writer. You know the art and craft of writing. You use luscious language, you leave room for the illustrator, you use a combination of short and long sentences, you have a theme, an arc, all the elements. You go to your desk every morning or when you can. You type words into your computer. You revise. You revise some more. You think about your work in the shower, on your walks, in the grocery store, in your dreams.

Guess what that means? You are a writer. No “aspiring” necessary. You don’t need validation from the gatekeepers. You only need it from yourself.

Saying you are an aspiring writer is begging. It’s a psychological deterrent. A writer’s block. Does a musician call him or herself aspiring? When she practices a Bach two-part invention over and over, does she say I am an aspiring pianist? I hope she does not. Does an artist call herself aspiring before she has a show or sells her art? I think not.

So don’t ASPIRE to be a writer. Just DO it. The joy is in the doing. Stop hoping that you are a writer and start believing that you are a writer. I promise it will give you strength.

Libraries Are a Gift

by Marilyn Wolpin

I am lucky to live within a five-mile radius of three libraries – each in a different town. I use my computer to find the books I’m looking for and usually locate most of them in one of the three. Once a week I visit at least two of these libraries to pick up the children’s books I’ve ordered and drop off the ones I’ve read. This past week something happened at one of those libraries that shook my world.

A tall, dark man walked in carrying a small ginger-haired child. An older woman came as well. I assumed the man was the father and the woman the grandmother to this not more than three-year-old girl. The man went up to the librarian and without much of a discernable accent asked the librarian how to use the library.

Just drink that in for a moment. A person in our world who does not know how to use a library. Where in this world had he lived without one?

The librarian stepped away from her plexiglass enclosure and showed the family around. “These are the new books,” she said, indicating a row of child-level bins. “These are the board books,” she said, pointing out the room with a table and chairs.

“What are board books?” the man inquired.

Of course, I don’t need to tell you what they are. But again, drink that in. This family had lived in a world where there were no board books.

As the librarian finished her tour, the man spoke to his mother in a language I did not recognize (and I recognize a lot of languages). So I knew where they weren’t from: Europe, Japan, China, Israel, Russia, South America.

As I left with the ton of books I checked out (see previous TBR post), I noted the family seated in the board book room, child on daddy’s lap drinking in the wonders that are children’s books. What must this family think? There are places in America where you can just sit at your leisure and look at books? Impossible! Places you can go, show a tiny card and freely pick out books and take them home? Unbelievable! This has been possible all my life. I cannot imagine a world where it is not.

But where this family came from, it was not possible. Drink that in. No libraries all their lives. No place of delight and magic for child or adult.

I will no longer take libraries for granted. We are lucky. We are blessed.

Cherish and support your local library.

“I’ve Spent a Lot of Time on This Story Already”

There are many reasons to stop working on a story. You may have run out of ideas. You may have recognized that the message and the medium don’t match. Another story has come barreling into your consciousness and you feel you must work on that. Another way of saying what you meant to say has come to you and you are compelled to follow that thought. And I have also heard, “I’ve spent a lot of time on this already,” throwing poor “time” under the bus. I didn’t realize there was a time limit.

A published author was once asked, “How long does it take you to write a picture book?” Her answer was, “It depends. Some take a month, some take three months, some take three years. In other words, they take as long as they take.” And time you’ve already spent creating cannot be one of the reasons why you abandon a book.

I understand that time is a special commodity. For parents who work out of the home or in, sometimes the only time you have to work on a book is after the work is all done and the kids are in bed. And time becomes a balancing act. Should I work on something that’s just not coming or should I put my time against something that’s working out just beautifully? This is a decision every writer has to make. If a manuscript is giving you trouble, don’t claim time’s up and abandon it. Time shouldn’t be the excuse. Simply put it away and let it age. Your back burner brain will be working on it. You can always come back to it later. And maybe when age has had its way with it you may realize what a dumb idea it was or what a great idea it was and you’ll put more time against it.

Or you may simply realize that for whatever reason this story just isn’t going to work the way you hoped. I was trying to write a story about a rainbow. But my treatment goes against the whole world’s concept of rainbows as being miraculous, joyous, hopeful things. And as much as I think my story is funny and clever, I don’t think anyone would buy it. Too irreverent. I may have put a lot of time against this story and its many revisions, but I would never say I won’t work on it anymore because of the time spent. It was well spent. It was time spent learning the craft of writing picture books in general rather than that story in particular.

Time is not the excuse. Theme, structure, plot, character development, tone. These are the reasons a story works or doesn’t work and if these elements aren’t working then they are the proper “excuses” for abandoning a story.

Successes in Crazy 2020

Children’s author Julie Hedlund, challenged her followers to post successes in crazy 2020 on our blogs this year instead of resolutions. Since I never saddle myself with resolutions because they are generally impossible to achieve, I decided to participate in Julie’s Anti-Resolution Revolution! Successes in 2020, what with COVID and all the changes it wrought, should be especially celebrated, no matter how big or how small. So here is my list of picture book writing successes for 2020:

  • Attended many events including, SCBWI’s Summer Spectacular, Rutger’s University’s Council on Children’s Literature, one of Julie Hedlund’s courses, Children’s Book Academy’s PBPalooza.
  • Wrote a non-fiction manuscript and had it read and critiqued by an agent. She generally did not like it. Rewrote same non-fiction picture book another 25 times and read it to an editor, who loved it, revised it, sent it to two other editors and an agent. The agent responded positively, but an editor was even more positive and after two more revisions it is on her desk once more.
  • Participated in two Twitter pitch parties.
  • Wrote four or five new books, some good, some bad.
  • Attended a webinar on writing in rhyme
  • Read many, many picture books in many genres: especially non fiction, rhyme, fiction, humor, Jewish themed.
  • Met and even had a telephone conversation with one of my favorite non-fiction kids’ books authors.
  • Wrote a children’s poem and entered it into a contest.
  • Wrote a dozen COVID-related haikus and just entered one into a contest.
  • Met a new critique partner.
  • Joined several children’s-writers Facebook groups.
  • Participate in a weekly critique partner group.
  • Made it through 2020 without getting sick.

I know this is supposed to be an anti-resolution post, but I do have one goal for 2021: to find and sign on with THE agent.

I can’t wait to kiss 2020 goodbye and wish us all a much, much better 2021.