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This doesn’t have anything to do with publishing or kid lit, but I’m going to blog about it anyway because people have been asking me about it this week. I apologize for the length, and I’m guessing it will be the most personal thing I ever post, but you know. Feel free to skip it.
My youngest kid was adopted from Guatemala about two and a half years ago. When we decided on adoption we knew that we wanted to adopt internationally, and from a Latin country. I have a Hispanic background that I identify strongly with, and I wanted to have that connection. Unfortunately, Mexico (where my mother’s family came from) is not open to international adoption. So, we chose Guatemala. We researched agencies to find one with good ethics and communication, and we started the process.
It took a couple of years. We were matched with a lovely baby girl, but lost the placement when it was revealed through DNA testing that the woman claiming to be her mother was not. I was grief stricken. We hadn’t met her, but something happens when you’re a parent waiting for your child, biological or not. I’ve done it both ways. I know.
We were matched again with our daughter, and we started all over again. We visited while the media was shining a bright light on a few sensational cases of trafficking under the guise of adoption. When we went down for our pick up trip, they advised us to stay in the hotel because of the rising tension (we didn’t). Anderson Cooper was there “reporting,” and I’ve taken anything he’s said with a rock of salt since. The state department warned that adoptions would stop suddenly, without warning. The Guatemalan government granted permission for us to leave after everything had been checked and rechecked, with our daughter. I’ve never been so relieved in my whole life. Guatemala closed their adoption program just a couple of months later, and many friends we’d been going through the process with were thrown into limbo.
It wasn’t an easy transition, but parenthood never really is. She was world weary, wondering why these strange people had taken her from her loving foster family. She wasn’t crazy about me for a long time. Her big brother, warned for years that the day would eventually be coming when he would have a little sister, was gobsmacked. She warmed to her dad and brother first, and then eventually me. When you adopt, any agency worth it’s weight in feathers warns and educates you that it probably won’t be sunshine and rainbows at first. It’s a tough transition. But still, something clicks before you ever even see them and you’re family.
So, last week some idiot woman in Tennessee decided she was unhappy with the child she adopted from Russia and sent him back. Alone. With a note.
Russia is pissed, and rightfully so. So today, they’ve suspended all adoptions. Anyone in the middle of their adoption process is thrown into the unknown. Just thinking about it makes my pulse speed up. It was my worst fear.
Now there will be a slew of articles and experts gabbing about whether parental bonds are as strong for adopted kids as biological kids. It’s sensational. It’s Sneetch-ish. It’s going to be “news” for a bit. I’ve got one of each, so I’m going to go ahead and say I’m a reliable source on this subject.
The bonds are the same. I love each of my kids with ferocity, and I think I can speak on their dad’s behalf, too. That woman who sent her child across the world alone is an asshat. She should be prosecuted for child abuse and abandonment. She’s not a parent. Every headline and news snip that refers to her as an adoptive mother makes me bare my teeth a little bit. My son is the same age, and that poor guy can’t even walk home from the bus stop alone. She is an asshat with poor judgement, not a victim of the adoptive system.
I know people wonder about how much people love their adopted kids. People ask, and they ask around it, and they don’t ask in that way that tells you that they’re trying very hard not to ask. People from each side of the fence wonder at the mysteries of familial bonds. Strangers in the store ask. Friends ask. Families with only adopted children ask, wondering if they’re perhaps missing out on some essential ingredient that gets thrown in when you have a baby the old fashioned way. There’s still such a stigma around adoption. We watched a movie a couple of weeks ago where the younger brother was insulted and traumatized when his older sister claimed he was adopted. Oh, the horror!
I’ve been rambling on, so I’ll keep the answer simple and concise. The process is different, but the results are the same in millions and millions of cases. Like ours.
Family. A big, crazy, loving family.
And sometimes, zombies.
I met Ann this summer at the SCBWI Summer Conference. We started chatting and I really liked her, even before it clicked that she was the fabulous writer that my friend Jolie had been telling us about. I loved Also Known as Harper, and it’s always great to know that authors are just as lovely as their books.
WT: Tell us about your novel, Also Known as Harper.
AHL: Harper Lee Morgan is an aspiring poet, which isn’t surprising, seeing as how she’s named after her mama’s favorite writer, Harper Lee. And life is giving her a lot to write about just now. Daddy up and walked out, leaving them broke. Then Harper’s family gets evicted.
With Mama scrambling to find work, Harper has to skip school to care for her little brother, Hemingway. Their lives have been turned upside down, which Harper could just about handle—if it wasn’t for the writing contest at school. She wants nothing more than to get up on that stage and read her poems out loud . . .it is about perseverance, with some hope and humor mixed in.
WT: Where did the idea come from, and how was your road to publication?
AHL: I volunteer at my local soup kitchen with my family. Harper isn’t based on any one child in the meal center, but more on a feeling I got when I saw the children standing there in line with their parents. I wondered what their lives might actually be like.
I’d love to say, my road to publication, was smooth, without any forks, but I’ve been writing stories since I was about four years old and I have a whole room full of rejection letters! I just kept writing and trying to make my manuscripts the best they could be. I joined SCBWI and tried to listen carefully to comments made in manuscript critiques and workshops. After a while, I started to get some “good” rejection letters with personal notes jotted on them. A couple of years ago, I read an interview with an agent that really caught my eye. I had just finished the manuscript of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, and I sent him a couple of chapters. He made some suggestions and when I did some revisions and sent it back to him, he offered to represent me.
WT:How different was your final draft from your first draft? Any big changes?
AHL: Hmmm…that’s a difficult question! The idea stayed the same, for the most part, but I’m very lucky to have a very hands-on agent and a wonderful editor. They are both incredibly good at coaxing more out of me!
WT: Why was it important for you for Harper to write poetry?
AHL: I think it is easy for a child in a situation like Harper’s to feel invisible. Writing poetry was a way for Harper to feel “heard” and worthwhile.
WT: You deal with serious themes of homelessness, alcoholism, abandonment- how have readers responded?
AHL: I am a teacher and I think the most difficult response for me to take came from a student who was in a temporary housing facility. One of the other teachers bought her a copy of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER. The little girl came into my classroom to ask me to sign the book and said, “Harper’s life is my life.” I had to turn away for a second and pretend like I was busy with something on my computer, because I didn’t want her to see me cry! She was standing there with such a strong, wise look. It was hard to see that in her eyes.
WT: What have you done for promotion- online and/or in-person?
AHL: I have really enjoyed doing blog interviews and bookstore and school visits. A few weeks ago, I went to the library in Auburn, Washington, where I got my first library card. I thought I was going to talk to a teen writing group, but a whole bunch of other people started walking in: my first grade teacher, my third grade teacher, the principal of my elementary school, my middle school English teacher….it was pretty overwhelming!
WT: That’s so cool! What are you working on now?
AHL: I have another middle-grade novel coming out (also with Henry Holt/Macmillan) next year. It is called SEARCHING FOR EZEKIEL and is about two young girls, dealing with a mother who I hope will bring out conflicting emotions in the reader…
WT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
AHL: I LOVE to read. I always have! I also like to run and do karate. My fourteen-year-old daughter and I just took our second degree black belt tests together!
WT: How do you stay in touch with the writing community (e.g. critique group, SCBWI, social media, etc.)?
AHL: I love SCBWI; their conferences and workshops have been invaluable to me. I am a member of two critique groups, and I don’t know what I’d do without them! One of the critique groups has three other members and we have been together for over six years. I also am on Facebook, I just joined Twitter and I have a blog (www.annhaywoodleal.blogspot.com).
WT: What have you enjoyed reading recently?
What a week! My son started first grade at a new school, SCBWI Western Washington kicked off a new season, my in-laws are visiting, and I accepted a little challenge to finish this draft of my manuscript by Halloween. Oof.
My question about middle grade authors really struck a nerve with people. Some readers speculated that YA authors blog more for teen readers- but I’m talking about support in the writing community. I’ve been paying extra attention to the YA and MG blogs I read, and the comments seem to be from the others in the kid lit community- not kids or teens (with exceptions like Maureen Johnson and Libba Bray). YA authors are online talking to each other, promoting each other, supporting each other, and building buzz in a way that middle grade authors just don’t.
So, can we take up the challenge? I think we can! We can definitely do better. If anybody has any ideas, shout ‘em out- or send me an email at kcb at kimberlycbaker dot com. Let’s get organized!
I’m continuing my middle grade author interview series on Wednesday with someone who definitely has her own take on creating a middle grade novel- with beautiful results. You have until tonight for a chance to win a signed copy of Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s The Year the Swallows Came Early by commenting here.
Speaking of interviews and awesome middle grade writers- Kirby Larson interviews Trenton Lee Stewart on her blog. He has a new book in the Mysterious Benedict Society series coming out next month. Yippee!
Robin Mellom is rereading Judy Blume’s books, and sharing her impressions in the Great Judy Blume Experiment.
A house swap resource for creative folk only.
FSG editor (and middle grade author!) Lisa Graff will be on our faculty for the SCBWI WWA conference in April. Betsy at Fuse #8 posted a video Lisa made this morning…and I think we’re going to get along just fine. And Lisa, if this apprenticeship doesn’t work out, I bet we can find you a Washington cow to milk when you visit in April.
One more video, but it’s a doozy.
Insert a metaphor here, or just enjoy the facial expressions.
I think YA is well represented in the blogosphere. Lots of YA authors blog, and YA releases generally get a lot of online buzz . Picture books and middle-grade don’t seem to have as strong of an online presence (in my opinion, anyway). Why is that?Do you agree?
I like to post about general kid lit stuff and random things that interest me, but I’m going to try and have more of a focus on middle-grade fiction as well.
How, you ask?
Weekly author interviews and giveaways, I say!
I’ve asked a few of my favorite middle-grade authors with recent or upcoming releases to consent to be interviewed- and they’ve obliged! So, stay tuned for the first installment next week.
CuppaJolie has a contest for bravery on her blog.
Are you in Seattle? Consider a preview screening of Where the Wild Things Are with a Q&A with Dave Eggers to benefit 826 Seattle.
Mitali Perkins wrote an insightful note to young immigrants here.
Darcy Pattison has declared Random Acts of Publicity week starting on September 7. Promote some books!
Have a great holiday weekend!
I’m in L.A. for the SCBWI summer conference! I’ve spent the day napping a nasty bugger of a headache away, but it’s mostly gone now and there is fun to be had.
I’ll try blogging while I’m here, but I learned last year that things are pretty busy. I might not get much blogging done. I’ll definitely post a few tweets, and you can follow everybody’s conference tweets here.
That’s not enough for you, though, is it? Of course not. So here’s the official SCBWI team blog. I have no doubt that Alice, Jolie, Jaime, Lee, Paula, and Suzanne will bring you the goods. They already are. Look at those zombie interviews!
If you’re here at the conference, say hi!
So, I’m going to have a marathon writing session this weekend. Saturday and Sunday I’m holing up to pound out a draft. Away from the distractions and interruptions of home! My sweet husband volunteered to care for the kids and pets, so it will just be me and my new computer in a hotel room. I’ve never done this before. I’m giddy!
Revision might be too weak of a word. It’s somewhere between a revision and starting from scratch. Same characters, big changes in the story. Let’s just call it a rewrite. Anyway, since I’ve never done this before, I have no idea what to expect. How many words can I possibly pump out over two days, if I’m only stopping to eat (or take a quick brain-refreshing swim)? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out!
I’m not even going to watch the new Harry Potter movie, which I’ve been really geeked out about, until I’m done and heading back home on Sunday. I mean business, people! No more distractions.
Alright, maybe a few for you.
Watch the awesome video Betsy Bird made.
Can you spot the Pacific Northwest authors and illustrators making cameos? Name one in the comments, and I’ll pick someone on Wednesday to win a prize made by yet another talented local author & illustrator! I’ll send one lucky commenter a set of recipe cards from Jaime Temairik‘s new Kitchenette line on Etsy.
Aren’t they snazzy? I ordered a set for myself, too. Now I can transfer the recipes I’ve jotted down on the back of old envelopes to lovely little cards. If you don’t cook, you can give the cards to the loved one who cooks for you. They deserve a gift, preparing all your meals like that. Or pass ‘em out to friends and relatives to give you instructions for their tastiest dishes!
I thought I knew my way around the kitchen, but it turns out I didn’t even know the easiest way to peel a banana (via SwissMiss).
It’s been a month! Sorry about that. My kid got out of school, my computer’s dying, and everything is out of whack. But, life is good. We were on Vancouver island last week. If I wasn’t a city girl, I might consider relocating. The sweet potato fries are crispy, and the scenery is incredible.
I did not put my manuscript in the circular file! I’m making some changes, and I hope to have a new draft by the end of the month. I’m excited about it again, which I think is a good sign. I have plans in Portland next week, so I’m just going to stay over and hole up in a hotel room for the whole weekend and write. I’m very, very excited about it.
The SCBWI Summer Conference is less than a month away! I’ll be there. Who else is going? It’s going to be fun!
PLUS, I signed up for SCBWI Western Washington’s 2009 Fall Retreat-Weekend on the Water with Cheryl Klein and Ruta Rimas.
Ok, I better get this post out there before I get distracted again. I’ll have some giveaways soon to make up for my absence.
Here’s a question-
So, Writer X is tooling along revising the manuscript she’s been working on for a year.
She hopes to begin submitting this summer.
She daydreams about how rocking it will be to work with a great editor, and see her book on the shelves in a couple of years.
She’s had good feedback, and she thinks this manuscript probably has potential.
Writer X takes a break from writing on Saturday to peruse a few publisher’s fall lists, when an upcoming autumn release catches her eye. There is a very similar protagonist, subplot, and secondary character to her own work in progress. It appears to be probably too similar. Not in any kind of plagiarism way, just in a crappy luck kind of way. If the book is a success, Writer X’s manuscript will be seen as a cheap imitation. If the book is a flop, Writer X’s manuscript will be seen as even more of an unmarketable cheap imitation.
Does Writer X-
A) Roast marshmallows over the glowing embers of a wasted year?
B) Submit her manuscript anyway and make a reputation for herself as an unoriginal hack?
C) Revise to the point of starting from scratch, replacing the characters, changing the plot, and ignoring the vision for the piece?
D) Or start fresh with one of those new ideas always swimming around. What’s another year or two? Draft or ten?
Please advise, dear reader, so that I may guide Writer X out from the pile of wet tissues, empty wine bottles, and despair.