Saturday, February 13, 2010


I haven't been writing on my new chapter book for the past couple of weeks. I told myself it was because I was overwhelmed with worry about my mother and distracted by time spent on her care.

But this wasn't true.

The real reason I haven't been writing is that I've been smarting over the comments from those two agents on the SCBWI agent night that I blogged about last month in my post "Not for the Faint of Heart." You may remember that the two agents that night read my opening pages and reported that while there was nothing wrong with the writing, there was nothing "overwhelming" or "compelling" about it, either. I, with 42 published books to my credit, and with an ALA Notable announced that very day, felt like never writing again.

Oh, how can writers be so thin-skinned? So easily discouraged?

I felt the way I had felt during my pre-tenure period at CU when I sent a philosophy article off to a journal and got back the anonymous reviewers' comments on it: one of them said, "It's not brilliant, but it's not bad, either," and the other said, "A modest paper, but good of its kind." I almost didn't get tenure because those comments made me feel like never writing another philosophy article again. But finally, after literally TWO YEARS of sulking, I made the requested revisions (hardly any work at all), sent the article back to the journal, they accepted it and published it, and I ended up with enough articles altogether to be awarded tenure. If I wanted to stay employed as a philosophy professor, I simply couldn't afford to sulk any longer.

I decided this morning that I couldn't afford to sulk any longer about my chapter book, either. I read over the first chapter, the not-overwhelming and not-compelling one, and tried to decide if I should make it more overwhelming and compelling, or leave it as it is. Perhaps mistakenly, I took the second option. I think it's really quite darling, and I recalled that the audience that evening burst out laughing at one of my funny lines - one of my apparently not-overwhelming and not-compelling lines. In any case, I think the best thing now is just to keep going and see what emerges in Chapter Two, and Chapter Three.

So ten minutes ago I finished writing the first page of Chapter Two. It felt so good!

No more sulking, for now.


  1. I think it might be good to avoid agent nights also. Your track record speaks for itself, you don't need their opinions!
    -- Carol Linda

  2. I'm not saying this to make you feel good, but because I believe it. You are a hero to me because of your books. You deal with emotionally compelling issues in a way that kids who are not drawn to "high-concept" and "edgy" stories are. And those children are there. I see them every week, searching in the library for books that can inform, comfort, delight them. Your books are "hand-sold" in the library where I volunteer. Your name is among the authors' names mentioned when a child asks for "good stories".
    What an incredible role to play in a child's life!

  3. Thank you, both of you! Just when I needed that little extra surge of encouragement, you gave it to me. :)

  4. Heavens, Claudia! Just tuned in, and I'm sorry to hear about your mother.
    I completely sympathize with the paralysis and am glad it's over. I think (hope) there are lots of young readers out there not wanting to be clobbered continuously by "edgy," which, by the way, ceases to be edgy if it's the new norm. --Sally Warner

  5. Claudia, my coworkers at the library tease me because I have been so relentlessly pushing Oliver Olson to them all year as a stellar example of a skinny J chapter book that has it all: realistic characters, believable dialog, true-to-life issues, beautiful plotting, a sweet emotional arc, PLUS delicate touches throughout the book on the Pluto/identity theme ALL in less than 125 pages. Really, after reading so many skinny Js that can only manage to be simply episodic (now we're going to music lessons; now we're fighting at the dinner table; The End) your books are a blessing to young readers who deserve stories with a true emotional journey (as opposed to merely an appealing main character) as much as older readers do.

  6. Melissa, I love you! (Sally, I love you, too!)