Monday, August 3, 2015

Finding My Agent (Update)

In March 2012, after 14 years of writing, I took on the challenge of putting words to the inspiring story of Ricky Richard Anywar, one of the first children forced to fight in Joseph Kony's LRA. I was both excited and intimidated by the project, but couldn't wait to work on the manuscript.

I was honored that Ricky entrusted me with telling his story and felt a huge responsibility to do it justice. 

For eighteen months, I wrote, revised, and rewrote. Happy with the manuscript, I started researching agents and querying. I also sent my manuscript into the fray of a few Twitter contests. 

I received encouraging feedback and R & R requests from three incredible agents.

One agent's editorial suggestions really resonated with me, so I stopped querying and dove into an extensive revision

Over the next four months, my incredible CPs and Beta readers provided me with much needed support and brutally honest feedback.

                         Their belief in my writing pushed me to work hard to clean up my manuscript.

I then sent my shiny new manuscript back to the R&R agent and sent out more queries. 

In the months that followed, life became a roller coaster of rejections, requests, and waiting. 

Doubt came knocking on several occasions.

But my family and writing friends kept me positive.

The rejections I did receive were "good rejections" (a term my non-writer husband still laughs about), so I remained hopeful that my manuscript would find the right home if I kept searching.

I tried to not obsess over FINDING OBENO out there, all alone, in the "Big Blue" by focusing my attention on my WIP. It helped, and I absolutely recommend working on a new project while waiting in query purgatory. 

Then suddenly, six months after I pitched my revised manuscript, I received an email that wasn't a rejection or request. 
It was an offer of representation!
I immediately contacted my CP Fiona, who flailed with me, reminded me to breathe, and suggested I start nudging the agents still considering my manuscript. 

I emailed the other agents, and over the next two weeks, received four more requests for phone calls and offers. 

All of the agents were knowledgeable, excited about the project, and had clear plans of how they would proceed with championing my work. 

As my decision deadline approached, I did more research on the agents, created a spreadsheet, and carefully considered all of my options. 

Two of my writing friends were making similar decisions based on offers of representation they had received. We private messaged throughout the process, cheered for one another during the exciting moments, and clung to each other during the nerve-wracking ones. It's good to have an Exit Buddy!
I accepted one of the offers and began working with a lovely associate agent. After 8 months, however, I parted ways with the agency. 

I dove back into querying in search of the right agent for me and my manuscripts. Within a couple weeks, I received a full request from the agent at the top of my list, and three weeks later, she asked to schedule a phone call. 
We spoke for almost 2 hours about FINDING OBENO, what I was looking for in an agent, and my hopes for my writing career. She loved my manuscript and offered me representation. I knew right away she was the agent for me.

The next morning she sent a follow-up email with answers to some additional questions I had, and my decision was made. 
A wee bit sleep deprived from all of the excitement, but confident in my decision, I emailed the agent and requested a phone chat.

She called twenty minutes later, and I struggled to contain my squeals of joy when she welcomed me to her agency family and told me how happy she was to have me as a client. 

 And now that I have rambled on and used every Finding Nemo gif available, I am beyond thrilled to announce I am now represented by the amazing Soumeya Roberts of Writers House.

To Ricky, thank you for entrusting me with your story and for your patience. You are an inspiration to me and so many.

To my family and friends, who have navigated the choppy waters of finding my agent with me, I can't thank you enough and wouldn't have reached this goal without your unwavering support! 

And to writers everywhere, whether you're diving into writing, struggling through the query and submission currents, or treading water in the riptides of rejection, remember: 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts on Revision by Famous Writers

While dusting off picture book manuscripts to revise for my agent, I discovered a worksheet from a writing workshop I attended many years ago. It is a list of quotations from famous writers on the subject of revision. I love revising, which is fortunate because I spend most of my time revising. I love digging through my steaming piles of words in search of ponies (see post on my Creative Process to understand this reference).

I love the challenge of rethinking, reshaping, reworking, and rewriting every word until CLICK! they connect like a circuit, bringing power, energy, and life to my story.

I've written a few blog posts concerning my thoughts on revision, so for this post, I thought I'd share other writers' thoughts on the subject.

Let's treat this post like one of those "Take a penny. Leave a penny" trays.

Feel free to take a quote or two or twelve if you need some extra reminders when you sit down to tackle a revision, or leave one or more thoughts of your own on the subject in the comments section, so we may benefit from your revising experience.


"By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting." Roald Dahl

"I'm a rewriter. That's the part I like best...once I have a pile of paper to work with, it's like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture." Judy Blume

"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile." Robert Cormier

"Books aren't written- they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it." Michael Crichton

"Half my life is an act of revision." John Irving

"It is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is common in all writing and among the best of writers." E.B. White

"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." Richard North Patterson

"I have rewritten- often several times- every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers." Vladimir Nabokov

"The difference between the right and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug." Mark Twain

"The best way out is always through." Robert Frost

"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties." Bonnie Friedman

“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising." Stephen King

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." James Michener

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it's done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. When you're ready, pick it up and read it, as if you've never read it before. If there are things you aren't satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that's revision." Neil Gaiman

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Power of Words

A week ago, my family attended the OneRepublic concert near Buffalo, New York. 
It was phenomenal, and not just because it was the first concert I’d attended since The Wiggles in 2003. All three bands that performed put on a fantastic show, but it was one of the opening bands, The Script, that made the most lasting impression.

During their performance, they sang a new single off their upcoming album, No Sound Without Silence.

The song is Superheroes. If you haven't heard it yet, take a listen. If you've already heard it, listen again...and again...and again. Yes, it's that good.  

As an English teacher, I always discuss with my student the power of words. Their ability to manipulate and injure. Transport and entertain. Inform and reveal. Inspire and heal.

As a writer, every time I sit down at my laptop, I hope my words have the power to move readers.  
The Script's lyrics have that power.  
After the concert, I forwarded the song and lyrics to my friend Ricky in Uganda. 
Ricky responded a few days later with a moving message about the impact the song had had on him and the former child soldiers at his organization Friends of Orphans. Friends of Orphans video

I was so inspired by the email I reach out to The Script via Twitter to share the story. 
Below is my email to the band and the messages from Ricky and several former child soldiers about the impact of the song's lyrics.

Dear Danny, Mark, and Glen,

I had the pleasure of attending your concert at Darien Lake last Saturday and want to share with you the incredible impact your song Superheroes has had on a remote village in Northern Uganda over the last week.

For the past two years, I’ve been working with Anywar “Ricky” Richard, one of the first children abducted into Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and founder of Friends of Orphans, an organization in Uganda dedicated to the recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration of former child soldiers. He and I have been in communication to write his story and offer hope and give a voice to the estimated 40,000 Ugandan children, whose lives and voices were stolen by the LRA. 

When I heard your song Superheroes on Saturday, I knew I had to share it with Ricky. As a writer, I know what an incredible honor it is to have your words reach and inspire people. When I read Ricky’s responses to your song, as well as the responses he sent from some of the former child soldiers rebuilding their lives at Friends of Orphans, I was determined to get them to you, so you would know how your words and music are giving hope and a voice to a group of superheroes in Northern Uganda.

Thank you for your music and the powerful message of hope and joy it provides.

Keely Hutton

Ricky’s first response to Superheroes:

Dear Keely,
Thanks so much for not only sharing the link to the song on YouTube but also sharing the lyrics which is very powerful. I felt so much connected with the song, it means a lot to my life and the little fighters who have seen a lot in their young life and are still going very strong. I felt so much in love with the song. I have printed the lyrics and have put it on our notice board for the children who knows little English to read. I know they will feel the power of the song flowing in them as I did.

The song just inspired me, it made me to write a letter to one of my friends whom we have been in the bush together. The song taught me about the courage of being strong and positive thinking. 
Ricky’s response when I asked if I could share his email with The Script:

Dear Keely,
Wow!!! this is unbelievable, we are very excited to connect with the band group and to know that our responses to the song will be shared with the band members. Our children at Friends of Orphans would love this connection. It brings peace in their hearts to know that some people out there still care and have concern about them and their situations. This gives them more hope and confidence in life and for the future.

While at Friends of Orphans the song has brought joy, excitements and happiness. The guidance counselors is using it to be part of our psychosocial support program. In it the song has strong message of hope and confidences building with a lot of encouragement for the future. It relates very well with the situations these young fighters have been through. Yet they have a life to live. It teaches us that no situation is permanent, you just have to work hard for your future and achieve what you want in life.

The song has the energy to make someone move on with life with great hope and expectations which we need for a better world.

Below are some of the responds from the children 

 Ricky thanks for the heart of humanity. The rewards will be in heaven.
The effort you have put to makes us orphans be seen among others is a blessing. I have just listened to the song about ten times already in a hours time. The song has taught me about hard work and commitments and i promise to do just that. “ I lost all the Hope in this world , I felt the heaven had fallen down that day when the rebel attacked and abducted me on the 10/10/2005, I lost my three brothers who were abducted with me alongside other children.  Friends of Orphans have changed my life for the better and i want to change more life myself.

 Dear Ricky,
I have read, l have listened, nice song, very touching, in fact emotional .............. not sure if l cried a little, just reading it.
The song reminds me about Marks Ben Diner he once said Music may achieve the highest level of all mission, it may be a bond between nations, races and states who are strangers to one another in many ways, it may unite what is disunited and bring peace to what is hostile
A blessed evening

Hi dear

I have read through the lyrics of the song. It has a strong message in it which I don't want to comment on. But thank you for being a superhero.

Caro Akello

Dear Ricky,
The song has given me different lance to see the hidden truth, it is one of the most powerful song have ever heard in my life. It is so connects the past and the future.

Hi Ricky
I passion the song as a positive, motivating yet very beautiful song. It encourages hard work. It encourages problem solving other than blaming or hatred whatever the situation. This is my kind of music  that  that i must listen to while reflecting. A very peaceful song.  (I score it 5/5).

Dear Rickie,

Thanks for this real inspirational band song. It's not any far from the zeal you have put over the years. "When you've fighting for it all your life

You've been working every day and night

That’s a how a superhero learns to fly

Every day, every hour

Turn the pain into power" And indeed that's how the Superhero learn to fly. You have already flown, and you are one of the super hero! 
I love this line more " All his life he's been told; He’ll be nothing when he’s old; All the kicks and all the blows; He won't ever let it show"  " When the moment is just right; You see fire in their eyes"
You better get this song and have it play again and again for us at school, especially during our youth to youth engagements, during our music gales and during our youth to community engagements. You have proved many wrong; that your time had not yet come, and now you are at your peak, yet the sky is the limit!
Ochen Julius Peter

The song is absolutely beautiful in it there is joy and happiness; it touched my soul in a unique way. It is the treasure i have been looking for. It brings joy to my heart to listen to the song.
I haven't had an easy life till i came to Friends of Orphans. The song has turn the pains have been through into power of happiness. The pain is no more; it is history, means nothing to me anymore as am no longer looking back. Am enjoying the new home have discovered at Friends of Orphans.
In this song it has the energy we need to move on in life.
Aboda Peter.

Hi all,
The song totally got me very confused. I was lost, and didn’t know what to do or to say. It is as if it is a song about me. The song gives you the value to know who you are, what you want in life and what is best for you.
Otema Martine

Immediately after I posted my tweet, many of The Script's fans offered to help spread the message. They retweeted, created the Twitter hashtag #SuperheroesofUganda, posted links to the email, created beautiful images with the band's pictures and former child soldiers' words, and wrote blog posts about the situation with powerful words of their own. 

Their messages and generosity moved me beyond words several times this week. The Script's words are helping in the healing process at Friends of Orphans by inspiring the former child soldiers to be strong and have hope. Their fans' words are helping by letting these brave #SuperheroesofUganda know they are not alone or forgotten. 

Powerful, indeed.