One of the great things about going to SCBWI events is you get to make friends and meet great writers. I met Elly last spring after a lively discussion on great beginnings. Elly wanted to talk about VC, but before we knew it, we were talking craft…and family…and the writing life…and pretty soon, I knew she was someone I'd be reading in the future.
This is Elly. (Her son took this picture. Isn’t it great?)
So first, tell everyone a little about yourself and your writing life.
I am a wife, mom, lawyer, and writer for middle-grade. I have a great husband, and two amazing teenage boys. I am officially the shortest in my house. Writing for children was not my original path. I began as a litigator, moved towards writing and supplementing law books for the practitioner (which I still do) and even embraced a year of teaching legal research and writing at law school. However, I remained antsy for something else. One night I was watching a news program about adults who decided to leave their jobs to begin a new career path. Long after the show ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about embracing the one thing I loved and had yet to do – write for kids. That summer, my love of writing for children began. I sat at wooden table while visiting the Cape with my family and wrote and wrote and wrote. After a year, I had finished one book and after four years, I had completed four. While they remain on 8 ½ x 11 crisp, white computer paper, I look forward to the day I can walk into the library, reach on the shelf and with the crackle of a newly bound book, open one of my published stories!
Serendipity! Those magical moments. But then you followed through! There are so many people who want to write, but you actually did it! I can’t believe you wrote four manuscripts in four years. What are some things you have done that have helped your writing? Any bumps along the way you care to relive?
Believe in yourself and never give up -- a mantra I truly live by.
Yes, yes, yes. I couldn’t agree more.
Okay, everyone, if you are having a hard day: say this every day. I believe in myself. I am a writer.
Anything else? (sorry to interrupt.)
Sitting next to my desk, tacked to my bulletin board is a Bazooka Joe comic that I unwrapped 4 years ago. My fortune read, “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.” Now I am a Bazooka gum fan and have read many fortunes over the years, but never had I nor have I since received a fortune such as that. Fate, I say. So…when I was privileged to receive a contract from my agent, Susan Cohen, my husband and boys framed the contract with the Bazooka Joe fortune!
Okay. I’ll be quiet. How about those bumps?
Bumps along the way seem to be part of the process. I guess my mom would say they build character and add to the greater appreciation of the YES moment, but often they just ache. On my 40th birthday, the doorbell rang with a Fed Ex envelope from an editor who had been actively reviewing my manuscript for 8 months. My heart pounded, this was it! I opened the envelope to a long note that began with, “I am sorry to share that your manuscript, while well written, is not right for our list.” Not the birthday present I was hoping for. Another achy moment came when a publisher who had my manuscript under consideration asked me to lunch. Lunch, I thought, this has to be it! I could barely order I was so excited. Once the salad came and the small talk was complete, she shared that she loved my writing, but it wouldn’t work this time around.
While initially disappointing, it is these moments that have given me pause to reaffirm that writing for children is truly my path and my passion. I love writing for kids. The voice and characters stay with me while the story marinates, unfolds, and then long after the last page is written. It is those moments that made Susan’s YES feel like I’d won the lottery.
I agree. But that story is a killer. I think that recognition is what we crave—and these first interactions are huge! I know there isn’t a published writer out there who doesn’t have these kinds of stories. Yes, they test you. But I never took the time editors gave my early writing for granted. Those first “good” rejections really are so important.
Are there authors who have inspired you to write?
Judy Blume, Avi and Lois Lowry are three authors who’ve inspired me to write. Their stories held me captive and ignited a desire to create worlds where children could visit while reading my stories.
So, what advice can you offer to other aspiring writers?
Generally, my advice is to believe in yourself, stay dedicated to the story, and write, write, write! Specifically, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and your regional affiliate, attend conferences and read. Don’t write for the market, write for yourself, the market will come. Eventually.
That’s beautiful. And smart. Can you tell us about your current project?
I am very excited about my most recently completed manuscript entitled Wish. Wish is a story about perfect Molly, a girl with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and her best friend Hannah. Molly masterfully hides her rituals and perfectionist tendencies. Every pencil sharpened and aligned by size, each glass trinket set precisely one inch apart, and each section of hair brushed exactly four times. If she doesn’t complete these tiresome tasks, the bugs will scratch and bad things will ensue. Molly doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. She cloaks her oddities, fearing she’s going crazy. Hannah’s scared for Molly. She navigates, and ultimately, helps the ever-changing behavior of her best friend, the perfect Molly.
Wish begins like this….
Four months from now, Molly would write this poem in her journal.
Beyond the darkness
There is light
Beyond the fear
There is hope
Beyond the perfection
There is me.
Imperfect and beautiful.
Don’t be a greedy wisher. That’s the first rule in wishing. It’s really very simple. Don’t ask God, the night stars, the wishing fairy or the spirits above for too much at one time. Easy. Right? Wrong.
Every wishing box in my garage-turned-business-headquarters is overflowing with scribbled-on paper. They just don’t get it. My classmates, that is.
The wishing business started around mid-October when the gold and orange leaves began to crunch. Ms. Plumpkin, our very skinny 6th grade math teacher, asked us to create our own, fictitious business. My favorite, although-perfect cousin Molly opened a personal organizer service and I started the Wishing Business.
This is fantastic, Elly!!
How can people find you?
Feel free to contact me to talk more about writing, my stories, the amount of food required to raise 2 teenage boys, or simply, life at a desk. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Thanks so much for coming to the booth!!! More interviews all this week!