The voices in my head. Really should take a nap. Really.

It is Saturday. I have not slept in in weeks and weeks and I don’t mind at all. I am shocked at how much I love having this silly puppy- Otto Von Schmidt. He really is a wonderful dog, already learning and pretty obedient. Which is a big deal when I researched AFTER getting him that doxies are not a breed that care to listen to their owners much. Heh. Typical me. Leap first, look later. It works out. Most of the time. I am on my second marriage tho. πŸ˜‰

Yesterday Otto was mad at me. I was sewing in the studio all day long. See, normally I am sitting painting or on the computer. And he LOVES to sleep on my lap. But when I sew, I am constantly up and down, cutting fabric on my lap and well, just no room to spare for a tiny German dog. He was NOT happy. And today? Just now, when he saw me sitting at the computer? He ran over, sat down and yipped loudly. Just once. But loudly. And gave me a look of, “Ah HAZ! I zee you are zitting! And you lap! It eez eeeempty! Do my bidding womanz!” (You have to imagine he has a German accent. Do it, for real. Go back and reread that with a German accent. See? FUNNY!

And so…

Spoiled much? Can’t even deny it. But enough about Otto. My obsession is obvious.

I got back on Monday from SCBWI in LA. It was amazing. And I am still processing. So many amazing things heard. So many amazing people met. I am still in awe at this community of people that I am part of. I still feel sort of a distant cousin at a family reunion kind of member. You know, like when you know you have this whole family out in Iowa that has a huge old get together every year and your parents from New Jersey finally decide you and your sisters need to meet ALL those Nelsons out there on account of you really have a huge family and well, let’s do this so you get out there and it is huge and everybody knows EVERYONE but you five people from Jersey and they are laughing and hugging and being polite and you cannot believe you come from a family of redheads and oh LORD there are SO MANY redheads in the family and THAT is where your pale easily-burned skin comes from and they hug you and are nice, but you are not REALLY one of THEM you are that family way out in New Jersey that never comes to visit but here you are and you are family would you like a piece of fried chicken?

Yeah. Kind of like that. Working on getting to know everyone more. Trying not to be intimidated by all the red hair. Or major literary and illustration achievements walking and sitting RIGHT NEXT TO YOU.

I write and illustrate children’s books. I have worked really hard on this goal for about ten years now. My first two books just came out this summer. I am working really hard on a new one and another behind that and my agent is shopping a third. I am booked the entire fall for school events, reading rally’s, literary festivals and art festivals. I intend on selling the $%#^ out of my books. I promised my publisher I would single-handedly sell 5000 each of my titles. And I will. I don’t make promises I can’t keep. See, 5000? That is considered a successful number for a childrens picture book. And my publisher loved another book that I wrote and illustrated, but they want to see how these books sell first. (Ya know, distant cousin, first time to the party and she doesn’t even have red HIGHLIGHTS.) I am happy to prove myself. I worked really, really hard to get here. I learned, I got rejected, A LOT, I listened, I got rejected MORE, I learned. Oh, and I got rejected some more. Yeah, it stings. A LOT. But if it was easy? Everyone would do it, right?

Where am I babbling on to, you ask? I have a point, I do. Well, I have been working like crazy for years and I am finally in the door of childrens book publishing. I have work out there, work in progress, work in my head. I have done it! “Woohoo! Let’s enjoy the fried chicken, right??? Pass the potato salad red-headed peeps o’ mine!!” Right?

But then. But. Then. Man…. why, oh why? Last year at the conference I heard a little voice. And I ignored it. Easily. I was not published yet, I was working hard and so I said, “Voice! Simmer down! I can only work on one thing at a time! Hush up until I can breathe.”

Well, that little voice waited. I thought it had left. Gone. Vamoosed. I thought wrong.

At the conference? I heard Bruce Coville. And Gary Paulsen. And Richard Peck. And David Smalls. And Ellen Hopkins. And Laurie Halse Anderson. And Judy Blume. JUDY BLUME. Her writing got me through my awkward pre-teen years. And that voice? Started YELLING. SCREAMING. DEMANDING. Kind of like Otto Von Schmidt but even MORE rude. But with no accent. that would just be silly. I mean I am Danish. And I have no idea what a Danish accent sounds like anyways. “You need to write. For older kids. Middle Grade. Chapter Books. You know you want to. And I am telling you, you NEED to. DO IT.”

And I wanted to cry. NOT in the good way. No. Tears of frustration. Tears, of please, PLEASE just let me enjoy my chicken! I don’t know how to do that! I can’t do that. I am hardly good at THIS! How do you expect me to be good at THAT. Can you imagine THOSE rejections? My heart cannot take it. No. No. I will not. SHUT UP VOICE. But the voice had spoken. Sigh. And I can hardly imagine the rejection that awaits me now. Yippee.

Yesterday I was on my way into the art store to buy more stuffing and pipe cleaners for my Whatif Monsters – which while I was sewing yesterday with a very ANGRY Otto Von Schmidt GLARING at me from my feet I thought, “Man, would I ever LOVE to give these away to children and adults that need it. I so wish I was a trust fund baby so I had an endless supply of money. I would totally manufacture (IN AMERICA) my monsters and then spend my life giving them away. How fun would THAT be?”

But I am not, so I need to sell this book, get my Whatif Monsters made (HOPEFULLY in America, but I doubt it. Sad face.) and THEN I will give away as many as I can. But I digress. On my way in to buy the fluff and the pipe cleaners for the bendy arms (LOVE the bendy arms! Squeal!!) I saw – see, I had a point to this meandering mess and it is coming, pay attention if you are still awake! – a used paperback book store.

I was drawn in like a magnet. I walked in. It seemed empty. SO quiet. Then, somewhere, a few rows over, I heard a voice, “Can I help you?” Wow! Talking bookcases! this is a magic store! I love it! “No, I answered, not yet anyways.” I bee-lined to the back, like I KNEW where I was going.

I walked straight to a shelf. Again, I had NEVER stepped foot in this place. Right in front of me was a stack of books. By Gary Paulsen, Richard Peck, Judy Blume. I literally looked up and said OUT LOUD, “Seriously? You have GOT to be KIDDING me.” I then proceeded to buy ten books. (For $20!! HELLO!) Plus one for free that the owner gave me because it had a torn back cover and she REALLY said I should read it. She asked why I was buying all these books. And this is where that OTHER voice took over. Surely it was not MY voice that said:

“Well, I write and illustrate children’s picture books (Like I had freaking been doing it for YEARS and my books are not BARELY off the presses!) and I think I really want to try some middle grade books. They really meant the world to me when I was growing up and I just really feel like I need to do this.”

WHAT. THE. HELL?

Sigh. So here I am. Working on my picture book career and deciding to try to write middle grade. I have NO idea about what. I grew up with an idyllic childhood. My parents were and still are amazing and married. No abuse. No terrible, very bad thing happened to me. I was a fat kid, but not like a huge kid and I was nice, so ya know, only a few teasings here and there. What the HECK do I have to offer? I guess I will find out. Because I really have no choice. And that is how it goes when you are an artist. Logic? There is NONE.

And just when I was not being noticed with my piece of chicken and potato salad off in the corner, someone yells, “Hey! Who are YOU? Are you one of those girls from New Jersey? You don’t look like any of us! Are you sure you belong here? No one in your family even HAS red hair!”

Like I said. Sigh.

Now excuse me while I irritate a little German dog by putting him on the ground and finish making Whatif Monsters, paint an illustration for the dummy book that will hopefully go out Monday for submissions and thinking about what I can possibly say to 8, 9 and 10 year olds so I can write it down and get rejected about a bazillion times. A bazillion and one. At least.

Here are some pics of me with some of those amazing people. Altho, Judy Blume probably is probably scared of me now and told people, don’t let that crazy girl with that green monster near me again. See, there was a HUGE crowd around her (obviously) after her talk and finally they said she had to leave. Well, I NEEDED my pic with her! So I threw my monster at her, leaned in and shouted to my sister, “LIZ! TAKE THE PICTURE!!” She did. And I probably scared my childhood hero. LOL! But dude. Got the picture! WITH my monster! Score!
My agent, Deborah Warren and another client of hers, Naomi. (can’t remember her last name.)

Me with Lin Oliver, co-founder of the SCBWI at the pajama party.

Me in between Verla Kay (on left) and Ellen Hopkins in the hotel bar.

Me with the amazing, sweet, kind, generous Judy Blume. Who is kind of my here and idol. I love her.

4 thoughts on “The voices in my head. Really should take a nap. Really.

  1. You can do it, Michelle! πŸ™‚ Kids in those difficult middle years NEED a dose of your kindness, endless optimism and absolute belief that magical things happen every day. I know it will be awesome, and I can’t wait to read what you come up with. This will be a great retreat topic… πŸ˜‰

    • Everything Jenn said! Just look at how awesome your kids turned out, with all that amazing optimism and happiness around them. Kids need that in their life and you are JUST the person to give it to ’em!

    • Thank you a million times over Korisa!! It was great to meet you and all your colleagues on Saturday. What a wonderful group of people!! Thank you for letting me know your kids loved my books – that means more to me than anything. Truly. Have a wonderful day! πŸ˜€

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