Curious about what I’ve been writing, Ellie once asked if I would read it to her. Figuring a book about cancer isn’t appropriate for a six-year-old, I read her one of my old middle grade novels. Because I hadn’t looked at the manuscript in a decade, the flaws were painfully obvious, but Ellie was hooked by the story of a girl who is put-upon by her brother. She was engaged until the very end, when the sister teaches the brother a lesson and they declare a truce. But the parents never know how horrible he was to her, and Ellie was offended by this lack of justice. Crying actual tears, she told me my book was terrible and that was why no one wanted to publish it. I’d like to think agents will be kinder than that.
Years ago, having heard the recommendation to read your work aloud, I sat alone in our guest room and awkwardly listened to the sound of my own voice. Whether it was helpful or not, it was definitely uncomfortable. But once you have a kid, you get pretty used to hearing yourself read. And when I started recording myself reading my current novel aloud, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it not only felt more natural but also turned out to be quite enjoyable. Despite the criticism of my brother-sister saga, Ellie frequently compliments my reading prowess—I pride myself on my inflections and voices (my favorite is Roald Dahl’s The Witches).
Mind over matter
I’m not a fan of bugs. But I didn’t want Ellie to acquire my fear. So once I became a parent, I forced myself to think of insects as fascinating specimens of nature. Seven years later, Ellie picks up every bug she finds in the house and escorts it back outside. She doesn’t hesitate to put her face right next to a cicada or hold a cockroach in her hand. I’m not quite that brave, but I’m far less afraid than I used to be. The mind is a powerful thing. So when I was at a writing conference last month, preparing to pitch my book to agents, feeling the nerves creep up on me, I gave myself a little pep talk. Reminding myself that agents are people like everybody else and that they were there to help aspiring authors like me, I was able to calm myself down and go in with only mildly sweaty palms.