I Remember … or I wish I Did

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I recently unpacked my Honors English final–a creative writing journal in which I had to include a prescribed list of poems and stories in order to get full credit. Even though, the stories and poems were all written by a younger me, I felt like I was reading the words of a stranger.

There’s the rub as an adult, we become strangers to our younger selves and forget how everything felt as a child (and even as a youth). But the truth is, our joys and sorrows never get smaller, we just get bigger. And then we forget, altogether, just how big everything felt when we were small.

My youngest came home from school feeling pretty low because her teacher had to get after her for chatting too much with her friend. A simple rebuke ruined her day. I had to squelch my feigned concern and remind myself that to her, this was a BIG deal. In adult terms, it was equivalent of having your boss chew you up onside and down the other for something you knew you shouldn’t have done. (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a perfect example of this feeling.)

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Interview for StoryTeller Academy

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Happy New Year one and all. The holidays are often a busy time, so I will start this off with a short post and interview with Myrna Foster at Storyteller Academy who was kind enough to ask me some questions about my writing journey and what I’ve learned.

You can find that interview here: https://www.storytelleracademy.com/2019/01/02/member-stories-johnell-dewitt/

And I want to give you all a heads up about the Writing With the Stars mentorship contest that will be opening up for submissions on January 9, so read the rules at the link and get your submissions ready.

Wishing you all a glorious new year.

 

A Shell Apart

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We made another international move recently. I gave myself permission to leave my site alone during that time and focus on the needful. We’re still clearing away the dust, but a few glimmers of time have given me space to write something that’s been on my heart.

We visited the beach near our house the night after we arrived. I still love looking for shells, so I combed the beach collecting dozens of pretty, white shells with maroon ribbings.

I soon had both hands full, but I continued to pick up any shell that caught my eye. As I went on, I became pickier–if the shell was cracked, incomplete, or looked too similar to ones I already had, I immediately passed. I left behind a beach-full of perfect, shiny shells. I just didn’t have room to add one more of the same kind of shell to my already full pile.

I kept my eye out, though, for a different kind of shell. Eventually, I found one. It wasn’t shiny or uniform like the others, it was irregular and matte, but it drew my attention because of that. I slid my overflowing shell pile into the crook of my t-shirt so I could pick it up.

I rubbed my thumb over it–rough, not smooth, and not the usual half-clam shape at all. Because of its asymmetry, I wasn’t sure it was a complete half until I felt the smoothness of the edges–then I turned it over and gasped.

Before I finish that thought, I’ll interject something more prosaic: I was, in fact, thinking about writing as I was hunting for shells. Agents and publishers hunt through a sea of lovely stories that meet the highest of standards, but don’t have room to add another like-mannered manuscript to an already over-loaded pile of shiny, maroon shells.

So when I stumbled upon this sort of seemingly bland, but distinct shell, I could see how an agent or editor might feel when a story stands out. I just had to examine this shell–it was so different from all the others. I shifted things around so I could pick it up. And blessedly, its oddities were even more intriguing up close: it’s curved but complete shape, rough but well-suited texture, and its matte but intense color. Then when I turned it over and found the whole underside coated with glorious mother-of-pearl, I was hooked, line and sinker into its unexpected beauty. You can bet that I made room for that shell.IMG_8053

It’s my favorite shell so far. I keep it by my bed to remind me that uniqueness matters, but if your story has that spark of something special–that mother-of-pearl coating–it will become a keeper.

 

Interview with Literary Agent Rubin Pfeffer

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I’m thrilled to inaugurate my new site with an interview from literary agent Rubin Pfeffer of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC. I met Rubin in a one-on-one critique session at a writing conference in Boston last year and was sad when the time ended. As you’ll see from his responses, he knows the publishing industry inside and out and has much to offer writers and illustrators. Thank you, Rubin!

You’ve had a pretty amazing career in publishing, including art director at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, vice president and publisher at Simon and Schuster and an independent agent at East West Literary. Then you started your agency in 2014, Rubin Pfeffer Content. Did the transition to agent change the way you work with authors?

Yes, definitely. You become much more aware of the authors as individuals, of their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and their livelihoods. You’re on the side of the author. That’s not to say you’re not when you’re inside a publishing corporation, but as an agent, you’re much more concerned about the author’s business and dreams. When I was a publisher, I wasn’t sensitive enough to what delays and silence mean to authors. I regret, actually, having taken too long to sign contracts now that I see what it’s like to wait for them.

Can you give me a peek into your agenting day? What are the steps you usually go through when reading a submission?

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