Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Flashlights, Scissors, and a Clothes Dryer Named Joshua

Bad times have hit the book industry. Profits are down. Publishers are restructuring. Editors are being laid-off. (Hmm, I wonder how they like being rejected. Don’t worry, guys, just keep submitting that resume! I’m sure it will end up in some nice tall slush pile at a reputable publishing house and you'll get a response in, oh, six to twelve months.) It's too bad all this is occurring during the holidays -- a time generally considered a season of celebration. To lighten the mood a little, I thought it might be nice to read about how a few children's and young-adult authors celebrated their first big sale, the publication of their first book, or their first award.

Lois Duncan (KILLING MR. GRIFFIN; I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) grew up publishing articles and fiction in small, low-paying periodicals, so she considered it a very big deal when she finally had a piece accepted by a "slick" woman's magazine -- GOOD HOUSEKEEPING. The day the magazine was due out, Ms. Duncan drove to the nearest drugstore and parked outside at 8:00 AM, waiting for the delivery truck. When the magazines arrived, the young author rushed inside, only to find them bundled with twine in front of the magazine rack. A clerk told her that they probably wouldn't be unpacked until later that afternoon. Too anxious to wait, Duncan went to the office supply section and found a pair of scissors, paid for them at the checkout counter, then walked over to the magazine racks and clipped open the twine securing the bundle of GOOD HOUSEKEEPING magazines. She sat down on the floor to read her article...and then bought twenty copies.

M.E. Kerr/Marijane Meaker (DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK!; SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER) knew that the best way to get her work read by magazine editors was to have a literary agent -- but it's near-impossible to get an agent when you're a young, unpublished writer. That's when she came up with a plan. She had stationery printed up with the heading "Marijane Meaker, Literary Agent" and began marketing the work of several new writers -- Laura Winston, who wrote for women's magazines; Mamie Stone, who wrote confessions; Edgar Stone, who wrote detective stories, and Winslow Albert, who wrote articles. One day she received a letter saying that a story by one of her clients, Laura Winston, had been accepted by the LADIES HOME JOURNAL for $75. Later, when one of Ms. Meaker's roommates read the letter, she exclaimed that the letter didn't say $75...it said $750! That night Laura Winston (aka Marijane Meaker, who also happened to be Mamie Stone...Edgar Stone...and Winslow Albert) took all her roommates out to the famous New York restaurant Ruby Foo's for a Chinese feast.

The late, great Pam Conrad (PRAIRIE SONGS; WHAT I DID FOR ROMAN) celebrated the publication of her first book, I DON'T LIVE HERE!, by buying a gold chain and a single gold bead. From then on, every time she published a children's book she added a gold bead to the chain and every time she published a young-adult book she added a pearl.

Mary Stolz (THE NOONDAY FRIENDS; CAT IN THE MIRROR) was invited to the Harper office to receive the news that her first novel, TO TELL YOUR LOVE, had been accepted for publication. Based on her nonchalant reaction to the acceptance, editor Ursula Nordstrom decided that Ms. Stolz was a pretty cool customer. What she didn't know was that, after leaving the Harper office, Stolz walked to Grand Central Terminal and got on a train home to New Rochelle...not remembering until the conductor asked for her ticket that she had driven her car into the city that day.

Jean Craighead George (MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN; FRIGHTFUL'S MOUNTAIN) had a similarly discombobulated reaction to learning she'd won the Newbery Medal for JULIE OF THE WOLVES. After putting down the phone, she "serenely opened a can of dog food and handed it to a guest who dropped in, put the book I had been reading in the refrigerator, and washed a batch of clean clothes."

Speaking of clothes washing, when Bill Brittain (THE WISH GIVER; THE FANTASTIC FRESHMEN) sold his first story "Joshua" to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, he used the two hundred dollars to buy his family a much-needed clothes dryer, which they thereafter referred to as "Joshua."

The day that George Shannon (LIZARD'S SONG; UNLIVED AFFECTIONS) received the first copy of his first book, THE GANG AND MRS. HIGGINS, he was so excited that he took a flashlight to bed with him -- so he could shine the line across the room and see the book during the night.

E.L. Konigsburg (ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS; THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY) and her family were so thrilled when her first book, JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY AND ME, ELIZABETH was accepted that they danced around the living room together; later when that book was named a Newbery Honor Book and FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER won the gold -- in the same year! -- the excited author said she did a "Zorba Dance."

Lloyd Alexander (TIME CAT; THE HIGH CAT) labored for many years before selling his first book, an adult novel called AND LET THE CREDIT GO. Upon getting the news, he raided the family grocery money and hurried to the local party store to buy some French champagne. Due to the new author's disheveled, frantic appearance (not to mention his ancient 1932 car parked outside) the clerk demanded to see Mr. Alexander's money before taking the champagne off the shelf.

Upon learning he'd won the Caldecott Medal for NOAH'S ARK, Peter Spier (RAIN; CHRISTMAS) boarded a plane to the American Libary Association convention. He'd been told to keep the news secret, but ended up sitting next to an editor whom he knew. When she asked why he was headed for Chicago, he muttered something about going on some publishing business.

The editor smiled at him and said, "Congratulations."


Jenny Schwartzberg said...

Wonderful! Where did you get these stories? From articles or hearing the writers tell these tales? Thank you so much for sharing them with all of us!

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks, Jenny! They came from various articles and bios I've read.


Sam said...

Here's my story, just in case I "make it."

When I got the acceptance email, i called my wife, my parents, my best friend and then the number in the email. That's when I discovered that it was an April Fools joke by my best friend. This then required pathetic calls to be made to my wife and parents to explain.

Unknown said...

I collect media references for the archives of The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, FL. Today Google sent me an alert for "Lets Run Away to the Cummer Museum" but I was unable to find when you posted that (searched 12/16 and 8/13). In the meantime, I enjoyed the searches and your writing!

Peter D. Sieruta said...


If you are a writer listed on Amazon.com, you've made it.

So...you've made it.

That was a pretty dirty April Fool's trick to play. Feel free to give me his phone number so I can call and tell him about the Publishers Clearinghouse Contest he just won...or the IRS audit that needs to be scheduled.

Thanks for reading,


Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Pat,

I wrote about the Cummer Museum on September 2. If you go to the right side of the page and click on "September" that blog entry will probably be either the top or or bottom in the list.

Thanks for your kind words,


Anonymous said...

Ugh.. I know that comment about editors getting laid off was a joke, but it wasn't especially funny. There's nothing good about people losing their jobs, especially right before the holiday season. Trust me -- no editor gets a thrill out of rejecting manuscripts.

I do enjoy your blog, though, so thank you for that.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Andrea,

Believe me, I've lost my fair share of jobs...some of them within the publishing industry. And while I agree that it's no fun to lose a job during the holiday season (been there, done that), I have to say that I never felt much compassion from the editors who kicked me to the curb. In fact, I kind of felt they enjoyed it.

Of course this doesn't apply to ALL editors. Most of them are really nice.

Thanks for reading my blog!