The Art of Letting Go in Life and Art

When this year began, I knew it would be a year of letting go. How much I’d need to let go of, I didn’t know, but I knew inevitable changes were coming that would force me to face losses of different kinds. That these losses would happen within the same week was a surprise—and an awakening to new beginnings I never could have imagined or planned.

At the end of June, we lost our beloved cat Charley Noble. He had been diagnosed with cancer four years ago and had been defying the vet’s prognosis year after year. Until this spring, when he just couldn’t keep fighting any longer. Charley died in my arms at home on a Monday morning. He’d waited for me to come home from a workshop the night before and then spent the night in my arms. Saying goodbye to our sweet boy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it was his time. It was our time. To do what had to be done. To hold, comfort, and let our beloved cat go as he took his final breaths was a precious and rare gift. So I let him go.

That Tuesday morning, movers for an auction house packed and removed more than 300 pieces of furniture, crystal, silver, glass, china, collectibles, linens, and jewelry from our apartment. These were items that had been collected by my parents, then left to me after they died. These were items my parents had meant to deal with for years—many items even had brittle post-it notes on them, “To sell” in faded pencil, my mother’s distinctively messy handwriting. But the collections became too much for them and so these items came to me. Until this year I couldn’t find the strength to deal with them and thankfully, because my apartment has storage space, most of these items could stay stored out of sight, out of mind. But the knowledge that I would have to deal with them was always in the back of my mind—and that nagging feeling created in me a sense of anger—towards my parents,  towards the items, towards the work I knew was coming to sort, organize, and decide what to do with each and every item. 
It was only earlier this year that I was ready to allow the anger to dissipate, to allow myself to detach from the emotions and the memories. To do what had to be done. What had to be done was to let these items go. So I let them go.

On Thursday morning I met with my trainer Jay at the gym. I was feeling raw from the events of the past few days and couldn’t keep the tears at bay. “I just need you to push me today,” I said. And with a bear hug and a “Let’s do this,” Jay pushed me and I worked out. Before our hour was over, Jay asked me to weigh-in. I’ve been consistently losing weight, getting healthier and stronger since February 2015, but I didn’t know what the scale was going to show me that week. It showed me that I’d lost forty pounds. Pounds that had been slowing me down. Pounds that had been insulating me. Pounds that had been scaring me. I achieved a milestone that week. Did what had to be done. So I let them go.

That week finally over, I was at once exhausted and elated.  And one week later I was out of town teaching a writing workshop with lots of focus on revision. And what is revision? Isn’t revision of our work a method of allowing ourselves to recognize what needs to be changed and adjusted, to do what needs to be done, and to let go? Of course it is. Writers do this all the time. It's often the hardest part and the best part of the writing process. Letting go for the sake of finding the best possible whole. 

Letting go is sad and letting go is freeing.  Living over-weighted by weight for so long; living in worry and sadness for so long with Charley’s illness; living in anger and angst for so long with inherited items I didn’t want--I can’t shake the notion that letting go of all of it had to happen at the same time. It’s all interrelated and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the letting go without somehow experiencing all of it at the same time. Coming out the other side my home is changed and I am changed. I am freed. I am sad. I am happy. I am whole. 

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Experiencing Our Stories With All Of Our Senses

My good friend and colleague, artist Roxie Munro recently shared a very important article that got me thinking about why I edit the way I edit and why I make a certain editorial suggestion to authors.

The article is titled "Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age" and is written for the New York Times by the inestimable Perri Klass, a pediatrician who is a Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University and is National Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, the national literacy organization which works through doctors and nurses to promote parents reading aloud to young children.

I found myself nodding vigorously as I read this article and then I started to feel downright validated for a certain editorial suggestion I often make to authors and which authors, for the most part, tend to hate with a passion. That suggestion? To hand write your manuscript. Yup! I tell authors over and over again not to underestimate the value of writing out their manuscripts by hand at least once all the way through, either in the early draft phase or in the revision phase of their process. For picture book authors, this is a piece of cake. For poets, this is common practice. For novelists, not so much. But who ever said writing would be easy?

Susan Cooper's early notes for her
Dark Is Rising sequence
As we were working on one of her manuscripts, author Susan Cooper once told me she hand writes her early drafts of novels on yellow lined legal-size pads of paper. And look at Susan Cooper--she's won the Newbery Medal, the Newbery Honor, the Margaret Edward Award, and a whole lot more. She's doing something right. And to my mind it is hand writing her early drafts that not only helps discipline her thoughts but also helps fully engage her on multiple levels as she's immersing herself in her story and characters.

Why do I suggest authors hand write their manuscripts? To immerse as many senses at once in the creation of a story: Hand writing engages the hands and touch; hand writing engages the ears (the sound of a pencil or pen crossing paper is a form of background music that can't be created in any other way); hand writing engages the eyes. If one is writing with scented pens, hand writing can even engage the sense of smell. Lest you think I'm being flip, there is a distinctive smell of pencil on paper, the smell of certain inks and pens is distinctive, and the smell of eraser is distinctive, too--and these can certainly add to the overall immersive sensory experience of hand writing. So the only sense hand writing may not directly engage is the sense of taste. But before we leave it at that, I actually did write a post a while back on the very subject of the importance of listening to our manuscript being read aloud as not only a means to hear the work, but to in fact taste it and sense it. So tasting our work is not such a crazy idea as much as delicious one.

Roxie Munro inking one of her pieces. Talk about
immersion! (www.roxiemunro.com)
Think for a moment about artists and illustrators--people who work with paints, brushes, inks, papers, and all sort of fabrics and materials to create their artwork. Talk about an immersive sensory engagement where smell is most definitely as engages as touch, sight, and hearing. And perhaps even taste too. 

Suffice to say, the more fully engaged and immersed one can be with their creative work, the more fully a part of the work one will become on deeply sensory and emotional levels that may be not able to be described, but can be experienced and felt. The more we experience and feel as we create our stories, the more our stories will allow readers to experience and feel.

When I'm editing a manuscript--be it an 80-word picture book or an 80,000-word novel, I always ALWAYS hand write notes, comments, and impressions on the manuscript pages and in red wide-ruled letter-size notebooks. I don't ever EVER share these hand written notes with authors; this process of hand writing my notes is an essential step in my editorial process and it's something I need to do before ever typing up an editorial memo or typing in Track Changes. The hand writing process is my way of getting immersed in the word and in the story, is my way of helping myself remember what I'm reading, and is my way of clarifying what I'm really thinking.

In her article, Perri Klass is writing specifically about the importance of children hand writing. She quotes Karin James, a professor of psychology and brain sciences, who says, "My overarching research focuses on how learning and interacting with the world with out hands has a really significant effect on our cognition, on how writing by hand changes brain function and can change brain development."  I'm not a scientist, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I don't think stimulating brain function in this way ends in childhood. I think writing by hand continues to stimulate and change brain function throughout our adult lives.

So I challenge you:  Hand write your manuscript. See what happens. Start easily, with a scene or a sequence or a chapter. Then keep going if you possibly can. Experience your work with as many senses as you possibly can. It's got to be great for your brain and I can promise it will be great for your stories!

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Children's Book Writing Workshop Opportunity!

I'm leading a five-day children's book writing workshop in July. 
We will be exploring first impressions of our work, voice, character building, world building, and revision techniques. 
It promises to be a creative, inspiring week of work and play--with a few ah ha! moments!

And it all takes places in beautiful Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard island in Massachusetts. 

I'd love it if you would join me!

You can register here, and if you sign up before May 15, there is a discount:


A Guest Post - and a GIVEAWAY!

"Throughout the journey, I've been asked many times if I ever wanted to write. The long and short answer to that question is "Yes." But that's easier said than done." - emma d dryden

I'm delighted and honored to be featured on Cynsations today - the always excellent and informative blog kept by Cynthia Leitich Smith. I've written a post about my experience writing WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? entitled "Putting the Internal Editor in a Timeout."

And guess what? There's a fantastic GIVEAWAY! Here's where to go: 


Celebrating My Own Entrepreneurial Spirit!

what does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
by rana diorio & emma d dryden * illustrated by ken min

I am thrilled to announce the publication this week of a picture book I’ve co-authored for children ages 4-8. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? is a story about Rae who witnesses a doggie-ice cream mishap and is inspired, in true entrepreneurial spirit, to create a solution to help get dogs clean!

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? is a book sure to empower young kids as it encourages imagination, courage, problem-solving, resourcefulness, and thoughtfulness. Inspired in part by my experiences launching and sustaining drydenbks LLC during the past five-and-a-half years, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? is a book I've had the pleasure of writing and conceiving with my friend and colleague, Rana DiOrio, Founder and Chief Executive Pickle of Little Pickle Press, which is illustrated masterfully by Ken Min, and which was designed and art directed by Leslie Iorillo. We're excited, honored, and proud to be able to introduce this book and the concept of entrepreneurism to a wide audience. (It seems there’s even a Girl Scouts Entrepreneur Badge, so the timing of this is ideal! Who knew?)

The book is being published by Little Pickle Press, an impressive green-conscious small independent press. You can read all about the book here: http://www.littlepicklepress.com/product/what-does-it-mean-to-be-an-entrepreneur/ and the book is available wherever books are sold, including through Amazon, B&N.com, or at your independent bookseller. I hope people will consider posting reviews online. I hope people will consider purchasing a copy for a teacher or librarian who can share it with kids to get young people thinking about what they can do to start changing the world!

Let's all share in the entrepreneurial spirit! If we support entrepreneurs, our world will be even more diverse, interesting, and creative!


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: "Do or Don’t Do. There is No In-Between." The Inspiring Moves of Indy Publisher, Eileen Robinson


Eileen Robinson
I've been an admirer of Eileen Robinson for many years. She established herself as a children's editorial consultant with her own company, F1rst Pages, long before editors like myself were becoming consultants, and it's been thrilling to watch her launch her own publishing company, Move Books, in response to what she saw as a dire need in the marketplace. She's following her dreams; she's doing; she's walking the talk--and I'm honored to have gotten her to take time out of her busy schedule and busy life to share her experiences, lessons, and insights with us. Welcome, Eileen!

Do or Don’t Do. There is no in-between. Isn’t that what Yoda said? You either go for it or you dream. And I recognize it all starts with a dream, with a passion, an itch you can’t seem to get rid of. But at some point, you have to leap if the dream will ever become reality. Whatever your passion, you must take that first step.

I’ve been starting up things since I was a kid, but I never planned to be an entrepreneur, and though I loved to read (the New York Public library was like my second home), I never thought I would land in book publishing much less forge ahead with my own company. I was just a young, avid reader who spent summers hunched over Judy Blume’s books, secretly and defiantly, under the watchful eye of the passing librarian. At home I read Young Miss magazine, my Childcraft encyclopedia set (that I forced my brother to read with me on Saturdays), Readers Digest, my beloved dictionary, and later, when I joined my first book club, my closet became home to books instead of clothes. I loved magazines and pursued magazine writing, getting my first article published in Better Homes and Gardens. In college, I tried to start a magazine but little did I know the world of books was where I was meant to be, though I had no idea entrepreneurship was in my future, much less my first love, becoming an editor.

I’d like to say something savvy, that I came up with some great idea, something different, something that would change the face of publishing, but I just have a passion to make books, shape stories, be a part of the process. I want to help children see themselves in books, be changed by them, and find confidence and solace in reading, giving them an experience that might inspire them or help them inspire others. That’s it.

In the professional world, it all began at Scholastic, where I landed by accident, as an Associate Editor. I was immediately awed and inspired. Little did I know I was on the path to entrepreneurship, getting a great foundation, working alongside others in children’s publishing who loved books gave me an opportunity to learn from them, pick their brains, and absorb a bit of their happiness, passion, and madness.

So I did. So I am.  

But taking the leap to be an entrepreneur in publishing—the financial responsibility, distribution and sales, marketing and publicity, illustration and design, manufacturing, establishing the brand Move Books to sit among the publishing giants and alongside established small publishers—is another path entirely. Was I going to let my passion and drive override my fear?

Back to Yoda, it’s Do or Don’t Do.

So I did.

And my son, now thirteen, is the reason. With stacks of books in every corner of my house, and unable to eat at the dinner table because of the piles, it dismayed me that he, at six-years-old, was a struggling reader and then became a reluctant reader as he progressed through elementary school. When he was seven, he told me picture books were no longer acceptable to take from the library. Wow. What would the educational system think of all the adults who love picture books? Later on, a teacher took a book out of his hands, telling him it wasn’t on his reading level. Though I understood there must be compliance with reading standards and expectations in the classroom, he was discouraged. What did I do? I purchased two copies of the book and read along with him. Why read along with him? Because I felt the book he wanted to read, Hunger Games, had important emotional, moral, and ethical issues that might emerge for him and I wanted to have these discussions with him. It was unimaginable to me that he—along with his friends, my nephews, and the other children I’ve met while presenting throughout the school and library system—didn’t love books as much as I did. They saw books as vehicles for information to be used in school, but not for pleasure. Of course, I also met many children who were avid readers but I worried about those who might never enjoy reading, and I wanted to contribute.

After much thought and driving my colleagues crazy, I decided to launch a publishing venture called Move Books. Why? Because I wanted to move boys to read.

So what is it to be an entrepreneur? Team, Trust, Sharing, Embracing are some words that come to mind.

Your team. Entrepreneurship is a team effort. And no business can get off the ground or survive without people who believe in what you are trying to do. Everybody counts—even your babysitter!

Trust is key. Support can come in many ways but the key is you must trust those you work with, respecting their ideas and experience.

Share information. You must share information where you can to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

Accept change. It’s an everyday occurrence. Embrace it.  Get used to having a plan A and plan B should things go in a different direction.

Entrepreneurship has been a daily transformation for me, and it all began after leaving Scholastic in 2003. I became an editorial consultant and created F1rstPages to help writers work on their craft and provide insight into the publishing world. About a year later, editorial consultant Harold Underdown (The Purple Crayon, and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books) and I began Kid’s Book Revisions which further built on the premise of helping writers hone their work through revision and understanding the market. But I felt like something was missing. I missed that feeling of shepherding a manuscript through the process to bound book. So in 2011, with colleagues, friends, and family rooting for me, I jumped in with both feet and launched Move Books!

Move Books team:
Harold Underdown,
Our Mission: Why Focus on Boys? It’s important for me to note here that I am not saying there should be different books for girls and different books for boys, nor am I publishing the “stereotypical” boy books, but I am publishing books to get more boys to reading, and hope that through reading texts and stories they are drawn to, boys will see the value of reading in their own lives and that it can bring enjoyment as an activity. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and The National Assessment of Educational Progress, boys consistently lag behind girls in reading literacy—the latest study in 2012 showed a five point gap between nine-year-old boys and girls which increased to an eight point gap by age thirteen, and this gap remained through age seventeen. Though these gaps differ by country, they are worldwide. The great news is with contemporary authors like J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Jon Scieszka, whose Guys Read initiative has long been dedicated to giving boy readers more options, the statistics are likely to get better in the next assessments. Regardless of the statistics, teachers, librarians, and parents know this gap exists, so let’s stop calling it gender bias and contribute to becoming a more literate nation. Like most entrepreneurs, I’d like to help make a difference and hope that I do.

What are we publishing and what do we want? In 2016 we are happily continuing with the second book in The Lost Tribes Series, by C. Taylor-Butler (author of Sacred Mountain: Everest and many others)--stay tuned for a cover reveal in January! We are also excited to be considering our first historical fiction project, among other kinds of stories. We would love more submissions with humor but look forward to just reading really good books that challenge the imagination, and those that show the complexity of middle-grade relationships. If a great YA comes along, we may consider it, but right now our niche is middle-grade. These readers (age eight to twelve) are a lot of fun and more importantly, it is where boys begin to lose interest in reading. Submissions are open now until June 2016.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Cliché but true. For everyone who supports you, there will be those who disagree with you, think your mission is fruitless, think they have all the answers, or that they know your direction better than you do. Like in writing, I believe showing is better than telling, so any of you thinking about becoming any sort of entrepreneur need to do your homework so you can feel confident about what you are doing. Listen to all comments, find the truth in them and use that to help make your business stronger.

Mistakes are part of the process. There is so much room for error and bad judgement calls. And you will probably make a lot of them, so see them as stepping stones.

Move Books team:
Virginia Pope, Design
Everyones job is crucial. I have always known it takes a village, but when you are the village for the most part, you become enlightened very quickly and start to wonder why you ever argued that editorial was more important than marketing—with the Head of Marketing that is—yes I was very bold! I really believed that there could be no marketing without a good book. And you also learn that you can’t do twelve passes of book layout with your designer just because you own the company. Not productive. Costs money. And everyone is unhappy.

Youve got experience? So what!  Remember, you are reinventing yourself. I thought because I’d been at Scholastic and Harcourt that a distributor for Move Books’ titles would fall in my lap. My educational/school library background and exposure to trade certainly helped me, but it still took a lot of work and time to land a major, national distributor (with a sales force) that would get us a relationship with the bookstores and wholesalers reaching the school/library and trade markets.

Move Books team:Joe
Sita, Manufacturing
Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle change. Though working for yourself seems like a brilliant idea (and I wouldn’t change it for the world), it’s a lifestyle change for you and your family that requires discipline.

Delegate and trust in others a lot more than you ever have. It is the experience and ideas of the team that help bring an author’s vision and words to life, and that also applies to your company. Never forget, you may be the boss, but you are part of a team. And never underestimate the importance of shielding your team. Don't throw people under the bus. We grow from our mistakes and if you keep that in mind, you will cultivate a team producing ideas that are more adventurous and more creative.

Move Books team:Krista
Ehrentraut, Intern
Success must be measured in small accomplishments. Building a business takes time, especially to attain that “big picture” success. So you must enjoy and celebrate the parts that contribute to the whole, or you’ll become discouraged quickly. That goes for writing too! “Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”—Robert Louis Stevenson

There is a mentor in everyone. I believe you can learn something from everyone you meet. I have gathered emotional and professional support from people who have become long-time friends in publishing, and outside of publishing (no matter what business you are in, there is a common bond there). And sometimes getting out of your field opens you up to different approaches when you are stuck. I have learned from people who thought I was crazy to launch a publishing company or focus on boys and reading. Their comments either gave me confirmation or caused me to go back and rethink some things. It's all useful.

Stay Grounded. Always come back to the why. Why did I start this company in the first place? For my son and to instill a love of reading.

Fiction or Nonfiction? It’s all reading! As you know, I worried that my son would never enjoy books like I do. But not too long ago I realized all the books he chose were nonfiction. It was fiction he tried to steer clear of, though historical fiction seemed to capture his interest. I wanted him to be compelled to read, not because he had to…and that’s exactly what he was doing.

Entrepreneurship is like flying a kite. So do you choose “Do or Don’t Do”? There are many variables, some of which are out of your control.  Some of us contribute to make others successes. Some of us are successes ourselves. Both are great accomplishments. But is one separate from the other? Can we be both? I don’t know. But it’s worth the risk. “Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.”singer, Jackson Browne


Making Choices for Our Characters and Ourselves

I've recently been talking and guest-posting about the importance of ensuring our protagonists evolve and grow through the choices and decisions they make throughout the course of their stories. Whether these choices and decisions are compelled by something awful (the protagonist up against a threat with no apparent choice) or by something terrific (the protagonist seeing the means to achieve and go for their goal), it's the choices and decisions our protagonists make that go into defining who they are, add solidity to what they're made of, and instill a drive to face new things when they think they've faced everything they can possibly face. 

Talking and writing about how the most memorable and most compelling protagonists make choices and decisions all the time, I've caught myself wondering about the sorts of choices and decisions I make in my own life. Do the choices and decisions I make go into defining who I am? Do the choices and decisions I make add solidity to what I'm made of? Do the choices and decisions I make instill in me a drive to face new things—things that may take me out of my comfort zone, things that may make me fearful, things that make me someone more complex than the person I was the day before? Sure I do...sometimes. Once in a while. Not often enough. Certainly not enough, I realize, to be most memorable and most compelling protagonist if I were the main character in a story.

Okay, maybe I'm selling myself short. Maybe every single choice and decision I make over the course of any given day actually adds to my evolution as a person. It sure doesn't feel like it, though, not when I think about what we ask our characters to face in our stories. And this gets me thinking about why we write stories in the first place and why we create the characters we create. 

Is it possible we're instilling in our protagonists the abilities, attributes, and drives we may not ourselves have but wish we had? Is it possible we're putting our protagonists into positions where they have to make seemingly impossible choices and decisions that will result in seemingly impossible repercussions in order to test our own boundaries and definitions of what's truly impossible? Is it possible we're forcing our protagonists to face their ultimate "what if?" questions so we can explore how we might behave and react when faced with our own ultimate "what if?" questions? Absolutely! I think this is what writers do all the time—not only do writers write to express and explore the stories inside their heads and hearts, but to express and explore the stories of ourselves, our humanity, our boundaries, and our capacities.

Though it may not feel like it, all of us, at varying degrees and at varying times, are in positions to make—and do make—the kinds of choices and decisions we ask of our protagonists. Some of the positions in which we find ourselves making choices and decisions will be awful, some will be terrific. Some of the positions in which we find ourselves making choices and decisions will feel utterly impossible, some will feel easy. It's from all of these experiences and how we respond to them that we evolve. And it's from all of these experiences that we write our characters and our stories, putting what we know to be true of ourselves and humanity onto the page for readers to find themselves and discover truths.

I want to be a person who makes choices and decisions that matter, that have repercussions larger than me. I want to be a person who makes choices and decisions that help me on a meaningful path of growth and continuing evolution, no matter how old I am. So when I need inspiration and confidence to keep making those kinds of choices and decisions, I feel lucky to be able to look not only to those people whom I consider to be role models and mentors, but also to protagonists in all sorts of stories.

(c) drydenbks LLC 2015


A Difficult Read: Who's Responsible for How a Story Makes A Reader Feel?

An author with whom I've been working on a YA novel due to publish in the fall heard from a reader who essentially was asking the author to explain whether and how the teen protagonist in his story is reconciled in any significant way with the horrific antagonist figures in the story. The reader wanted to know this in order to understand in advance how "difficult" this book would be for her to read.

This situation raises the question of who, ultimately, is responsible for how a story effects a reader. In my opinion an author is obligated only to tell a story that is whole, to tell a story that is true to the characters in that story. But an author is not obligated to give readers a comfortable or happy experience, nor is an author obligated to give readers an uncomfortable or difficult experience. An author is obligated to offer readers an experience, yes, but what that experience is going to be for a reader is not something an author can know. Whether the author's story is difficult or easy, comfortable or uncomfortable, how that story makes a reader feel is controlled solely by the reader. Every reader experiences a story differently.

What one reader may find beautiful, another reader may find strange. What one reader may find emotional, another reader may find bland. What one reader may find difficult, another reader may find run-of-the-mill. Putting the responsibility for the reader's emotional reaction to a story in the hands (and hearts) of the reader is exactly what a good storyteller does.

And if a story ignites emotional response in a reader at levels that reach "difficult" or "painful" or "beautiful" or "unforgettable" proportions? If a story makes a reader cry or laugh or anger or wonder? if a story, in fact, makes a reader uncomfortable? Then the storyteller has done their job. They've provided a reader with an experience that makes a reader feel something. And the more a reader feels--even if it's discomfort--the deeper and stronger that story probably is, the closer that story is probably coming to expressing some universal truths about humanity in all its forms--the beautiful and the comfortable, the ugly and the difficult.

If emotions are getting too high, if discomfort levels are getting too intense, a reader can stop reading the story that's causing such feelings. But the brilliant secret about great stories, of course, is that sometimes they're impossible to put down no matter how much we want to put them down. And why? Because most of us want to have deeply emotional experiences when we're immersed in a story, most of us want to feel a whole array of feelings when we're in the world of a story, even if that means we're knowingly being taken out of our comfort zones, knowingly being faced with things we would rather not face. 

The thrill of story can be the thrill of the amusement park ride: Sometimes we love the ride and detest the ride at the same time, but we love that juxtaposition of extreme feelings the ride raises in us and we buy our ticket knowing that's the experience we're going to have. We have no choice but to ride it out to the end (face it, we can put a story down if we need a break; no such luxury with an amusement park ride!) because we also love how we feel when it's over—alive! Even if we are shaky and mad and swear we'll never do it again!

We all tend to take stories personally. And when a story has moved us in any sort of extreme way, it's may be easier for us to blame an author for surprising us, or angering us, or melting our hearts, or making us uncomfortable rather than looking at something in our own lives and experiences to figure out why a story has had such a significant effect on us and has left us reeling with feelings hard to control or manage. Experiencing story can be messy; and when we're experiencing stories that touch our humanity in good or bad ways, experiencing story can be as messy as life itself. That's a mess some of us would rather avoid at all costs. But we can't avoid it in real life, and rather than avoid it in stories, I suggest we allow ourselves to experience the mess by means of the very best guides we have to get us safely through: Authors. The people who pour all of life into stories that in turn give us what we need to feel wholly and deeply.

The novel referenced in this post is BREATH TO BREATH by Craig Lew, to be published in November by Little Pickle Press. And I won't lie—the story is a graphic and tough one. It is also whole and true to the characters in the story. I have no doubt readers are going to feel something as they engage in the story experience Lew is offering. Some will find it difficult, some will find it sad, some will find it angering, some will find it positive. Whatever a reader feels as they read and experience this story is the right feeling for that reader to feel--and the depth and range of feelings felt by readers will be testament to a story well told by an author whose only obligation has been to move readers by sharing one story that touches a side of our shared humanity.

(BREATH TO BREATH can be pre-ordered: https://pubslush.com/project/6751)

(c) drydenbks LLC 2015


Times of Change, Times to Breathe

I've been interested in yoga for a long time. I've had opportunities over the years to join a class here and there and each time I do, I've gotten something wonderful out of the experience and I've promised myself to do more yoga. And then I break that promise to myself. . .until the next opportunity arises to join a class, get something wonderful out of the experience, and promise myself to do more yoga. How often do we make a promise to ourselves. . .and then break that promise? A promise to take better care is not the same thing as taking better care—of oneself, of a loved one, of one's creativity, of one's art, of one's soul, of anything. The only way to take better care is to take better care, and to do so requires some, if not a lot of, change.

Earlier this spring, after a long hiatus (aka procrastination), I got myself back into the gym, and to assist myself in changing my routine from no exercise to a routine of exercise, I work with a trainer (someone to whom I feel accountable and someone with infinite patience!). Every week, Jay encourages me to push myself a little deeper, a little farther, a little longer--and I have to admit, I seem to be getting stronger, I'm more confident, and I'm becoming more disciplined.

Change of any kind is profound. It can be great. It can be gratifying. And it can be hard. Really hard. The change from apathy to exercise--the change from promising myself to take better care to actually taking better care--has been profound both physically and mentally. It's been great. It's been gratifying. And it's been hard. Really hard. 

So, I'm going to the gym. And then a few weeks ago something unexpected happened. I woke up very early my first morning in Taos, New Mexico, where I was attending a creative retreat, took a walk in my gym clothes (the hotel had no fitness facility), and found myself in front of a yoga studio. The flyer said a class, suitable for beginners, would be starting in ten minutes, drop-ins welcome.

Open the door? Or keep walking? Open the door? Or get breakfast? Open the door? Or read the manuscript I had in my bag?  Open the door? Or. . .?

I opened the door.
During the class, held in a beautiful space that felt at once new and safe, I stretched, twisted, and balanced. I didn't go very deep, very high, or very low, but I did what I could do. There were things I could do well (realizing that being back to the gym was helping me enormously), and there were things I couldn't do at all (realizing that I am just not as in shape and flexible as I used to be). Then, as the instructor guided us from a stretch that was already making my muscles tremble into a new stretch that promised to do something even more dynamic (aka OMG!) to my muscles, she said,

"Keep breathing as you change your position. The one time most of us stop breathing is during change. And it's at times of change when we need to breathe most of all. Change can be hard. Change can be uncomfortable. But instead of quitting, keep breathing and see if your breathing can actually help you find comfort in the change."

Her words coursed through me. In the moments it took for me to slowly change positions, I was brought back to the March day five years ago I launched drydenbks; to the winter morning ten years ago I first got on downhill skis; to the May day six years ago I got laid off; to the late afternoon eleven years ago I held my dying father's hand; to the unseasonably warm February morning seventeen years ago my mother died; to the day in the wintery woods thirty years ago I first knew I was in love; to the August afternoon thirty-nine years ago I got my first period; to the October morning forty-three years ago I took the public bus to school all by myself. Times of exhilarating and excruciating change. Times of hold-my-breath change because breathing felt terrifying. Times of change I knew would change everything forever. Times of change I knew would change me forever.

In those moments in yoga class, those memories of times of change flooding back at once, I exhaled, then breathed deeply and purposefully through the discomfort of the dynamic (aka OMG!) stretch, confident I would be okay in that stretch (trembling muscles and all). As okay as I was during all those times of change in my life that I hadn't thought about in years. As okay as I was that freezing evening four months ago when I signed up to train with Jay. As okay as I was on the day a few weeks ago when I opened the door to the yoga studio. As okay as I will be through whatever times of change are coming—and they will come. I'll be okay as long as I keep taking better care and remember I have what I need to transform the uncomfortable into the comfortable by breathing through the change.

(c) drydenbks LLC, 2015


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: An "Accidental Entrepreneur" - Sarah Towle's Path from Creative Writer to Agile Publisher


I've been delighted to be consulting for the past few years with Sarah Towle, a woman who's been transforming herself from a hardworking author to an even harder working author and publisher striving to, as Sarah says, “combine the traditional power of storytelling with the magic of the touchscreen to create portals to the past.” A few weeks ago, at a splendid event hosted by KidLit TV in New York City, Sarah officially launched her company, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, which is a digital-first multiformat publishing company with the goal of turning kids on to history by turning history on. I’m delighted to have Sarah with us on “our stories, ourselves” to talk about what led her to start her own company and to share some advice and lessons she’s learning along the way. Welcome, Sarah!


[edd] How did you come to start Time Traveler Tours &Tales? What problem do you see Time Traveler Tours &Tales positioned to solve?

[st] I didn’t set out to forge this path. Far from it. I was content in my career as a language and literacy educator. In my last role, I helped to run a citywide initiative in New York City to train whole school populations—from admin to teachers to students to janitorial staff—in how to negotiate conflict creatively. We taught the concepts through children’s literature, then developed skills through dramatic role-play. It was a fabulous job. I was changing lives. And I loved it.

Then, in 2004, my husband’s job took us to France. Two years sounded like the perfect amount of time for a mid-career sabbatical. I would learn French, be a full-time mom, and discover everything I possibly could about the history and culture of Paris. I would return to my career smart and refreshed. But two years turned into five, and the French authorities refused to let me teach. Then the global economic crisis wiped out my job back home. So at what should have been the pinnacle of my professional life, I was forced to start over.

At that point, my daughter was a tween and I came face to face with a huge issue in education: At the secondary level, school cultures worldwide make a dramatic shift. Kids are suddenly swamped by the tyranny of testing and rigor. Instead of getting out and about to explore the world around them, they are constrained by textbooks, timetables, and walls. Even in Paris, where history whispers from every cobblestone, field trips to local museums, monuments, and other historic sites are few and far between.

Paris at the outbreak of French Revolution
Ironically, as I was growing more enamored of my adopted home and more appreciative of how its history affects and influences its culture today, my daughter and her friends were turning off to history. I resolved to use my skills as an educator to write a fun interactive book of the history of Paris for them that would include a story and great characters layered among the historical details. Folks are now calling this concept “Place-Based Education”—learning through the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular location. But when I tested a chapter of my book on a group of forty-eight 14-year-olds, they insisted it would make a better app than book.

the app
As a teacher, I had cut my teeth on CD-Roms and other web-based learning tools. I was already thinking digitally, but didn’t know it. Many editors had at that point lauded my concept and the execution of my manuscript and vision, but they didn’t know where it fit on a bookstore shelf. What’s more, in the economic climate of 2009-10, publishers were unwilling to take a risk on something so new and different, particularly historical fiction/creative nonfiction.

So I ran with the kids’ advice. I created a company, Time Traveler Tours, set up an embarrassingly ugly website, and in July 2011, I launched our proof-of-concept StoryAppTour, Beware Madame la Guillotine: A RevolutionaryTour of Paris. (link here)

the book
The app was a critical success, but its use was limited to people with an iPhone in Paris. So when Apple introduced iBooksAuthor in 2012, I republished the story as an interactive book for iPad 
(link here) for the school and library markets. Then, recognizing that there are still many learning environments that can’t afford new technologies, I released a print version (link here) of my revolutionary tale in 2014. A curriculum guide soon followed. With all of these various formats of the story now in circulation, I created a second imprint, Time Traveler Tales, and the Time Traveler Tours & Tales “title suite” was born. 

What an amazing creative evolution you and your work are going through! So, what inspired you to make the (huge!) leap from self-produced author to independent publisher?

Honestly, this has all been a sort of happy accident brought on by loss and change, the need to adapt and the willingness to listen to the muse. That’s why I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur.”

While Beware Madame La Guillotine continues to be a critical success, it’s not been a commercial one. However, the interactive story-history-tour concept seemed to be touching hearts and minds, a “hiding in plain sight” kind of idea. I realized I needed to gain some business acumen before deciding which way to move forward, if at all. I sought advice wherever I could find it, and fell into a start-up meet-up community at the suggestion of Dominique Raccah, Publisher of Sourcebooks. Thus began my education into the world of agile publishing.

In 2013, I attended a “Startup Weekend” in Paris—it was basically speed dating for visionaries and geeks. In fifty-four hours, the motley crew I was able to assemble there produced an app based on my concepts for Beware Madame La Guillotine and we went on to achieve a stunning 2nd place victory. With that came a touch of free mentoring and a bit of seed capital and the confidence that my idea could be scaled into a business with multiple revenue streams.

I loved the idea of expanding this platform to showcase stories and content by authors other than myself. And in April, 2014, while we were both teaching at Julie Hedlund’s Writers Renaissance Retreat in Florence, bestselling author Mary Hoffman pitched me an idea for an interactive tour to the world of Michelangelo through a story from the point of view of the model who stood for the artist’s famous statue of David.
Sarah's Kickstarter Campaign home page
Mary Hoffman, David, Sarah 
with original map of Florence by Roxie Munro
That's when it all clicked: I now had a world- renowned author interested in working with me as well as a bit of money and a few trusted consultants and advisers to guide the process. It was time to create a real team to help make it all a reality. I’m lucky enough to have found a terrific team of people to help me brainstorm every bit of this new company (from the creative aspects to the marketing and business aspects and everything in between) and together we decided to use Kickstarter to raise funds for—and spread the word about—our launch title by Mary Hoffman which is called In the Footsteps of Giants. (link here

[Note from edd: Sarah has written a series of informative and honest "case study" posts that chronicle her team's decision to use Kickstarter, what's required of a good Kickstarter campaign, and what the entire Kickstarter process for this project has been like from beginning to end. For more information, see her blog here.]

Congratulations on your successful Kickstarter Campaign! I think your mission to bring history to life for contemporary audiences is so exciting and I'm honored to have contributed a backer reward for authors! You sure are wearing a lot of hats. How do you manage a life/work balance?

Oh boy! Balance has been elusive since the Kickstarter campaign began on May 19. But I know I will find it again when the campaign concludes on June 26. Prior to the kick-off, I found balance thanks to the routines imposed on me by my four-legged companion, Gryffindog. He forces me out of my chair at regular intervals. I also endeavor to practice yoga every morning as I listen to the news, and I sing with a local choir every Monday evening.

Because I live five hours ahead of the business day in New York, I can give myself over to pure creative writing time each morning while my colleagues are sleeping. I return to “business” and social media and the buzz of life after my first long walk with Gryffin. This means I put in very long hours, starting my day in London GMT and ending in EST. But it’s the only way I manage to get everything done.

I’m also very fortunate to have a husband who loves to shop and cook. He keeps me fed. We recently emptied the nest—our daughter, Lily, is now at university—and simultaneously relocated to London. I now have few friends and no children at home. So it’s a good time to be working twelve- to fifteen-hour days  six or seven days a week, which is par for the course for any one starting up a business.

What are three lessons and/or surprises you've experienced as an accidental entrepreneur? What does anyone thinking about becoming their own boss and business owner need to know?

* Very few companies are making it by just producing apps. That’s why I wish to re-purpose the creative assets of our future StoryAppTours to produce story content across multiple formats. I also believe we should make our stories accessible where our young audiences want them most. And not everyone has a smartphone or tablet.

* Making one app that contains a single story is not a commercially viable business model. For this reason, our goal now is to build a single app framework that can contain a multitude of stories. With that framework we can produce TTT&T-branded apps as well as white-label apps for any future company clients, museums, or other cultural institutions, which will provide us with multiple revenue streams.

* In the digital age, collaboration is key. Sharing ideas and tips, even code, makes great business sense.

This is such great advice. Three warnings you might give others seeking to start their own businesses?

* Be ready to work hard. And then work harder. And then work even harder again.

* Don’t expect your nearest and dearest to understand or even be supportive. And don’t fault them for it. You’ll find your support in unexpected places and it will come to you via mysterious ways.

* Be prepared for everything to take longer than you think it will and for your path forward to be fraught with some frustration and some rejection. But stay the course and remain focused on your dream. If it’s a good one, it will eventually take flight.

These are terrifically honest and helpful answers. I love the entrepreneurial community--people like you, who are paving new paths, are always willing to help others along with advice, guidance, and more. So, did you always consider yourself an "authorpreneur"?

When I was strictly authoring, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. But then I realized that all of us trying to live by our craft must act as our own little businesses. In contrast to, say, Michelangelo’s day, there are few patrons like the de’ Medicis today who support artists. All creative people are therefore entrepreneurs. And it’s in working together and supporting each other that we make magic happen.

Here's to making magic happen!  UPDATE:  Sarah's Kickstarter campaign was fully funded before the end of the campaign. Congratulations, Sarah!