Everyone needs encouragement from time to time. Especially writers. Especially especially writers feeling stymied by the 18-month wait to get a 32-page picture book published. Those poor souls need hugs…
And Linda Ravin Lodding gave them.
Well, not hugs,per se (but I got one!). Encouragement. Linda Ravin Lodding (A Gift for Mama, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, Hold that Thought Milton!) spoke in front of her first adult audience on Tuesday, June 4, and gave us as much encouragement as she could muster.
Which, it turns out, was quite a lot.
After being introduced by dear friend and CMA Events Chair Lynn Kestin Sessler (Random House), Linda confessed that she was used to speaking to 8-year-olds and wasn’t quite sure what to say to us. So she did what all writers do: asked us what our favorite children’s stories were. After much hemming and hawing (it’s hard to pick one), we rattled off beloved favorites and rare gems, and felt like we’d gotten to know each other a little better… except I was, yet again, the only person who’d heard of (much less read) Dianna Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle.
I will stop pimping this book when you all read it. It’s THAT good. And under $5.
FUN FACT: Linda’s mom was in the audience – and her favorite book was Linda’s latest. Because she is a lovely woman. More on her later!
Linda then pulled out another good writer tactic: telling us a story. She framed her entire journey as a writer from NJ to Sweden and back as a way of encouraging us that writing can happen anywhere, at any time.
LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: “There is no timeline on being a writer,” she told me later. “You can do it whenever you want.”
And she’s right!
The first book she fell in love with during her middle grade years was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She identified strongly with the protagonist, and that made her want to write her own stories. So she did. Poetry, too. She submitted both to major outlets and relished the rejection letters because they called her an author, making her feel like she was being taken seriously… and pushed her to keep trying.
By the time she got to college she was studying business, and even studied abroad in Stockholm where she met a cute boy. She followed him to Vienna when he got a job at the U.N., deciding to be brave and try something new. She gave herself an out (subleased her apartment – for 2 years, her mom added), but found herself in a new country, enrolled in a German class she was struggling in, and her senses were overloaded. And she was inspired to write.
LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Get out of your comfort zone and have new experiences – not by moving across the ocean, mind you, but by learning something or doing something new.
You might just move down the street from the Austrian Shakespeare!
She experienced that same sense of newness again when she gave birth to her daughter. She was so excited to start reading to her and acquainting her with all of the books she loved, but getting English-language books was difficult so she started to think about writing her own stories. It was rough (her first attempts were admittedly “long on words, short on stories”), so she looked for a support system – she read books about writing, and even joined a writers’ group meeting in a café frequented by Freud. Ultimately she moved back to Stockholm and discovered a rich tradition of children’s literature (Pippi Longstocking, Elsa Beskow – the Beatrix Potter of Scandanavia – and the like are constantly re-printed so kids today can grow up with the same characters their parents did) that encouraged her to keep going.
Even though she accidentally named her daughter after a super famous children’s character. Oops!
LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Go to a Writers’ Conference and do a one-on-one critique with an editor. That kind of feedback is invaluable for your craft. Even if your book ultimately gets nixed (which happened to Linda) it’s still a valuable experience because it teaches you about the publishing process.
LINDA’S EXTRA ENCOURAGING TIP: When rejection happens, grieve, eat all the chocolate in the house, and learn from it so you can move forward in your career.
The official coping mechanism of picture book writers
Linda enrolled her daughter in an English-speaking school when she moved back to Vienna and joined her first online class. She had to read 5 books every day for a month and analyze them from multiple perspectives. It was tough, but the community and discipline really helped her hone her voice and storytelling abilities – such that reading children’s books today feels like a warm-up for her.
And that’s when she got her first big idea.
Her daughter was falling asleep in ballet class because she was overscheduled – as many children are. All over the world. Linda thought that idea would make an interesting picture book, so she wrote The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister. She submitted it to editors and got even better rejection letters than she got with her poetry. These were personalized… and that told her she was on her way to becoming a real author. She sent it to a boutique publication house which turned out to be great because they worked closely with her to develop a marketing plan (she finally got to use that business degree!) and even got involved in working with an illustrator–a rarity in the picture book world.
Linda was living in the Netherlands when Ernestine was published, and was enjoying the English books her daughter’s new school had access to. The Dutch ones, too (even though she didn’t read the language). Immersing herself in the local children’s literature inspired her to co-found the Holland chapter of the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: If you’re traveling in Europe, try to drop in on local SCBWI meetings. They’re in English, and very open to all writers.
And Wassennar is so pretty!
Linda’s next idea came at the dinner table when her daughter kept trying to butt into the conversation and promptly typed out Hold That Thought Milton!. In pitching this book, she drew on her previous experiences and realized she had two markets to tap: English language in the US and abroad.
LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Don’t just focus on English-speaking US markets. Check UK ones, too!
Linda made her way to the Bologna book fair where she showed her work to the editor who’d worked with her on Milton. She thought nothing came of it until 3 months later when the editor called and told her she’d found an illustrator.
LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Never give up! Just because you don’t hear anything for a while doesn’t mean you’re automatically rejected!
Linda lived here in Sigtuna until last year. And was inspired by the Elsa Beskow/storybook quality of the place.
Linda used the last part of her story to frame her desire to write, expressing that her desire to write was born from longing to be understood. She found herself in places where she felt like a visitor, and learned that home is wherever you feel best understood. Home can be physical, figurative – or even a book. Her dream is to provide the adventure of finding that home to children for a long time to come.
The audience welcomed Linda’s story and peppered her with questions. Are there more differences between the European and US markets? Yes!, Linda answered. In general, the UK market takes more risks; the US YA market is more trend-based fiction (post-apocalyptic, vampires) whereas the UK YA market is issue-oriented fiction (environmental). They’ll even repackage the same book with different covers to market to both children and adults.
Look at her, answering our questions!
How weird is it to not collaborate with your illustrator? Very! Linda admitted that her experience was different in that her editor kept her in the loop, but if the disconnect bothers you go the self-publishing route (which she doesn’t really know about but encourages you to look into).
Is it harder to sell yourself to an agent than a publisher, or should you let them bridge that gap for you in the US market? Almost, Linda said! She got an agent last year, and that was almost as hard as finding a publisher. She decided to do that herself because she wanted to learn the markets and keep on top where editors were going in order to better understand the business (and use her degree again!). It’s a full-time job to keep up with that.
Lastly, Linda stuck around, signing books and chatting with as many people as she could. She did her best to make everyone feel encouraged and welcome. Even her mom — who shared that she learned a whole lot that evening (her mom wished Linda would have pointed out how hard she works to put events together, or market herself because it’s very hard. They’re both full-time jobs, too!).
I talked with both of them. I got hugs from both. And her mother gave me a double thumbs-up.
It was such a sweet surprise to meet someone who didn’t know me but was genuinely pulling for me. I didn’t expect that…
And it’s that reason – as well as all the encouragement Linda shared – that makes us think she’ll make her dream come true.