I had so much fun interviewing Ruth, and want to wish her a happy birthday today...and happy book birthday tomorrow. :)
As most of you probably know, I'm proud to call Joyce Sweeney my mentor and friend. I feel so lucky to be in her weekly workshop/critique group. My writing has improved so much with her guidance, and she's helped many writers break into this business--which resulted in 32 bean ceremonies. If you're not sure what that is, check out this awesome interview that Cynthia Leitich Smith posted of Joyce in Cynsations!
I recently ran Joyce's Success Story in the FL SCBWI listserv, and would love to share it with all of you! You'll notice that she said she has given away 30 beans so far...that's because two of her peeps have sold their manuscripts since she wrote this!
Florida SCBWI Success Story!
My success story is going to be long, because I've been a writer for a long time -- since 1984! During that time, my career path has taken some interesting twists and turns. I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old and I remember taking this aptitude test in the second grade that made me really mad. It said I would be happier as a teacher! I remember tearing it up, thinking that piece of paper would actually stand in the way of my writing dreams. Actually that piece of paper was really smart.
I pursued the dream of being a writer and when I was only 27, I won the First Annual Delacorte prize for a young adult novel with my book Center Line. Center Line was a very successful book, was optioned many times for film (but never made into an actual movie) and won a number of other awards. My career as a YA writer went on for two more decades, with the usual ups and downs. Highlights for me were winning the Nevada Young Readers Award for my novel Shadow (I went to Las Vegas and signed 1000 books in one day!), the success of my novel Players, which was named a Top Ten Sports book for tweens by Booklist and which outsold all my other books, and my novel Headlock, which won a silver medal in the first annual Florida Book Awards. I also lived through having one of my publishers go bankrupt, firing one agent and hiring another and a few books that didn't make a splash. My most recent novel, The Guardian is about a boy lost in the foster care system, who turns to what seems to be his guardian angel for help. But it's not his guardian angel...it's something much more sinister.
All the while, through the good and bad times of being a novelist, I knew something was missing. That darned aptitude test was right. I loved writing, but as it turned out it wasn't my favorite thing to do after all. When I moved to South Florida, I had a chance to teach five week classes through the Florida Center for the Book. Wow. I knew right away, this was what I really wanted to do. I was good at it and they kept asking me back over and over. But I noticed that people did great while they were taking a class with me, but if I checked back later, they had often lost momentum.
I decided what was needed was an ongoing workshop, more of a support group really. I knew from my own experiences that it took much longer to get published than people think. I knew good people were getting discouraged too soon. So The Thursday Group was born. I hand selected 15 really talented writers who met weekly for critiques and ongoing writing lessons from me, but I think more important, supporting and encouraging each other. The second year of the group, Noreen Wald got published, a memoir about her life as a frequent Jeopardy contestant. The third year there were two more book contracts and by the fourth year...we had seven people, including Alex Flinn, Lucille Shulklapper and Sherri Winston. That was when we created the Magic Bean ceremony. One of our members had gone to Costa Rica and brought back seedpods from the guanacaste tree. Each one had 20 beautiful seeds inside. So we had a big ceremony for our seven published authors, shaking rattles and handing out seven magic beans.
When Linda Bernfeld started our Florida SCBWI chapter in 2000, there was an explosion of talent for me to discover and opportunities to meet and make referrals to agents. Dorian Cirrone, Laurie Friedman, Gloria Rothstein, Janeen Mason and many others came in the next wave of magic beans. I expanded from one to three groups and also continued to help people publish in other genres including mystery, poetry, women's fiction, non-fiction and more.
I'm up to Magic Bean number 30 now and in addition to my three critique groups I also critique manuscripts by mail for people all over the country. Last year I partnered with writing coach Jamie Morris to create a series of weekend craft intensives called The Next Level. We offer about five workshops a year, all around the state of Florida. Working intensely with people over a three day period produces more breakthroughs...so I need to figure out where to get more magic beans!
I've decided teaching is my true passion, but I still write. I've published a chapbook of poetry called Impermanence about my mother's struggle with Alzheimer's disease and now I'm writing and directing plays. I love working with creative people, nothing gets me more excited.
Huge congratulations, Joyce! FL SCBWI is lucky to have such a dedicated member who has helped so many writers break into the business. Would you like to share a writing tip with all of us?
My best tip to all of you who write: I know the process is long and frustrating but you can't give up. All the published writers I know went through some kind of long, difficult struggle. But believe me, when you see your name on the cover of a book, it's all worthwhile.
- Current Mood: grateful