Taking Stock

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This blog post by Heather Ayris Burnell answered an important question: whether to submit a manuscript during the holidays. It also inspired me once again to focus simply on the joy of creating.

Sub It Club

True confessions. I started and restarted this blog post many, many, many times (and ate a lot of Christmas cookies in the process).

Should I offer practical advice, like whether to send submissions over the holidays? (The answer: Always send your work when ready. Agents–if they aren’t closed to submissions–often try to make inroads on their overflowing inboxes during the holiday slowdown.)

Should I provide tips on de-stressing while subbing over the holidays? (I offered such advice in last year’s post.)

Or should I just share what’s on my heart? Hmmmmm….

Here’s the thing: My family has a long-standing holiday tradition of trading newsy Christmas letters with more than a hundred family and friends scattered across the globe. Growing up in a military family, and then marrying into the military, I have friends, even in the age of Facebook, with whom I only touch base at the holidays.

So…

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Time for PitchWars 2018

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My name is Emily Damron-Cox, and I’ll be submitting my middle-grade manuscript to Pitchwars this year.

What is PitchWars?

In August, scores of hopeful writers pitch their completed manuscripts to author-mentors who help prepare them for an agent showcase. PitchWars provides an incredibly supportive community for writers. To find out more go to: http://pitchwars.org/new-start-here/

What is #BoostMyBio?

Many of this year’s PitchWars mentors trawl Twitter feeds for potential mentees. #BoostMyBio provides them with a taste of the upcoming projects–and for the writers who created them.

Presenting (drumroll…)

boy in black v neck shirt with looking straight to the camera with a shocking face expression

Photo by Mohamed Abdelgaffar on Pexels.com

 My Middle-Grade Fantasy, BROWNIES OF BROOKLYN

When 10-year-old Mac’s father is deployed overseas, Mac comes to live in Brownstone Brooklyn with relatives he’s never met. Here he discovers a whole world of magic, where mischievous sprites called Brownies exist, but so do terrifying demons that attach themselves to neighborhood bullies to assert their evil influence.

With Mac’s new friend’s father facing an unjust deportation, Mac, and his friends, Ali and Caity beg the Brownies to intervene. But even the Brownies’ help is not enough to save Mr. Kaouri. In this story of tolerance, friendship, and overcoming of obstacles, the three kids must learn to develop their magical powers so they can defeat the demons once and for all, and rescue Ali’s father before he’s sent back to his dangerous land.

Comps

At 74,000 words, BROWNIES OF BROOKLYN combines the magic of THE LOST HEIR by E.G. Foley with the intrigue and tone of K. Milford’s GREENGLASS HOUSE.

Writing Process

My greatest joy was watching a nine-year-old beta reader tear through an earlier draft of BROWNIES OF BROOKLYN in three sittings. Since then, I’ve worked with five skilled critique partners who have helped me hone plotting, character development, and overall craft.

After some great advice last fall, I cut a couple of subplots and 8,000 words from my story, but I need help determining how else to restructure. I’m passionate about getting this book into the hands of young readers, and I’d love to work with a mentor who believes in this project as much as I do.

About Me

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At a recent march for immigrants’ rights

I studied children’s book writing and illustrating at Parsons School of Design and am a member of SCBWI. With my military upbringing and as a practicing psychotherapist in Brooklyn, the issues facing both military and immigrant families have always been close to my heart…and now more than ever.

Juicy tidbits: I love to cook, eat, swim, and bike ride (especially in the morning or at sunset after a long writing session). My critique partners and I go on retreat to Cape Cod every summer, where, yes, we cook, eat, swim, bike ride, write, (and also dish about politics).

My favorite way to unwind is to watch comedy videos with my artist husband. I’m convinced that laughter is the very best way to end the day!

The dog character in my book is loosely based on Mindy, the Best-Dog-in-the-World, who now watches over us from Sirius, the dog star.

Some Favorite Books

Catch You Later, Traitor (Avi)

Dogsbody (D. Wynne Jones)

Fish in a Tree (L. Mullaly Hunt)

Girl With the Red Balloon (K. Locke)

Greenglass House (K. Milford)

The Hate U Give (A. Thomas)

Holding Court (K. C. Held)

Howl’s Moving Castle (D. Wynne Jones)

The Incorrible Children of Ashton Place (M. Wood)

Last Bus to Wisdom (I. Doig)

The Lost Heir (E. G. Foley)

Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble (A. Meriano)

Moon Over Manifest (C. Vanderpool)

Mysterious Benedict Society (T. Lee Stewart)

The Penderwicks (J. Birdsall)

Some Fun Facts about Brownies

In Celtic traditions, Brownies were wee men who appeared at night to help with unfinished chores while weary households slept. But they were also found in other cultures under different names and in various forms. Brownies inhabited the same liminal spaces as elves, leprechauns, gnomes, fairies, and sprites. (I’ve always wanted help while I slept, haven’t you?)

In the late-1880’s, author-illustrator Palmer Cox popularized the Brownies and turned them into a multi-cultural, egalitarian band of helpful and mischievous sprites. Cox’s books were translated into a score of languages and distributed to children around the world.

In Cox’s books, Brownies often spoke in rhymes. As a published poet, I’ve continued this tradition. Here’s one example:

 As elementals, many say we’re mischievous and full of play,

 But if an injury befalls we’ll end our games in Brownie halls,

 And rush to save whoever needs by harnessing our fastest steeds:

Shank’s mare and seagulls, dog, or seal, so speedily, we’ll dose and heal.

Some Creepy Facts About Demons

In my book, demons are the natural enemies of Brownies. They appear as toothy land or sea animals, and sport leathery bat-like wings, which enable them to menace Mac and his friends from the skies. The demons’ aim is to create chaos in the world–they are the ones behind all the wars. And they work on susceptible people to overpower and oppresss others.

The demons’ language takes the form of creepy rhymes. Here’s a snippet:

Smattering, chattering, Brownie dear,

We’ll wipe your mug from ear to ear,

 Boil your toes in a kettle drum,

 Gnaw your bones when we are done.

Me As a Mentee

I’ve gone through many drafts of this book (about 1,000 and counting??) cutting out characters, subplots, filtering lines, dialogue tags, you name it! My writing group will attest to my dedication, and to my commitment to making this manuscript the best, most publishable book possible. I would love, love, love! to work with a PitchWars mentor to make this dream come true!

A Spoonful of Metaphor

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20180214_154924.jpgAfter spending way too much time scrolling through social media, my mind closes down to metaphor to an alarming degree. Then, when I turn to my own poetry or prose, the same tired phrases and bedraggled clichés chase their tails around my head.

Is there any medicine for this modern malady besides unplugging all electronic devices and retreating into nature for months at a time?

Well…yes. I’ve discovered a powerful antidote: poetry. The very act of reading a poem–preferably out loud–throws open the windows of my mind. Curtains flutter at the window; imaginary landscapes draw into view; new ideas emerge and my creative self breathes again. Even my dreams contain more vivid and colorful imagery!

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Some years back, I heard U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins—great master of metaphor and whimsy that he is—read at the National Arts Club in NYC. Years later, one of his lines still lodged in my brain:

“…when we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world…”

Collins was referring to poetic metaphor, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall the poem or remember its name.

Luckily, when I put that line into a search, Voilà! the entire poem popped up! Eagerly I read…
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The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks….

–From Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, 2007.

My favorite use of metaphor sneaks up on me unawares, when one thing is described using the language of another. Here’s an example from Collins’s poem, “Shadow.”

“…how tired I am of reading and writing,

tired of watching all the dull, horse-drawn sentences

as they plough through fields of paper.

“…tired of being dragged on a leash of words

By an author I can never look up and see…”

–From Billy Collins, The Art of Drowning, 1995.

How well I can relate to these sentiments. And yet, after spending a few minutes chewing over some juicy metaphors—where poems multiply like baby rabbits or proliferate like guppies, and prose writing is likened to trudging carriage horses or reluctant dogs—when next I put fingers to keyboard, my writing executes joyful cartwheels in the cool grass, and I join those ranks of poets and writers who strive to compare everything in the world to everything else in the world.

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References:

Scholes, R. (1969). Elements of Poetry, Oxford University Press: NY, London, Toronto.

For access to thousands of poems: https://allpoetry.com/

 

How you keep your own poetry and prose vibrant and fresh?

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

I’d love to know what you think!

 

 

When Autumn Pivots into Winter

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20171117_093517.jpgAs October slides into November, pagans experience a thinning of the veil between this world and the next. That’s why Samhain or Halloween is full of ghosts and ghouls, witches, and warlocks—and why All Soul’s Day (Nov. 1st) and La Dia de Los Muertos (Nov. 5th) follow soon after.

What is the intersection between poetry and writing for children? To me, the underlying themes of life, death, and loss are the same. With its use of metaphor and rhythms, poetry telegraphs the deepest human emotions. It cuts through extraneous verbiage and gets to the heart of being human.

In my middle-grade fantasy WIP, poetry provides language for magical creatures—both demonic and benign. Helpful sprites speak in simple iambic tetrameter, while frightening demons express themselves in more complex, anapestic rhythms—reminiscent of the galloping beat used in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s, Moriturus, a poem about death.

Poetry with its compelling rhythms roots us in time, mimics the ticking of the clock, the pounding of the heart, the silence when a poem—or a life—ends. Children instinctively understand these rhythms. I include poetry in a blog about children’s book writing because it serves as the basis of my creativity, and fuels my prose.

A few years ago, a deadly October blizzard underscored the fragility of life and inspired the following poem. Last week, after returning from 70-degree days in Aqaba, Jordan to subfreezing weather in New York City, I revised Magnolia Leaves, which appeared on my blog: Poetry: Drinking from the Well. It seemed like a good time to revisit it.

 

Magnolia Leaves

 

Magnolia leaves clatter

like salad plates

onto bluestone walkways.

Chipped and brown,

the wreckage stacks up

while we wait for spring.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

Winter’s coming and Elizabeth

(our magnolia hybrid) shakes

her mustard yellow skirts,

bares her mouse-brown arms,

and folds her hands quietly.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Her bowl-like blossoms

(butter-yellow in April)

will unfold from tapered buds

the shape of paintbrushes.

Each branch’s tip unfurling,

like velvet origami:

tender, triumphant.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

In Buffalo, nine feet of snow fell

over three days. Twelve people died—

frozen in cars, or crushed

under buckled roofs.

Whole nursing homes evacuated.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Not everyone makes it to spring.

But I hope we do.

 

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A magnolia tree illustrates the uncertainty of life and death and the hoped-for rebirth of Spring. How do you deal with mortality? Are there particular metaphors you use to describe the cycle of life?

Please leave comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Ghosts and Ghouls: Why this Brooklyn neighborhood goes crazy for Halloween

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Every year, Park Slope goes nuts for Halloween. Residents decorate stoops and houses with pumpkins and ghosts, witches and ghouls–the half-dead and the haunted.

Thirty years ago, when I first moved to this neighborhood, I was struck by all the quirky, homespun Halloween decorations that sprang up like mushrooms in early October. My favorite decorations were always the ones that local residents dug out of their dark imaginations. Like Darth Vader draped over a gas lantern, its hollow eyes spookily glowing; and the handpainted tombstones in a front areaway announcing the death, resurrection, and final resting spot of its occupant.20171012_163817.jpg

This year, I thought some more about why Park Slope is so enamored of Halloween. To begin with, there’s the obvious presence of families and children, of artists, writers, and musicians; and the less obvious presence of Wiccans and clairvoyants and of longtime residents with memories stretching back generations. After living here long enough, I’ve heard tell of spirits that move among us. More sensitive neighbors have reported ghosts wandering bloodied and bandaged in Long Meadow, or staring ghoulishly at night from the top floor windows of Litchfield Villa.

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A cursory internet research on “Ghosts of Park Slope” confirmed what I’d already suspected. The casualties of war–both the Battle of Brooklyn fought on this soil, and the Civil War, which left many families grief-stricken when young sons were lost–may well account for both the ghostly activity in Park Slope and for our enduring fascination with Halloween in this Brooklyn neighborhood.

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How do you celebrate Halloween in your neighborhood?

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

Expect the Unexpected from Children’s Book Illustrator Tomi Ungerer

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IMG_20150506_050515.jpgIn the 1970s, talented French illustrator, Tomi Ungerer was living in New York City. I still remember his brilliantly funny ad campaign for the Village Voice: Expect the Unexpected. Ungerer’s posters featured images like a stork delivering a baby to an elderly couple—the man was wheelchair-bound. Another showed a bare-chested man wading in the ocean and holding an open-mouthed fish that was about to swallow a yellow submarine.

 

Tomi Ungerer was born in Strasbourg, France, during World War II—a traumatic childhood, to be sure. I know this experience shaped Ungerer’s artistic images and sensibility. There’s an edge to many of his works—even his children’s books, like No Kiss for Mother, which is full of dark humor and pathos. Ungerer was also known for the public relations campaign he did for his native city, wherein, he produced scores of startling images like the famous Strasbourg Cathedral turned upside down to form the heel of a fashionable shoe!

A few years ago, I spent an exhilarating hour at the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg, which, according to the website, opened in 2007 and houses 8,000 pieces of his work, including children’s books like Flix (cover art shown above), and Ungerer’s collection of antique mechanical children’s toys (below). IMG_20150506_050057.jpgThe museum, also known as Centre International de l’Illustration exhibits Ungerer’s erotic and semi-pornographic works like Kamasutra des Grenouilles (Frogs’ Kamasutra), as well as works by fellow illustrators Saul Steinberg, Ronald Searle, and André François.

 

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While majoring in Illustration at Parsons School of Design, I was a great admirer of Tomi Ungerer’s expressive line, his bold palette, and daring sense of humor. Expect the Unexpected pretty much sums up Ungerer’s entire oeuvre, and his illustrations still make me laugh!

Do you have a favorite illustrator who has captivated you? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Operation, Sloths, and Finding the Joy

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Amy Dixon shares both the heartache and joy of writing for children and reminds each of us to embrace our own path.

Sub It Club

operationWhen I was 8 years old, there was nothing I wanted more than the board game, OPERATION. It just looked so fun, with the tweezers and tiny organs, and the wonderfully startling BZZZZZZZ! that would happen when you made a mistake. I truly thought, that if I only had OPERATION, my life would be complete. On Christmas morning, I was thrilled to wake up and find it underneath the tree in all its red-nosed, anatomically-incorrect, naked-man glory. It only took a couple of times playing it to realize that it was much harder than it looked. Only the steadiest of hands could grab that miniature wishbone. And don’t get me started on the writer’s cramp. Impossible! The buzzing that looked so funny on the commercials quickly became annoying and tiresome. And, let’s be honest…a little bit hazardous! Were those actual electric shocks making my fingers tingle?

When we’re little, we…

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