believing in magic

the breadth and delicate majesty of nature is magic
the writing and telling of stories is magic
the creating of art is magic
the giving and receiving of love is magic

this time of renewal and looking ahead is magic
this time of possibility and maybe is magic
this time of reflection is magic
this time of creation is magic

I believe in magic as I believe in hope
I believe in magic as I believe in a world greater than ourselves
I believe in magic as I believe in inspiration
I believe in magic as I believe in art sprung from imagination

I believe in the magic that infuses our dreams
I believe in the magic that forges human connections
I believe in the magic that carries us on our journeys
I believe in the magic that we share through ourselves

embrace your magic, and pass it on.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Lighting the Dark Corners

"And the world will still be imperfect, because men are imperfect. Good men will still be killed by bad, or sometimes by other good men, and there will still be pain and disease and famine, anger and hate. But if you work and care and are watchful, as we have tried to be for you, then in the long run the worse will never, ever, triumph over the better. And the gifts put into some men, that shine as bright as Eirias the sword, shall light the dark corners of life for all the rest, in so brave a world.” 
                                                                                                                                                                                                --Susan Cooper, SILVER ON THE TREE

Today is aftermath—the aftermath of the tragic, senseless shooting of children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut. We’ve all of us been delivered a tragic, senseless blow—yet one more act of darkness in a world where so many of us are try to keep lights lit even as we discover new shadows every day.

I can't think I'm alone in feeling ill-at-ease today, anxious, distracted; feeling I’m on the verge of hurtling down a hill, about to scream, about to rage—but I’m unable to focus, to do anything particular, to make any noise. Tears come for no reason—or, rather, for anger, for helplessness, for sharing in grief.

In my unrest, I find myself turning to this blog—to write. To write. To create something strong of myself and my heart that can’t be shot down, can’t be ripped apart or away, and that can help me to heal.  However we find ways to heal, we must—and in doing so, we create something precious for the world that might help to replace the precious the world’s lost. Write, paint, sing, dance, walk in nature, breathe deeply, and love fiercely. As we reach out to friends, to family, to others, so too must we reach inside to be gentle with ourselves. And we must remind ourselves we do carry the light necessary to light the dark corners, vanquishing one shadow at a time.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Bending in the Winds of Change

An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up, the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind.But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots.  -- Aesop

It goes without saying right now that it's a volatile time in publishing. With the news that Penguin and Random House are merging and the news that Harper and Simon & Schuster are in talks about merging, authors and illustrators are understandably nervous and apprehensive. The Big Six emerged as the largest leading publishing houses in the world, then there were five, now it looks like there will be four... and I can’t think it will stop there.

What I sincerely hope authors and illustrators will be willing and able to do during this uncomfortable time of wait-and-see is recognize and remember their value and worth as creative artists in this society—value and worth that exist independently of any publishing house; value and worth that will exist long after the large houses complete their awkward merger dances. To my mind, it's become a little too easy for publishing houses to convince authors and illustrators that their creative work is only worth something because the large publishing house is willing to publish it. The worth of creative work is far greater than that. And now may well be the time for authors and illustrators to take stock of what they do well, what they do best, and be open to all opportunities to share their work—be it through the new large houses or through the myriad of other avenues available these days for publishing our work, including smaller houses, independent houses, and more.

As mergers are rumored, speculated upon, and announced, it's critical to understand that it will be many months before things start to happen at these houses that will have a direct effect on authors and illustrators. And as we wait to see what happens, I hope people will take this time to gather information, ask questions, plan ahead, and remain flexible so they can bend as needed and be ready to readjust.  However, once things DO start to happen, such as evaluating the number of imprints, the amount of staff, and the projected incomes of divisions the combined company has, then it's likely to assume some forms of consolidation and reorganization will take place—and that will absolutely affect authors and artists at differing levels depending upon where the changes take place in the companies.  It's to be expected that the ride will get bumpier before it get smoother. And my advice right now to all the creative people potentially effected by these changes is to stay flexible, stay open minded, and continue paying attention to creating the best work you can. The playing field for authors and artists is actually widening, not shrinking, but it's going to require some new thinking and new approaches by authors, artists, agents, and publishers to see it that way. Fortitude and flexibility, my friends!

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Our Stories, Ourselves

The title of my blog is "Our Stories, Ourselves." I believe that who we are and how we live our lives informs the stories we create and the stories we tell. I believe that leading and living a creative life is at the heart of how we're able to create and share stories--stories about ourselves and stories about characters; stories about our world and stories about otherworlds. We are intertwined with and intersected by stories and it's a precious few who have the gift to give the gift of story to others.

I was reminded of all of this today when I read Crescent Dragonwagon's piece  in The Horn Book called "Over and Over." As much an author's examination of and rejoicing in the crafting of a beautiful, classic picture book, this is a daughter's examination of and rejoicing in a mother's career and the impending end of a beautiful, classic life. It's one and the same. So, I share this post here for others to be inspired--with the reminder to us all to embrace our own lives and embrace the lives of others by continuing to craft and share our stories.

http://www.hbook.com/2012/11/authors-illustrators/over-and-over/  zolotow overandover 222x300 Over and Over

--  The Horn Book, November 15, 2012

 (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc 


The Voice of our Art

An author recently expressed regret and concern to me that she'd stopped writing songs. A longtime songwriter, used to working with music producers and other musicians, this author hadn't written any new songs in quite a while and was wondering whether she was a fraud if she continued to define herself as a "songwriter" if she wasn't  performing at various gigs.  
"song writing" machine
designed by Oliver Jeffers

"Wait a minute! Here's the thing, though," I said to her after a moment. "You've spent the better part of the past two years writing an epic fantasy in which a girl writes songs as part of the journey she's on to find love and her place in the world, the journey she's on to find her true voice. You've been writing a story that's coming from the very same place from which you write your songs."

We got to talking about artistry and creativity, acknowledging that there are many forms of creative and artistic expression, all of which stem from essentially the same place...and in this author's case, writing a story about a girl seeking her voice and songwriting itself are so very closely intertwined in this author's own heart and craft that they just can't be considered separately.  The author is absolutely using many of the same artistic muscles to write her story as she uses to write songs--because she's a writer. Period. Performing songs for an audience becomes an essential goal for the songwriter and such performance can and does give some form of validity to the artist; so, too, does sharing a story with readers give the artist some form of validity. But what's critical for any artist to remember and embrace is that the crafting of the art itself can and does also validate the artist and the art.

To my mind, the bridges between and among writing, singing, painting, sculpting, and any other form of artistic expression are all forged from the same steel that is storytelling. In  whatever ways we craft, express, and share our art, we craft, express, and share our stories and ourselves. There are no frauds here.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Why Children's Publishing Needs Freelance Editors Now

"I’m one of a new sort of unaffiliated editor available to the children’s book 
industry, with allegiance only to the best practices involved in 
creating and offering the best books for children."

Throughout the earth’s history tectonic plates have either fused onto other plates to form larger plates, rifted into smaller plates, or been crushed by or subducted under other plates — or indeed have done all three. As we ride the rifting, drifting and shifting tectonic (or ought we to call them tech-tonic?) plates of the publishing landscape, there’s been some notable transformations taking place among many editors in the children’s book industry. As more editors are leaving long-time positions with companies, due to budgetary lay-offs, burn-out or life changes of various kinds, we’ve witnessed a rise in the number of highly skilled freelance editors available to the writing population.

As one of these editors, freelance after 25 years with various companies, what impresses me is not just that there are so many of us out there, but how extremely busy we are and how varied our work has become. We’re in high demand right now for a myriad of reasons that go far beyond book doctoring and editorial guidance.

I’m being hired by authors at the beginning of their careers who know they need to polish their work before it can be represented or sold; by authors (both agented and unagented) in the middle of their careers who are struggling to stay relevant and marketable and want a new career strategy; by agents seeking an impartial perspective on the changing marketplace; by publishers in need of concentrated editorial support for an intense project because they don’t have editors available; by editors craving advice about best practices and some form of mentorship because publishing houses don’t put stock in the value of mentoring as they once did; by authors weighing publishing options — from self to indie to “legacy” — in need of help to make smart decisions for their work and their goals; by start-up e-book and/or app publishers who want expert input about the content and the market; by a library exploring how they might become a publisher for local writers; by a major book review source interested in hearing about the digital marketplace.
My skills as a former publisher are informing my freelance work just as much as my editorial skills right now — and to be of service to this array of clients, I’ve found it necessary (and interesting!) to stay informed and abreast of the myriad of options authors and illustrators have (traditional, digital and otherwise). The result is that I no longer bill myself as just an editor, but rather an editorial and publishing consultant.
I suppose I ought not to be surprised by any of this — overworked editors are being reprimanded by their companies for “wasting too much time editing books” (an exact quote, I promise!); agents are grappling with manuscripts that editors won’t acquire unless they’re nearly print-ready and they don’t have time to research all of the possible indie, small venues and platforms that could offer the best publishing experiences for their clients. So many companies affiliated with children’s publishing are scrambling to incorporate bits of the new with the old; many individuals at these companies, though, are unable to focus and just don’t have time to adapt new skills or process all the input, to pay attention to what’s going on in the digital arena, to explore new options, to experiment — they’re turning to anyone who has some breadth of knowledge of the business as well as some handle on what the shifting of the plates might mean for the future, and they’re looking outside of any one company or organization, into the rich fields of the freelancer.
The word freelance comes from the knights whose lances were free for hire, and originally meant a free companion or person free of occupational or political party obligation or allegiance. I’m one of a new sort of unaffiliated editor available to the children’s book industry, with allegiance only to the best practices involved in creating and offering the best books for children. As I edit, I do so wholly and completely, without distraction by corporate initiatives, meetings, P&Ls and mandates, thereby providing an author or illustrator a more in-depth and pure assessment of their work, craft and process. At the same time, I also provide a market view not colored by any one company, but that encompasses a far broader perspective. Such services, I find, are not only providing authors, illustrators, agents and other industry clients support and guidance, but information and perspective, all of which seem to be in somewhat spare supply in the current upheavals of the business. 
What’s not changed, and this seems to me to be at the heart of what’s driving the freelance editor’s and/or consultant’s business right now, is the importance of story. Our industry’s story is undergoing some major revision right now and it’s not going to be finalized any time soon, if ever. Our own life stories change every day, leading us down paths we may not have expected. Where books — delivered by any means, on any platform — fit into all of this, particularly for young readers, is to provide us with whatever we need to feel moved, entertained, not so alone, empathetic, hopeful, engaged and better equipped to face the journey.

The Latin verb root of the word “editor” is edere — to bring forth, to bring about. It strikes me that it’s perhaps this new crop of editors of which I’m so proud to be a part — the editorial and publishing consultants whose allegiance is only to story, who are poised to truly fulfill the mandates of bringing forth, bringing about; while helping to bring forth the story editorially, simultaneously bringing forth clarification, information and guidance on a broader scale; while assisting in bringing about the story, also assisting in the bringing about of change.
This editorial by Emma D. Dryden was first published 07/20/12 in PublishingPerspectives, an online journal of international book publishing news and opinion. With correspondents around the world, Publishing Perspectives provides personal stories and analysis from those on the cutting edge of digital, global, and self-publishing.
(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Staying on the Road: 7 Tips for Authors & Illustrators

I was asked recently by my colleagues in the SCBWI-Oregon region to share some inspirational thoughts for authors and illustrators. I am happy to share these remarks with a wider audience:


Read.  Read as much and as often as you can. Read books within the genre and style in which you write.  Read books in genres and styles with which you’re less comfortable. Read aloud – from books you love, from books you don’t love, and from your own work – to learn about voice and narrative flow. Read in order to become a stronger writer.

Explore & Expand. Explore all options for yourself as a writer or illustrator—explore creative options and publishing options. Expand your thinking as a creative person to try new styles in your own work. Explore new avenues for the exchange of ideas and for inspiration, be it through social networking, critique groups, conferences. Expand yourself and expand your art – try something you’ve never tried before in your writing or artwork.

Adapt. Adapt to change. The creative environment and the publishing environment are underdoing significant changes right now and it’s critical to remain as adaptable as possible. Be flexible and open to new ideas, new strategies, and new business models.  Be flexible and open to new approaches to your own work. Adapting to the new environments in which we live and work doesn’t mean giving up any creative instincts; rather, it means expanding the possibilities for yourself and your work.

Diligence. Be diligent with your craft. Practice. Write and rewrite. Sketch and re-sketch. Be as diligent with revision as you are with the first draft of anything you create. And be diligent as the marketplace throws up its barriers: if you get rejected, keep sending out your work; if you get feeback, revise; if you have questions, take time to figure out the answers.

Invest. Invest in your work and in yourself. Figure out what you’re willing to invest in your craft and recognize it as an investment in your future, your career, and your confidence. Investment can be many things: saving up to attend a conference or two throughout the year; working with a freelance editor and designer to ready your work before you submit or self-publish; taking the time to research the marketplace, agents, and publishing options.

Network. Create a network that supports and inspires you. Never before have authors and illustrators had so many opportunities to make contact with each other, with colleagues, and with their audience. Take advantage of the various ways in which social media can expand your reach, your “platform,” and your knowledge. You don’t have to be everywhere in the social network, but it makes sense to be somewhere and to participate in conversations with people whom you might not otherwise meet.

Goals. Set yourself goals that make sense for where you are in your own process. Allow your goals to develop and change as you develop and change, as your work develops and changes. Set manageable goals that you can reach, so you feel good about your progress—and set some goals that are huge, that may feel a little scary, so you can push yourself further and deeper. Goals are met when we’re ready to meet them. Goals are set to inspire us to stay on the road.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc.  First printed in SCBWI Oregon's NewsWorthy, July-August 2012 edition.


What If?

When a door closes, a window opens.  I cannot count the number of times this phrase has come up in conversation recently with clients, friends, and family.  And it's gotten me thinking...based on a myriad of unexpected events that have occurred in my own life and career over the past eight years and seeing where I am now, I've become thoroughly convinced that things do happen for a reason. 

In no way are we necessarily prepared for what it means to have a door closed on us or in our face, nor do we necessarily understand the reasons or see the "good" in certain things as they are happening to us in the moment in which they're happening, often painfully, often brutally. But as we allow ourselves to keep going and weather the changes, as we find whatever it is we need to regroup and breathe again, ultimately an unexpected conversation or an unexpected connection can suddenly turn things around in completely new directions for us. We're surprised, we're tested, we're unsure -- and we find strengths and ideas in ourselves we didn't know we had.  Moving through shadow to light can be strange, it can be exciting -- and I've found that we  need to keep ourselves as open to the What if?s as best we can because the results can be spectacular!

Windows open; look out and let life in!

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Below the Surface

They say only 10% of an iceberg floats on the surface of the ocean while 90% of that iceberg exists under the sea. They say the surface area of a tree’s root system below the earth can be three times the size of the crown far above.  

The enormity and the complexity of all that’s going on below the surface of sea and soil to keep the iceberg afloat and the tree upright are hard to comprehend, and at the same time are essential to the iceberg’s and the tree’s magnificence and survival.

It seems to me that just like the iceberg and the tree, we're reliant upon remarkably complex systems below our surfaces to hold us up, keep us balanced, keep us alive.  The anatomical aspects of ourselves are a marvel, but what I'm wondering at right now are the enormous and complex systems of emotions, values, impressions, beliefs, and desires below our surfaces that are essential to our magnificence and survival as individuals. And when it comes to imagining and writing characters for our stories, it’s what lies below the surface of our characters that is often the most difficult to decipher and express—and the most crucial to figure out.

An iceberg is made almost entirely of fresh water; as it melts, its center of gravity can change, causing it to roll over and settle in a new position with a new center of gravity. Even in winter, when the portion of a tree that’s above ground appears to be dead, the root system far below the soil is coursing with life and vitality, readying the sap to flow and the tree to bloom come spring.

What is it deep within our characters that keeps them buoyant? That keeps them brave in the face of disaster? That keeps them flexible in a hurricane? That keeps them afloat in a storm?  What is the complex root system or center of gravity that keeps our characters from toppling? And if that which our characters are up against becomes too great to withstand, what is it that suddenly becomes exposed, is unexpectedly revealed, that cries out for comfort or healing? And what happens if all that's exposed of our characters' undersides can’t be healed? To figure out the answers to these questions, we need look no farther than ourselves—delve below the surface to explore what it takes for us to withstand physical, emotional, and psychological storms; what it takes to right ourselves when we topple; what it takes for us to shift our centers of gravity or bloom again; what it takes for us to keep going even if we're thrown off our axis, even if our very roots are exposed. 

I’m inspired by the poetry of Marge Piercy in her “The seven of pentacles” (Circles on the Water): “Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground. / You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.” The more we’re willing to explore and trust what lies below the surface of our characters, the more resonant stories we will write. The more we’re willing to explore and trust what lies below the surface of ourselves, the more resonant lives we will live. 

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Releasing the Safety Harness

I had the pleasure of listening to John Irving read from and discuss his new novel, IN ONE PERSON, last weekend. I’ve been a long-time fan of Irving’s books—I love his stories and his characters—and it was a treat to see him in person and hear quite a bit about his craft, his process, and his thoughts on writing.  Questions were posed to Irving prior to his talk, so he had time to prepare answers and the final question of the evening was, “What’s the one worst and one best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten and/or can give to other writers.”

In Irving’s opinion, the worst piece of advice for fiction writers is “Write what you know.” Well, as an editor who has time and time again encouraged writers to write what they know, I was taken aback and on the verge of shaking my head in disbelief—until Irving explained himself. Boldly using Hemingway as an example, Irving cited authors who write only characters who are living the life the author has lived, characters who experience only those emotions and feelings the author has felt—and no more; in Irving’s opinion to write only what one knows is boring for the author and therefore going to be boring for the reader.   Whatever one thinks of Hemingway doesn’t matter—though for the record, I will just say I appreciate Hemingway because his stories put me into places and characters so far from what I know. Note, however, I say I “appreciate” Hemingway, which is far different from saying I love Hemingway.  I realized during Irving’s remarks that’s there’s indeed a subtle and significant difference between writing what one knows and writing from what one knows. It’s safe to create characters who mimic our own emotional, psychological, and physical experiences; it’s safe to write characters who have had the childhood we had, who have held the same jobs we have, who like what we like, who feel and express and respond exactly as we do; it’s safe to write characters whom we can predict, whom we know inside and out—because they are us. And, yes, I suspect that if we take a moment to think about it, this kind of writing can be boring—and if it’s boring for the writer, it will be boring for the reader.   Writing from what we know, though, is an entirely different matter—we certainly start with who we are, what we do, what we like, what we feel, but then we dare to change it up, we shake it up, we add to it, we mold it, we ask “What if…?” and we fictionalize—and as we do so, we become more interested in the stories and characters we’re creating because they’re not predictable, they’re not pre-scripted or pre-scribed, they’re fluid, they’re taking us on a journey as much as we’re taking them on a journey.

And then, Irving shared what he feels is the best advice he’s been given and he can share with writers—he quoted Herman Melville, “Woe to him who seeks to please rather than appall.”  The meanings and definitions of this statement are manifold. And it’s more than just a statement; it’s really a dare to writers and livers of life, isn’t it? Daring us to not play it safe, daring us to push the boundaries, and daring us, finally, to appall.  As he shared with us how he’s applied and continues to apply Melville’s dare to his own books, Irving made clear he feels less concerned about writing to appall the reader than writing to appall himself with his story and characters. “Writers,” he said, “you need to know what is going to appall you about your novel. What are you dreading to write? What’s the inevitable scene that you are dreading; that you know will upset you; that you know you will wrestle with the most? That’s what you need to know is coming and you have to write it.” I must admit, when Irving said this, it sent shivers through me as a writer, as an editor, and as a reader!  Taking the leap. Facing the fear.  Braving the dark. Coming through the horror.  What will appall the storyteller is exactly that which will appall the reader. And the ways in which the storyteller crafts their words to gain control, mastery, and peace over that which appalls is exactly that which will allow the reader to keep reading—emboldening the reader with hope and confidence to control, master, and eventually come to peace with all that appalls in the story—and ultimately in the world. 

What is the worst thing that could happen to your characters or the toughest challenges that could be faced by your characters?  We often refer to these sorts of things as the high stakes in our work—and for the most part, the higher the stakes, the greater the reader’s investment in the story and the character. In order to determine the highest stakes for our characters, we need to move far from what we know to that unknown territory of “What if?” We will imagine, we will suppose, we will research, we will learn something new, we will allow ourselves to stray from what we know in order to appall—ourselves and our readers.  And we will know we can do it because we’re writers—because we have the skills not just to write it, but to write it and make it alright, make it make sense, make it fit into the world. It is indeed by appalling that writers expand themselves and expand us so what we know becomes that much greater.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC