Long before COVID-19 was on our radar, back when we were only worried about the common cold, I had a fabulous visit with the Cottage Street Elementary School in Sharon for World Read Aloud Day (February 5, 2020). What amazed me, as always, was how deep and real and fabulous the students’ questions were about my picture books. These First Graders and Kindergarteners were such discerning readers, asking all sorts of questions about writing and dragons. If all goes well, I will venture back to their school in April to create a few Double Happiness poems.
November 16th, NCTE 18, Houston TX 12:30-1:45 pm, presenting on a panel “The Power of Quiet: Helping Introverts (Quietly) Speak Up” with four other awesome authors: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Erin Entrada Kelly, Nancy Tupper Ling, and Tamara Smith. 3:30 pm, Signing at the Penguin Booth on the exhibit floor.
November 24th, Book Signing, Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MA
Funny thing! My Dad told me this a lot growing up: “Go ahead! It never hurts to ask!” As a shy child, I wasn’t so sure. Secretly I hoped things would work out on their own so I wouldn’t need to say a word. Requesting information, like “how much does that movie cost” or “where do you shelve the toilet paper,” took a monumental dose of bravery on my part. I am the model child for Susan Cain’s book Quiet.
Whether we like it or not, life provides opportunities to stretch ourselves, even on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t stick my head into books all the time as a librarian. I am called to be social and help our patrons. Likewise a big part of my day is spent answering patrons’ questions, which means asking a few of my own. And, as I’ve discovered, asking the right question at the right time can sometimes bring surprising results.
Case in point, several years ago I asked a question that changed my life. For years I’d submitted my poetry to June Cotner’s anthologies. When several of my poems first appeared in Baby Blessings, I was over the moon. After that first acceptance, June and I began corresponding regularly and she soon became my mentor in so many ways.
Then in the summer of 2012 I discovered I’d be heading from Boston to Seattle for a writer’s retreat. At last June and I were to meet in person!
Before my trip June happened to mention that she was overwhelmed with work because her assistant had recently moved away. Without hesitation, I asked the simplest of questions: “June, is there any little thing I can do to help you from the East Coast?” I thought I might assist her by reading a few of the many submissions she receives regularly.
I was completely shocked by her answer. “Well Nancy, how would you like to coauthor a book together?”
I don’t think anything could have knocked my socks off more. I could barely reply with a “Wow!” and a “Really?” and yet my travels to Seattle began a new phase in our relationship. We were becoming coauthors! Of course, that initial question was followed by many more. What project should we work on first? How should I gather entries to our anthology? Who would we submit our proposal to?
As it turns out, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion was our first book together. June graciously walked me through every step of the way. While I’d written poetry and children’s books before, this was a whole new experience for me. I had so much to learn. What am I talking about? I am still learning.
This New Year’s Day we signed a contract with Andrews McMeel for our second co-authored book entitled Family Celebrations, and thanks to the fabulous work of our agent, Anne Marie O’Farrell (Marcil-O’Farrell Literary LLC), we are excited to say our first children’s anthology, For Every Little Thing, has been accepted by Eerdman’s Publishing. On top of that, we have co-authored a children’s manuscript called Be Creative that my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) is shopping around.
Yes, I have to say, I find that I am pinching myself on a regular basis these days. Could this all be real? It is hard to believe this long and winding road to publication is part of this shy girl’s journey. To think it all began with a question, or maybe two or three. What do you think about that?
Well, how about them apples? Actually, in this case I should say, “How about them boxes?” Thanks to the ingenious Kirsten Cappy and her Curious City, I now have a beautiful activity kit to go along with my book, Double Happiness (Chronicle Books). You may link to it here, or find it under the Educational Programs. I hope teachers and librarians use this activity to create poetry with their young readers. Best!
I read a story today in the Boston Herald about a 14 year old girl named Justine Williams. She is a cancer survivor. She is also a survivor of horrific bullying which she had to endure while going through her cancer treatments. I can’t think of anything more vile than a person preying on another human being while they are enduring a life and death situation. It’s unthinkable, and yet this is evil if ever I saw it.
It reminded me of Phoebe Prince, a kind-hearted girl who committed suicide over a year ago after being subjected to such cruel bullying. Shortly after her death I wrote this poem. To those who tormented her, and to all those who think bullying is an option, it’s not.
(for Phoebe Prince)
So you welcomed her—
the new girl from County Clare,
taught her how little things—
wide smile, plaid scarf,
Irish lilt—keep a girl down,
never mind an untouchable who steals
the heart of your star line man.
There’s no room for a swan
in a piranha pool, and so
you strip her flesh with lies,
tear her face from a class photo,
submerge her under your words.
Irish slut . . . skirt’s too short . . . hair’s too curly.
We couldn’t have asked for a better reception and a more orchestrated event. Thanks to my childhood friend, Carolyn Boulay, a librarian at Tunxis Community College, we had a fabulous reading. The night was entitled “A Celebration of Womanhood.” The evening opened with an hour of music by Debbie Rossel, a local singer/songwriter whose music is rooted in acoustic folk rock and rhythm and blues. Keep an eye out for her upcoming full-length album.
Then the Fine Line Poets followed her. We had five poets: Virginia Bradley, Jean Tupper, Marcia Szymanski, JoAnne Preiser and me. We like Carolyn’s description of us as an “all-women poetry troupe.” Many thanks to some of my longtime friends, especially Barbara Newsheller, Carla Gregory and Joan Jannace, who ventured out for a Thursday evening event.
And we also thank the Tunxis Library and the Celebration of Womanhood Club. Hope to see you all again next year!
Soon, the readings will be posted to this link (not that we really want to see ourselves reading):