Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Old Rejection Slip

The kitchen table where I write.
I wanted to show the school kids I'll be talking to next month what a rejection slip looks like. While digging through all my old paper file folders to find an example, I realized that these little rectangles of paper are now probably relics of the past.

The usual rejection slip was mass-produced, with a message similar to this: "We regret that your manuscript does not suit our requirements at this time. That does not mean it is without merit. We wish you the best of luck in placing it with another publisher."

Occasionally, the slip would be a half-page, pre-printed with a check list of reasons for the rejection, and someone had taken the time to tick off all the boxes that applied to your submission.

The point I wanted to make to my young audience was that a rejection could be a good thing. Each time we got one we had another opportunity to take a new look at our work, to make revisions, and then to send it out to another publisher.  My first novel was rejected five times before it found a home with a publisher; another book was rejected a total of eleven times.

Today, a number of publishers have as part of their submission guidelines a note that if you don't hear from them in six months you know your manuscript was not what they were looking for. "Don't waste your money on a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE)," they advise. "Your manuscript won't be returned to you anyway. It will be recycled." That last sentence concerns me a little. I wish they'd said it would be shredded.

And here's another thing. If we can no longer collect rejection slips, what are we going to use to paper the outhouse? Oh, that's right; we don't have them anymore either.

Write on.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Going on an Artist Date

I've begun to make a list of places I might visit on an "artist date."

A new, independent coffee shop in town? A thrift store I've been avoiding but that I might be surprised to discover is filled with treasures? A matinee at a theatre that shows old movies?

Julia Cameron advises a weekly artist date in her book The Artist's Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Like the "morning pages" that I blogged about earlier, Cameron tells us the scheduled date is a commitment an artist needs to make to herself.

The artist date is a preplanned block of time set aside to nurture one's creativity, an excursion of some sort that the artist takes with no other company than her inner artist or "artist child."

The artist needs to refresh the artistic reservoir from time to time. "When we work at our art," Cameron writes, "we dip into the well of our experience and scoop out images." We need to put some fresh images back.

Cameron suggests that in filling the well, we need to think fun, think delight.

So, where should we go first, my artist child and I?
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

"And the Oscar goes to . . ."

Mary Pickford in Coquette, 1929.
February is "Oscar" month, so here's a bit of trivia about Mary Pickford's relationship to the Academy Awards.The Oscars took on a whole new significance for me when I began writing the biography of Mary Pickford.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began as an idea discussed over dinner with actor Conrad Nagel, director Fred Niblo, and producer Fred Beetson at the home of Louis B. Mayer, MGM studio chief.

Mary Pickford and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., became two of the founders of the organization. The Academy was officially announced at a gala banquet in Los Angeles in May 1927. Mary used to refer to the organization as "the motion picture league of nations."

The first-ever Oscar (as the awards were later dubbed) for Best Picture went to Wings, a silent film made in 1927. Co-starring in the movie were the "It" girl, Clara Bow, and Charles "Buddy" Rogers, who would within ten years become Mary's third husband.

The first Academy Award for an actress in a talkie went to . . .  ? You guessed it: Mary Pickford, in 1930 for Coquette. The film was the first talking picture made by a major star of the silent screen.

For more about Toronto-born Mary Pickford, the most important woman in the history of motion pictures, check out Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Literacy Day School Visit

I had a great time at a local school earlier this week when I was one of the presenters at Family Literacy Day. It was the first time the school had marked the day in this way, and they did a tremendous job of it. They combined the event with a two-day book fair, well-attended by both the students and their families. They were able to use the proceeds from the sale to help with the cost of all the other events they had planned for the day.

During the afternoon, the students were able to choose from a variety of literacy-based activities set up throughout the school. They could listen to stories, play board games, make a craft, assemble a wooden toy by following written instructions, or meet and talk to some real-live authors. Each student had a passport that was stamped when they arrived at their chosen destinations.

I had four groups of students come to my location, and judging from their smiling faces, they were enjoying their day. The display of all my books prompted immediate interest. Leaving time for questions and discussion at the end, I did a short reading from Growing Up Ivy. It seemed especially appropriate for Literacy Day. When 12-year-old Ivy meets her father for the first time, she is surprised to learn that he can neither read nor write. She decides that over the summer, while they travel the roads together in a horse-drawn caravan peddling shoes, she will teach him to read.

A lot of work went into making Family Literacy Day such a success, and I commend everyone involved. Thank you for including me in your event.

Till next time, keep reading and writing!