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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Windward into Revision

A sail­boat viewed from Only House, Mar­garet Wise Brown’s haven on Vinal­haven Island, Maine

In August 2016, I trav­eled to Vinal­haven Island off the coast of Maine to par­tic­i­pate in a week-long fes­ti­val hon­or­ing for­mer res­i­dent Mar­garet Wise Brown. I gave a talk one evening, and, most fun of all, led a work­shop in which atten­dees penned poet­ry and even a pic­ture book in Margaret’s lyri­cal style. Back home again, I wrote about my island expe­ri­ence and my per­son­al con­nec­tion to Mar­garet in a Knock Knock essay pub­lished last August, “Bor­rowed Mag­ic.”

I’d been work­ing on a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy of MWB for thir­teen years, research­ing, writ­ing, revis­ing, trav­el­ing, sub­mit­ting, get­ting reject­ed, revis­ing, revis­ing, revis­ing. I’d gone through every stage in the writ­ing process: full steam ahead, tack­ing to keep my sails filled, sit­ting in dead calm, and final­ly, a bust­ed rud­der. 

At what point do we give up on a man­u­script? How many rejec­tions do we col­lect before we con­sid­er the book a fail­ure? 

As I was plan­ning the trip to Maine, I knew Mar­garet and I were so over. I still loved and admired her, but I need­ed to put this project in dry­dock. I’d told her sto­ry from sev­er­al points of view—Margaret her­self, her dog, her pot­ted plant, and even her books. None of them worked. Yet as I was pack­ing T-shirts and sun­screen, I decid­ed to revise one more time. 

Awakened by the MoonOn Vinal­haven, I ate lob­ster and ice cream, read, stared at the water, and scrib­bled in a note­book. I’d delib­er­ate­ly left research mate­ri­als at home, bring­ing only the last ver­sion of my man­u­script and Leonard Marcus’s Mar­garet Wise Brown: Awak­ened by the Moon. But a new “way in” elud­ed me. While tour­ing Margaret’s sum­mer home, Only House, I watched a sail­boat arrow down the bay. Mar­garet wrote that way, for­ward-mov­ing, effort­less as a feath­er. Why couldn’t I?

One morn­ing at a read-aloud event, an elder­ly man recount­ed a sur­pris­ing anec­dote about Mar­garet. I laughed and said to myself, “Only Mar­garet!” Sud­den­ly I was wind­ward again. 

I spent Sep­tem­ber writ­ing the new ver­sion of my book, then sent it off to my agent who declared it “Gor­geous!” She was the only one who felt that way, it seemed. Rejec­tions poured in. Some edi­tors asked me to revise heav­i­ly. One edi­tor, who’d seen a ver­sion of the man­u­script years before, advised me to return to the style she’d reject­ed in 2008! 

The cal­en­dar changed. Four­teen years on a sin­gle project. Did I waste all that time? No. My jour­ney with Mar­garet has been price­less. I learned more about an incred­i­bly influ­en­tial writer … and about myself. 

One after­noon this past May, my agent called. She asked if I was sit­ting down. I was deep in work and bare­ly pay­ing atten­tion when she said, “We have an offer on Mar­garet.” What?!? I had to lie down. Kath­leen Merz of Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers want­ed to acquire my man­u­script, Only Mar­garet: A Sto­ry about Mar­garet Wise Brown.

At first, the news felt like final­ly being able to stop hit­ting myself in the head with a ham­mer. Then it seemed like a dream. Did I real­ly get that call?

Yep. 

At what point do we give up on a project? When do we quit revis­ing? Those are ques­tions only we can answer. I’m glad I tried once more. I can’t wait to work with my edi­tor on Only Mar­garet, to have fresh wind at my back, and expert direc­tion.

2 Responses to Windward into Revision

  1. Pragmatic Mom February 10, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

    Con­grats! 14 years is quite a jour­ney but I can’t wait to read your book. Thanks for shar­ing your sto­ry. It inspires new­bie writ­ers like myself.

  2. Cynthia February 11, 2018 at 11:43 am #

    Eerd­mans will cre­ate a beau­ti­ful book with you. I can’t wait to read it.

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