By Trish Wilkinson
With academic demands ratcheting higher, stressing out children and their parents, seven years ago, I set out to write Grade by Grade: A Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—6. The book would be a What to Expect When You’re Expecting for elementary school.
I’d collected a boatload of convenient games for parents and children to play on car rides, at the doctor’s office, or in line at the grocery store at each grade level—activities to help kids thrive, whatever their learning environment.
But once I started sending out queries and talking to agents and publishers at conferences, the response was always the same:
“It’s a great idea, but parenting books written by teachers don’t sell well.”
It didn’t matter that I’m one of the few teachers who has taught all the grades, from kindergarten through sixth, so I could speak from experience. I didn’t have a PhD or several thousand blog followers, so the book wasn’t worth publishing.
My plastic file box, jammed with folders of notes, articles, research studies, and interviews, collected dust in our garage for three more years.
When our older daughter graduated from Cal Poly, and our younger daughter was in her senior year at Williams College, my husband and I decided to move to Bend, Oregon to put 94.9 Central Oregon Fox Sports Radio on the air. To make the move from San Diego, California, we threw out eighteen years of accumulated non-essentials—including my box full of research.
But no effort is wasted.
I often remind my clients of this. Our endeavors don’t always get rewarded in the time-frame we expect. Sometimes the skills we learn on a project apply to the next one that gets the results we’ve been seeking.
Shortly after my husband and I moved to Bend, I arranged for Howard Shulman to give a presentation on his book Running From the Mirror and to teach a workshop with me on how to write a memoir at the San Diego Southern California Writers’ Conference in February 2016. His publisher, Sandra, of Sandra Jonas Publishing in Boulder Colorado, called me to coordinate promotions for the book.
And the two of us hit it off.
Sandra is an incredibly conscientious, passionate hard-worker—like I am.
After the conference, we kept in contact, and she asked me to do a developmental edit for one of her authors. This author’s novel had a fabulous premise, but the story and characters needed fleshing out—which we did, and it’s awesome now!
Watermelon Snow by debut author William Lippett, an intriguing story of scientists, melting glaciers, catastrophic egos, treacherous journeys across the ice, and a bit of romantic tension, chock-full of suspense that’s sure to keep you turning pages, will be released in July 2017.
When wrapping up the edit for Watermelon Snow, Sandra mentioned one of her other authors, Jacqueline Frischknecht. Jackie was a PhD who’d done a ton of brain research related to how function and development affect children’s education. She wrote a manuscript called Boosting Brain Power: Leveraging Students’ Learning Abilities.
“What a fabulous idea!” I said and gave Sandra my one-sentence summary of the Grade by Grade project, so she would know I had the background to provide whatever help she might need.
Sadly, Jackie passed away while working to develop the manuscript for publication. The prose still needed focus, organization, and a friendlier tone.
Jackie’s dying wish had been to publish the book, and her family wanted to see that wish granted. Sandra asked me to read the manuscript to see if I could do a content edit that would: a) make Jackie’s writing sound more conversational, b) hone the focus, and c) flesh out the work to make the book user-friendly for parents and teachers. Excited to work with Sandra on another project, I told her I would be happy to read the manuscript and come up with a plan to get it in shape for publication.
Jackie’s research was excellent and her ideas empowering.
However, to make the book an effective resource, the material needed to be geared for parents or educators, not both. Experts all over the country train teachers to use brain research to drive curriculum, such as Dr. Eric Jenkins who has written many books for educators, Dr. Carol Dwek, and veteran teacher Pat Wolfe, so I told Sandra that Jackie’s work may best serve parents.
Still, to create such a manuscript, I would have to read more recent studies as brain development has been a hot topic over the last decade in the research community. I’d have to almost rewrite Jackie’s book to make it work.
“Would you mind sending me your Grade by Grade book proposal, so I can get an idea of what you’re talking about?” Sandra asked.
Although I’d tossed my magic box of research, the proposal had been saved on a flash drive, so I said, “Sure,” and attached the file to an email without much thought.
A week later, Sandra called and said she loved my book proposal: my voice, the grade-by-grade progression, how I present what will be expected of kids that year socially and academically, the games, the “Real Deal” (goofy true-life stories), the tips for everything from communicating with teachers to family organization to healthy snacks on the go…
And Sandra had sent the proposal to Jackie’s family. She asked them how they would feel about me co-writing the book with Jackie; that is, using Jackie’s brain research and ideas for capitalizing on current brain development and function to my grade by grade structure, integrating my information on social development, games, tips for organization, and all the rest.
Jackie’s family liked the idea and even paid me a stipend to work like crazy for five months (in the proposal, I’d given myself a year) to complete the manuscript. I mourned the loss of the box I’d thrown out in the move, but truthfully, the more recent interviews and research will better serve parents anyway.
THIS is the book that was meant to be published.
A Grade by Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5
by Jacqueline Frischknecht, Ph.D. and Trish Wilkinson
will be released in early March 2018.
Parents who have children at various grade levels are reading chapters to give feedback, and we’re fine-tuning the manuscript now. But mostly they say things like:
“I used to get annoyed with my daughter, but now that I know what’s going on in her brain, somehow the things she does are less frustrating. Our house is so much more relaxed than it was before I read that chapter.”
Soon I plan to launch a Brain Stages website where I’ll post videos of kids and parents playing some of the games in the book as well as all kinds of helpful hints for raising smart, happy kids, so stay tuned…
I’d say, “Wish us luck,” except there have been too many “coincidences” involved with this project.
Whatever your beliefs, providence or the cosmos, BRAIN STAGES: A Grade by Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5 was simply meant to be.
To celebrate the release of A CORNER OF HER HEART, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card. More about that later, but first, here’s a sneak peek inside the pages …
Monica lifted her head from the pillow. That was a mistake. Why did I order that third pitcher? Her head, heavier than a bowling ball, pounded as though she had used it to throw a strike. Voices seeped through her bedroom door. Joyful sounds of Brad and the boys playing. She licked her lips, hoping to get the saliva moving. No luck. Cotton balls would fall from her mouth at any moment.
She didn’t remember much after Kate brought her home, except Brad holding her hair while she hugged the toilet. Tequila is not my friend.
Monica forced herself up and reached for a water bottle Brad had left on her nightstand. She slowly sipped, listening to what sounded like…
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Hi there. Trish Wilkinson here, novelist, writing coach, freelance editor, and member of Page a Day Writers. Recently, I decided to post writing tools on my Write to Win! website using materials I present at workshops. I thought Page-a-Day readers might appreciate them as well. Below is the beginning of the outline author Howard Shulman and I used to teach workshops in February on writing memoir for San Diego Writers’ Ink and the Southern California Writers’ Conference. If you have questions or would like further assistance, send an email to Trish@write-to-win.com, and I’ll be happy to help.
The three things that will make your memoir successful:
- Write your story as the illustration of a universal theme
(what Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-standardized Text for Writing and Life(TMP), calls “The algorithm”, p.23)
Exercise 1: Write your own statement that describes your memoir below.
“This is a story about ____________________________ and the illustration is
Examples: – This is a story about the struggle for love and acceptance, and the illustration is Howard Shulman’s disfigurement as an infant and subsequent abandonment by his birth parents. Running from the Mirror
– This is a story about self-discovery, and the illustration is Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey choosing places to explore pleasure, spirituality and love. Eat, Pray, Love
– This is a story about emotional survival, and the illustration is Augusten Burroughs’s childhood, coping with his mother’s mental illness. Running with Scissors
– This is a story about love and loss, and the illustration is Nicholas Sparks’s relationships with his family members.Three Weeks with My Brother
Ask yourself: Who are you in your memoir? What is your position as the expert who has experienced your theme? What is your purpose; that is, what’s in it for the reader?
- Tell the truth (be real, for better or worse, because that’s what gives you credibility).
- In the revision phase, make every word/page drive your story forward in a context the reader can relate to (see hand out for the “how to” on “showing” vesrsu”telling”). If a sentence or scene doesn’t relate to your theme, leave it out.
“…when you have a flash of understanding on one topic, you can write an essay. Write an essay and you tackle a scene. Master the scene, and you can write seventy-five of them and have yourself a book. And here’s an unexpected dividend: Write a book about an aspect of your life, and you might gain perspective since … success in writing is all about which details you choose to emphasize.” (TMP, p. 34)
Click here for two more exercises, specific steps for revision once you’ve written your first draft, and concrete publishing options.
Do you wonder about the meaning or inspiration behind people’s tattoos? Mine are very significant to me, not to mention that I find them all very beautiful (and love the queries/compliments/comments that my anatomic human heart generates). Tattoos Day is celebrating poets and their ink via the Tattooed Poets Project.
Check it out here to read my poem “process aestivation.” You’ll find many other amazing poetic works and images featured on the site, too, so be sure to explore.
Thanks to Bill Cohen for featuring me and my work on the blog!
Creative folks know well that feeling of relieved disorientation that follows the conclusion of a project. For me, finishing a novel brings with it a period of rest and recuperation. The storm abates. We can rest in the lull before new waves build and crest to send us on another journey.
Right now, I’m in the lull. Recently, I finished the Gothic novel (The Book of Blood Magic) I’d been working on for the past three and a half years, packaged it up beautifully, and had it “blessed” by my energetically magical friend before sending it to my agent. It’s been close to three weeks since it left my hands, and I’m still kind of stumbling around, blinking in the sunlight as if I’d just left a movie theater in the middle of the day after completely losing myself in Story.
I have to stay busy, in the meantime. The waiting is the worst part. Is it readable? Saleable? Marketable? Who will buy?
The lull is admin time. I catch up on short story revisions, embark on a mad submission spree, researching lit magazines and sending in new work while it’s still fairly fresh and exciting to me. Fool around with my poetry. Touch up my website and CV. Stave off the looming finance/career paranoia and anxiety that dogs me, always. (I fear what I’ve termed Melville Syndrome*–experiencing a spate of successes but dying misunderstood, unread and labeled a literary crackpot, only to have my work become a classroom staple that inspires movies, an opera** and seeps into popular speech a century after my demise.) But mostly, I use the time to think. Which dormant project speaks to me with the loudest voice? Which seed will I water and nurture to fruition?
I’m finally ready to begin (again) writing the feminist Utopian novel that’s been simmering away on the back burner of my creative brain for many years, but it’s a complex project requiring much research. However, now is probably the perfect time to go back to the Ice Song series and resume work on the third and final installment now that I’ve settled on a title (Tattercoats). Hopefully, it’ll be quick and relatively fun, and I’ll likely self-publish this one (as I learned that most traditional publishers don’t want to pick up a single book from a series). It’ll be a loving labor, a tying of the bow.
Learning to navigate the lulls in our writing careers means being willing to be nonproductive, to honor the process of gestation as much as the conception and birth of our works. To endure the uncertainty of waiting, to appreciate the lessons learned and the risks taken in our latest project. It is a time of restoration and preparation; we strengthen ourselves for the work ahead. In the lull, we can anticipate the next phase of adventure, the certain successes and disappointments, secure in knowing that the quiet room in our heads, so recently vacated by our characters, will again entertain a party of strange and charming guests.
*Or worse, EA Poe. Dying penniless and ill in a gutter, only to have my work spawn an entire literary industry of hipsterish t-shirts, lunchboxes, household decor, ladies aprons, wall plaques, pillows, films, scads of reprints and spawn new fiction genres. Sure, it’s kind of awesome, but if it happens to me, I’d like to be around to enjoy it.
**I was terribly excited about attending a performance but drank too much wine beforehand and subsequently slept through most of the second half.