Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Post - Jody Lamb

 Please welcome Jody Lamb
author of the new middle grade novel,

This is a guest post by Jody Lamb, author of the middle-grade novel Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool – which has been praised by the National Director of Children’s Programs at Betty Ford Center. Jody writes stories for the young in age and at heart. Luckily, she’s pretty much the same person today that she was at twelve years old. She’s a lifelong fan of middle-grade fiction. She is also a passionate advocate for kids with alcoholic loved ones, and she hopes her books generate greater discussion and awareness about coping with the effects of loved ones’ alcoholism. Check out her blog.


If you asked the eight-year-old version of me what I did every day after school, it’s unlikely I would have confessed.

Those were days of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog video games and my story writing didn’t seem so cool. Every day, I hurried through my homework for more time to write screenplays for my tiny toy animal families to act out in the elaborate village I created for them in my parents’ basement.

I loved the way I could solve problems for the families the way I wished I could for my own family. It shooed away the worry clouds that followed me throughout the day. Writing those stories gave me joy no video game win could ever provide me.

Alcoholism is a major problem for several of my loved ones in my large family. Growing up, I felt the detrimental effects of it very early on, and I thought this problem was unique to my family.

In high school, I stopped reading stories and swapped creative writing for journalism (because people told me I couldn’t make a living writing creatively). After earning a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University, I read books and research on alcoholism, addiction and its impact on families. I discovered that alcoholism is extremely common. An estimated 10 to 25 percent of kids in the U.S. have at least one alcohol-addicted parent. I found few contemporary, relatable books on the subject for tweens. That bothered me. A lot.

In the summer of 2009, I was 26 years old and in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. I had quickly moved up the corporate ladder in marketing and PR. My peers appeared to be settling into grownup life and letting dreams slip away – and were okay with it. I felt lost, longed for a sense of purpose and feared I was alone in my struggles with lack of satisfaction.

One day, someone told me I’d have to settle for life as it was because that’s what you do at that age. Get married already. Keep climbing the corporate ladder. Gear up for the next 30 years of your life. That’s what everyone does….

That weekend, I read my childhood diaries and cried over the grand plans I'd had for life in grownup land. I realized little kid me would be so disappointed! I was missing something. I missed me, the real me. I studied many grownups around me. I found that many of them are full of regrets and give up on dreams. They ignore their inner compass and their purpose. I discovered that they are stupid.

I didn’t want to be that kind of grownup, but I’d never felt so lost about changing my life. I was depressed with a pasted-on smile.

The only thing I could think to do to feel better was to write. Like I did as a girl. The next day I enrolled in a creative writing course at my local community college.

It was as fun as I remembered.

Quickly came a short story about a twelve-year-old girl’s step-by-step plan to make seventh grade awesome that’s derailed as she copes with and helps her depressed, alcoholic mother in a tiny lakeside town. My wonderful instructor and classmates encouraged me to keep going with it. I wanted to know what would happen to the characters, too!  

After every class, I sat in my car and carefully took in the hundreds of penciled corrections and kudos my instructor had written in margins.

Before long, I had a whole novel manuscript.

I quadrupled the number of books I read monthly, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, attended conferences and participated in workshops, joined critique groups with other middle-grade writers, networked, made friends with the most wonderfully sweet-souled authors and was a sponge to everything that would help me create a better story.

People told me that writing a novel is a waste of time because the odds of getting a book deal are so slim and it’s a game of luck.

I mustered up my courage and sent it out.

At a SCBWI conference, an editor said the manuscript may have been easily sold before the age of vampires and wizards, but the world today is different. Realistic fiction is hard to sell. They told me to change it. Completely. I politely thanked her for the advice and promptly went to my hotel room and cried.

I couldn’t change the novel. It’d lose its whole purpose.

It was the story I would have been moved by as a child. Writing that story was cathartic. I felt like me again for the first time in more than a decade. My relationship with my alcoholic loved ones dramatically improved. I began taking better care of myself. I smiled. A lot.

Over the next two and a half years, I wrote three more whole drafts, completed dozens of revisions in mini draft overhauls and participated in workshops.

It was rejected 30 times by agents and editors. It was so disappointing because I felt a sense of urgency in sharing the story.

Then I learned of a brand-new publisher – shockingly not far from my home in Michigan. The founder wrote that she wanted to do things differently than the big publishers. She said her love of good stories would always guide her decisions, not trends in the market.

She wasn’t interested in middle-grade fiction, though, so there’d be no point in sending her a query letter. I wanted to meet her anyway so I decided to write her a note, breaking every single query letter rule there is to break. I wrote the way I’d speak if I met her in person – friendly, casual and real. I wanted her to know me and know the story behind the story.

I explained how writing again helped me find my inner compass and my drive to help young people coping with the effects of loved ones’ alcoholism. I hope to inspire at least one kid the way I wish someone had for me.

Two weeks later, Jennifer Baum of Scribe Publishing Company, replied and requested the full manuscript. I figured she was just being polite. Three weeks later, she sent me a message in the wee hours of the morning. Though she hadn’t intended to publish children’s books, she loved the story – she laughed, she cried, she believed in the characters, she believed others would love the story, too, and she believed in me.

Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool is now available and I’m absolutely thrilled to share it with young people. It’s the story of 12-year-old girl Easter Ann Peters who has a plan—Operation Cool—to make her seventh grade year awesome and erase years of being known only as a quiet, straight-A student who can’t think of a comeback to her bully. When the confident new girl, Wreni, becomes her long-needed best friend, Easter lets her personality shine. The coolest guy in school takes a sudden interest. But as tough times at school fade away, so does a happy life at home. Easter’s mother is drinking a lot, and Easter works double overtime to keep their secret in the tiny lakeside town. Operation Cool derails, fast, and Easter must discover a solution. Told by the lovable Easter character, it’s a witty, tender and heartwarming story of friendship, fitting in, first crushes, family drama and hope.

I hope that young people will enjoy getting to know the Easter character and perhaps identify with her struggles at school and at home. I hope they’re moved by her determination and hope. For readers with alcoholics in their lives, I hope that they’re reminded that they are not alone and that they’re inspired by Easter’s discovery of the solution to improve her life situation. For readers who do not have alcoholics in their lives, I hope they’ll gain a more solid understanding of what alcoholism is, how it affects others and sensitivity to what their classmates, teammates and neighbors may be coping with at home.

Right now, my first young adult novel is in progress. Yes, Easter is in this story, because I wondered how she’s doing (and I missed her…you writers know what I’m talking about). I’m also currently writing proposals for several non-fiction books for kids related to coping when loved ones are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

If a kid ever says to me, “Hey, thanks for this,” well, those four words alone will be infinitely more meaningful to me than forty years of success in the business world.

And you, my fellow writers, write the story that you want to read. The world of publishing is rapidly evolving. The only thing you can control is your story. Pay more attention to your heart than what the publishing industry editors and agents say about what they’re looking for to be the next big hit. The best story is going to be the one you love. And of course, don’t ever give up. Make proud the little kid version of yourself, grownup you!

Like what Jody’s writing about? Support her and keep in touch through FacebookTwitter, and her blog. Learn more about Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool here. Jody hopes you’ll say hi. She loves meeting fellow story lovers! Have a tween (or tween-at-heart) in your life? Get them a copy of Easter Ann Peters' Operation Cool at Amazon or or your local bookseller. There’s also a Kindle edition.

If you believe there’s need for greater awareness about alcoholism or if you just like to spread the word about a good story, please consider spreading the word:

Here are sample Facebook posts or Tweets:

Check out recent reviews of Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool on Goodreads


Lenny Lee said...

hi miss shannon & miss jody! wow! what a cool story about how easter ann came alive in your book after such a long time. im glad you decided to write because i can feel how happy it makes you. i like your advice to be just who you are and write what you love and never give up. wow! how cool is that! for your book...sometimes its good to read real life stories and for sure that acoholic stuff is real.

...hugs from lenny

Old Kitty said...

I am so happy to have won your book over at Natalie Aguirre's blog and I cannot cannot wait to read it! thank you! take care

Kristin Lenz said...

Congratulations, Jody!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Congrats Jody! Loved hearing more what inspired you to write and that you stuck to the story. Good luck with it.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Jody, what an inspiring example of perseverance. So glad you didn't give up after those 30 rejections, but found the right publisher for your book.

Jody Lamb said...

Thank you so much for the kind words! I'm so excited!

Heather said...

"The only thing you can control is your story," I love that. Brilliantly said!

Angela Ackerman said...

What an incredibly inspiring and moving story! I am so happy you didn't give up on this heart story. I love this industry, but I think that in the river if financial and marketing decision making, sometimes publishers lose focus on the stories that are truly needed over ones that may be an easier sell because of entertainment value or wider appeal. Having your story out there will help kids, and I love hat!


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