Tag Archives: Rubin Pfeffer


LoonSong facilityThe autumn air, the stillness of the water, the cry of the loon. If you long for time away from your daily grind, for days nestled in a quiet spot with beautiful views and inspirational people, a time to write and think, dream and learn, come join us at LoonSong!

Be part of our inaugural retreat for children’s authors who are serious about their writing. Come listen to award-winning writers talk about their process; hear what’s happening in the children’s book market and network with people who can help you grow your career; join in discussions about craft and business; participate in informal critique groups; take time for yourself and your writing. All among the towering pines and graceful birches along the shores of Elbow Lake.

This retreat is for you! A rich smorgasbord. Select the options that meet your needs—lectures, small workshops, consultations—or retreat to your beautiful lodgings to write and dream.  Connect with an editor, an agent, marketers. Enjoy pontoon rides on the lake with your fellow writers. Gather around bonfires.

Check out the schedule and sign up today. LoonSong will give you what you need: time, expertise, and inspiration.

The place, Elbow Lake Lodge in the pristine Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. The nearest town is Cook. Commercial shuttle service to Duluth is available from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and LoonSong offers a shuttle from Duluth where you can begin to meet your fellow participants. Or you can arrive in your own car.

(I know when I’m considering travel to out-of-the-way places, before I can begin to dream I need to set aside any anxiety about getting there. We’ll take care of you!)

The faculty are writers Katherine Paterson, William Alexander, Kathi Appelt, Kekla Magoon, and me (Marion Dane Bauer).

Steve and Vicki Palmquist of Winding Oak will present on marketing and provide individual marketing consultations.

Rubin Pfeffer is our agent. (He happens to be my agent and he’s extraordinary.)  You can pitch your work to him in an individual session.

And now we can announce that we have an editor on board, Yolanda Scott, Editorial Director at Charlesbridge. As well as hearing her speak and having both Yolanda and Rubin present at readings, ten lucky folks to be chosen at random can have an individual consult with this exceptional editor. (Check the LoonSong website for details)

LoonSong is a collaboration with Vermont College of Fine Arts, so if you are interested in gathering information about the oldest and most prestigious MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in the country, that will be available, too. All the writing faculty are connected with VCFA, Katherine on the Board of Trustees, the rest of us current or former faculty. And the retreat is designed by Debby Dahl Edwardson and Jane Buchanan, VCFA grads, and by me.

LoonSongLoonSong will be a boutique experience, intimate, nurturing, relaxing, inspiring. And there are a few spots still open.

Sign up and come join us, September 8th through the 12th, 2016. This will be the first of what we hope will be a long and rich tradition.

I would love to see you there!




LoonSongWriters need other writers. At every stage of a career.

The newbie dipping a toe into the icy water of agents and editors and contracts and marketing plans and publication.

The just-on-the-edge-of-success writer who has had one-too-many encouraging notes from editors and too few contracts in hand.

The mid-career pro who needs to step for a moment outside the isolation of the work, to create, connect, discover.

The long-time writer who simply wants to be with others who share the vision, to be renewed.

A couple of autumns ago, two Vermont College of Fine Arts alumni of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Debby Dahl Edwardson and Jane Buchanan, and I, a retired faculty member from VCFA, gathered in Debby’s cabin on an island in a lake in northern Minnesota. We went there to dream of a retreat for writers for children and young adults, those just starting out and seeking information and encouragement and those long established and looking for a community of their peers. We knew that given a long weekend in this breathtaking wilderness we could nurture one another. And that is how LoonSong came into being.

Now the dream has come to fruition. The first LoonSong retreat will gather from September 8th through the 12th, 2016. It will have riches to offer for children’s and young-adult writers at every stage of their careers. And we will meet, not in a rustic island cabin, but in Elbow Lake Lodge, a gorgeous, lake-side resort.

Here are the outstanding faculty who have agreed to join us:

William Alexander writes science fiction and fantasy for middle grade audiences. His novels include the National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets and the Eleanor Cameron Award-winning Ambassador.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, and many, many fun and rollicking picture books.

Kekla Magoon is the author of young adult novels including The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination, and X: A Novel, which was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2015. She also writes nonfiction on historical topics, including Today the World Is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration, 1957 and the forthcoming PANTHERS! The History and Legacy of the Black Panther Party in America.

Oh . . . and me. I’m on the faculty, too. (You can check my credentials if you like.)

And believe it or not, Katherine Paterson, our first National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, twice Newbery Medalist, named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, will be our keynote speaker!

Extraordinary literary agent Rubin Pfeffer will be there, and since he’s my agent, I can promise that he is truly extraordinary.

An editor, yet to be named, probably someone who works with one of the faculty so you’ll be able to see them interact, will be there, too.

Vicki and Steve Palmquist of Winding Oak, the folks who manage this web site and market all my books and do the same for many other writers for young people, will be there to teach us about marketing and to give individual consultations.

Vermont College of Fine Arts is sponsoring the conference and those who are interested will have an opportunity to learn about VCFA’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, the oldest and most prestigious program in the country. (I’d say “in the world,” because it is that, but that would sound pretentious.)

You can come to learn from masters, to connect with your peers, and/or simply to retreat and write. You create your own experience. In addition to lectures and panels and workshops, writing prompts and consultations, there will be quiet space for writing. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention bonfires on the beach, pontoon rides on the lake and a whole wild world out there, beckoning.

This is truly a boutique program with room for fewer than forty participants, so check it out now. I’m guessing it’s going to fill fast.

I’d love to see you there!

The Story of a Story

Halloween ForestIn the fall of 2012, my picture book The Halloween Forest, published by Holiday House and wondrously illustrated by John Shelley, came out to nice reviews.  Even a star from Kirkus Reviews.

By the time it came out, of course, I had moved on to other work, as we all do. Then John Briggs, owner and president of Holiday House, called me. He asked if I would write another picture book, this one about spring, also to be illustrated by John Shelley.

I was pleased, of course. Having a book sold—or at least the concept sold—before I have even conceived it is one of the few whiffs of security a writer ever gets in this insecure world. So naturally I said, “yes,” and set to work. I enjoy writing about seasons, and while every season has elements I love, spring, after our long Minnesota winters, always moves me most deeply. I began stirring ideas.

It didn’t take too long for me to come up with one: the last icy, muddy remains of winter and a child awakened in the night by a sound. He steps out the door and finds a bear waiting there, and the two of them set off—soon accompanied by other forest animals—in search of the sound’s source. (I won’t give away the secret in case this teaser might prompt some of you to locate the book.)

I titled the story Crack! and showed it to my partner, who, while not a writer, has a wonderful feel for stories for young children. She read the manuscript and handed it back saying, “That’s not the way I experience spring.” Hmmmm. I carried the manuscript back to my study and sat with it until I decided that wasn’t the way I experienced spring, either. So I tucked Crack! away into a file in my computer and started again.

I wrote a different winter into spring story, very lyrical, and this one I sent to my editor at Holiday House, Mary Cash, before I had too much time to think about it. She said, “It’s lovely, but too literary. I don’t think we would be successful with this.”

I tried again. She wanted something more commercial, so I went for funny. To say I’m not known for funny is a major understatement. But I came up with a conversation with a very put-upon Easter bunny that I, at least, thought was marvelously funny. I sent it off, and got another quick response. This one was too commercial for a house that sells primarily to the school and library market. (Later my agent, Rubin Pfeffer, sent it out and found no takers, so maybe my funny bone really doesn’t work.)

At this point I put the whole project aside. I was out of ideas. Until Mary contacted me. Where was that picture book about spring? “It’s not going to happen,” I wanted to respond, but you don’t say that to an editor who actively wants something from you. So I went back to work again.

I tried this. I tried that. I tried several other things. Nothing I came up with was worth showing anyone. Then one day I came across Crack! in my files, looked it over, decided it was better than I’d remembered and that it was an improvement over any of my more recent attempts. I sent it to Mary.

The next day she e-mailed me an offer. It was exactly what she wanted. (The only problem was the title, which, for reasons that I was too naïve to have thought of, needed to be changed. Crack! became Crinkle, Crackle, Crack … It’s Spring!)

Mary turned the manuscript over to the wondrous John Shelley to illustrate, and I had a sale. Easy, peasy!

Crinkle, Crackle, Crack ... It's Spring!April 1st is the official publication date for Crinkle, Crackle, Crack … It’s Spring. And, as always happens, the too-long process that led up to the sale has fallen away. What is left is the new book, a beautiful thing to hold in my hands. (Thank you, John Shelley, for that!)

And the reviews.

And, of course, the next book waiting to be written … and the next … and the next.

Writing about Not Writing

blank-computerIt happens every time. I hadn’t expected it this round, but there it is, reliably waiting for me. As soon as I send a major project out to find its way in the world, I seem, every time, to step off into a vacuum.

Peggotty is with my agent, Rubin Pfeffer. (Peggotty is the verse novella that I was calling Patches until I remembered I had a better name tucked away.) There will be further work to do on it, of course. I certainly hope there will be further work as I always want the privilege of working with whatever insights an editor can bring to my manuscript. But it will take some time before any of that happens. In the meantime . . .

Ah . . . in the meantime is the problem.

In the meantime I’m floating out here, wondering what to do with myself, wondering why I got up this morning, wondering whether I’ll ever write anything again as long as I live!

A bit melodramatic? Of course. I admit it. More than a bit predictable, too.

I seem to go through this kind of awkward transition every time I complete a piece I’ve been working on for a period of months, though I haven’t always recognized the every-timeness of the phenomenon. I remember once saying that to someone who had been around me and my work for a long time, “I feel as though I’ll never write anything again,” and she replied, “That’s what you said last time, too.”

I was shocked. I had thought—I believed ardently—that I’d never in my entire career been in such a place.

But there I was, facing the fact that I’d felt it, said it, believed it many times. And yet, of course, I did write something again. In fact, since that particular revelation I’ve written many somethings.

This time, though, I thought I’d be immune. Didn’t I have a novel waiting, a novel I was eager to return to? I’d written nearly 200 pages of it before getting stopped, and in the months since I’d put it aside for other projects, it had remained with me almost constantly. I was ready to start again with a new structure, with newly conceived characters. And I was even excited about starting over.

So this morning, in preparation for moving back into the manuscript, I sat down to Blue-Eyed Wolf to reread the opening scene. It’s a scene that has remained essentially unchanged from the beginning. It’s a scene I was confident formed a strong opening for my story. But as I read, I found my heart sinking. Was this what I planned to immerse myself in for the next months? Really?

There was something wrong with it. Or if there wasn’t something wrong with the text, then surely there was something wrong with me!

Is this that same old place? I ask myself, the one where I can never do what I’ve just done again. Will I wake up tomorrow morning or a week from tomorrow morning and immerse myself once more in words and characters and story? Will I forget these doubts ever seeped into my soul . . . until some good friend who has heard me whine too many times reminds me?

We writers have nothing to work out of except our own minds, and minds are tricky stuff. Or as Anne Lamott said, “My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.”

My mind is capable of such marvels . . . and of such self-aggrandizement and distortion, such pettiness and cruelty, mostly toward myself. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker that comes out of Buddhist mindfulness practice, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

So . . . what do I do when I’m never going to write again as long as I live?

Well, I’m a writer, so I sit down and write about not-writing. What else?

A Happy Christmouse to All!

Christmas Baby“We need a sweet Christmas story, and we know you can do sweet.” 

It was an editor on the phone, one I especially enjoy working with, and I found myself smiling. That the author of Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins would be admired for her capacity to write sweet! I was charmed. So I wrote The Christmas Baby. It was sweet, and the book has been a success … probably in great part due to Richard Cowdrey’s illustrations, which are even sweeter than the text. 

However, the next time the same editor came to me, wanting something new for Christmas, I hesitated. Perhaps I had run out of sweet. Or of fresh ideas for a two-thousand-year-old topic.

Picture books are curious endeavors. Some of my picture book texts have been written from beginning to end in a couple of hours with little revision ever needed. Some I can struggle with for months before I finally lock them into place … or give up because they won’t lock. 

Recently I’ve been working on a new Christmas picture book idea called A Happy Christmouse to All! I finished it after a couple of rather intense weeks of work, and I loved it … and I realized even as I was loving it that it didn’t work. 

It wasn’t particularly sweet, but it was light and fun … and it didn’t work.

It had some marvelous lines, some great rhymes … and it didn’t work.

Picture books have to arrive somewhere. They must click into place. They must, by the end of the story, give the heart what it longs for. This one didn’t do any of those things.

I passed my Christmouse through my picture-book guru, Kathi Appelt. She liked it and told me that it didn’t work.

I showed it to my agent, Rubin Pfeffer. He praised it and said that it didn’t work.

Then he and I talked about what the story needed. I listened and agreed, but agreeing doesn’t give me a stronger concept or the new voice I need to discover before I can start over. I’m waiting for those to come. Christmas gifts, perhaps? 

In the meantime I have a great title, A Happy Christmouse to All! 

And I wish every single reader who honors me by reading this blog a Happy Christmouse, too.