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by Karen Henry Clark

No one is more surprised than I am to be a second-time guest for this month of inspiration.

I appeared in 2014 for PiBoIdMo. When Tara scheduled me back then, my debut SWEET MOON BABY: An Adoption Tale was soaring. By the time my blog turn arrived, things had changed.

It was out of print.

My agent was gone.

I faced an avalanche of rejections.

Panicked, I asked writing friends about my PiBoIdMo assignment. “Be positive,” they urged. I wrote a peppy post about the power of SCBWI and critique groups. The easy boosterism made me feel guilty.

Then I remembered an education professor who explained inspiration was not magic dust to sprinkle around the classroom. He said, “Share what you know and show who you are. Some kids won’t care, but for some it will ignite the sparks to inspire themselves.”

I deleted my 2014 draft post and started over, referring to The Little Engine That Could, the story my mother read to me repeatedly. Having reached the mountaintop, I wrote:

My engine flew over the edge, crashed at the bottom of the canyon, and someone spray-painted LOSER on my caboose. But you can write down there, too. I am.

500+ followers commented. They appreciated my honesty and felt encouraged for themselves and for me.

Success. I inspired folks.

But I quit, instead of following my own advice.

Eventually, though, I re-read those kind comments and decided they might be right. I started revising a manuscript about Nancy Pearl, respected as a librarian’s librarian. In the 1980s we’d worked in a Tulsa bookstore and become friends. After moving to Seattle, Nancy’s career blossomed as a library sensation, author, critic, and TV host.

Successful though she was, we both knew her childhood had been shaken by challenges. The story had universal appeal for any child who felt different.

On a self-imposed dare, I applied to Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp, certain I wouldn’t be accepted.

Shoot; I was.

In 2015, our group gathered in Jane’s living room. I chatted with the day’s speaker, a librarian, and asked if she knew my friend Nancy Pearl. She did. “I’m writing a picture book about her,” I said.

Suddenly Jane, who had overheard me, asked, “Why don’t I know about this? That will sell.”

No one, absolutely no one, wants to disappoint Jane Yolen. I returned home and interviewed Nancy repeatedly. Years of drafts flew by like time-lapsed calendar pages. I could not make it work. I wasn’t writing a story; I was building a word wall and banging my head against it.

But I couldn’t quit this time.

Nancy was waiting.

Jane was waiting.

500+ followers were waiting.

Down in that canyon, instead of quitting, I realized I needed a sabbatical from words.

Because the 1950s are the setting for Nancy’s childhood, I went to a fabric store and pretended to design her bedroom and clothes.

Assorted retro fabrics, like a horse print, beige/rust plaid, blue with daisies, ditsy flowers in pink, and a pink raised-dot chenille. Notions like white pom-poms, green ric rac, white daisies, gold tassels, and old buttons.

Horse-print throw pillow.

Chenille bedspread.

Plaid and floral shirtwaist dresses.

Trims and buttons.

The story unfolded in my heart like yards of gingham. I saw it. I felt it. I tried again.

LIBRARY GIRL sold.

Library Girl cover: young girl with dark hair, pigtails and glasses, sitting cross-legged reading a book, piles of books and horse figurines surrounding her.

Back cover text: "Books saved me. Frances Whitehead at Detroit's Parkman Branch Library showed me, a miserably unhappy child, that books are places where you can find yourself and lose yourself. I became a librarian, so I could help other children then way she helped me. LIBRARY GIRL is more than my story. It's the story of how librarians change lives with the magic inside books." ~Nancy Pearl. Image of young Nancy riding her bike with glowing outlines of three horses and one bird racing along with her.

Never quit. Go on sabbatical from feeling stuck in your manuscript. Maybe a fabric store won’t work, but discover a place to wander, without the frustration of words, beside your characters.

The story, seemingly out of nowhere, will unroll itself before your eyes.

Karen and Nancy sharing a look and a signature on LIBRARY GIRL.

 


Karen Henry Clark decided to become a writer when she was aged four years, quickly learning the living room wall was not the best medium for an author. She worked as a bookstore clerk, teacher, college administrator, and copywriter but never forgot her childhood ambition. Her first book, Sweet Moon Baby, was about adopting her daughter from China. Library Girl, her second, was inspired by her friend and legendary librarian Nancy Pearl. In “Margin Notes,” Karen blogs about the magic in everyday life’s small moments at KarenHenryClark.com or Facebook.

Karen is giving away a copy of LIBRARY GIRL plus a Nancy Pearl librarian action figure to one winner.

Nancy Pearl action figure with red shirt and cape!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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