Agent Monday: Creativity for a Stressed Writer

Note that became A DAY SO GRAY

Marie’s note that inspired her new picture book A DAY SO GRAY

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! These are tough times, and everyone reacts differently. For some writers, it’s a period of isolation that leads to deep thinking and bursts of incredible creativity. But if you are feeling stuck, rest assured, you aren’t alone. As a writer myself, I’m finding it hard to string together big ideas, even though I may be pondering plenty. Are you feeling the same?

While this can be distressing to an author who is used to having words a-flowing, do take heart. Your subconcious is surely hard at work. And take notes, because books do indeed grow from those seemingly small ideas that pop into your head.

Witness the note above that I wrote to myself after journaling early one morning. It was a simple idea, but it had some true power behind it – at least to me. So I stuck it on my desk and let it sink in. It grew and became a picture book manuscript, which then became A DAY SO GRAY, illustrated by Alea Marley, and published by Clarion Books.

a-day-so-gray-interior1

Starting pages from Marie’s picture book A DAY SO GRAY

The book features two friends, one who complains, saying, “This day is so gray,” and another who says, “No it isn’t!” and then points out all the colors in the landscape. It’s an optimistic book that reflects a side of me that is always looking for beauty and positivity everywhere. And it all came from a very simple but honest idea quickly jotted down.

So even while you may be feeling scattered and stressed, listen to the ideas that bubble up. For me, these quick thoughts are often unguarded and honest, so they truly express something important to me. Something with deep possibilities and meaning. Some jotted down notes come back to me as I think of them again and again – that’s one way I know that THIS idea demands attention. That it just might become a book. But some of the best ideas are those I’ve quickly forgotten until I looked back at some scribblings.

So journal. Keep a notebook and pen by your bedside to capture your early morning dreamy ideas. Go for a walk and immediately record with your phone an idea right as it comes to you, before it flutters away.

Gray coverIdeas do indeed flutter away unless they are caught and looked at. There’s something there. Some piece of you that is honest and true. Collect these thoughts and review them from time to time to see where the inspiration will take you.

It’s a small but important way to be creative, even when you are very stressed. Even when you find it hard to be productive as a writer.

And, it just might just become your next book.

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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On Magical Father-Daughter Walks

Me (then Marie Busterna) age 5 in front of my Wyckoff, NJ home

When I was a little girl growing up in Wyckoff, NJ, my father and I would often explore through wintry landscapes, my mitten in his gloved hand. “Look,” he’d say. “Do you see?”

He’d point out colors and shapes. Suddenly, together, we’d notice that snowdrifts had purple shadows. Red weedy canes rose up from the field. And golden poofs topped long grasses that nodded in the wind. That dreary winter day transformed from a dull slushy gray, into one that was filled with colors and shapes and stunning beauty. 

This “noticing” is something I still manage to do every day. Driving by a large open field, I can’t help but pick out russet-colored branches, dusty blue puddles, and swaths of golden and red weeds. And I’m always struck by the subtle beauty that is all too easy to overlook.

These experiences inspired my picture book A DAY SO GRAY (illustrated by Alea Marley, Clarion Books). The story is about two friends out for a walk in winter. “This day is so gray,” one grumbles. “No it isn’t,” the other says, and together they discover colors and beauty all around them. I’ve dedicated this book (not surprisingly) to my dad Santo Busterna. Kirkus noted that the book has an, “almost magical way of seeing and appreciating the world”.

If there is a magic to seeing, it’s a simple one we can all conjure up. It’s one that we can pass like a treasured spell book from parent to child.

Call this magic “mindfulness” if you like. Akin to meditation, mindfulness is said to ground us in the moment, reduce stress, and get us out of our anxious brains and into feeling more alive. Therapists share mindful exercises with their patients. Schools have even enacted mindfulness units to soothe today’s over-programmed kids.

My father, Santo Busterna, and I (note his carved cane!)

My dad was born in the 1930s, long before mindfulness was a thing. He grew up in the then-undeveloped wilds of Long Island. His father, my Nano, was a gruff Sicilian who spent long days building houses, lugging heavy cement blocks by hand. And my Nana was up to her elbows in hot soapy water as she cooked and cleaned for her husband and four children. His parents surely didn’t give him mindfulness exercises to help him notice and relax.

So I asked my dad recently, how did this happen? How did you become someone who noticed so much all the time?

“Well,” he said, “I just did. Back then, we had nature all around us. You stepped out your door and right there were the woods and fields for you to play in and explore.”

Of course nature can certainly be full of beauty, and it’s soothing to boot. But I’ve met plenty of people who grew up in natural surroundings, yet who are still stuck in their own heads. And I’ve known others who have had no real access to nature who still have a mindful eye for details.

In my dad’s case, I think the noticing came easily to him because he was a born artist. Artists are the epitome of mindful because they have to look closely and always observe things in order to then create.  

He sketched from an early age, and he loves to tell me of the time he sculpted a dog out of clay. “I was about six years old, and this dog was so perfectly done and so detailed that my teacher insisted I was a liar. That one of my parents must have made it.” For college, he wanted to go to art school, but his father made sure he studied something more practical: Chemistry. Degree in hand, Dad turned to the most creative career he could find, becoming a Perfumer. In his spare time, though, he carved countless original works in wood and in stone.

As for me? I’m not exactly a born artist. And I didn’t grow up surrounded by wild landscape. Instead, my childhood was suburban, full of tidy lawns and clipped azalea bushes, with a few patches of woods between properties. For me, I notice so much simply because my dad showed me how. And because of this I have become a writer, a close observer of the world.

When an adult presses the proverbial pause button to spend time with a child, to share the joy of noticing, well, that’s powerful stuff. This is something we can all do, and it can happen anywhere, at any time. Out on a winter walk. In a muddy park looking for early signs of spring. Strolling along a city sidewalk past busy shops.  Even while cozied up on a couch with a picture book on our laps.  

Noticing is a special magic, and sharing that experience with someone you love is pure enchantment.

I’m grateful that, no matter how busy my dad might have been, he always took the time to hold my mittened hand in his gloved one so that we could actively see some of the world together.

“Look! Do you see?”

Yes, Dad. I do.

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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A DAY SO GRAY – my book birthday!

Today is the book birthday for my new picture book A DAY SO GRAY!!! Woo hoo!!! As of today, this book is available for purchase everywhere in bookstores and online. It’s illustrated beautifully by the talented Alea Marley, and published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In this book, warm friendship and a fresh way of seeing things transform a snow-covered landscape from bleak to beautiful!  Kirkus says, “The thought-provoking and poetic text effectively celebrates balanced, helpful relationships and a positive, almost magical way of seeing and appreciating the world….Cozy up with this book to start a conversation about finding what’s bright when things seem dull.”

Please join the “party” and help me celebrate this birthday! How? Well, there are a bunch of ways to help this author (and any author you know). Here are a few (and any one of them will be much appreciated):

  1. Obvs, buy the book, if you can. Here’s the link to sites everywhere
  2. Share this post and other posts about the book on social media
  3. Know someone with a grandchild, a baby, or who needs a gift for one on the way? Suggest they check out A DAY SO GRAY.
  4. Attend a signing/reading that I’ll be at – and come and say hi! Don’t feel you have to buy the book there. Your presence will make a huge difference! Here’s where I’ll be, when.
  5. Read and review the book on your own sites, on book sales sites, and on Goodreads.com
  6. Mark my book as “to read” on Goodreads – that means others who are friends with you there will see it too
  7. Belong to a library? Then you can go onto the library’s site and key in this book as a requested purchase for your library system
  8. Are you a teacher/librarian, or do you know one? Perhaps you or they would want to use A DAY SO GRAY for a wintry story time, or for one about colors or mindfulness
  9. Tell anyone about the book who might be interested. Word of mouth is the best way to share!
  10. Be seen in the wild reading this book. Perhaps take a selfie and share it.
  11. If you see A DAY SO GRAY on the shelf somewhere, take a pic or a selfie with it and share online
  12. If you’d like to have me on your blog, or podcast, or chat with you for an article, send me an email at marielamba@hotmail.com
  13. Thinking of booking an author for a school visit? Check out my school visit pages here.
  14. A high five of any sort, whether online or in person, means a lot. Seriously, your support in any way, shape or form, makes a huge difference to this writer. Writing can sometimes be a long and lonely path, so just knowing there are so many good people in my life who are cheering me on? Well, that means the world!

Thanks, everyone! Thanks to my family for their support, always. Thanks to my fabulous agent Jennifer De Chiara. Thanks to my gifted editor, Anne Hoppe, and the wonderful and caring team of editors, designers, publicists and marketing team members at Clarion Books. And thanks to you!

No day is gray with all of you by my side!
🙂 Marie

Cover Reveal! A DAY SO GRAY

Gray cover

You guys!  I am so delighted to share the cover of my newest picture book A DAY SO GRAY!!!  Illustrated by Alea Marley, it comes out through Clarion on October 29, 2019, but it’s available for pre-order now here.

If you belong to Goodreads, would you kindly add it as “to read” there by clicking on this link? That way others will see it too. Thank you so much!

What an amazing job Alea has done with this book. The images are absolutely stunning throughout…Honestly, I’m just humbled that she has brought such beauty to my words. To learn more about this fabulous illustrator and see more of her work, definitely visit her site here.

A DAY SO GRAY follows two friends as a day transforms from bleak and gray to full of beauty and joy, just by taking the time to notice colorful details everywhere. It’ll be coming out just before the holidays, ahead of those gray days to follow.  And I hope this will offer mindful and cozy inspiration for families everywhere.

The idea for this book came from my father, Santo Busterna, who, as an artist himself, always pointed to colors within the landscape, encouraging me as a young child to notice and appreciate the lovely details. To this day, I can’t drive past a winter field without picking out licorice red twigs, or golden poofs of wild grasses.

Thanks SO MUCH to my wonderful editor Anne Hoppe, the great team at Clarion, and to my fabulous agent Jennifer De Chiara for bringing this vision to life! And to each of you folks reading this for always being such wonderful advocates of books for children. 🙂

If you’d like more info about the book, I’ll be updating its page on my website here.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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