I am delighted to turn my blog over today to the talented, big-hearted and completely self-deprecating, Dana Sullivan. Was it Leo Derocher who said "Nice guys finish last"? Well, he was dead wrong. Dana is one of the nicest and a first-place finisher in anybody's book.
“What is your book about?” That one’s a stumper for me. At conferences and writing workshops we’ve all been told to compose an “elevator speech” about our work. Busy editors/publishers/agents/passersby don’t have time to listen to me stammer about it being “sort of based on my dog, but his ears were different, and it’s really me and how hard I take rejection and then you really should pay attention sometimes, but when you don’t things might still work out.” Even my eyes start glazing over and I’ve nodded off more than once when describing my book. And it’s a picture book! It takes less time to read than it takes me to describe.
Part of me simply doesn’t want to put the “about” into words. I really worked to keep Ozzie light and free of any moral or redeeming qualities at all. I just wanted it to be fun and silly, not hit the reader over the head with the two by four of an adult lesson. Snore.
But sometimes the best perspectives come from complete strangers. Last week I received a review that gave me this perspective. Pamela Kramer at the Examiner.com wrote a wonderfulreview entitled “Ozzie and the Art Contest, a Book About Happiness.” “Happiness?” I thought, “Really?” I mean, I love the idea that I wrote a book about happiness, but I kind of thought it was more about overcoming adversity (but not in a boring ‘you can do it!’ kind of way, no siree).
The story really is based on my own experience in rejection. Who hasn’t worked hard on something, believing it the best ever, only to have our hopes crushed like a cute little ladybug under the unfeeling heel of an insensitive ignoramus? (okay, still a little bitter)
In Ozzie’s case, he’s worked very hard on his art contest entry and knows it will take first prize. But, Ozzie being Ozzie, is so confident in his artistic skills that he fails to read the specific instructions and undermines himself. He is absolutely miserable until his teacher, Miss Cattywhompus, reminds Ozzie that he loves making art – regardless of the reward – and that he really did pretty well, considering he didn’t follow the instructions at all. When Ozzie sees his mistake, he is even able to get a good laugh out of it.
In a book I was trying to be free of any moral lesson, Pamela Kramer found two: Read the instructions carefully and winning isn’t everything – just have fun. And, darn it, I’ve found another: while it’s good to keep your eye on the ultimate goal of your journey, there are usually some pretty good things to pay attention to along the way. Things like drawing because you LIKE to draw, writing because you LIKE to write and, for others, doing math because you LIKE to do math.
Okay, I like those lessons. Apparently lessons don’t require two by fours. Who knew?
Thank you, Dana for sharing today. I am going to remember those two lessons: who needs instructions, anyway?! Readers, please do follow these instructions: buy Dana’s debut picture book, Ozzie and the Art Contest, from your favorite indie bookstore! And be sure to check out his blog!