Happy 15th Birthday, Dumpling Soup!!
Wonders never cease — my little picture book is still in print after all these years!
To spice up my Hawai’i celebration this month, I’m giving away three signed hardcover copies! These are original trade editions from my personal stash (currently, only paperback and library editions are still in print). This seems like the right time to part with them, as a way of thanking you for all your support and interest in my books and this blog.
All you have to do is comment on any post between now and January 31, and I’ll toss your name into my big red soup pot. Enter as many times as you like. Each comment = one entry. On Monday, February 2, the most well-behaved teddy bear in the kitchen will ladle out the winners! (Note: This giveaway is open to everyone, with or without a blog. Please include your first name and last initial if you’re logging in as “Anonymous.” Non U.S. residents also welcome to enter.)
And now, for your nibbling pleasure, HOW I COOKED DUMPLING SOUP (which is a story about celebrating the New Year in Hawai’i):
Well, you know me. It all began with hunger pangs.
I lived in Virginia, but my favorite dumplings lived far away in Hawai’i. No, I couldn’t make them myself. It just wouldn’t be the same. But I could write about them.
So, I started pre-cooking, with a few notes:
Could I turn the essay into a children’s book? I stirred a few ideas around via webbing and clustering,
until I came up with a draft, which I chewed on for awhile. Since it was my first picture book, I didn’t see the parts that were raw or half-baked.
But I sent it out anyway. Form rejections blackened my mailbox, but I kept sending it out. Then, one day, I received my first little nibble; what a delicious crumb!
I read the letter carefully, added a few new ingredients to my story, then received an encouraging response from another editor:
Houghton Mifflin wanted more detail, but wasn’t it kind and generous of the editor to enclose that SLJ article? Turns out, they bought my second book.
Back to my antique computer (no mouse, no internet!) for more tweaking. Plot (still my weakest area), definitely needed reworking. All the writing books I read back then never mentioned “story arc.” These days, that’s all I hear about.
The next time I submitted it, I got the best feedback of all:
Thank you, HarperCollins!
All this time, along with my disappointment, I’m thinking, they’ve all found something good to say, and they’ve all taken the time to tell me why they rejected it. It must be worth pursuing. So I worked on my characters and focused on establishing a stronger emotional core.
When it was ready to go out again, I heard that Little, Brown was sponsoring a New Voices, New World Multicultural Fiction Contest. Why not? I had nothing to lose by trying.
Months later, on the day the U.S. entered the Gulf War, a tired editor called me at 4:30 in the afternoon. “We’ve selected your story,” she said. “Congratulations on winning our first New World, New Voices contest!” I babbled my thanks, hands shaking. Then we talked about the war and watching CNN all night.
It had taken me five years to revise the book, resubmit, revise, resubmit, again and again. I couldn’t have done it without all the suggestions those editors gave me along the way. I didn’t belong to a critique group back then; there was no internet, no message boards, no blogs. I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to get editor feedback. Even a small gesture of kindness or encouragement makes a huge difference to a writer working in isolation. I had written this story in silence, and after I received the news and hung up the phone, I sat there in silence. I simply couldn’t believe it.
Once the contract was signed, I revised even more, with the help of three very cool editors: Melanie Kroupa, Ann Rider, and Megan Tingley. Lillian Hsu-Flanders did an awesome job with the illustrations! Loved all her details — those little dumplings all lined up! those vegetables! those charming facial expressions! She brought my story to life in ways I never could have imagined. There is a warmth in her pictures that still shines through, even though I have seen them a million times. To this day, I remain in awe of artists and illustrators. How do they do it?
This pot of soup has been on the burner a long while, and I will continue to season it with gratitude. Just the other day I received these wonderful photos from my sis, Sylvia, who invites her kids and grandkids to her home in Bend, Oregon, each year for dumpling soup. Their tradition is to read the book aloud and make the dumplings together. For a writer, this is what it’s all about!
*All interior spreads copyright © 1993, Lillian Hsu-Flanders, published by Little, Brown. All rights reserved.