Beautiful Shades of Brown
When you’re sitting alone with a piece of paper or a computer screen, writing can seem like a solitary business.
But while the act of writing is solitary, the business part of our profession is not. A beautiful book has many parents, the skills of an editor, art designer, illustrator, author, marketers, publisher and more entwining their talents to birth a new soul into the world.
And what I was slow to realize but now see so clearly is that the writing journey itself also is a group effort. As I consider my new book, Beautiful Shades of Brown, the Art of Laura Wheeler Waring, I think of how it could have easily been another manuscript stored on my computer, a dream that I might never have shared.
It’s thanks to Rate Your Story, 12X12 and SCBWI that I found the support I needed to push forward. While I was in the process of working on it, I sent it to RYS and found the ratings and comments a helpful indication of whether I was on the right track. The 12X12 and SCBWI groups provided ongoing encouragement. I’ve helped co-found two other groups that have provided me with great feedback: the Nonfiction Ninjas and the Nonfiction Chicks. I am grateful to each and every member.
I have a passion for telling the story of people who inspire me, that I think will inspire the kids – people who have been left out of the history books that they may not know about otherwise.
I love art and I was wondering why I know so few female painters and so few painters of color. With this thought percolating in my mind, I came across a painting of the singer, Marian Anderson, in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery that floored me. Who had painted this proud, regal image with luminous tones that seemed the visual equivalent of the vivid notes Anderson sang?
It was Laura Wheeler Waring. AND I HAD NEVER HEARD OF HER. I looked. I searched, hungry for information. There were no picture book or adult biographies of her. There were magazine and newspaper articles. I turned to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and received help from Erin Beasley, Digital Image Rights and Reproduction Specialist, who also put me in touch with Laura’s heir, Madeline Murphy Rabb. Dr. Tuliza Fleming, Curator of American Art at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Riche Sorensen, Rights and Reproductions Coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, all of whom are thanked in my Author’s Note.
All this help was instrumental in learning what I needed to know about Waring and also to correct some false information I’d gathered on my initial search. I couldn’t have written this book without any of these kind, generous people.
I also could not have sold the book without nudging by my sister, Sharon Nash, and the determination of my agent, Karen Grencik, of Red Fox Literary. Much as I loved the manuscript, we had received quite a wide sampling of gentle rejections – editors that loved the writing, but felt the subject was “too quiet.”
I was ready to put it aside, but my sister kept nudging me: “What about Laura? Don’t forget about Laura. I love Laura!”
Well, I loved her, too, but what could I do? I talked with my agent, Karen, who heard about an editor looking for hidden figures, which is a good description of Laura Wheeler Waring. The editor loved the book and took it to acquisitions, but it didn’t make it. However, we kept going. The next editor we showed it to, Marissa Moss, of Creston Books, snapped it up and here we are.
I didn’t forget about Laura. But I couldn’t have brought her across the finish line alone. Truly, there’s no reason for anyone to even try to bring a manuscript across the finish line alone. Writing may seem solitary when you’re sitting with that piece of paper or a computer screen, but look closer and just as those objects are made of an uncountable number of atoms, our efforts are strengthened and deepened by the unquantifiable, immense support we receive from writing organizations like RYS, 12X12 and SCBWI, our support groups, our family, friends and champions.
I’m grateful to have so many angels on my side. I wish you many angels and hope you feel the support I am pouring out for you in each word of this post.
More about the author:
Nancy Churnin’s Beautiful Shades of Brown, the Art of Laura Wheeler Waring, illustrated by Felicia Marshall (Feb. 4 from Creston Books/Lerner Books) is her seventh picture book biography. Her eighth book, For Spacious Skies, Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for ‘America the Beautiful,’ illustrated by Olga Baumert, releases April 1 from Albert Whitman & Company. She has been a member of Rate Your Story since 2013 and credits RYS for contributing to her success, giving her an encouraging rating for what would be her first picture book, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, 2016 from Albert Whitman & Company and a win in RYS’ annual story contest for Manjhi Moves a Mountain, which was published in 2017 by Creston Books/Lerner Books. Nancy lives in North Texas with her husband and two cantankerous cats. You can connect with Nancy on her website at nancychurnin.com, where you’ll find resources, free teacher guide, projects and contact information for author visits. She can also be found on nonfiction-ninjas.com, on Facebook at Nancy Churnin Children’s Books and on @nchurnin on Twitter and Instagram.