Doh!

Sometimes we are defined by our obsessions.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the inspiration behind my picture book manuscript, Momma No-Nose. The story is about as dissimilar from Sarah Gives Thanks as you can possibly get.

Here’s the gist of it: After a petting zoo burro goes rogue and gets a bit too nibbly, our narrator’s Momma suddenly finds herself noseless. This turns out to be quite a problem. She can no longer keep her glasses on her face or tell if the milk is sour. Worst of all, the once happy and outgoing Momma no longer wants to leave the house. Just in time for Mother’s Day, however, her artistic son makes Momma an ingenious PlayDoh proboscis that, in one fell swoop, restores her self-esteem and improves the family’s fortunes forever.

Oh, and, in case you need me to tell you, Momma No-Nose is supposed to be funny.

Now, I knew this story had long odds for publication before I finished the first draft. I kinda figured Momma No-Nose was gonna be one of those stories “just for me.” I was cool with that.

But I soooo loved the results of my early writing efforts. So I put in more effort. Then I put in even more effort. Then I presented it at my critique group – twice – and revised the story accordingly.

I admit, I went a little daft. I caught No-Nose Fever.

Sadly, No-Nose Fever is not contagious. Editors aren’t feelin’ the love for this story in a way editors have never not felt the love for a story of mine ever before. I actually got a rejection one hour after I submitted No-Nose – a personal record I have no desire to break, but one that kind of dazzles and impresses me, nonetheless.

But like the coyote’s obsession with his roadrunner, I couldn’t quite put this thing behind me. The more No-Nose was rejected, the more I refused to read the writing on the wall.

“I just haven’t found the right market,” I told myself.

So I kept at it, tweaking the cover letter and looking for ways to punch up the comedy and tighten the word count. Oh, and I kept submitting.

The story’s editorial appeal is as plain as the nose on her face.

My son, Alex, is the only other person with No-Nose Fever; it must be genetic. He would sometimes ask me about Momma No-Nose’s progress – and was almost as amazed as I was that no editor on earth seemed to like it. So the other day I made him a solemn promise: “If Momma No-Nose doesn’t get picked up by the end of this year,” I said, “I will draw all the pictures and make the book just for you.”

“Mine will be the only one?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“The ONLY one?”

“The only one.”

“Wow. The only one.” He let that roll around his brain for a while. Then he smiled.

I smiled, too. Suddenly the idea that Alex would have the only copy of Momma No-Nose felt like a wonderful, wonderful thing. I decided right then and there to stop pitching this story. I didn’t want to do anything to mess up my promise.

Besides, in that little moment with my son, I had achieved my goal; I had found a market for Momma No-Nose. It wasn’t a large market, but it was big enough for me.

What the Burros Taught Me, Part II

How can you not want to pet this guy?

If you’re one of those charming, organized folks who prefers to read “Part Ones” before “Part Twos,” have no fear. My first burro post is right here. Enjoy!

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My wife, Ellen, thinks she is The Burro Whisperer. She came to this conclusion largely because of Burrito, a denizen of an area petting zoo, who trots over to her every time she shows up and grunts with delight when she pets his nose.

Need more evidence? Fine. She also sleeps with a stuffed Eeyore. Case closed.

The problem with Ellen’s reasoning is that Burrito will trot over to anyone for nose pets and, well, Eeyore is a doll.

But that’s neither here nor there. When we visit burros that are not Burrito, Ellen (who, it should be said, is smarter than me on most other matters) has a difficult time grasping that all burros are not exactly the same.

This was brought into focus on a recent trip to Intercourse, Pennsylvania (which is just one of the many towns in Lancaster County with a sort-of-pervy name), at a place called Kitchen Kettle Village (which is a tourist shopping Mecca that sells everything you could ever possibly want – provided that everything you want is jam).

Kitchen Kettle Village also has a tiny petting zoo that no one ever visits. Petting animals, I guess, distracts from all of that jam-buying.

I kid you not.

The zoo has a burro, so Ellen was on cloud nine. She leaned over the fence to get his attention. She “hello-ed” and knocked on the split rail fence posts.

Mr. Burro, however, wanted none of this. He sat in the center of his pen and made a pretty good show of ignoring her. He positioned his ample burro butt in her direction and stared at a wall. The only thing he could’ve done to make his wishes more obvious was to bury his nose behind a newspaper.

Ellen, however, wasn’t getting the message. She redoubled her efforts, knocking louder and faster and switching from “hellos” to more urgent “yoo-hoos.” Alex, our six-year-old, and I were too busy introducing ourselves to a group of personable goats to notice what Ellen was doing at first, but her doggedness soon became hard to ignore.

Alex played the role of diplomat. “Momma,” he said. “I don’t think he wants to be pet.”

I was less diplomatic. “Geeze, Ellen. Knock it off. Can’t you see he wants to be left alone?”

But then, as if to prove me wrong, Mr. Burro stood up, stretched a moment, and sauntered toward her.

Ellen was flush with triumph. She shot me a look. I was familiar with this look. It was a look that said, “See? You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. As usual. But go ahead and keep talking. No, no, go ahead. I’m listening. I’ll listen while I pet this burro that doesn’t want to be pet.”

The burro approached the fence. He batted his eyelashes. Ellen was smitten. It looked like they were going to be fast friends.

Then, as Ellen reached into the pen to pet his nose, Mr. Burro lunged out in an attempt to bite hers off.

I’m pleased to report that Ellen has good reflexes. She lurched away just in time and her nose is where it’s always been. Which is good, to say the least.

You shoulda seen the look on your face when I tried to bite ya. Wooo!

What’s also good is that, for the second time in my life, a burro had gotten my creative juices flowing. After a lot of laughs and almost as many rewrites, this past week I sent out a new (Ellen-approved) picture book manuscript that is “inspired by actual events.” Momma No-Nose is the touching story of a mother who, with the help of an artistic son and a Play-Doh proboscis, learns to live life again after a startling petting zoo assault.

There are two lessons to be taken from this story, I think. The first is don’t pester the burros; when their dander is up they can be ruthless killing machines.

The second and far more important lesson is, inspiration is everywhere. So go out and get some!

Do you have an inspiration story you’d like to share? Then write me a comment! I do so love your comments.

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Oh, and if you’re one of those devil-may-care nonconformist folks who prefers to read “Part Twos” before “Part Ones,” you’re in luck. My first burro post is right here. Enjoy!