Feb 20, 2009

Nascent vs. Nipped

By Sarah Albrecht

I am a nascent writer, learning about the brave new world of publishers, agents, networking, writers’ organizations, queries, blogging and websites, not to mention character arcs, voice, action and reaction. I like that word, nascent, because it implies emergence in the face of feeling like a temporary bloom (also known as being nipped in the bud, to coin a phrase).

Here’s a story that illustrates a bit of what I’ve experienced in this phase.

Four years ago when I stepped out of the real estate agent’s car at the home we later bought, a dry, expiring “caw” greeted me from a eucalyptus branch high above. I learned that “caw” belonged to a Harris hawk, one of the family-in-residence in another tall, spindly eucalyptus across the street. Harris hawks are large and dark brown with a white band across the tail and live and hunt as family units, like wolves. They are relatively uncommon, so after moving into the home, we found ourselves in the midst of volunteers monitoring the birds; one grad student looking for a juvenile with a transmitter in its tail had a penchant for saying “anyhoo.”

Two summers after we moved in, the parents moved to the tall pine in our back yard and we watched them carry unreasonably large twigs, still loaded with pinecone clumps, to the nesting site. Once the chicks hatched, each morning at the crack of dawn they started squeaking for food. For weeks they squeaked, but we didn't realize something was wrong until we found one lifeless under the tree. Soon we found a sibling hopping listlessly around the yard, and I took the humane society box left from our cat, plopped it over the bird, and drove it to a nearby wildlife hospital.

The bird wasn’t sick, the vet told us, but starving. Something probably had happened to one of the parents—electrocution, maybe, or possibly even an illegal trapper who would sell the bird to falconers. The story doesn’t have a bright ending; the chick died and we never found out what happened to the parents. Nevertheless, watching the hawks had been a privilege.

And I felt like there had to be a story in there somewhere: a magazine article for kids, a picture book, a middle grade novel where the lead foils the dastardly hawk trapper and saves the chicks.
I had lots of questions about how to proceed. A magazine article? Many magazines want photos. Where could I get pictures? We tried taking a few, but they were too amateur, and then the birds left. Who could I interview? The vet at the wildlife hospital would be a great start, or the “anyhoo” grad student, but can a writer with no credentials secure interviews? Could I try? Or maybe fiction would be best. Once I get past my current project…

Everything I’ve heard about success in writing points to persistence, so despite the uncertainties I’m counting on the positive in “nascent” to beat out “nipped in the bud.”

One of these days, those lost hawks will be found perched in a bookstore.


  1. I too can see this many ways Sarah but being more of a technical writer, I'm thinking a wonderful magazine article with interviews and yes pictures. However, a wonderful children's story (with a better ending) would be lovely and you can sketch the birds then. I'll be looking for it.

  2. I like the idea of a children's story, of course with a happier ending. The idea of nesting and parents taking care of them, then fledgling birds out on their own is so close to our human desires and our own story. You told this story so well in you blog, I am sure you will do it justice in whatever medium you choose.

  3. Yes, and don't forget to put the family hunting together, as well as living together, in your book. That's what I found extremely interesting.

    And yes, you don't have to have credentials to get an interview. Just go ahead and tell them you're writing a children's book and need to tell it right. Then ask for an interview at their convenience. Good luck, and good persistance. I hear your chances are great. (But you probably read that, too.)


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