Phina (on the right at the head of the table) read, “The End,” and received a lengthy round of applause. Our MS/LA SCBWI critique group meets monthly in New Orleans and celebrates any progress. We had listened for years as she read chapters or bits of chapters, sometimes repeating a rewritten chapter, and feeling a little cheated at meetings when she brought nothing to read from her middle grade novel. After applause subsided, we asked when she started the book. Her answer of “1993” brings to mind that you can’t rush perfection.
Her ten-year-old protagonist is also named Phina and based rather closely on her own personality and life. She had suggested to a professional editor, who gave her a review, that she might avoid confusion if her own name was not the same as the protagonist. The editor responded that she could change her own name if she chose, but she needed to leave her character’s name alone. We agreed, and I will avoid that confusion by using Josephine for the writer and Phina for her protagonist.
While still working fulltime as a librarian, Josephine had begun the book Proper Training and worked on it when she could find time. Her oral readings during this time were spasmodic, but they became regular when Josephine retired and began writing in earnest. We loved the spunky Phina from the minute she tried to help the lady waiting beside her and her mother in the dentist office. The lady shared a picture of Elizabeth Taylor with her mother and wondered how a woman could look like that. Phina helpfully suggested to the lady, who was spilling over into her chair, that she could try a girdle.
The story, set in New Orleans during the days of desegregation, has Phina with both a heart and a mouth that are sometimes are too big and get her into trouble as she tries to make sense of the world that puts her Italian immigrant grandparents outside the mainstream and her black friend Ernestine out even farther. Thank goodness her grandmother buys her Devil’s Food Cookie Squares at Kress on shopping trips, bringing a bit of relief from the messes in the world and the ones Phina makes herself.
More celebrations have followed. An employee of a book publisher that Josephine became friends with as a librarian asked to read the manuscript. Celebration !!! That friend asked if she could pass it along to another friend who is an agent. Celebration !!!!! And now we wait with Josephine, hoping for the big celebration !!!!!!! when Phina makes her way into the book stores.
I was honored to be a beta reader of the finished manuscript, and now I must apologize that I can’t tell you where to run out and buy the book. I hope that time will come in a year or two!