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Erin Cleary


Represented by Sheila Fernley
of Storm Literary Agency
  • Erin Cleary


A well-thought metaphor can deepen an author’s meaning or inspire an entire story. Metaphors can be new and surprising or teeter on the edge of cliché. For example, a butterfly. We’ve all seen a butterfly represent transformation and rebirth. But I’ve recently found a slightly different butterfly metaphor for my writing life.

Last August, inspecting some parsley from our backyard garden, I found a swallowtail egg. So, I pulled out the butterfly habitat I’d found at Goodwill years ago and set the bunch of parsley in a glass of water into it and added some sticks. Then we watched the changes happen. The egg became a beautiful, miraculous little caterpillar with a huge personality whom my daughter named Fredward. Fredward was everything Eric Carle ever dreamed of. For days, Fredward ate through bunches of parsley and zigzagged around the netting until finally settling on a stick. Slowing down before our eyes, colorful Fredward changed to a hard, dull-brown casing that would contain one of the most miraculous transformations known to nature. Now it was time to wait.

While Fredward the chrysalis rigidly clung to that stick, we discovered three more swallowtail eggs in our garden. The process repeated, three-fold, in our butterfly habitat. (And we gave up eating home-grown parsley!) The triplets followed Fredward’s example but went beyond, revealing themselves as gorgeous butterflies. The change from seemingly lifeless cases to lively creatures, reaching out their legs and antennae, and fluttering their colorful, symmetrical wings for the first time is a cliché I don’t mind repeating as a miraculous living metaphor for transformation and rebirth. We released the triplets as they emerged, within days of each other.

But there hung Fredward.

Fredward is my writing metaphor. I have been writing, critiquing, and querying agents and editors for years, decades even. I have watched other authors come onto the scene, fresh with their first manuscripts, getting agents, getting published, zipping past me as I continued to work and hope that my day would come. Working at my own pace, I didn’t query as much as other writers because querying takes so much time, and when I had time, I wanted to write. All the while, I did what Fredward did.

When the caterpillar’s body becomes a chrysalis, what happens inside is fascinating. Its cells become an oozy liquid and then reorganize into the parts of an adult butterfly. No, I didn’t become an oozy mess, but as a writer, I did grow, change, and wait.

We waited and waited as the weather turned colder and the butterfly season ended, but Fredward didn’t emerge. Our chrysalis stayed dormant. We wondered if Fredward’s day would ever come. I consulted with our area butterfly expert who told me to keep our habitat in a cool place, reassuring me that in the spring we would have a beautiful butterfly. My family gave up. They said to forget about it. Fredward was a lost cause. How could that lifeless casing contain anything resembling the three butterflies we had released at the end of September? But I continued to wait and hope. Every morning, I’d say hello to Fredward and think, “I believe you’re in there.”

At the beginning of April, I queried an agent I had a really good feeling about. It was a different, hopeful feeling I didn’t always have when I sent a query. I waited and hoped, like Fredward the chrysalis, feeling like an oozy mess inside, wondering if my time would ever come. And then, in mid-April, something miraculous happened. There was a butterfly inside our habitat! Fredward the butterfly had emerged. Hope had won! And even more miraculously, days later, I received an offer of representation from a literary agent. Hope had won again!

Fredward worked hard at her own pace and finally reached her goal, even though others had passed her up. That has paralleled my experience as a writer. I have officially made it to the next step – a new kind of chrysalis state – and will continue hoping as I work to metamorphosize into a published children’s book author. Now with a wonderful agent by my side, I have hope that one day soon, my stories will emerge and take flight!

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