Oh my dear readers, I have really fallen behind. Over the past two months I have been caring for my terminally ill dog, my sweet gentle Jambo- who died on May 29, 2014. He had osteosarcoma- a deadly bone cancer, apparently common in the large breeds. If you have a big dog (age 7 or so) who starts to limp, do not take it lightly…We are heartbroken to have lost our dear friend.
In the midst of this heartache, I have been trying to find joy in painting illustrations for my upcoming book, Old King Cole (Fall 2015.) Jambo’s illness was a huge distraction- physically and emotionally, and now I am working like mad to finish the final art.
And, I was tagged and agreed to participate in a blog hop, in which I am to answer four questions regarding my work:
1- What am I working on?
Right now I am painting the final illustrations for my extended version of Old King Cole- a story about a castle ball and one sleepy sire (that’s all I can tell you for now.) I need to submit the art no later than July 1st- and I think I may just eke it out…Lots of characters in this book so it has been a challenge to draw and paint. The writing was also demanding because of the internal rhymes and tough rhythms in this old verse and, of course, I had to match the meter perfectly. I spent a good deal of time reworking it on my own, with my agent’s help and finally with my editor. I think it’s in good shape and I am eager to see what my readers think. Of course we’ll have to wait till fall of 2015. It’s just not fair!
As soon as I finish the paintings, I will need to get started on revisions and sketches for my next book, Gabe and Goon (about a boy and a monster- Fall of 2016.)
When time allows, I have revisions to do on my memoir (a project now going on 5 years..) I have to say, initially, the words flowed so easily, as if the story were already finished and I was just retyping. Sometimes I think complete manuscripts are stored in the file cabinets of our brains. For years, I wanted to tell my story, but didn’t know how. I kept wanting to unlock that cabinet. Then, in fall of 2009, on a morning walk, I unearthed the key. This is how most ideas come to me- on their own damn time.
And yes, sometimes the words flowed joyously, but there were also many days when I couldn’t find a single word. Some days I loved what I had written; other days I hated it. Reviews from early readers have been very positive so I am encouraged, but I still have a good deal of work to do to get it in shape.
2-How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Ideas are universal but stories are individual. Any one of us can take the same idea and turn it into a unique story. We have our own voices. We have our own plots.
Back in 1991, when I started working on The Itsy Bitsy Spider, I didn’t realize that I would have a niche in the market and make a career of retelling nursery rhymes. Other people have done it as well, and still do, but I suppose my books are recognizable by the art and also my format of humorous, surprise action spreads. For example: The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the rocking chair… then, a flip of the page to an action spread- Up jumped a cat and knocked her in the air... This pattern is typical of many of my nursery rhyme books- though not all of them. Sometimes the stories do not lend themselves to this treatment.
As for the memoir- it’s my story alone.
3-Why do I write what I write?
Since I was a child I dreamed of making picture books, and I can still recall the joy and comfort I found in reading. To this day I love picture books and have a large and growing collection to peruse and be inspired by. I love the puzzle solving process of writing in rhyme, of juggling words and staying true to meter. I love bringing those words to life in my illustrations. Writing for children gives me permission to view the world through the eyes of a child- with love, humor and wonder!
4- How does my writing process work?
When I have an idea for a picture book, pretty much everything else stops. I make a plot and work on it night and day until I have a good rough draft. I read and sing (the nursery rhyme books) out loud many times until I’ve memorized the words. I recite (and sing) them to myself in the shower, in the car, on my walks, to my family and friends. I make many revisions and when I feel I’ve done my best- off it goes to my agent. And then there may be more revisions as per her suggestions- and certainly many more once my editor gets a hold of it
As for the memoir, I’ve had to reserve chunks of time to work on it between picture book projects. I made a simple outline to get started ( I do this in my picture books too.) I am not a complete plotter, but I do need to have an idea of were I am going. I may stray off the path as the story takes on a life of it’s own, but ultimately I get to my destination. I can’t imagine beginning without some kind of a plan.
I know many writers don’t recommend this, but I edit as I go along. I have never been good at putting down a quick rough draft of a story. I can’t just write a horrible paragraph and leave it. It’s certainly not a final edit, but the writing has to be acceptable at the very least. Each paragraph sets the stage for the next and I just can’t proceed unless I have a good platform to jump off of.
I am tagging:
Jean V. Naggar, the wonderful literary agent and author of her alluring memoir, Sipping From the Nile: My Exodus From Egypt. She is humble, warm and enlightening. You will enjoy reading about her process.
Emily Kate Moon, author and illustrator of a beautiful and award-winning debut picture book, Joone- about a spirited little girl who lives in a yurt with her grandfather. Hear what she has to say about writing for little ones and see some art in progress for her next book.
Helen Maryles Shankman, wonderful writer, classic artist, daughter of Holocaust survivors, and author of The Color of Light- a unique and stunning novel incorporating fine art, vampires and man’s inhumanity to man. Read what she has to say and see some of her art.