East Coast & Edits

I’m breaking my weekly writing schedule with a mid-week post… but for good reason.  Sunday afternoon instead of my standing writing appointment, I was ankle deep in the chilly waters off the Carolina coast.  This past weekend was a monumental one for my young family.  We checked many ‘firsts’ off of our collective list… first flights, first low-country boil and the first time my kids were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean. The opportunity to celebrate the wedding of a family member and his beautiful bride was the icing on a beautifully tiered travel cake.  The wedding provided the opportunity, my kids were constant entertainment, and the lovely city of Charleston, a wonderful hostess, and wealth of inspiration.   

It didn’t surprise me that I discovered fertile ground for writing-fantasies here (you know the kind… “if you would just give me that porch overlooking the the water, a cup of coffee and my laptop, all of my writing troubles would disappear”).  What did surprise me was how many ideas my writing-brain was flooded with.  Getting out of the routine of my South Louisiana life, and all of a sudden a world of possibility opened up to me.  (Thanks, Charleston!) 

Maybe it’s because I’m still in my writing infancy.  Or maybe it’s because this is the first big adventure my young family takes (aside from our annual beach trips) but I was surprised by all of the possibilities that came to me, from these situations which don’t occur in my normal life. Airport experiences are routine to some people, but not the Prevost family. I was able to watch my children experience it all for the first time.  Maybe there’s a story brewing about an airplane now.  Or maybe one day I’ll write a book that takes place in the Carolinas (to ensure I have MANY more reasons to visit).  I feel certain that not only wonderful memories, maybe even another book (or two) have been created this weekend.  

On a coincidental but unrelated note… if there is such a thing.  This weekend I also received feedback from a freelance editor on my WIP. I didn’t let myself read it during the trip, but at 6am on my first day home I opened and read her email. In the spirit of full disclosure, it wasn’t brutal… but it was loaded. (That’s what I paid for… right?).  I plan to unpack it a little at a time so I can digest it well, and of course I’ll share it all here.  In a nutshell, I plan to delve deeper into conflict, the rule of three, and the eternal rhyme vs prose dilemma. April is revision month… Stay tuned, see you Sunday.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Good times with great friends…

The setting for the reunion was nothing special.  A bustling hospital cafeteria, filled with the crisscrossing of busy hospital staff and worried family members.  Over the course of seventy-five minutes, we caught up, complained, encouraged and emphasized. Both of us are mothers, nurses, wives and daughters, so conversation ran rampant.  Despite the years that existed between our last visit, we picked up from where we left off and somehow covered all the bases.  As we shared a hug at the end of our lunch, I realized that I felt more energized than I had in days.  A few days later, as I sat and started flipping through potential topics for this post, I found myself returning to that visit and feeling that came with it, knowing there were dots to be connected.

In a quiet moment of clarity, I found the common thread. I get many of the same feelings after visiting with a dear friend that I do after reading a favorite book.  The books I return to, time and again, in times of troubles and triumphs that never let me down. I can think of a couple of recent run-ins with ‘old friends’ of this nature.  There’s the one that I recently shared with my sister when I knew she was ready for its wisdom (Simple Abundance).  Of course, there are ones that I’ve read countless times, for a number of reasons or no reason at all (The Alchemist, Pride & Prejudice).  Most recently, I came across another ‘friend’ rather unexpectedly but soon realized that it was not so coincidentally.  At a time when I found myself both in need of an escape and desperate for culinary inspiration, The School of Essential Ingredients once again delivered.

This isn’t unique to my adult life, however, because there are books I can think of that carried me through my adolescence (The Outsiders, Little Women, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret).  But it’s those first, favorite childhood story books that taught me how to have a meaningful relationship with a book.  The Velveteen Rabbit, I Love you Forever and The Giving Tree along with countless others shared themselves with me and became part of the fabric of who I am. In fact, Oh the Places You’ll Go talked me out of a long distance move as an adult (because I did not “find any (streets) I wanted to go down,” and so I took the sage advice of Dr. Seuss and “head(ed) straight out of town”).

I wrote in an earlier post about my tendency to get lost in a book.  But maybe, the book doesn’t consume me, as much as I share a part of myself with the book.  A good relationship is built on the delicate balance of giving and receiving, and the times that I’ve done this have allowed books to leave lasting impressions on me.  What is this ‘secret sauce’ that draws me in, I wonder?  What is it that allow these books to resonate so deeply with me that I ‘hear’ their lines in my head?  Why do they stay so close to the surface, instead of fading into my forgetful brain like hundreds of others have done? Most importantly, how can I get some of that for my own books?!?

As I walked away from lunch that day, I vowed to myself to not let so much time pass between our next visit.  And as I finished Essential Ingredients this last time, I made the same promise.  I’m not sure I’ll make good on either of those, but as I lovingly placed my book back on its shelf I couldn’t help but offer up a quiet ‘thank you’, for once again folding me into a warm embrace within her pages.

 

To make sure I give all proper credit where it is due, let me officially introduce all of the ‘friends’ mentioned above:

Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach              The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams  The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister                The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton  Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen                                         I Love you Forever by Robert N. Munsch  The Alchemist by Paul Coelho                                                        The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein  Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume           Oh, The Places You’ll Go!  by Dr. Seuss  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The reality of rhyme…

You know the feeling right before you have a confession to make… the heaviness of the air around you, the quickening of your heartbeat, butterflies going crazy inside?  That’s me, right at this very moment.  It’s not that what I have to share is that big of a secret, in fact, most people who know me, already know this to be true.  But I’ve never said it here, in this context.  No need to put it off any longer…deep breath, here goes… I love to write in rhyme.  Whew!  That felt so good I think I’ll say it again.  I love writing in rhyme and I really love reading stories that rhyme to my children.  I know this isn’t the industry standard at the moment, but at my home it’s an undeniable fact.  My children LOVE rhyming stories.  They enjoy listening to the sing-song cadence and are filled with excitement when they are able to recall the rhyming words on their own.  I know this is taboo because so much of what I read hammers down the point that publishing houses are not looking for rhymes.  In fact, there are agents that won’t even accept a query from an author if the story is written in rhyme.  In case you were wondering, my first story… the one that all my hopes and dreams rest on right now ABSOLUTELY rhymes.  This is a testament to how much I did NOT know at the beginning of this process, and also (hopefully) what I have learned in the process.

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of each word in a story that’s composed of only a few hundred.  Each and every word in a children’s book must do its job well.  This is a fact that’s only made infinitely more complicated when those words must rhyme.  Let’s talk for a minute about rhyming words… cat and sat, wall and ball, me and see? Easy, right? WRONG, and wrong for a few very good reasons.  One of the topics I find myself drawn to reading about is ‘common mistakes that aspiring authors make’.  Whether from the perspective of an agent, an editor, and a publishing house, many of the mistakes mentioned are the same.  One of the first things is always that writers have a tendency to not give children enough credit.  The audience for my (hopeful) books may be young, but they are wise.  They deserve great stories written with excellent words.  It can be offensive to a young reader, for an author to assume he/she can ‘wall and ball’ their way through a story, without an awareness of how much children are capable of understanding.  I know this much, if you’re going to rhyme, it must be done well.

Another struggle is I come across is to avoid writing for the sake of the rhyme.  I recently read a blog on this very topic, which helped me to start asking myself, “Am I rhyming WITH the perfect word or am I rhyming BECAUSE I have my heart set on a word and I’m trying to fit it in?”  ‘With’ usually makes for a seamless story experience, whereas ‘Because’ always feels forced, no matter how cute it might be.  The rhyming words must fit flawlessly into the context of the story.  As a general rule, a book must be able to be read naturally, with normal word order and sentence structure even with the presence of rhyme.  I can’t end a sentence of my story with the words ‘journeyed afar’, when the line before ends with the words ‘cookie jar’, because I need something to rhyme. (That may be a bad example, but you get the gist… I hope).  For the record, I’m not completely committed to writing in rhyme.  In fact, this blog is an active exercise at stretching other writing muscles.  And, I have written my current WIP in prose. It’s still a delightful little story, I still love my character and the journey he takes, but something about it feels lacking. So I’m sticking with the rhyme on this one.  If you need me, I’ll be swimming up the publishing stream, using my manuscript as a life raft. I did make a promise to myself that I will re-write the rest of my projects into prose also,  Who knows what I may find in the process.  I hope that before I make it too far down my list, however, I’ll get a publishing credit or two under my belt.

(As a footnote, I recently read Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell and I LOVED IT. It’s filled with great words and great rhymes.  It fit so well with the theme of the last two posts that I just I had to share)

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime,

-JP

A way with words

From the very beginning, my husband has voiced his ‘concern’ that our kids never had a fighting chance. He says they were destined to be ‘book worms’ (a phrase I hold in very high esteem) and I do believe he’s right.  I read either Pride & Prejudice or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to them as infants.  After our chapter for the day, I would talk to them about the stories when they couldn’t even mutter a ‘coo’ in response.  Since then, we’ve read and rhymed our way through thousands of books.  Once I started this writing journey, I decided to study those books a little bit closer.  What is it that appeals most to my children in each story? The words? The pictures? The story behind the story?  The answer was drastically different for each child and each story.  There are countless moving parts in each picture book and that’s something I’m trying to bring into focus, starting with the words.

The first draft of my story was born of pure creative energy.  I wrestled for weeks, feeling inspired until it all started to take shape.  I sat down at my computer one afternoon and forty-five minutes later the story was finished (although I use that word in the loosest possible sense).  In the weeks and months that have passed since that first day, my eyes have been opened to just how intentionally written and intricately crafted each and every (good) children’s book is. Think for a moment about your favorite children’s book?  And now your least favorite one?  Both of those stories and every one you’ve ever read in between was a definite labor of love.  Ursula Nordstrom once told renowned author and illustrator Maurice Sendack that “Every word only has to be perfect.” Every word, every syllable and every page turn must perfectly fulfill an exact mission with laser sharp focus. To underline my point, one of the books I picked up recently from the library contains 27 words.  That’s it, 27 words, and it has remained a consistent presence on library shelves for decades.

When I’m not writing, I have been attempting to educate myself on some of the fundamentals.  (Take a guess at how many college level English courses are required for a nursing degree?!)   I’m getting a grasp on word counts, the meaning of poetic meter and feet, along with the importance of character development and story structure.  Since the little home library we accumulated has been analyzed and over analyzed already, I’ve started making my way through the Children’s section of a local public library.  Each week, I treat myself to some combination of the following, (1) an award winner, (2) a rhyming story, (3) one written in prose, (4) a concept book, and (5) the work of a talented illustrator.  (The perk to this all is that my kids think these books are for them, and they are thrilled with it also.)  I search for debut authors as well as authors from as far back as 50 years ago, and everything in between.  With each week I find myself more energized and inspired. The tables have actually turned and my kids are pulling me kicking and screaming from the library, not the other way around.  (My son’s latest argument was, “I like lunch mom, and lunch is at home, so I need to get home.”  In his defense, we had been there much longer than a three-year-old attention span usually allows).  If you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear which Picture Books are favorites of yours, or the kids in your life.  Here are some of my recent homework assignments…

  1. The Moon Jumpers a 1960 Caldecott Honor Book by Janice May Udry, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  2. Max’s Math By Kate Banks, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov- she writes in a delightful prose and the pictures do a wonderful job helping to tell the story. This book is part of a series that my kids have really enjoyed.
  3. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keates- based off a great recommendation!
  4. Duck on a Tractor By David Shannon- my kids are big fans of the David series, and the illustrations in this book were wonderful balance of realistic and whimsical.
  5. Rhino Rumpus by Victoria Allenby & Tara Anderson- my three year old is on a rhinoceros kick for some reason and as a mom I giggled when I read this one, plus it rhymes!

Alright, enough writing about reading… it’s time for me to get to work.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP