Turning the spotlight

There’s one thing that I take almost as seriously as my writing, and that’s my critiquing.  For those of you not familiar with this aspect of the Kid Lit world, I’ll fill you in because it’s a curious but necessary process. You can pay people to critique your manuscript, join critique groups, and/or establish critique partnerships.  It’s a swapping of stories, suggestions, and constructive criticism, from people across the industry.  Think of it as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” but instead it’s “You read mine, provide feedback, I’ll gladly do the same.”  Many published authors provide critiquing services for a fee since they have the industry insight and personal success to stand on, but there are countless free opportunities as well.  I’ve talked about it before, I have a group, a few partnerships and some experience with paid services.

I enjoy critiquing, and as I said, I take it seriously.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a posse to publish a book.  I try hard not to use empty words, keeping my comments productive and never shy away from the hard/awkward/clumsy/obvious questions.   I approach every critique as a way to help another writer, and I’m hopeful that those who look at my work for me do the same.  It’s all about karma, folks. I want to be an active and engaged member of this community. I want to contribute in a way that helps me to find success but also helps others on their way to publication.  I want to be known as a good and effective critique partner.

Every chance I can, I learn something about writing, and the same is true for my critiques.  I make notes and follow a similar set of questions/prompts.  I always give it more than one look, and usually ‘put a sleep cycle on it.’ Do you know what I don’t do?  I don’t do a very good job when it comes to critiquing myself.  This glaring truth surfaced this week, as I was getting ‘final’ thoughts from a couple of different partners, and they each sent stories my way.  I thought about the WIP that I’m readying for a contest, and realized that if I looked at my own work, I would have comments for days! What’s the deal? Why is there a disconnect in my brain?  How is it that I can hold others to higher standards but my own story slips by with major structural/formatting issues? Thankfully this came to light in time to shine the light on my own work.  I took my critiquing process and turned the tables, forcing myself to look at my WIP as someone else would.  To make a long story short, it was a roller coaster and my self-esteem took a hit.  Thankfully, I’m resilient and I was able to work through it.  I think, and hope, that I elevated my story to a new, and necessary level.  As soon as I hit ‘publish’, I’m sending in my contest entry.  He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.  Wish me luck!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Finding his voice

Nathan.  The beloved main character of my precious, first manuscript.  I know him better than anyone, obviously, and sometimes refer to him as my fourth child.   It’s been over a year since I wrote his story and am constantly trying to do him justice.  I am a significantly better writer today than I was one year ago, at least when it comes to picture books,  so I know it’s improving.  There’s still something missing though; a disconnect that I haven’t been able to put my finger on.  He actually came close to getting shelved, since I last blogged about him, except I promised him a contest entry at the end of this month.  That makes me panic because he’s still not ready.

I have a critique partner who often says, “I love your voice!” when we swap emails about writing, mom-ing and all kinds of other unrelated randomness.  If this weren’t an electronic friendship, I’d think she was making fun of my thick Cajun accent. (Which thankfully not many of you have heard that yet! (I hope you find it ‘charming’ when you do.) I know what she’s saying, I’m animated and excited when I’m writing authentically.  I use A LOT of exclamation points, and I write what I speak when it comes to easy correspondence. I’ve known for a long time, that when I start trying too hard, my writing comes across as serious and stuffy.  It’s the difference between polite birthday party conversation and having a cup of coffee with a good friend.  It wasn’t until she said this, and did so more than once, that I had a bit of a writer’s revelation.  I think his voice is missing.

Sure, you could argue that his voice is actually my voice, but it’s missing none the less.  Here’s what I realized, going way back to the beginning.  I thought that writing in rhyme, which is how Nathan’s story started, was a good disguise.  A cute, rhyming rhythm was a way to glaze over the fact that I have a serious tone and limited knowledge.  Fast forward a few months, I learned a lot and shed the rhyme.  No doubt, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, but it left holes in my story.  I’ve filled in many of the holes but never made it around to this one. Like all great critique partners, she issued a challenge.  Write the story from his perspective; tell it in his words.  So, that’s what my next move will be.  I’m going to take my third person story, and write it in first person, from the angle of a five-year-old boy.  I don’t imagine it’ll stay like this, but I do believe that it will reap great rewards.  I’m even cutting this short and sweet so I can get to my homework assignment.  The contest opens July 15, I’m writing on borrowed time!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Happy Birthday-ish!

This week I’ll celebrate a birthday of sorts.  Not my actual birthday, though today is my sisters …Happy Birthday, AC! But this coming Thursday, June 15 will mark one year, to the day, that my first picture book manuscript was written.  I had been struggling with the desire to write for years, although at times I couldn’t identify the urge.  I started with a novel.  Eesh… then for a while most of my reading was Lifestyle/Parenting Blogs… I tried my hand at that too.  It took me entirely too long to realize that I was completely avoiding the genre that called out the loudest to me.  If I’m honest, I probably ignored the internal call to write picture books for six months before acquiescing myself to the idea. Even then I waited for the inspiration but to bite. Then one day, while traveling home from a business trip, enjoying the summer sunshine and the quiet car… BAM… it happened and Nathan’s story was born.  In fact, I remember being so overwhelmed with excitement and inspiration that I started talking out loud to myself and did so for the rest of the drive home.  For the next few days, I was completely preoccupied with the story, until I finally sat down and on June 15 put in on paper.  The preoccupation hasn’t lessened, and my desire to write has only grown.  It’s been a wonderful year. It’s been a stressful year.  I’ve been fortunate to make some exciting connections and have bigger, more exciting adventures on the horizon.

I love the original draft of Nathan’s story, and I can still recite it in its entirety.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it could be a poster child for’ Everything You Shouldn’t Do When You Write a Picture Book’.  I literally made every mistake in the book.  The ones I didn’t make, I can promise you I made in the second draft.  The Original, as I’ve affectionately named it, rhymed with no reason or method to it, opened with a terrible cliché, had almost no conflict, and his mother was the protagonist.  It held no character development, no story arc, a preachy-theme and too many words.  It was a hot mess.  Thankfully I’ve learned a lot, though I still do love the mess.  What I love more, however, is where the story stands now.

My birthday present to myself, and to Nathan is a contest.  Rate Your Story, a website that allows its members to submit stories to editors and authors for feedback, hosts an annual contest open to members and non-members alike.  (I’m not a member, but I’ve love to hear from you if you are!) The 2017 RYS contest opens for entries from July 15th-July 31st and I do believe he’s grown up enough to enter.  I’ve enjoyed the experience of sending my kids off to school for the first time, and I hope this contest is no different.  I have a month to make sure his uniform fits, his hair is trimmed and there’s no food on his face.   My opener is cute, there are no rhymes, he is his own hero and I finished in just under 500 words.  His mom only makes a cameo and no longer has any speaking lines, though his younger sister shines in a lovable supporting role. He’s met two freelance editors, and been through eight different critique partners! It’s not always easy to read feedback on my work, but I’m so grateful for every bit that I’ve received.  I think my boy is as ready as he’ll ever be.

Another thing I’m treating myself to this summer is learning more about the world of Non-Fiction Picture Book writing.  As a science and history buff, it seems obvious that I would enjoy this style of writing but I’ve not yet exposed myself to this side of the industry.  Thanks to some guidance and encouragement, I’m signed up for a weeklong on-line seminar called WOW-NonFicPic, hosted by Kristen Fulton.  This will almost certainly be something I expound upon here as I learn more… that’s the point of all this blogging, after all.  I’ve included the link to both the contest and the seminar below in case you want more information.

https://rateyourstory.blogspot.com/p/writing-contest.html

http://www.kristenfulton.org/wow-nonficpic.html

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

JP

Clutter.

If you visit my house, you would see that I’m a ‘stacker’ by nature.  It’s always clean but sports a lived-in look.  With summer break staring me in the face and having 3/3 kiddos at home with me after this week, I was starting to sweat.  The only way I can even think about our time together, and not feel overwhelmed, is by finding a way to pare down first. So, I declared May the month to ‘clear out the clutter’.  I’ve made my way through the pantry, fridge, linen closet and laundry room ‘catch-all’ closet.  Today I tackled my own closet, and this coming week it’s my kid’s turn. (Lone socks, stained clothes, and kids-meal toys, beware.) I’ve even managed to move a little furniture around in the process.

That should’ve been my cue.  When furniture starts moving around my home, internal shifts start happening.  I can think of numerous times, large and small, conscious and unconscious that I started moving furniture around when I needed a good kick in the pants.  I’ll give you an easy example; Last summer, my oldest daughter found herself gripped with anxiety about her upcoming first-grade year.  She had heard horror stories about how much more difficult first grade was the kindergarten.  By the time she could explain her emotions and her convictions that she wouldn’t do well, it was almost enough to ruin the summer.  So, I used a dose of my ‘therapy’ with her and we moved her bedroom furniture around.  Together, she and I rearranged her room, using all her existing furniture and decorations, but when we were finished it had a completely different feel.  We declared it her ‘first-grade room’, and slowly, in her new space, she found the confidence she needed to face the school year.  Here we are at the end of first grade, and she did beautifully, just like I knew she would.

This week, it was my turn. I finally admitted that I was in a rut.  It was three-fold too; a mom-rut, a work- rut and a writing- rut.  Coincidentally, or not, as three pieces of furniture switched places and changed roles, I started to find my way out. From a writing standpoint, it felt contradictory, because I was writing more than normal.  Once I was honest with myself though, I’m not sure how much of it was productive.  I rarely feel like I have enough time to write, but suddenly I found my scale tipping towards the quantity as opposed to the quality. I’m trying to iron out wrinkles in my Picture Book manuscript and I’m finishing up a Board Book entry for a contest with a deadline quickly approaching.  I was editing, revising, rewording and reworking and not feeling confident that any of it was advancing my stories.  Thankfully, I received timely feedback from other writers who helped me keep focus and stay the course.   On the day that I moved furniture around, I also had a long talk with myself about my energy and expectations.  I’ve written already about designating time to write each day.  Somehow I fell out of practice, so I took a step back, re-read my post and pressed the reset button.   As I’ve cleaned through the clutter in my home, I’ve managed to start sifting through the creative clutter as well.

My to-do list for this week is lengthy,

  • I need to polish up my BB contest cover letter and entry. I have some rhyming wrinkles and inverted grammar to iron out.
  • I plan to work out a few more kinks on my PB manuscript. I hope to have it ready to send back to a critique partner and get another round of feedback.  If someone can help me know ‘when to say when’ and stop editing this thing I would be eternally grateful.  Do you ever really feel “done” with a manuscript?
  • I have a Sunday post (done) and a Wednesday post (blank) to work on.
  • I also have an idea brewing for a blog series to start this summer, I need to do some homework on it… stay tuned!
  • Organizing my kid’s closets and drawers… a mountain of a task.
  • I need clear work boundaries. In my real job, meaning the ‘not-writing-but-pays-the-bills’ one, I work from home. I love it, and I struggle with it too.  I owe it to my work, and my kids to find a rhythm that will work well for the summer.
  • Did I mention I have two books waiting to be read? Yikes!
  • Oh, yes, tball and softball games this week, too.

Thanks to the antique yellow pie cabinet that’s now residing in my living room, and even a new header image here on Magnolias & Manuscripts, I’m ready for the challenge.  I always appreciate that you take a few moments from your own busy day to spend time here.  I always hope you consider it a good use of your time.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Lessons from a Dummy

It’s a fact, the dummy changed my life.  Dramatic as that may sound, from the perspective of a picture book writer who felt stuck in her own revision process, it’s completely true.   I’ve known about the concept of dummy picture books for months now, and I’ve heard (or read) tons of people talk about what a necessary step it is.  I must be a slow learner because I’ve been avoiding it until this week.  But I did it, and I love it and I can’t wait to talk about it.

I used scrapbook paper because I like the weight of the paper in my hands.  After I cut them in half, stapled them together and numbered them 1-32, I pasted in my text.  I started on page 5. (And if anyone has a different opinion on this, please share.) For this dummy, which will be the first of many, I just separated my sentences into what I thought would work best.  You have to start somewhere, right?  It blew my mind what a different feel the story had, now that it’s not in paragraph form on 8.5 x 11” sheets of paper, and instead actually resembles a book.  Many of my hiccups became clear, as did clumsy wording and soft spots in my story.  There are a few of my sentences that need to be tightened up, and for probably one-third of those, I could easily see how to do so. I’m going to keep chipping away at the edits that are surfacing from this experience.  Of course, I’m going to make another, if not more after that, touching things up along the way. How crazy that I was leaving out this incredibly crucial step!

As I’m still digesting the revelation that I talked about in my last post, and coming off my ‘dummy’ high, I know what wrinkles need to be ironed out now… Read Aloud Potential.  It’s the obvious next step and is exactly what the dummy is helping me to discover.  I don’t just want to write a picture book; I want to write some kid’s favorite picture book.  On top of that, I want to write one that parents love to read to their children.  (aka Panda Cake!)  That’s where the magic happens in this corner of the market, and it’s completely unique to picture books.  I know my opinion of the book I’m reading affects the quality of my reading and the tone of my voice.  I know the pain of being asked to read a story to one of my kids that I REAAALLLYYYY don’t like, or when I suggest one that’s not a favorite of my kids. On the other hand, I know the joy and delight that comes when I read a story that we all love, and what a richer experience it makes.  I want to write one of those, and I need its real aloud potential to be off the charts.  (Mary Kole just posted a great video blog on this exact thing, you can find it here if you want more info)

So, the moral of this story… make a dummy of your picture book manuscript, in fact, make a dozen.  I’m going to the store tomorrow, stacking up on paper and glue sticks, and will turn my sweet little writing desk into a dummy factory.

 

In somewhat unrelated news… Kid Lit College is having a Board Book contest, with two categories (standard & novelty) going on now through May 31.  There’s also a chapter book contest going at the same time.  I’m going to enter the board book contest with a blend of one of my NaPiBoWriWee stories and a previous project!  The winner gets their manuscript critiqued by five editors, what a great opportunity.

Also, my daughter finished and submitted her #50PreciousWordsforKids entry.  We had a blast working on her story together.  This was one she had previously written but was way above the word limit, so we talked and walked through a bit of editing together.  Mother-Daughter editing; it did get as dicey as it sounds, but that was short-lived, and she was very proud of her finished product.  You can read Mia the Cat and all of the entries here. The contest received entries from 15 states and 6 different countries.  It was a wonderful lesson for my seven-year-old on just how small the world is while at the same time expanding her view beyond the city limits of our small town.  Whew, I think that’s all I have for today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Reduce heat & let simmer…

I’m taking a break from the construction analogies, for one that comes much more naturally for me.  ICYMI-I’ve demolished my picture book manuscript, cleared out and sifted through the rubble, started on the foundation and am currently letting the cement slab dry.  While that happens, I’ll move it to the back burner, reduce the heat and let it simmer a while.

This week I found, NaPiBoWriWee, otherwise known as National Picture Book Writing Week, and just in the nick of time.   It’s a writing challenge for picture book writers, 7 books in 7 days, running May 1-7.  Obviously, it takes much more than 7 days for a Picture Book manuscript to reach completion, so these aren’t so much as ‘books’ as they are ‘drafts’.  It’s meant to be a ‘creative kick start’, to get juices flowing.  The drafts are only for myself at the end of it all, but maybe a future bestseller will emerge from one of the participants, that would not have been written otherwise.  The real benefit to the challenge is the opportunity to make connections.  We have a Facebook group, blog posts, and hashtags, keeping us connected and helping each of us to celebrate our daily success. There are a few of these opportunities scattered throughout the year in the Kid Lit world, but this is the first one I have the chance to participate in and so far, I’m having a blast.  I do believe that as the week goes on, it’ll get more difficult, but writing through those times of is one of the trademarks of being a writer, right? Here’s what I have so far…

Day 1– A tender story about heartbreak and putting the pieces back together after a loss. This one had been brewing for quite some time, I’m glad to have finally mustered up the courage to put it on paper.

Day 2– A silly story about a girl named Grace, her messy room and the understanding that she and her mom come to.

Day 3– I think I feel another story about my main man (aka 5-year-old main character) rising to the surface.

Day 4 thru Day 7, only time will tell.  Next time I see you, I’ll have finished the challenge!

Through NaPiBoWriWee and other avenues, I continue to establish connections with other writers and am humbled that some have gone so far as to take time out of their busy schedules to offer some feedback and guidance.  Some I’ve found by chance; others are bloggers that I’ve been following for a while.  Just this week, I found a blog, started from a very similar place as mine, three years before Magnolias.  The author of that site just had her first book published!  I’ve found other writers who are young mothers and fathers and even some from healthcare backgrounds.   I’m grateful for these new connections and excited to watch new relationships form.   From time to time I come across, ‘Blogs I Follow’ lists on other sites and have learned much from them.  I’m including a short one here, in case anyone is looking for more on my favorite topic.

www.kitlit.com

https://jeanswriting.com

www.themaggieproject.com

http://www.annaforrester.com/hmmmmm

https://taralazar.com

http://childrenswritersworld.blogspot.com

https://jennifermaryg.com

http://www.adventuresinagentland.com

http://paulayoo.com  (NaPiBoWriWee Host!)

https://viviankirkfield.com

Next week, I plan to bring my picture book manuscript back to the front burner, check the seasoning and maybe toss in a few green onions.  Mmmmmm… wish me luck!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Clean Up

My husband works in the construction industry.  His job is to supply contractors, large and small, with the equipment they need for their respective projects.  Sometimes it’s an air compressor, or a welder or any number of things that are hard for me distinguish.  But according to my boys, he has the cool stuff too, like bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks.  Over the years, those projects have ranged from hospitals, university dormitories, and even a grocery store or two. From time to time, the projects are also demolitions.  How convenient! See where I’m going with this?  I can stick with my theme.  (Because I do not have my own home renovation to have learned from… and I’m not sad about that!)  If you missed last week, or any week for that matter, I’m in the process of a major revision of my picture book manuscript.  I’m tearing it down and going to build my story back together.  Like any remodel, I’m hoping it resembles the original with a noticeable facelift.  I want to keep the emotional core of my story, I want to keep the main character, and I’m pretty set on the support staff too. At this point, it looks like every other aspect is on the chopping block.

From my crash course in demolition, I learned that as soon as the tear-down phase is complete, the clean-up begins.  This is when the contractor sorts through the rubble, determining what’s trash and what’s not.  Perfect!  That’s exactly where I’m headed.  I used the following questions to help guide me through my manuscript cleanup.  (These were also picked up in a recent webinar I attended called How To Be A Better Critique Partner by Heather Alexander.  I figured it would be wise to turn them on myself.)

  • Who is the protagonist? Well, this one was easy, I created him after all.  I elaborated in my Knots post, that I talk to him, asking questions and trying to learn more about him.  I do need to know ALL about him; the good, the bad and the whiney.  (He does whine a little in my story.  Which breaks cardinal rule number one in the house I grew up in… thankfully my parents have softened a bit as grandparents.  I wonder if imaginary grandkids count too?)
  • What does he want? He desperately needs (in the way five-year old’s do) a solution to the enormous problem staring him in the face. He’s Bored.  I’m talking painfully bored, the kind that makes you restless and irritable.  He wants to have fun but is having trouble finding someone to help him.
  • What is his ultimate goal? To salvage his day, which seems to be spiraling, if you ask me. It’s going to take something BIG to get his day back on track.
  • How will he achieve it? He starts with all the usual suspects; friends and family… even daring to broach the topic with his mom. He strikes out. I don’t want to give away too much, he does ultimately come up with a solution but not before striking out a couple of times.
  • What will happen if he doesn’t? As a mom, a bored kid is a ticking time bomb of the worst sorts.  They (at least my own) get whiney, emotional and utterly distraught.  Boredom, once it sinks in is terribly difficult to shake off, especially when your five.  He needs to figure something out, or there’s likely big trouble looming in the distance.

So, I think all of this is my ‘good stuff’, the salvageable parts of this story that I’ve been toiling and tinkering with for the better part of a year.  What didn’t make the cut? Well, the first thing to go was the rhyme.  I’m feeling good with that decision and looking forward to getting to know this new side of my writing self.   Many of my word choices, I would imagine, are also holding the story back.  For some reason, the ‘less is more’ philosophy I ascribe to doesn’t translate into my words.  I almost often use too many words to explain myself, both in speaking and in writing.  I know I have at least 200 words to shave off from where my manuscript stands now.  I also need to keep the emotional theme of my story securely in my cross-hairs, and any parts that contradict, or deviate from the emotions I’m trying to convey, need to go. Regardless of how attached I am to them.  I do know that I need to learn more about ‘pacing’ so that my story can efficiently move in the direction it needs to.  I see another webinar in my future.

If I can be honest, some days my ‘trash’ pile feels tall, and my ‘keep’ pile feels small.   The good news is that one the rubble has been sorted, the next part is the dirt work.  If I can be thorough in what I’m doing now, I will have the space and the tools that I need to build a brilliant foundation for this story.  Plus, I know where I can get a bulldozer if I need one

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Knot Writing

For all my writing about writing the past couple of weeks, forests and elephants included, I’m afraid I’ve given the impression that I’ve been prolific in putting words on paper.  Truth be told, the only words that have made it out of my brain, are the ones that have been lucky enough to find their way here.  I do believe that I’m up to my elbows in revising, though at times don’t feel like I’m making any headway.   Today I came up with a great analogy for how I feel, and if you’ll bear with me for a moment, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The back door of our house is a set of French doors.  We have blinds hung over the windows of both, but 90% of the time, the blinds are pulled all the way up to allow beaucoup* natural light in.  If you can imagine, the strings for the blinds are long and hang coiled on the ground and seem to stay in a constantly tangled mess.  With the frequent opening and closing of the door and subsequent swinging of the strings, often I find myself with knots to untangle.  Truth be told, I don’t hate the knots.  I love working through them, loosening the string and making progress, even if it does happen slowly. Right now, my brain is one big tangled knot of words.  I’m committed to my storyline, main character and rhythm.  I (think I) know how it starts and how it ends, and I feel most comfortable with the middle passages.  I know I have the words… I just need to get them untangled.

I wish that they would unhook from each other and fall into place, but of course, writing isn’t that easy.  I realized that I needed to get outside of my head, so last week I decided to ask my main character what he thought.  This will, no doubt, sound bizarre to many of you, but as I was driving to a meeting, I turned off the radio and literally talked, out loud, to him.  I asked questions and started to better understand who he is. For starters, his favorite color is red, he loves rocket ships and wants to be a fireman when he grows up.  He lives in a city, much larger than what I’m familiar with and he wears glasses. None of this is in my story, and most of the answers surprised me.  Aside from learning more about who he is, I did find some clarity and I think I have a better understand of how he’ll act.

I also decided to rewrite the story, in prose… again.  It’s cleaner and more concise than the last time I attempted this, and maybe this will help me sort through words.  But before I do that, I’m reading through all the previous drafts.  Some were much too wordy, a couple too fluffy, one felt forced and clumsy, and all left much to be desired… but the came from the same well of inspiration that I continue to try and fetch words from.  Maybe I cut something I shouldn’t have.  Maybe a line was wrong, but it holds the right word(s). Maybe if I pull here, it’ll loosen something.

So, as you can see, I have plenty homework assignments. There’s my upcoming webinar, which I mentioned, on Sunday.  I need to read my earlier drafts, again, and write the story in prose (meaning without rhyme). I’ve also been instructed to study other picture books that center around the same theme as my WIP. Which makes me realize, they don’t call it a ‘work in progress’ for nothing…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

*For those of you reading who don’t have a French background, Merriam-Webster defines beaucoup (\ˈbō-(ˌ)kü\) as ‘in great quantity or amount’.  How can anyone not love being Cajun, we have some of the greatest words!

Writing from the forest

It’s a saying I’ve heard countless times, “Oh, she can’t see the forest for the trees.”  In fact, it’s one that I use often.  For example, as a young mom, I often can’t see the forest of LIFE from the saplings constantly clamoring for my attention.   As a writer, it’s something I’ve been guilty of and I’m grateful to the women who’ve now pointed it out on two occasions.  Of course, as freelance editors, they didn’t use that phrase, keeping it much more politically (and grammatically correct).  But as I read each of their respective feedbacks, first in December, and again last week, it’s the phrase that continued to surface.  I realize that I am putting my own literary spin on it here, so let me elaborate.

I spent a good part of 2016, especially the second half of the year trying to educate myself.  I read every article and blog post I could get my hands on.  I combed through Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul with a fine-toothed comb and dove into some excellent webinars.   One of the lessons, repeated in almost everyone, is ‘make sure your main character is the protagonist (hero) of his own story’.  I read it over and over and committed it to memory.  Had you asked, I would’ve checked it off my list with a satisfied ‘Got that!”.  Low and behold, when I received the critique back from the first editor I worked with, that was her most significant piece of advice.  The sweet little boy that my story is about, didn’t save his own story.  I was shocked when I realized how glaringly obvious it was too.  His mom was the hero of his story, and I never saw it coming. I had been so close to my story, that I hadn’t seen the problem that I was certain I avoided.  In the three rounds of revisions that followed, I wrote the mom completely out of the story, then back in, and out again, as I struggled to give all the credit to my sweet boy, after all… it is HIS story.

Another common theme in my Kid Lit education was the importance of the ‘Rule of Three’.   I’m very familiar with it and was something I thought I incorporated well into my WIP (work in progress).  Alas, this last editor had similar advice, from a different perspective.  Guess what she said to me, in regards to the Rule of Three in my story?  It was non-existent!  To share a line from the editorial letter I received last week, “Generally, a protagonist tries three times to get what they want before they succeed.”  To explain it simply, if a dog is trying to jump over a fence, he’ll fall short on his first try, again on his second and third, finding success on his fourth attempt.  I knew this.  Somehow, in my rewriting and revising, I lost it, though. The boy in my story has a problem, and BAM solves it on his first try. Even young children deserve for the stories they read to have enough drama to draw them in and make it exciting.  This lack of struggle translated into a lack conflict, probably creating one of the major issues with my WIP.  When I stepped back from my story, having been ‘too close to the trees again’, I discovered a fluffy story, full of warm and fuzzies… and a dragon… it was confusing, even to me.  Once again, I was blindsided.  So I’m back in revision mode, this time creating conflict.   Thanks for joining me as I unpack these great editorial lessons, rest assured, there are many more to come.  I’d love to hear from you if you have your own experience to share.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

P.S- As I was wrapping up my post for today, I learned of an exciting opportunity from kidlitcollege.org.  ‘Page turns’ is another important concept in children’s literature that deserves its own conversations. It is related to my post from today, however, because conflict creates page turns, so maybe it’s a conversation I’ll have soon.  Ann Whitford Paul (mentioned above) is teaching a KidLit College course at the end of the month Picture Book First Pages and Page Turns.  Sounds like something I need in my life, and I’m sharing in case you do too.

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