Tribulation amidst the Jubilation – A Peek at the Revision Process After Acquisition, Part 2 - by Marsha Diane Arnold
I'm starting to feel guilty writing about tribulation after selling a manuscript, as that should be a celebration of the highest order. Still, I promised you part 2 and there are always challenges on our journeys, even on the happiest ones.
Waiting for Snow, which is entering the world November 1st, was thought too talky for a picture book by a number of my critique partners. Sometimes I like “talky” and thankfully my HMH editor did too. But after the story was bought and our fabulous illustrator Renata Liwska began her work, she felt we could cut some of those “talky” words because they wouldn’t be needed with her illustrations. I agreed with most of her thoughts, but not all. Discussions followed until all three of us were happy with the text. My editor sent lots of Renata’s sketches to me to share and to illicit my thoughts. I loved being in on her creative process.
Sadly, I lost another “darling” with Waiting for Snow. Darling Dormouse. I had worked hard on a charming twosome: Dormouse and Vole. But Renata was working on art for another story that had a dormouse as a main character; she didn’t want one set of images to influence the other. In the end, darling Dormouse was changed into a Possum, though Red Squirrel also auditioned for the part..
I went back and forth about using a Possum over a Red Squirrel even though I preferred the look of a Possum. The reason was that my original characters were from the same geographic area. Even though my story is fiction, I like to keep my characters in the same geographic area if possible. My editor preferred aesthetics to geographical accuracy in this fictional fantasy. I agreed. Hello, Possum.
My first board books arrive on the scene next February. I’d never written a board book before. In the back of my mind, I thought, “How hard can it be?” HARD.
The story concept came to me as an image of a polar bear taking a “snow bath.” It was on the back burner of my mind for years. Finally, I took the snow bath idea and expanded it to other types of animal baths. Then I tried naps. Baby Animals Take a Bath and Baby Animals Take a Nap were acquired by Charlesbridge. Hooray! I thought I was done. After all, these were simple concepts and there were only 18 words per book, (Steam bath...Puddle bath” “Tummy nap”...”Back nap.)” What more did I need to do? A LOT.
I probably know more than the average person about most animals and my knowledge held up well. But verification was required. I never imagined so much research would be needed for board books. Some days I felt like I was making reference notes for a text book. But these notes were for my exacting editor.
I needed to confirm, as much as possible, at what age a baby animal took a bath on his own. For example, how old is a zebra foal when it starts to take dust baths? Some of these questionsstump the experts. The Curator of Mammals at the Zoological Society of Florida wrote me that “The literature doesn’t give a specific age that zebra foals start to bath.” Based on her experience in a zoo setting, foals start to dust bathe as early as 3-4 weeks of age. I had confirmed that baby zebras take dust baths and we could move on to the next animal to research.
Some of my “darling” animals were lost in my board books too.. Koalas were replaced by kangaroos in Baby Animals Take a Nap, but the “Inside-pouch nap” stayed. My editor also wanted to avoid using the word “lion” twice on the back cover, which has a list of the animals used. So my “sea lion” and “lion” became “sea lion” and “tiger.”
We also made Baby Animals Take a Nap more kid friendly by changing phrases like “kelp nap” to “holding-hands nap” for the sea otters.
There’s the peek into revision after acquisition, at least for me. I am so grateful to amazing editors who help make a good story even better! Just a bit of tribulation within the jubilation. Mostly jubilation, for sure. And whatever tribulation there is makes for a better writer and book.
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning author with over a million books sold. Her popular Writing Character-Driven Picture Books course can be taken anytime, at your pace.
Find it here: http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/writing-character-driven-stories.html
by Bryan Patrick Avery
In magic, there are a few classic effects that always seem to be enjoyable, no matter how many times we’ve seen (or performed) them. Effects like the Cups and Balls, where small balls travel magically from cup to cup, continue to astound and amaze audiences. Even when spectators believe they know the secret, the effect can still have a positive impact.
The same can be said about the books we read. Some stories just grab us and refuse to let go. These stories become classics. But what makes them so?
Take, for example, Last Stop on Market Street, winner of the 2016 Newberry Medal and a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book. Written by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson, it tells the story of CJ, who travels on the city bus with his grandmother one Sunday after church. CJ spends the trip peppering his Nana with questions, each one highlighting something CJ feels is missing in his life. Nana responds calmly to each question, pointing out how much CJ has to be grateful for. Eventually, Nana speaks the line which, to me, makes the whole book.
CJ asks Nana why the part of town they’re in is so run down. Nana responds “Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful.” The line is perfect, both lyrical and thought-provoking at the same time, all without being heavy handed. It’s a memorable moment in a memorable book, making it an instant classic.
Another classic book I love is 2000 Newberry Medal winner Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. My daughter’s sixth grade class is reading the book now and it’s amazing to see how they’ve been pulled into Bud Caldwell’s quest to find his father. Kids seem to relate to Bud, which may seem strange when you consider that Bud is runaway in 1930s Michigan. I think his self-reliance (how many kids wouldn’t love to have suitcase of special things) and determination are qualities kids wish to see in themselves and, therefore, enjoy reading about.
What might be most engaging for kids, though, is what Bud says about ideas: “…before you can say Jack Robinson, they've gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could”. Every child, and adult for that matter, can relate to getting an idea that just grows and grows until you have to do something about it. Bud’s idea, and his drive to see it through, pull us into the story and make us want to come back again and again.
There are, of course, many others. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies from William Golding, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak all come to mind. They are classics, books we can return to again and again. They are books we gift to others so they can share in our joy. But most of all, like the best classic magic tricks, they continue to fill us with wonder.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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