On October 4, I was invited to share my path to publication story at SCBWI Agent's Day in Orange County. After the conference, I was interviewed by Steve Clark. We discussed how a flood, a case of Bell's Palsy, a little bit of luck and a whole lot of hard work contributed to the creation of my debut picture book, PIRATE'S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME (Doubleday, August 25, 2015), illustrated by Tim Bowers.
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Andrea Zuill, author/illustrator of WOLF CAMP (Schwartz & Wade, 2016), invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Andrea and I met two years ago when we were both enrolled in Writing Children’s Picture Books, a class offered by Sarah Tomp and Andrea Zimmerman through the USCD Extension. The idea for my debut picture book, PIRATE’S LULLABY (Doubleday, Spring 2015), originated in that class.
What am I currently working on?
I’m revising three different manuscripts right now. I’m also working on a cowboy themed bedtime book.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
There are lots of books about pirates. There are even a few bedtime pirate books, but what makes PIRATE’S LULLABY unique is the humor, the rhyme and the surprise ending.
Why do I write what I write?
PIRATE’S LULLABY is the book that I wish I had had for my son when he was a baby. On his first Halloween, we dressed him like a pirate.
I searched high and low for a bedtime book featuring pirates and there wasn’t one.
PIRATE’S LULLABY is also very much the product of the adage – “write what you know”.
Write what you know? I’m sure you’re thinking what could Marcie possibly know about being a pirate.
Well, nothing. And everything.
I began writing PIRATE’S LULLABY when my daughter was three. At the time, she LOVED to procrastinate at bedtime.
“One more book, Mama?”
“Can I have a drink, Mama?”
“It’s too dark in here, Mama.”
“Where’s Jaggy (her stuffed jaguar), Mama?”
You get the idea. Her antics made their way into PIRATE'S LULLABY.
As for the pirates, the day before my daughter’s third Halloween, I developed Bell’s Palsy, temporary paralysis of the facial nerve, which caused the left side of my face to droop. I couldn’t smile. I had trouble eating and drinking and my left eye would not close on its own. I ended up wearing an eye patch for about a month and looked very much like a pirate.
But what does Bell’s Palsy have to do with writing?
Having Bell's Palsy helped me with my revisions – it was my version of “method acting”. At the beginning of November, when I was still wearing the eye patch, I received feedback from my lovely editor, Frances Gilbert. She liked the idea of my story but suggested that I try and make it even more “pirate-y”. Ironically, that was easier for me than Frances could have ever expected. Since I looked like a pirate, I decide to talk like a pirate. And talking and acting like a pirate helped me create the final version of PIRATE’S LULLABY.
How does my individual writing process work?
PIRATE’S LULLABY started with a line, but a line does not a story make. I had to think about character and plot. My daughter helped with the character portion of the story. To develop the plot, I created a basic outline of what I wanted to happen. And then, the hard work began!
PIRATE’S LULLABY is written in rhyme and I spent the majority of my time working on the meter. One of the best resources for learning how to write in rhyme is Dori Chaconas’ site. I particularly like to use her method of diagramming the stressed and unstressed beats of a line to smooth out the meter.
Once I have a draft, I take it to my critique group and then go through rounds and rounds of revision.
An essential part of my revision process is creating a dummy or storyboard. It’s a great tool to ensure that a story has good pacing. When I dummied the original version of PIRATE’S LULLABY, I realized that I had two characters stuck in a room. There was no movement, no action, no reason for the reader to turn the page. In short, there was very little for the illustrator to illustrate.
And speaking of illustrators…I am THRILLED to announce that the amazingly talented, Tim Bowers, will be illustrating PIRATE’S LULLABY. Also from Ohio (I’m originally from Mansfield), Tim has illustrated over 35 books, including two New York Times bestsellers: Dream Big, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi and Dinosaur Pet by Neil Sedaka and Marc Sedaka. My manuscript couldn’t be in better hands. I love Tim’s whimsical characters, their depth and texture, their humorous expressions, and the bright, vibrant colors he uses. Here's an example from Dinosaur Pet.
Up next on the Writing Process Blog Hop are THREE new friends! Each of my friends will answer the same four questions I answered above. Click on the author's name to get to her blog. Look for their answers next week, Monday, May 26th.
Born and raised in New Orleans, LA, Keila Dawson is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY (Pelican Publishing, Spring 2015), a fractured fairy tale, pitched as The Gingerbread Man with a New Orleans twist. If you've ever had king cake, you'll know just how delicious this book is going to be.
Wife of Christopher, Anika is the author of Pigs Love Potatoes (Philomel), Bella and Stella Come Home (Philomel), BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA'S (Philomel) and MONSTER TRUCKS (Harper Collins), illustrated by Nate Wragg. She is also the co-founder and editor of the popular children's book blog, The Little Crooked Cottage.
Fellow San Diegan, Melissa Wiley is the author of more than a dozen books for kids and teens, including her newest, Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare (Simon and Schuster), illustrated by Ag Jatkowska. Melissa is an amazing home-schooling mom who also blogs about her adorable kids and her family's reading life at Here in the Bonny Glen.
Aren't I lucky to have such talented friends? I can't wait read their answers to the Writing Process Blog Hop questions!
Robert De Niro gained 60 pounds to become Jake La Motta. Adrien Brody practiced piano four hours a day for his role in The Pianist. Both actors used method acting techniques to develop lifelike performances.
What does method acting have to do with writing a picture book?
For me? Everything.
I drafted the earliest version of my story last summer while taking a course at UCSD. After numerous revisions of my manuscript, I sent PIRATE LULLABY to several editors. After receiving a handful of rejections, I was lucky enough to receive feedback from the editor who would eventually acquire my manuscript, Frances Gilbert at Doubleday (Penguin Random House). My bedtime book had a pirate theme which Frances liked very much. However, she felt the story needed to be even more pirate-y (my words). Unbeknownst to her, that was easier for me than she could have possibly imagined. You see, the day before Halloween, every one of my facial features decided to mutiny. I couldn’t close my left eye. When I tried to smile, I managed only a lopsided grin. I called my in-laws and they rushed me to the ER because I was convinced that I had had a stroke. After undergoing several tests, I learned that I suffered from Bell’s Palsy, temporary paralysis of the face due to damage or trauma to the facial nerves. Luckily, Bell’s Palsy is reversible and I made a complete recovery, but for several weeks, I had trouble eating and drinking, my speech was slurred and I had to wear a patch to protect the eye that wouldn’t close. I had no plans to dress up for Halloween but I was pretty self-conscious about my paralyzed face so I became a pirate!
The paralysis lasted about a month and I was still wearing the eye patch when I received feedback from Frances. Her encouragement and thoughtful suggestions inspired me to look at my manuscript in a new way. And since I looked like a pirate, I decided to act like a pirate. Pirate speak abounded at my house for the next few weeks. Putting myself in the role, like De Niro and Brody, helped me craft a better story. There was, in fact, a mutiny of sorts. The structure and themes of the original manuscript remained the same, but everything else changed – the plot, the twist, and the language- and all because I learned to think and act like a pirate.
So, me hearties, what exactly am I suggesting? You can use what you know to help give life to your characters, but sometimes, it’s helpful to BE your character, too.
Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day, me