My Writing Process: On Sparks and Spreading Joy

Today’s post is part of the “My Writing Process” blog tour. I was invited to participate by Lisa Dalrymple. You can visit Lisa online at www.lisadalrymple.com and read her responses to the blog tour questions here: http://lisadalrymple.com/launch-of-book-cafe-writing-process-blog-tour/ My answers are below.

What are you working on?

At present, I am working on several picture books in various stages as well as an early chapter book.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Maybe the easiest way to answer this question is to highlight books that have been compared to my new one, Mama’s Day with Little Gray, and reflect on some similarities and differences. Liitle Gray 1Mama’s Day with Little Gray is a gentle, call-and-response book that features a curious little elephant and his mother. Little Gray asks his mama, “When I grow up, will you grow down?” Their conversation over the course of a day reveals Little Gray’s wish to be able to care for his mama when he grows up. He imagines what life would be like if their roles were reversed. Each interaction–snacking, swimming, finding pictures in the clouds–is overlaid by Little Gray’s wonderings and Mama’s reassurance of his competence.

Readers have told me that this book reminds them of The Runaway Bunny, Love You Forever, and Guess How Much I Love You? I’m honored by these associations because each book offers reassurance of a parent’s unconditional love.

There are subtle differences between these books and mine. Unlike The Runaway Bunny, Little Gray wants to stay close to his mama, and unlike Love You Forever, it is the child who takes centre stage as he imagines future connection with her. In Guess How Much I Love You?, Little Nutbrown Hare and his father enjoy a playful competition about whose love is bigger. Mama and Little Gray’s conversation focuses more on Mama’s affirmation of Little Gray’s dreams:

Mamas-Day-with-Little-Gray_Cover-HiRes“If I grew up and you were my calf,” said Little Gray, “I’d spend every day with you.”

“I would be your calf and stay right by your side,” said Mama . . . .

“I would be tall enough to reach the tastiest leaves, and I’d share them with you,” said Little Gray.

“You would be big,” said Mama. “And very kind.”

I hope I’ve captured something unique in the affirming nature of Mama and Little Gray’s conversation. I love hearing that the children and adults who read it together are able to celebrate anew their caring relationship.

Why do you write what you do?

Joy. There is real joy in celebrating healthy child-parent bonds and the everyday beauty and humor of human relationships. I feel a strong desire to notice and draw attention to what is good about our world.

The work of two individuals that I admire comes to mind.

The first is Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood fame. I didn’t discover the show until I was an adult. As my young daughter and I watched it together, I grew to appreciate the way that Fred Rogers respected children. He never talked down to them. He didn’t shirk difficult questions. However, he also pointed out the kindness, strength, and indomitable spirit of the many, many people who do good every day.

When giving advice on how to cope with large-scale disasters such as 911, Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I want my work to be a tribute to this sort of enduring good.

The second person is writer and artist Nancy Tillman (author-illustrator of On the Night You Were Born). Her joyful, nurturing books celebrate the wonder of being alive and connected to one another. When asked what one message she would give to children, Nancy responded, “You are loved.” I like that. If I were to answer the same question, knowing that Nancy’s answer was taken, I think I would say this: “You are valuable.”

How does your writing process work?

Somewhat mysteriously.

I’m a checklist-lover, but I’ve realized that I can’t schedule inspiration. What I can do is create an environment where inspiration is likely to arrive. I’ll share a few of the stages of my writing process with this caveat: they don’t necessarily occur in linear order! My writing process is more like a dance than a march. I visit and revisit each stage several times for each piece of writing.

Creative spark: There is always a spark. Sometimes a new character wakes me up at night by whispering a few lines in my ear. Maybe I see a connection in a fresh way, and there is a hard-to-describe but goose-bump-producing recognition that this is my next story.

Idea generation: This stage looks a lot like daydreaming or napping or gazing out over a lake. Basically, I get quiet and listen for the story. Often it comes to me through the voice of a character.

Sept. 2012 400

Drafting: Now is when I sit at the keyboard and type. For a while, I suffered under the notion that only this part of the process counted as actual writing, but I know now that’s not true. All stages feed into the others in a fluid process. The story sometimes takes surprising turns when I’m drafting. I’ve learned to be open to these swerves.

Revising: I revisit the piece and look for big picture issues. I usually need to set a piece aside before I gain enough distance to see it with fresh eyes. I send my manuscript to my trusted critique partners for their thoughts as well.

Polishing: Once I feel that the story is working, I look more carefully at all of its small pieces. I read it aloud and listen for the cadence of the lines. I search for more robust verbs and fuss over the placement of each word. I enjoy this part of the process.

Repeat as needed:

Once I’ve polished a manuscript (and sometimes re-polished, revised, and polished yet again several times), I send it off to my agent for his suggestions. If it sells, then I wait to hear how my editor would like the piece to be shaped. I do think that different perspectives can strengthen a work, and I want it to be at its highest sheen before it is sent out into the world to be read at story times.

I continue to be a student of my writing process. Sometimes I need to remind myself to trust each part of it. One thing I have definitely figured out is the importance of keeping a pen handy. Inspiration bubbles up at unexpected times.

Spark-makers

As I’ve chatted with booksellers, teachers, and librarians over the past while, I’ve  been reminded of the incredible gift you offer each time you place a good book in the hands of a child.

Beginner Books from Random House
Beginner Books from Random House

When I was young, the small town where I lived had no bookstore. Fortunately for me, my family subscribed to the Beginner Books Club from Random House. I can still remember the feeling of anticipation that swept over me as I gripped a new brown package in my hands. I could hardly wait to smell that new book smell and turn the first pages.

The sparks those books struck ignited in me a long-lasting love of reading that has never been quenched. Sparks form when two objects connect in just the right way. I think they provide an apt metaphor for what happens when we place the right book in the hands of the right child at the right time.

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from the Wikipedia Commons, photographer Gabriel Pollard

I still carry a sense of gratitude for the people who created those books and placed them in my hands. Someone wrote the words, perfected the font, and crafted the ad copy. Someone slid the books into their brown cardboard packages. Someone delivered them to my door. 

Now, as I enjoy those same books with my own children. I realize more deeply the power story has to connect us with one another. We truly are shaped by the stories we share. I can’t help but hope that my own book, Mama’s Day with Little Gray, will be similarly cherished. That it will remind the children and adults who read it together of all that is good and fun and nurturing about their relationships.

Little-Gray-Water-Image2
copyright Laura J. Bryant

Because, yes, milk spills. Laundry piles up. Cereal gets ground into the floor. There is strife in the world, but there is also tenderness and beauty and caring that transform ordinary moments into extraordinary memories of connection. 

I realize that you may never fully know just how the work you do will change people’s lives. Perhaps yesterday you sold a bug book to a future world-renowned biologist. Maybe tomorrow you will chat with the next Dr. Seuss. It’s possible that today you will recommend a book to a mom whose relationship with her child will be forever shaped by that story she’ll read night after night.

Aimee's phone May 10-2014 838
My basket of thank-you treats for booksellers at Random House

My wish for you is that you will feel a little of the joy and wonder that you create in the world as you foster connections that will brighten and warm people for generations to come. 

 

Extending Time Together Giveaway

Little-Gray-Water-Image2

A little while ago, I announced that I would be giving away children’s books and CDs in connection with the release of Mama’s Day with Little Gray. I offered three ways to enter:

1. Post a comment on the Time Together blog entry, which you can find here: Time Together.

2. Subscribe to my blog, Good Books to Share, which focuses on how sharing children’s books has enriched people’s lives. (See below for an update regarding this method.)

3. Subscribe to my newsletter, which features behind-the-scenes stories from the creators of children’s books.

Many of you have commented and subscribed. Thank you! I’m looking forward to staying in touch, and I plan to give away more gifts in the days to come.

Extended Deadline for Time Together Giveaway:

I recently made a discovery: when people subscribe to the blog via RSS feed, I have no way to reach them. If you are one of those people and you’d like to be eligible for this giveaway, please email me through the contact form on my website: (Click here to be taken to the contact form.)

Simply write Books and CDs in your message, and I’ll enter your name in the draw. I’ve extended the deadline for this giveaway another three weeks in order to accommodate this change. I didn’t want to leave anyone out!

I’ll be holding the draw on Monday, June 2, 2014.

Best wishes,

Aimee