Sunday, January 02, 2011

A story behind a story.

In the fall I went to a Children's Book festival to see my friend Amy  and her husband Kazu. I hadn't seen Amy in a LONG TIME (we went to SVA together and were roommates at one point) so we had a lot to catch up on. 

While walking outside with her little son, we started chatting about projects we were working, dreaming, scheming on. Amy excitedly described a project she was working on and even able to show some sketches. When it came to my turn I didn't  have much to say. I guess it's hard teaching full time and trying to come home and being productive.

And there is my habit of working feverishly on a project for months only to drop it for something else later. 

Coming home from the visit that night I felt pretty sad. I have so many ideas but I never let myself succeed with them. As I lie in bed that night, fighting insomnia and insecure thoughts, I started thinking of ways I could get back on track, and more importantly-stay on track.

I need to make a dummy book and finish it. I often have stories but they never quite work out and I get lost the writing, or the opposite happens and I can come up with  images but have trouble connecting a narrative to them.

I thought about how I really enjoy history. I love learning about things and sharing what I have learned. I guess that is how I ended up being a teacher. Why can't I take this interest and get my illustration involved?

Then I came up with an idea. I would write a non-fiction story, a story that only needs to be sculpted from history, adapted and illustrated. This is NOT an easy task, but the spark of a story is already there. My job would be to carefully weave a story bound by threads of facts.  ( After doing my research and started the process of  writing, I likened the whole ordeal of writing historic fiction or non-fiction to that of a card game- you have no control over the hand you have been dealt, much like you can not create things that aren't historically inaccurate or out of place, so therefore you must play out your hand and learn how use your cards to your advantage.  In other words, you must entertain with the facts AND remain true to them.) 

When I first moved to Boston I went to the tree lighting ceremony for the city's official tree. That night I heard about how Boston helped Halifax during the explosion of 1917. I was immediately fascinated by the story.

Why hadn't I heard of this before?
And also, what a touching gesture!

It seemed to be asking to be made into a book or story of some sort.

I needed to do a lot of research and I knew that that can get expensive. I then thought about applying for a grant. I found a work-in-progress grant from the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. The  deadline is February. I had a plan, and more importantly I had a deadline.

The book is going pretty well. I LOVED the research part but had a lot of trouble editing my ideas to fit a 32 page format (the average size of a children's book) At first I wasn't sure what part of the story to focus on, but reading "Curse of the Narrows," by Laura M Mac Donald I came to a section describing the relief train sent from Boston the night of the explosion. (see previous post for details) It is a very
dramatic episode and is a good introduction to the Boston Tree and the story behind it. 

I then started writing and drawing, thinking about the balance I need to achieve as both writer and illustrator. A writer/ illustrator needs to let the writing and the images work together- for example try not to illustrate only what is written and vice versa. My writing focuses on the senses which cannot be perceived in some of the images, while some of the illustrations depict things that are written between the lines.

OK so...

That is my goal, but I am so young in learning this skill that I feel like I am going about this story in a very basic way. I am NOT a natural writer. I don't know a lot about writing and I feel insecure about my writing (I can't spell, I have poor grammar and have a bad habit of switching tenses every other sentence)  I would LOVE to learn how to be a better writer. I am an artist first. Am I at least an adequate writer? Good enough to get me through my  first few books (Is that too low a goal to wish for? Just to get through!? argh!) 

 Part of me feels that these feelings are OK. I need to get books out of my system and learn from each one. 

Anyway on to some of the art:

I have to submit a rough dummy book along with a manuscript.

Here are some sample pages from the dummy book:

I also have to create two finished illustrations and submit them as well. I will post them soon, once the dummy book has been completed! Wish me luck! The deadline quickly approaches but I am confident that I will make it! (eee I hope!)

Thanks for reading!


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