I’m Back! And what kept me too busy to blog?

I apologize for not keeping up with my Friday picture book reviews. Three weeks have slipped by, and yes, I have a good reason for my absence.

I felt the time had come to give my future as a picture book writer a closer look.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me praise my collection of little notebooks. In fact, I am so fond of little notebooks that my daughter gives them to me for presents on my birthdays and holidays. One of my notebooks holds ideas for future picture books topics. When an idea for a clever title pops into my head, I write it down because a clever title can often spur a clever story.  I make note of amazing people I have long admired or recently heard about whose accomplishments I find admirable. And I take notes about astonishing historical events I would have loved to read about when I was a school girl.

Hmmm. I thought to myself. It looks like I have an interest in writing nonfiction. (Visualize a light bulb flickering on above my head.)

Questions followed.

Can a fiction-loving picture book writer switch over to nonfiction? Where do I find my sources? How many primary and secondary sources do I need? Which sources are respected over others? How do I find an expert in the field who can verify my facts? How do agents and editors prefer to see research organized? What if I can’t find enough information about the subject? What if I find so much information I stagger under the load? What do I include in my author notes? What information goes in the back matter? Should I include a glossary of terms? How long is too long for a nonfiction picture book manuscript? Can back matter get too lengthy? Where do I start?

Baffled by many questions, I decided to take an intensive online course in writing nonfiction picture books.

Flash forward.

Research pile

My notes from the class as well as my research notes on my topic fill three, fat, three-ring binders. More notes are piled on the sofa, jotted in numerous notebooks (of course), stuffed in the pages of library books, and filed on my computer. Additionally, my loving husband took a few days off from work to travel with me for my research. (What a great guy!) My manuscript is written, and I’m happy to report that I’m moving through the revision process with a giddy heart. And what about those marvelous morsels of information I discovered that don’t move my story forward but have EVERYTHING to do with my topic? Turns out I can include some of them in my back matter. Yay!

I’m excited that I embarked on my nonfiction picture book writing journey. What surprised me most is how much I am enjoying the research process.

Come next Friday, I’ll be ready to post picture books reviews once again.

See you then!

Writing From Real Life Experiences

As promised, I’ll share with you the inspiration for another picture book I am writing. This one is a nonfiction animal rescue story.

Growing up in the country meant living in a place where wildlife lived both outside and inside the house. I had, and still have, the uncanny ability to know when an insect is near. It’s like having a built-in radar I wish I could disable.

I recall a hot summer night (frankly all summer nights were hot at my mid-west house. My parents never saw the need to install an air conditioner when a cross breeze through open windows offered relief for free.) I digress… I was about eight at the time, and in addition to my insect radar, I also had (and still have) the ability to hear coffee being picked across the world—OK, not quite. But I heard a sound much like a troop of ants invading a picnic. I flipped on the light and let out a neighbor-waking scream. My mother came running. Upon seeing an uninvited millipede sharing my pillow, she proceeded to calmly get the vacuum cleaner from the hall closet and suck up the little bugger. “You live in nature,” she said, plugging the hose with a wad of tissues. Like that was supposed to bring me a calm, restful night. From that point on it seemed nature found a clear path into our home.

Yes, we had the rare, but common mouse sightings, but we also had a praying mantis infestation when my mother brought an ‘interesting’ cocoon into our house. “Isn’t it fascinating?” she said. A month later when thousands of babies hatched, she sang a different tune. Then a ladybug convention darkened our windows by their sheer numbers. ladybugsIn addition to the insects, we gave shelter and care to a variety of furry critters the cat dragged home within an inch of their lives.

But the animal which left the largest print on my heart was an injured mallard we found a mile from our home. Seeing the bloody, broken duck, my mother supposed it was attacked by a raccoon or coyote. It appeared clear the duck wouldn’t last the night, but being me… I cried. I cried for the pain the duck must have been experiencing. I cried for the fear the duck must have felt during the attack. I cried for the experiences the duck would not enjoy after her life was cut short. And my mother did exactly what I needed her to do. She brought the mallard to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

My hopes crashed when we were turned away because they had no space to care for one more animal.

We took the duck to the vet. My hopes crashed again when the vet didn’t give the duck a hope in the world of surviving. And again, my mother did exactly what I needed her to do. She brought the duck home. And what happened over the next four months touched me deeply—changed me. What happened next is what my nonfiction picture book is about. With hopes, after sending my manuscript out into the world of agents, I’ll gain the interest of one who will feel my story needs to be shared.  

As always, it’s hard to write with one’s fingers crossed.

All the best.