I’ve been invited by my friend and critique partner, Donna Bowman Bratton to take part in a writing process blog tour. Donna is a super writer success story! After many years of hard work and persistence, she landed four non-fiction picture book contracts last year! Isn’t that amazing? I couldn’t be happier for her. Read Donna’s stop on the blog tour here. I can’t wait till her books come out to celebrate her awesomeness!

And now, back to the tour:

Jackanapes by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Jackanapes by Jessie Wilcox Smith

What am I currently working on?

I’m currently working on a series of food-related poems for the picture book set. I was inspired when my family and I began raising chickens—it seems so weird to eat something that comes out of your pets’ butts. I am, of course, referring to their eggs. And then I started thinking about all of the humorous food stories that my family has told over the years: when I ate a fly thinking it was chocolate, my mom stabbing my uncle’s hand when he tried to take a bit of her pie…and a book idea began. I have always loved poetry and have played around with it many times, but this time I’m serious! In a silly way.

On the back burner, I have a middle grade novel about a female artist in the late 1800s and her struggles to become a professional illustrator in a world that believed women were meant to be wives and mothers, and nothing else. It’s based on the true story of Jessie Wilcox Smith. Her work is amazing, check it out! But then come back.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In my two non-fiction picture books, Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds and Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds, the focus was on the human connection to these amazing animals who have shaped our lives so tremendously. Before beginning Little Lions, my co-writer/husband, Jeff Crosby, and I researched as many books as we could about dogs, spending long hours at the American Kennel Club Library in New York City. We realized that there wasn’t one out there that made the connection for kids between the jobs for which each breed was bred and the quirks that it has as a pet, so that became our focus. To answer the question, the work differed in this case by finding a unique angle to the topic.

As far as my writing style, right now I’m going to Vermont College of Fine Arts to figure that out. I do loads of research for essays and when I study a new technique, I become conscious of using it in my own writing. I read a ton and I sometimes see the voice of what I’m reading seep into my writing. So I would have to say my work right now is still taking shape. It might be a while before I realize what makes my writing special, other than the inherent differences that one’s personal experiences bring to their writing.

Wiener Wolf

Wiener Wolf

Why do I write what I write?

I usually write about people or situations that spark my interest or touch my heart in some way. This is why when people come to me and say, “You should write a book about X!” I usually reply, “No, you should write a book about X!” If I don’t feel passionate about a subject, I will have a harder time making the reader feel passionate about it. This worked out well for my husband when he came to me asking me to write a book called Wiener Wolf. He ended up writing it himself and it turned out beautifully!

How does my individual writing process work?

It depends what I am writing, exactly. In most cases, I start with notes. I will jot down whatever inspiration has come to me. If it’s non-fiction or historical fiction, I like to not only research the facts, but read other books written on that same subject, place or time period. Then I get started writing. I’ve been trying to be better about not stopping to look things up and just add a question mark when I need a fact or location that’s accurate. It’s challenging if you’re a perfectionist to leave blanks in your manuscript, but if you stop all the time, you’ll lose the momentum of the story. I hope that the research I did before I started writing will be enough to carry me through a first draft. Then later, when I’m revising, I can spend time looking up details and making changes that are historically accurate.

Once I have a first draft, I will read aloud, make changes, forget about it for a few days, read it again and make more changes. I do this until I think it’s perfect and then I show it to my critique group. (Where I find out that it was not, in fact, perfect!) Another important step to me, is submitting it for feedback at conferences and workshops. Getting the opinions of writers, editors and agents outside of my critique group is so important. And often it will spark an entirely new and exciting direction for a manuscript!

Lianna McSwain

Lianna McSwain

The next two stops on the blog tour are both VCFA classmates of mine—the smart, funny, and effervescent Lianna McSwain and Lisa Papademetriou, a New York Times bestselling author who has written numerous books, including the delicious Confectionately Yours series, which I am delighted to see every time I take my daughter to the Scholastic book fair! Don’t miss their posts next Monday, May 12th, on their blogs!

The first book in Lisa's Confectionately Yours series.

The first book in Lisa’s Confectionately Yours series.