Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Trouble with Writing a Picture Book Manuscript in Verse

Yesterday I presented at a writer’s conference with Rick Walton in Salt Lake City. Rick and I discussed topics such as what makes a good picture book, picture book structure, how to market your manuscript, etc. Participants got to pass out a manuscript to the group and get a thorough critique.

I remember one particular manuscript vividly, because the writing style was somewhat similar to my own. There was rhythm, rhyme, and word play. Every line of text was filled with internal rhymes that made the reader do a vocal fox trot. Fun. The trouble was that the story itself had some problems. It was a bit too complex for a picture book and needed editing. Maybe a whole lot of editing. But if she whittled away the complex stuff and stuck with her silly, core story, she might just have a fabulous chance with it.

Yet I heaved a sigh for this writer.

A heavy sigh.

That’s because verse can be so terribly tricky to write in the first place. In order to make the sweeping changes we were suggesting, I knew she was not only going to have to edit and refocus her story, but she would have to start all over again picking apart the rhyming words and finding new ones to fit the revised plot. It was like we’d just taken her finished jigsaw puzzle and dumped it all over the floor. I know how that feels.

If you write in rhyme and enjoy playing with words like I do, you know what I mean. I’ve often spent hours on a single word in a rhyming manuscript. Each one has to fit into the meter you’ve set up, which means the word must have the right cadence and the right stressed syllable. It really is like working on a jigsaw puzzle of letters and sounds.

Writing in verse creates layers of additional work when you revise the manuscript. And using internal rhyme creates more layers. For example, COOL DADDY RAT was particularly challenging because when an editor suggested the rat “needed a girlfriend,” (and there wasn’t one already in the text), adding her upset all my word dominoes. Now I’d have to say different things in the story, which would call for new rhyming words, which would call for new internal rhymes to match them. Later, when I was told the girlfriend didn’t work and I decided to add Ace, the dominoes were upset again: new things to say, new rhyming words, new internal rhymes to match.

So if you’ve decided to write a children’s book manuscript in verse, think first about the reasons why. Rhyme should feel integral to the story so that it somehow compliments or facilitates the action. For example, in COOL DADDY RAT, I used scat verse to liven up the text and put the reader into the jazzy music scene. When you read the manuscript, you are right there, performing with the characters. In BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP, the repeated refrain is a scary sound heard by the characters in the story. If you’re writing in rhyme for no particular reason, I’d suggest you rethink. It’s just too tedious to revise. Besides, you’ll have to make sure of the following:

1. You haven’t become a slave to the verse, choosing words you wouldn’t otherwise consider, just because you’ve gotta rhyme the thing.

2. You haven’t made it so predictable and cheesy it sounds like a television jingle.

3. It’s not monotonous like a music box that repeats the same goofy tune.

4. That the words flow easily, even for your most rhythmically-challenged readers. Nobody should “trip” their tongue on the text.

5. That it wouldn’t just--darn it—be better in prose.

6. That the editor wants to see rhyme. Many say they don't.

If you do decide to take on the challenge of writing in verse, create a good skeletal outline of your story BEFORE working through the tricky mechanics of the rhyme. If your basic story premise doesn’t work, you’ll eventually end up with your puzzle pieces on the floor.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ten Things...

Ten things that make me happy:

1. Reading a good book.
2. Hugging my kids, or watching them perform.
3. Admiring the colorful autumn trees.
4. Writing a story that somebody else likes.
5. Being loved unconditionally by someone I can trust.
6. Chocolate.
7. Talking to extended family on the phone.
8. The first snowfall.
9. The last snowfall.
10. Disneyland - The Indiana Jones Ride.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

That's Why I'm Easy (Like Sunday Mornin')

What can I say? I'm a proud mom. Here are two of my sons, rehearsing for a talent show. There's a lot of music in our house. Sunday mornings are never easy, and this one was particularly hard. So the song is a bit ironic.

The Orem Barnes and Noble signing last Friday night was fun. It's always great seeing fellow authors/illustrators like Sharlee Glenn (who I got to share a "zone" with) and Nathan Hale, Julie Olsen, Guy Francis, and Rick Walton, who didn't stay for the signing but met us for dinner.

I've got a good number of school visits lined up for the next eight months. Should be fun.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To be a Flourisher...

Alright, so I read this article on about longevity, and it gave ten signs that you will live longer than you might think. Most of the signs had to do with health…the foods you eat, how much exercise you get, etc. But then there was one sign of longevity which said, “You’re a flourisher.” Hmmm. A flourisher? I hadn’t heard that word used quite like that before. The article quoted Corey Keyes, Ph.D., who said, "We should strive to flourish, to find meaning in our lives." A flourisher is someone who lives life to the fullest, but with a purpose. A flourisher becomes passionate about using his/her own gifts and talents to make the world a better place.

I know in my first marriage I wasn’t a flourisher. My life was all about hitching a ride on someone else’s back…someone whose life dreams I assumed were more important than my own. With that mindset, I believed I was put on this earth to service him and to take care of the kids and to support him in his career. My own goals and dreams had little importance. And rather than flourish, I languished.

I believe the challenge is for each of us to determine what our individual purpose is for being alive. And if we just aren’t sure, well, then we have to take up a cause—something “virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy,” and while we’re doing that, we’ll be lead in the direction we’re supposed to go. (And hey, in the mean time our days are well spent.) It’s got to be a very personal, individual thing—something that would still be a passion, goal or dream even if our spouses died or abandoned us, if our kids grew up and left the house, if our friends turned their backs.

I’ve heard about people who reach that moment of epiphany where they say to themselves, “This is it; this is why I was put on this planet. I’m doing the thing I came here to do.”

Here’s hoping every one of us gets to have one of those moments. At least one, before time runs out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I have to admit, I'm haunted by the car accident that killed my stepdaughters' mother and little sister. I keep hearing the horrific sound of crushing glass and metal in my head, even though I wasn’t there that awful night.

I imagine myself in the driver’s seat and wonder what she saw and felt in those final moments. The sheer unfairness of the whole thing bothers me. By what forces in the universe is one person allowed to live when another must die? Is every second I’m still here, alive and breathing, a moment stolen from her? Surely she would have wanted to live, to watch her two little ones and her older daughters marry and have children of their own. She would have wanted to be at their weddings, graduations, and the births of their children. Why were those opportunities taken from her, for no apparent reason? I don’t feel worthy of such grand entitlements, especially when they were rightfully hers.

It’s a sobering thought that a person can be driving home one evening with her child strapped in her car seat, and in a flash, everything ends. Such a harsh reality makes me consider how I'm spending my time. Am I doing enough that makes a difference? Am I using my time wisely? If my life ended today, what things have I left unsaid or undone? Did I owe someone a heartfelt apology? Did every one of my kids know that I loved them completely? Would people look back on my life and proclaim that I was “good?”

Two young mothers in my very extended family (both in their early thirties), are having double mastectomies in the next few days. One has lymph node involvement and one doesn’t. They are both now facing cancer, the wretched beast that claimed my mother’s life. So I ponder. Why? Why them? Of course, they are both surrounded with love and family support and each one is now acutely aware of the beautiful blessings in her life. Is this what death—or its looming presence—is supposed to teach us? To draw closer to each other? To be appreciative? Why is it that the more delicate, fragile, and temporary something seems, the more precious it becomes?

Today I am resolved to have more gratitude.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Need a Job, So I Wanna Be a Paperback Writer

The Beatles knew all about writers. (Shut off my music player on the right margin before playing this clip.)

I used to be soooo jealous of my younger sister, Michele, because there was a Beatles song with her name in the title. And there was FRENCH in the song. And it was a LOVE song. Life isn't fair.


17th - I'll be signing books at the Orem Barnes and Noble from 7:00 p.m. until closing. Come say hello.

24th - I'll be at the Layton Barnes and Noble with twelve other authors, from 5:00 p.m. until late. Would love to see you there.

25th - I'll be putting on a picture book workshop with Rick Walton, to help fund our book for kids with juvenile diabetes.

30th - E.G. King Elementary's "Spooky Literacy Night." (Layton, Utah.) I'll be there to present and sign books from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., with authors/illustrators Mike Knudson, Will Terry, and Nathan Hale. Come check out what goofy costume I end up wearing.