These last couple months I have felt like I was drowning. I felt unsettled and restless. I have about 5 picture book manuscripts going at one time and I was trying to get some illustrations banged out for them and for the SCBWI Pocono retreat where I will have a table in the Illustrator's Gallery. (that was a big run-on sentance, but this is MY blog so it's OK!) I felt like I was grasping at straws. I didn't like the feeling of not "knowing" which book to develop, which illustrations to complete, what dummy to send. I know I have the passion for children that it takes to be a good author but that didn't seem to be connecting with what I was writing.
Something happened this weekend that I can barely explain. Someone came to my rescue and she isn't even real. A character popped into my head and I haven't been able to shake her. However, this character is unlike any other I have developed.
I sat down at my computer and just started typing. It was like I was taking dictation. The words, came out of my fingertips as I watched her thoughts appear on my screen almost as quickly as someone would speak them.
"There was no one around. No one would know. If I cut, maybe it would release the pain he has caused me. Maybe it would heal my broken heart."
"His eyes were pale, pained hopeless and his Manson t shirt was torn down the center and stitched back together with dozens of safety pins. Was this the state of his soul? Held together by something sharp and painful? His eyebrow twitched, he spit at my feet and turned and walked away. This was the boy I loved."
"My ten biggest fears are not unlike most teens. They're pretty normal, I guess. But most girls my age don't walk down a dark, narrow path toward each one and stare it in the face and say ---. Sigh. But, neither do I. And that will be my downfall. My certain death."
"Do it," she said as she shoved the pipe in my face. Everything I was prepared to say in this situation, everything that was right dispersed like the fingers of smoke burning my eyes. I took it. I sucked in its poison. It felt ugly inside my lungs. I could feel it clawing to get out. But right now this was the only thing in my life I had control of so I held it."
This was certainly not a picture book character. She reminded me of many of the students that filed into my art room...Room 62 of Vestal High School (12 years ago).
Then I got to thinking of the groups that I have taught or led over those 12 years that I have been a stay-at-home mom. Never have I gone too long without somehow being involved with kids... and it is always the tween and teen age group! Those children I taught for years at Vestal were my first children, they taught me a lot about the world I never entered as a teen.
So, after talking to a few author friends about HOW this character came out of nowhere, I was encouraged to follow my muse. Over the next 24 hours, the story of this girl evovled so much that every thought that entered my head was part of the puzzle I will fit together to make her as real to readers as she is to me. Even in the shower I was sticking my head and arm out to reach the notepad so I wouldn't forget a piece of what she was whispering.
Kind of funny how things evolve. For years agents and editors at conferences have had similar comments, "You have a strong, unique voice, BUT, your story is too big for a picture book. Cut it down." So, why did it never occur to me to flesh out those stories? I believe it is because none of them were THE STORY. I don't regret the last 4 years of submitting picture books...they were a stepping stone that taught me about the industry and brought me some amazing friends. I'm not giving up on those little characters and their stories but for now I am giving them a nap and tending to the needy one in my head.
I posted the excerpts above on my Mommy Blog and someone left this comment:
"My daughter is 13 and not "lost" and it scares me to think about her reading any of those books!"
My feelings about this comment were so passionate as I wrote her a response.
these books would be FOR those kids who are lost to give them hope, show them it's never too late to make a change, or to tranform into something lovely.
If your daughter is not "lost" then I would hope she wouldn't have the NEED to read any of these books.
That's the beauty of books - you pick what you like and stay away from what you don't.
I would never be crass enough to hope EVERY child read my books.
I write for those who NEED it. And pray they are someday in the category of those who DON'T.
Blessings to you and your family."