This is my May hedge a gram. I am content to stay at home working on my book, being happily distracted by my flock of Polish chickens and running. My husband is also my pal and not only does he make me laugh but he practices his double bass at home instead of Symphony hall and I get to hear a little concert every day.
I know not everyone has these options but maybe this is a good time to write and illustrate a children's book. If you are interested in creative writing, and, or draw or paint with a narrative in mind, you may be suited to this kind of project. If you are a young person, you may find it a good way to play with your creativity. If you are a teenager, think of a children's book as a roadmap for perhaps a YA book you have been thinking of or an adult novel. Many books come to their creator in an evolving form. I for one believe children's literature should not be diminished in any way and especially not made simpler! I think children are the best audience because their imaginations are more flexible and well, imaginative! In April, my Hedge a gram talked about getting an idea for a book. Now that it is May I'm going to describe what happens next for me, making a dummy.
After completing a manuscript and typing it up, I divide it into sections that will be about the length for a double page spread (that is two facing pages), I will leave room for front material which includes the title page and a copyright and dedication page. 99% of all picture books for children, that is ones with illustrations helping tell the story on every page, are 32 pages. If it turns out you do write and illustrate a book you are proud of, and you would like to offer it to a publisher, you will want to make sure it is 32 pages.
The next step is the book dummy. I have completed a dummy for every book I have published. Before beginning the dummy, I give some thought to the shape of my book, called the trim size. For example, I like to enclose each page with a decorative border that contains "windows" or shapes on either side where I can show background material, another secondary story or decorations that will add depth to the story. For example, in THE MITTEN, THE HAT, and THE SNOWY. I need to leave room for this. I wanted an intimate feel. I was thinking of a story for younger aged children. Those books were more horizontal and smaller. Perhaps for an older child and more lavish illustrations the book might be more square and larger like CINDERS. If the book is a Christmas or holiday book the trim size may also be larger and the feel of it more decorative. I am well aware that the publisher is looking for a book that will be commercially viable and hopefully a bestseller with many reprints. The ultimate goal for me is that my book will be passed down to the next generation. One of the best pieces of advice I ever eceived was from my editor at Houghton Mifflin when I was first starting out.
"I'm not publishing any "PLB's" Walter roared. This isn't a ladies’ sewing circle, you know!" PLB's are “pretty little books”, and what he meant were books that had no narrative content, just pleasant pictures. I agreed with Walter, that children should have the highest form of literature appropriate to them. My mother was a preschool teacher and read us many superlative books and all the classics, and this helped me a great deal.
Getting back to the dummy. I take typing paper, cut it so it is about the shape I envisioned, fold it and sew it together to make 32 pages with a needle and thread. I take my thumbnails which are, basically scribbles showing different scenes and affix the type that will start to show how the pages will follow one another. All this time I can move things around or if I go too far in the wrong direction, add a page or cut one out. Hopefully I won't have to do that. Sometimes I will use index cards, but actually sewing a little blank book helps me realize the seriousness of my intent, and I force myself to work harder.
The dummy takes about 3 weeks. There will be 16 spreads. The outcome I'm looking for is to be able to see the arc of the story, I want to see if the characters gel and if the atmosphere of the book reflects my intent. All this said, and this is very, very important to the way I work, I always hope my unconscious will throw in a curve ball or a happy mistake or a flash of illumination that tell me the story in my head, before I am even aware of it. I like to keep the dummy loosey goosey in order to leave room for fresh ideas. Sometimes there are themes and truths hidden in one’s own work that are only found in the actual telling, or in my case the drawing. It is really magic, and why story telling is a part of every culture and evident in mankind's first art, and on through the ages.
The dummy I'm working on now for The Nutcracker" is an illustration of Tchaikovsky's suite of music. It has taken more than two months. It's complicated because I am drawing from three sources, the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the ballet made popular by many varied ballet companies, and the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky which is shorter (about 22 minutes) compared with the full ballet score which is one hour plus. The ballet is set in Germany as usual and I have set my story in a fantasy St Petersburg, Tchaikovsky’s home. I visited that city several years ago and viewed beautiful period clothing and furniture at the museums there and saw folk dance performances and also a little wildlife. Putting all these things together is taking a lot of time, because it is such a beloved story. I want it to capture all the things children love about the ballet and not disappoint them. The ballet is made truly remarkable because children perform and the holiday themes are given a special fantasy element.
In my hedge a gram next month, June, I will add more about the finished art and writing. Hopefully when I put the whole thing together it will be an accurate picture of how I go about writing or retelling and illustrating a children's book
Good luck staying creative and making this time a silver lining, and good luck to me too, as the changes is the world are unpredictable. Happy Reading! Your friend, Jan
Happy reading, creating and illustrating, Your friend, Jan