Pat Wahler, Author

Penning stories to savor.

Month: April 2017

Writing a Novel is Like a Giraffe Having a Calf

A few months ago, and with fingers crossed, I submitted a manuscript to a publisher in hopes they might consider taking it. I’d been playing with the story since 2010 – nearly seven years. Don’t misunderstand me, I love doing research and writing. But at some point, you have to finish what you start – and once a story is finished, wouldn’t it be nice if someone (other than your patient critique group) reads it? Even so, when I finally got the nerve to press the “send” button, I felt a little like a newbie actor must when trying out for the lead role in a play. Could they possibly pick me?

After waiting and sweating and chewing my fingernails to nubs, last week I heard from Amphorae Publishing Group. I’m thrilled to say, they offered me a contract for my novel, tentatively titled I Am Mrs. Jesse James.

Me putting my signature on the (undotted) line.

As soon as the terms were finalized, I jumped straight to social media. Publishing one little book isn’t such a big deal for the Stephen Kings among us. For me, it felt like an Academy Award nomination. So, I posted an announcement and said I’d write a blog post after the news had time to sink in.

Truth is, I’m not sure it’s sunk in even yet.

Maybe this has to do with the time and effort it takes to write a book. I’m not a speed-writer, especially when it comes to a work of historical fiction. To prepare for I Am Mrs. Jesse James, I’ve read more books, articles, newspaper clippings, maps, census reports, and opinion pieces on the James family and their nineteenth century world than I can count.

One may think, what’s the big deal? Review the research and get on with the story. Let me tell you what happens. After crafting a lovely little line about – for example – a ceramic bowl, fingers poise. Wait a minute? Did they have ceramic bowls in  1873? Then hours are lost to fact-checking ceramic bowls because there are tons of fascinating articles (with pictures!) on the history of ceramic bowls.  Then there’s the date you aren’t quite sure about, and need to verify, whereupon a brand new piece of information is discovered, requiring a previous chapter to be rewritten.

This is called chasing down a rabbit hole, and is a very effective way to lose time. I’ve really mastered the art of chasing down rabbit holes.

Here’s some of my material for this book. Sometimes locating a detail can be a tad challenging.

Further complicating matters, some sources were contradictory, and many pieces to the puzzle of Jesse James and his wife, Zee, were just plain missing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. People who are on the run tend not to leave behind a helpful record of where they went, who they talked to, or what they did. So, I waded through the available material and brought to life Zee’s story based on what I learned about her.

After writing the first draft and revising it a bazillion times, off it went to my editor for her eagle eye to find any mistakes. Then I pored over the whole thing again. When I finally believed it to be ready, I sent the manuscript to the Amphorae Publishing Group – and here we are.

The contract is now complete, but guess what? I’m still revising, because there is one true statement about writing. Any work can always be made better.

You might say April the giraffe’s recent mind-numbing experience is similar to the work of a writer. It takes a long time to birth a book.

Watch for my book baby to be “born” sometime in mid-2018.  I hope you’re looking forward to the ride as much as I am.

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Picture Books – The Memory Makers

A few months ago, I wrote about a picture book that my dear friend, Sheree Nielsen, and I co-authored. Now tentatively titled, Midnight and Starlight, A Tale of Courage, the book has been scheduled for publication in Fall, 2018 by Amphorae Publishing. Sheree and I are beyond excited, because there’s a new announcement. (Drum roll, please.)

Our illustrator for the picture book will be Janelle Dimmett! The minute Sheree and I saw her work, we fell in love with it. Do yourself a favor. Click on Janelle’s name to visit her website and see what this very talented lady can do. I know Midnight and Starlight will be amazing–and well worth the wait.

This journey started me thinking about picture books. They’ve actually been around for quite a while.

From the first time ancient man painted a bison on the dark and damp walls of a cave, pictures told a story.  And as we evolved, so did storytelling.

Books, especially those written for children, almost always came with illustrations. Orbis Pictus, an early encyclopedia for children, was published in 1658 in Nuremberg.  It’s whopping one-hundred-fifty chapters were divided by intricate woodcut prints. However, it wasn’t until 1744, when John Newbery published A Little Pretty Pocket-book, that pictures were married with words not as a textbook, but as pleasure reading for children.

The nineteenth century saw this concept greatly expanded with the publication of illustrated fairy tale collections, and whimsical drawings appearing in such well-loved books as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But the world of picture books, designed for the youngest children (and pretty much enjoyed by anyone who’s likes art), got its first blockbuster in Beatrix Potter’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Original edition. Wish I had one of these in my bookcase. (Wikipedia Commons)

When Ms. Potter’s friends read her scribbles, telling the story of a naughty little rabbit named Peter – and saw her drawings – they suggested she publish it. Ms. Potter obligingly sent the story to several companies, and alas, promptly received several rejection letters.  The process frustrated her so much, she decided to self-publish, intending to distribute the books only to her family and friends.

Shortly thereafter, Warne and Company came to their senses and reconsidered their original rejection. After more than a year of negotiations (Ms. Potter was nobody’s fool), The Tale of Peter Rabbit released officially in 1902.

The book hit it big. To date it’s sold more than forty-five million copies worldwide and created an empire. Not too shabby for a tale Ms. Potter originally penned (just for fun) for the children of her former governess.

When I think about the books of my own childhood, a lot of them include bright and colorful images. I owned a huge collection of Little Golden Books. Believe it or not, my favorite one, The Poky Little Puppy, is considered among the top selling picture books of all time. If memory serves, each Little Golden Book cost my parents a whopping twenty-nine cents.  The books are still in print today, although the price tag has changed – to somewhere around three dollars.

But here’s the best part for me. It’s so thrilling to see books I once loved now in the hands of my one-year-old grandson.

Before his birth, I bought him a copy of another favorite of mine – Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This is a sweet story with bright and vivid illustrations.  The book, published in 1947, still sells around 800,000 copies per year and has been translated into practically every language.  Talk about an enduring legacy! Can you think of a better book to soothe a little one to sleep?

The perfect bedtime story. (Wikipedia Commons)

I’m proud to report my grandson is more inclined to pick up one of his many books, than any other toy he owns. I sit with him on my lap and he turns the book’s pages, pointing his tiny adorable finger to each image, which I’m then expected to identify for him. No matter how often, it never gets old for either one of us.

As children grow up, reading becomes a solitary pursuit. They don’t need mom or dad (or grandma) to read to them anymore. I’ve learned to grab my moments now, because reading together is one of the best memory makers you can find.

Who knows? It’s incredible to consider, but someday Midnight and Starlight may be on somebody’s list of favorites.  That’s a thought guaranteed to prickle me with goose bumps.

Take yourself back in time. What’s your most beloved picture book? Is there a special reason why?

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