Kathy Halsey, a retired librarian who is writing for children, wants to know:
Q: What is your writing process?
Q: What are you currently working on?
Q: And so forth.
First, thank you for your career, Kathy, matching books to readers.
And thank you for your 2nd career, as a writer.
Back to the first. You likely answered ga-zillions of queries from anxious writers, seeking, for example an obscure local cookbook/history about Michigan maple sugaring via inter-library loan, from upper/lost/outer beautiful Michigan. Writers are also thankful for that. (Note to local taxpayers, support your library when it wants to continue the inter-library loan service, please.)
WRITING PROCESS I
Here is what should be, but is not always, on hand:
Cat, to do the typing
Good health, rested body, peaceful mind
Fair trade (no child slave labor) organic dark chocolate, early a.m. only
Guayaki yerba mate (my hubby introduced it when he returned from Argentina), also a.m. only
An idea that I think about day & night & in my dreams & during conversations about movies & while I’m eating & walking & on & on. This is crucial.
The information I find to go with that idea.
Look at that. Very little, to get me going.
I write in a rainbow of genres. For children, poetry, picture story book, concept book (like ABCs) illustrated non-fiction, fiction in chapter book & middle grade. For adults, magazine pieces, chapter contributions to non-fiction books, my own travel guides, poetry, & mystery stories.
So let’s narrow the mass down to a bit about how I wrote the newest book, SHE SANG PROMISE.
And this will also help me answer the pressing question of a school librarian from Winnetka IL, about the process for writing this specific book.
My newest book is an illustrated story from the life of a Native American leader who became a national figure with her achievements, including a presidential appointment. But she primarily made headlines in her home state, Florida.
And for kids, it was important to research one of her career oddities – she wrestled alligators. In the late 1940s, before reality teevee. For very little money.
A good oral history library
An understanding of events during the time span 1920s-1980s
My subject’s memoir & other publications
Old photographs/information about period clothing
Site visits to subject’s house/reservation/museums
My subject’s permission to tell her story to children (required by the publisher, but something I desire, anyhow)
Copy of her storytelling video
Details of her adult achievements
Observation of alligators & of people wrestling them
The story of her world took place significantly outdoors, so I needed notes about the flora & fauna & geography & weather of her child days.
I needed to begin lining up expert readers, to review my manuscript.
And I probably needed a few other things, which I am forgetting, here.
WRITING PROCESS II
When I amassed shelves & binders & paper files of materials, including my subject’s newspaper articles & columns, because she edited her tribe’s paper, I began to write.
It was clunky.
So I did what any writer does. I turned to the editor for this project.
And bless her. She sent me lovely illustrated biographies. And then she gave me titles of others, to go look up.
In the second group, I found one that lit a fire under me & is still a favorite, when I read it in school.
It was created by Jacqueline Briggs Martin & Mary Azarian.
I get prickles on my arm when I remember first holding the powder blue cover, fringed with snowflakes. This wood-cut-assisted beauty is one of the best picture books I know about a real, but lesser-known, individual of our planet (that is the sort of person I am drawn to write about. ) The book is SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, a Caldecott winner.
And that book about a boy in Vermont obsessed with snowflakes, was a portal into feeling that I could pick my way along the path of the story of a girl who grew up in subtropical Florida, keeping all manner of wild & domestic creatures as pets in her own informal hot-climate, outdoors zoo. Very different children, geography & life paths.
But the SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY team’s excellent storytelling in words & pictures inspired me.
Yet, I was still not writing something to send my editor.
How to begin it ? How to begin it?
When I disliked a ga-zillion first pages, I turned to something that has always amused me since my child days when I created a little cartoon character, Beanie. And that is, doodling. And so I doodled loopy loop shapes. And then on another page, after a few shapes took shape, I dropped the pad. I was unhappy. I looked up & saw on my wall, a map of Florida. The state where my subject was from. And I picked up the pad & began to draw an outline of the state of Florida. I began in the far northwest in the Panhandle. When my thick fat dark pencil reached the southeast part of the state, words appearing from who knows where – the stars? the swamp? engaged my neurons: “Think of a gigantic place at the end of land…”
And that was it. I was off and running.
Because I had amassed information on aspects of the world of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, my subject, pieces of her life that would be kid magnets, I just kept on & on with the writing. Then, because I had written too much, my editor & the editor above her, helped me squeeze out duplications, of which there were umpteen-many.
O! there were many. But they got gone.
The story is told in chronological order, assisted with luscious artwork from Lisa Desimini, a letter to children from the subject’s son, and notes of further information for older children, parents, librarians & teachers.
Kirkus said: “Short poetic stanzas join jewel-toned illustrations to sing the satisfying story of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper.”
It is an American Library Association Top Ten Amelia Bloomer book (a list of titles about exemplary girls and women), it is selected by the National Council on the Social Studies & it won the Florida Book Awards gold medal. The full title is SHE SANG PROMISE: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader. It is part of the Accelerated Reader program & its listed on several library/history archives as a reference on Native American topics.
Q: What is your current project?
A: A few in the cooker. This year so far I sent several poems for children to a university publisher’s contest & also submitted to an independent publisher, a 3,400-word mystery short story for adults. Another illustrated biography that I enjoyed researching is finished, not contracted, being read. I recently had fun writing a picture book based on my revision of a children’s folksong that has cool present-day ties, & I finished poems of whimsey, on a theme, for kiddos. A third new picture book manuscript is also almost ready to send out. If any of those see a green light I will switch off from my zippy novel-in-progress for middle grade, & revise the previous project (s). Much as I love the current story & main character set in the 1960s in Florida, I hope for the temporary interruption via the working with-an-editor phase, of one of the “finished” pieces.
Thanks so very much for these Qs Kathy. And good luck with your contributions to the mighty fine new blog, GROG.