The Story of a Story: History Finds a Home
You may have noticed that this website has undergone some redesign and updating. I’m working my way through the tabs and links, too. As a result, the FAQ page needed some links to various posts. Even though I linked to this WriteNowCoach guest post for Rochelle Melander in this post (here), I wanted to provide a direct link within my blog. It addresses a question I’m often asked, and this describes my writing journey to publication.
When it comes to the creation of Odin’s Promise, my debut middle grade novel, revision was not the key.
Before I’m cursed to a lifetime of writers’ block for such blasphemy, let me explain.
When I traveled to Norway with a friend almost thirty years ago we stayed with her relatives. I heard delightful family stories, viewed countless photos, and fell in love with that country and the warm-hearted people I met. One story that attached itself to my heart involved resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II.
My writerly instincts envisioned that one particular event as a richly illustrated picture book.
For the next four years or so I used my limited writing time to research those war years and draft various texts. Unfortunately, the results were poorly suited for a picture book, even in those days. The text was too long, the characters and plot too “old”, and the story too history-laden for a picture book audience.
For the next decade or so I worked at other writing, pulling this story out and revising at least twice a year, never finding a way to solve those issues. For several more years I read, attended workshops, and networked to improve my skills at writing picture book text. All of which convinced me that this would never work as a picture book.
I was determined to share it in some way, though, so I sought advice from professional editors and formed a new plan. I would write it for a niche audience, readers with an interest in Norway history. It could be marketed in gift shops, museums, and online specialty companies.
What that plan produced was a novella-length light romance which focused on that particular resistance event and the fictional characters who carried it through. Beta readers strongly supported this manuscript and offered encouragement for the marketing plan.
Long story short, this approach led me repeatedly to self-publishing. I’d researched that process. It may have been well-suited to the project, but it was not a good match for me.
Eventually I discovered and joined SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Through my writing groups, workshops, and conference critiques I found encouragement for my writing and the historic elements, but the same advice came to me again and again: this would work better as a middle grade novel.
Did I listen? Not really.
My core story involved older characters and situations, and I clung to that relentlessly. I couldn’t “re-vision” this story unless they held center stage.
Other projects proceeded, but my research and reading continued. One search led me to a scholarly work on Norway’s street level resistance efforts, with included frequent quotations from journal entries by school age children.
Suddenly, pre-teen Mari spoke to me. She convinced me that she, too, had an important story to tell and would help me tell it.
Only then could I loosen my grip on my original characters, on their story. I dropped them into the scramble of ideas Mari had offered. With her voice to guide me I pulled out pieces to construct her story of fear and courage, love and loyalty. It just so happens that bits of my original story found a home within hers.
Once I gave up revision and sought an entirely new middle grade story, it went from draft to publication in less than two years.
After all those years of revisions.
All I had to do is listen.