Write the book you needed at that age

“This dummy is a glorious mess.” -Wesley Adams, Childrens book editor at Macmillan/FSG

Wesley Adams told me this in 2014, right at the beginning of a meeting with him about the dummy for GERALDINE, my first author-illustrated book, now due out from Macmillan (with another editor) in 2018. Back then GERALDINE was on its first draft, and had about 67 central themes and 25 subplots.

Sitting across from me at his 9 am coffee-laden desk on the 37th floor of the Flatiron Building, Mr. Adams stares into my soul. “What is this book about?” he asks. I start to explain. “Well, it’s about a giraffe, she goes to school, but she’s the only giraffe, and the chairs are too small, and she has a school play…”

“NO” he cuts me off, “what is it REALLY about? WHY did you write this?” I splutter and blink.  Silence. I wasn’t prepared for this. “Well…” I say, slowly. Thinking. “I was a lonely kid. I was mixed, white and Hispanic. I never knew where I fit in.”

“THERE you go,” says my interrogator, sitting back. “When you’re rewriting, think about that lonely kid. Write it for her. Write the book that you needed to read at that age.”

Three years later, I still think about that meeting, about those words, all the time. When I write, there’s a story or character that attracts me, and I dump everything into it, not knowing how it’ll end up.

Then I take a second look at my story, and think about WHY I really wanted to tell it. It often goes back to myself as a kid, some issue or unhappiness I faced,  something which I may still carry as an adult. That’s the heart.

Then I try to write as if I were giving kid-me the perfect book for that bad day. Something to say, here, you’re just at the beginning of the story. Don’t worry, the middle may be rough, but look, see? It has a happy ending.

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