Writing Process Blog Tour / by abby hanlon

Writing Process Blog Tour

This post is part of the Writing Process Blog Tour, where a series of children’s book authors answer the same 4 questions on their blog, and then “tag” another author so a reader can hop from one author blog to the next.   

My friend, neighbor and fellow mom, the ultimate Brooklyn (B is for Brooklyn) author/illustrator, Selina Alko, tagged me. Here is Selina's, in which she writes about why she is drawn to topics of cultural diversity and her recent non-fiction collaborations with her husband author/illustrator Sean Qualls.

from "B is for Brooklyn" by Selina Alka

from "B is for Brooklyn" by Selina Alka

What am I working on?

I am working on the sequel to Dory Fantasmagory. It's called Dory and The Real True Friend, and it will be in bookstores next summer. I wrote about half of it at the same time I wrote the first book. At that point I just had to divide up the content, which was easy because I knew I wanted Dory to be home with her siblings in the first book, and for her to go to school in the second book.

After I turned in Fantasmagory in April, I set out to whip the unruly sequel into shape. With a few critical steering points from my editor, Lucia Monfried, I completed the manuscript in a couple months. Then I sketched out about 150 illustrations. In July, I sent all the sketches to the designer, Jenny Kelly, and she laid out the text and the sketches on 160 pages.  Now Jenny and I are working together to smooth things out, moving sketches and text around in order for the book to flow just right. We’re getting the book ready for the galley, and after that I will start the final art.

Spreading out on the floor, putting words and pictures together.

Spreading out on the floor, putting words and pictures together.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are not a lot of early chapter books of this length that are both character driven and have illustrations on every spread (which I think is critical for young readers). I recognized this need when my twins were five and they thought the concept of a "chapter" book was the most fantastic thing imaginable, but I couldn't find a lot of books that fit their age group.  In fact, a couple of editors responded to my manuscript by saying that my character was too young for the chapter book format, and I couldn't disagree more.

Why do I write what I do?

I don’t know why. But I can tell you how:


How does my writing process work?

My writing process developed only recently. I learned how to write a book by writing Dory Fantasmagory.  When I first sold the book to Dial, it was more like a string of scenes instead of one cohesive story. It's amazing to me that Lucia was able to see the value in the chaos that was my writing. I did not know how to construct a narrative arc or how to entice my readers to turn the page. But Lucia didn’t seem too worried about it. I think she literally taught me how to write a book in a 20- minute phone conversation one day.  One of the things she said was this: "If you have a strong narrative arc, and you take your book apart scene by scene, you will only be able to put it back together one way." It was a breakthrough for me when I understood that.  I was able to rewrite the book in a way that felt like weaving --taking each thread and finding a place to loop it through.

This is my process:

1. I must feel complete frustration and self-loathing for several days in order to produce something.

2. Once I have something, I draw an arc, and try to start filling in the plot points.  I start writing down questions about the arc and the characters, although there is a period in between where I don't know what questions to ask -- so getting to the questions part is big progress. For example, here are some questions from Fantasmagory:

--Does Dory become a dog as another disguise? Or does she become a dog as a diversion from her problems? How does becoming a dog follow naturally from her temper tantrum? 

--What happens while Mrs. Gobble Gracker is sleeping? Does Dory forget about her? How/Why does Mrs. Gobble Gracker re-emerge?

I figured out that I can't come up with solutions to my story unless I am able to articulate the question.

3. I ruminate over the questions. I think about them in my sleep, those moments in the morning before I open my eyes, and as I go about my life during the day.  I have to have faith that the solutions will reveal themselves, and I try to remind myself, that it's worked before and it will work this time. I ask my kids the questions, and see what they say.  As long as I have a question looming, I feel totally unresolved and unsettled and bug everyone in my family. It feels like figuring out a puzzle -- sometimes I figure it out in front of my computer, and sometimes I have to rush to my computer to write it down.

4. The part I like best is when I look at my list of questions, and realize that an answer to one of the questions lies in another question. I think that's the weaving part of writing.


Next in the blog tour: I'm happy to be passing the torch onto Hyewon Yum, an author/illustrator I long admired before I knew she was also my neighbor.  Hyewon has the rare gift of being able to write as beautifully as she can compose a page. Her book, There Are No Scary Wolves, is one of my all time favorite picture books.

from "There Are No Scary Wolves" by Hyewon Yum

from "There Are No Scary Wolves" by Hyewon Yum