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Writing for Fun

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When my son was little, I decided to write a book for him.

I had an idea for a story, and a pretty good idea of what would make him laugh. Knowing my dearth of drawing skills, however, I decided that photos would have to suffice for illustrations.

I bought one of those “Make Your Own Book” kits, and set to work on it. The “plot” consisted of questions about silly things that a hungry dinosaur might want to eat; for example, “Does your dinosaur want a patch of purple petunias? Or pancakes on a Pooh plate?” Then one page would show a photo of petunias from my garden, and the facing page would show my son’s very own Winnie the Pooh plate with a stack of pancakes on it.

On the pages that read, “Does your dinosaur want lots of ladybugs? Or bites of busy bumblebees?” I used my son’s very own thumbprints, pressing his tiny thumb into a red or yellow ink pad to make the shapes of the ladybugs and the bees. Then I drew in the spots and stripes.

The “dinosaur” in question, as you may be able to tell from this photo, is actually a hand-held toy that is basically a stick with a grabber-head on top. I remember having my husband hold the “dinosaur” up in a variety of locations while I snapped its photo.

I had so much fun writing and designing his book! At last it was finished. I couldn’t wait to show it to him, but I saved it for a plane trip, when it’s good to have lots of distractions for small children. We were traveling to visit my sister. After we’d gone through some other coloring books and board books, I brought out my book to read to him. He laughed at every single page. And with each question about the dinosaur’s dietary preferences, he grew more delighted, until by the end he was shouting the answer, “Noooo!” I had to shush him, even as I giggled. That day was all about VALIDATION.

I’ve been writing YA for a few years now. My son isn’t old enough to read those stories. And I want to write a book that he can read right now. Since it's just for my son, I can tell the story however I want. I can quote song lyrics ... or use lots of ellipses ... or dream sequences ... How freeing! I'm not trying to impress anyone but him.

The first line of this new story has been tugging at my writerly sleeve for a few weeks. I finally surrendered to it. I'm not sure where this story is going yet - I'm thinking it's a haunted house story - but I'm enjoying the trip.

I may never actually achieve the validation of publishing a book, but I can write a story that will appeal to one particular reader. I have a pretty good idea of what makes him laugh.

(Sorry about the format - LJ doesn't recognize tab indents. At least not in html.)

Chapter One

The gate was open.

Erik’s head swiveled to the left as he ran past the old house. Had that gate ever been open before?

As Erik peered through the early-morning darkness, Buster made a sudden lunge forward on the end of the leash. Erik’s arm shot out, and he lengthened his stride to avoid having his arm yanked out of its socket.

“Leave it,” he commanded.

The dog whined, but stopped pulling.

Across the street Erik saw a small animal slipping into the overgrown grass of the vacant lot.

Must have been a coyote, he thought. The animal had been low to the ground and shadow-gray, trotting more like a dog than a cat.

Buster moved with great determination toward the spot where the animal had disappeared, and Erik allowed the dog to give the area a thorough sniffing examination.

While he waited, a sudden wind stirred the leaves in the trees and lifted his hair. Feeling chilled, he said, “Okay, let’s go.”

Erik jogged away, forgetting all about the open gate.

Some days at school, Erik felt like he was a laboratory rat in a science experiment about boredom. Scurry down this hallway and sit still in this room for fifty minutes. Then scurry down this hallway and sit still in this room for another fifty minutes. Now get a small “reward” by eating a snack and hanging out with your friends for twenty minutes. Now scurry down another hallway and sit still in another room.

Other days he felt like a character on a reality TV show. He could hear an imaginary announcer in his head: “Erik’s teacher has assigned the students a group project. Erik is stuck with Stanford, the class goof-off, Willow, the shyest girl in school, and Daria, who has a crush on Stanford. Will they ever complete the assignment? Tune in next week!”

Today, however, was a pretty good day. The kind of day where he actually liked going to school. His math test came back with an A-, they played basketball in P.E., and the cafeteria was serving lasagna for lunch. Even the afternoon, which usually dragged on forever, went pretty quickly. They were reading MacBeth out loud in English class, and Erik got to read the part of Banquo, which was cool because even after he gets murdered, Banquo comes back as a ghost and haunts MacBeth. Erik’s best friend Kris was reading the part of MacBeth, which made it even more fun.

After school, Erik and Kris took the #45 bus home, each one holding an ear bud from Kris’s iPod so they could listen to the new Pell Mell album. “My dad said he’s going to try to get tickets to their concert next month. Want to go?” asked Kris.

Erik widened his eyes. “Yeah! That would be awesome!”

Kris’s stop was next. “See you at practice,” he called, stepping off the bus.

Erik nodded. “See you.”

Half a mile later, Erik pulled the cord for his stop: Hawthorne Avenue. He waved to the bus driver and stepped out of the back door.

Man, it’s hot, he thought. Practice is going to be brutal today.

Erik could see little shimmers of heat rising from the pavement in the distance. After one block, his backpack felt like it was full of bricks. He wiped sweat off his forehead and shifted the straps of his backpack, trying to get more comfortable. The air felt heavy, like an invisible blanket pressing down over the world.

All he could think about was getting home and guzzling some nice, cold water. Then I’ll make a milkshake, he thought. Vanilla, with chocolate sprinkles.

With his mind on cold things, Erik passed the old house on the corner without seeing it. This morning, the gate had been open. If he’d glanced up now, at the house where no one lived, Erik would have seen that the gate was closed.


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Feb. 12th, 2007 07:29 am (UTC)
I love BOTH your books! And what a fantastic idea to have items from a child's own life in a book - talk about the kid learning that books deal with his own reality! I would love to do something similar for my niece - where do you get these bookmaking kits??
I have thought about writing a ghost story, becuase kids LOVE them. But I don't like being scared myself, so I haven't. Yours is creepy already!
Feb. 12th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
This looks like the one I used:


There may be other versions out there. My finished product definitely looks homemade, believe me!

Thanks for the kind words. I'm enjoying the new book - I can write the MC as an only child, with a dog (we have two), who plays football, and feels ambivalent about school. Talk about a book that deals with my son's own reality!

Feb. 12th, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the link! I love the other picture book you described, too, and if there's ever three of us in my family, it's an idea I will totally copy! What wonderful memories for your son to have as he grows up.
And not to say it's not a great thing to write just for fun, and just for your son, but: only child, football, school, dog - there are a lot of children out there who can relate to those things, too... I'm just saying ;o)
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Feb. 12th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Melodye!

I made two other picture books for him - the last one was called My Mom, My Dad, and Me - A Love Story. It described how my husband and I met, complete with wedding photos and other "old" pictures, and it told OUR story. I liked the idea that my son would see we had a life before him ... but that it was so much richer once he came along.

Feb. 12th, 2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
Tht is ADORABLE!!!
I bet he loved it...
Feb. 12th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Liz. He DID love it.

If only I'd had an illustrator like you, though!
Feb. 12th, 2007 02:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, I dunno-- I like it with the photos. And I bet he enjoyed seeing all those little pieces of his own world... and fingerprints, even!
Feb. 12th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
I bet he'll love the new story.

The dinosaur one? You should totally type it up and sub it as a pb. It's genius.
Feb. 12th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
Why, thank you!

I actually DID revise it to a more general readership, and sent it out to 3-4 places, but got no love in return. I guess it's not genius!
Feb. 12th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
Getting no answer doesn't necessarily mean it's not genius. Editors are like that, I've learned.
Feb. 12th, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC)
I imagine that's a freeing experience, just writing for yourself or a loved one, instead of constantly having the publishing gurus peeking over your shoulder. Have a great time with it!
Feb. 12th, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)

I still want to write a GOOD book ... but I don't have to worry about certain rules. It IS liberating.
Feb. 12th, 2007 08:07 pm (UTC)
Ooh, a sneak peek! Does your son know you're working on it, or are you keeping it a secret until the big reveal? It might be fun (eventually?) for the two of you to work on something together.

I think your post requires some editing, though -->

I may never actually achieve the validation of publishing a book

Ah, that's better! ^^
Feb. 13th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)
I was keeping it a secret, because well ... you know how loooong it takes to write a middle-grade novel. But he saw me with the dinosaur book, which led to discussions about books and writing. Then I got carried away and said, "How about if I write you a new book? Not a picture book, something for you now, at this age?"

He thought that was a good idea.

Feb. 12th, 2007 08:28 pm (UTC)
This was such a good post for me to read. Writing for one you love, including details important to him. I was smiling as I read the story of your son LOVING his book on the plane trip.

Thanks for sharing this.
Feb. 13th, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! That plane trip was the site of one of the happiest days of my writing life.

Feb. 12th, 2007 10:06 pm (UTC)
That is so sweet! I think your children's book sounds excellent. :)

And I love the first chapter of the other book.
Feb. 13th, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)

Thank you.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 13th, 2007 02:26 am (UTC)
Thank you, Sara!

I miss your other eye.

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