My Life With Gracie…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day

You may have noticed for the past few weeks Emily and Bessie have been doing the artwork for our posts. This has given me extra time to work on the illustrations for our next book.

Emily shared this drawing with me as soon as I got home from work on the evening before Valentine’s Day. While her beak and comb looked calm, I could tell by her twitchy tail feathers she was eager to give me her latest drawing. Who would have ever imagined that a slightly faded sheet of red construction paper could end up being so beautiful?

“Emily, that’s very pretty, and I like it tremendously. Do you need help adding some words like maybe ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’? I can spell the words for you.”

She shrugged her shoulders as if she was unsure what more needed to be said.

“It’s not really about Valentine’s Day,” Emily confessed. “I know you wanted a picture to share with everyone for Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry for letting you down. I don’t have a Valentine’s Day drawing for you.”

“What do you mean? There are valentine hearts all over it.”

“I know. But they are what you would call an artistic afterthought. They just fill the empty spaces between the chickens.”

“I see.”

“The drawing really isn’t about all of those valentine hearts. The most important part is all of the chickens who are dancing ballet. That’s what the picture is really about. I was hoping you would like that part the best and not worry about Valentine’s Day.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’ve told us how you often think about us dancing ballet at night when you are trying to go to sleep.”

“That’s true. I always seem to sleep better when I imagine dancing ballerina chickens.”

“So this picture is really to wish you sweet dreams and a happy tomorrow. And it’s not for just one day, it’s for all days.”

“I think it’s the most wonderful picture you have ever made, and it’s much better than a picture for only Valentine’s Day.”

We smiled together.

“I am so lucky to have you in my life, Emily. This drawing has you all over it.”

“I don’t understand. None of those dancing chickens are me. They are all Gracie. She is the best dancer.”

“When I look at this picture you’ve drawn just for me, I can’t help but see you. But I don’t see you on the paper. I see you in my heart.”

Her comb blushed a bit redder and she hurried off to put away her art supplies for another day.

I thought about placing her drawing by the lamp near my bed. It would be the last thing I would see before turning out the light and the first thing I would see in the morning. But for that Valentine’s Day Eve, I just sat and enjoyed the pure beauty of who Emily is.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) taught me love, real love, isn’t just for one day. It is for all days, and for sweet dreams, and for a happy tomorrow.

We have also included a sheet of “Art By Emily” Valentine’s Day cards you can download, print, and share. There are no words on the front or inside. When you print, cut, and fold them, you can add your own words if you’d like. I think they might also look nice framed…maybe on a bedside table?

Here’s wishing you, our readers, sweet dreams and a happy tomorrow!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

John’s Reading List For Writers…”Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron

If you are writing any kind of story, but particularly a novel, this book is for you. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. “Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron completely changed how I looked at writing a novel and just about anything else!

I checked out this book from our local library early last summer. Read it. Renewed it. Reread it. Took notes from it. Then I went out and bought my own copy!

“Wired For Story” is about how our brains think in stories and what our brains look for in stories. By tapping into the way our brains process stories, we can write compelling and meaningful stories. (This is not about tricking or manipulating readers the way annoying “click bait” does online.)

The story is what creates beautiful writing…not the other way around. —- Lisa Cron from her website

So what does that mean? To me, it means story has to come first. You may use the most sophisticated words in the dictionary and sound like a literary genius, but if your story doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, you have wasted your time. You may have a beautiful piece of writing, but no one will want to read it. Once you’ve hooked the reader with good story, then they can appreciate beautiful writing.

Throughout her book, Lisa Cron pairs a “Cognitive Secret” about how the brain works with a “Story Secret.” Here is an example from the first chapter.

Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.

Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.

No one told me this when I took “Creative Writing” in high school. The focus was on saying things in a unique way and using lots of sensory description. (This was boring, and I was honestly not very good at either of those skills. I still am not.) By mastering beautiful writing, we would be able to make our readers feel like they are experiencing the story for themselves. Looking back, I wish I had asked, “Why are those things so important when no one cares what happens next to my main character?” Story has to come first.

Even if you only write blog posts and have no further aspirations, what you write here on WordPress must make the reader want to continue on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next post.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, a story is not about the plot or even what happens in it. Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change. They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story, as we’ll see throughout, is an internal journey, not an external one. —- Lisa Cron “Wired For Story”

That one short paragraph from the first chapter completely changed how I wrote my first novel about my chickens. It went from being about “some cute and interesting things that happened to Pearl” to being about “how Pearl faced some tough challenges that changed her for the better.” This is not an external journey (what we do). This is an internal journey (how we change).

If you are a writer, this book belongs in your library! It will likely change the way you write your stories, and I believe the change will be for the better. By the way, you can also find some valuable free resources on Lisa Cron’s website. Check it out, and if you find the information there helpful, look for this book in your local library or bookstore. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

John’s Reading List For Writers…“Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul

The end of this week will mark the sixth week since submitting “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” to a publisher in England named Chicken House, Ltd. for their “Open Coop” submission day. (The six-week mark is when we will know whether we have been selected or not.) While waiting, I thought it might be good to share a few books which were helpful to me during the writing process. These may be helpful to those of you who are writers hoping to be published.

Although the title may make you think this book is not for you unless you write children’s picture books, there is valuable information here for any writer, regardless of intended audience or preferred genre. “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul taught me a great deal about writing any kind of book. (There is even a section on poetry which Amelia found very helpful and inspiring.)

Her book helped me consider how the elements which make a good picture book also make a good novel. For example, instead of the two-page spread, there is the chapter. The things which make you want to turn the page of a good picture book are the same things which make you want to turn the page of a good novel.

As I was writing, “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens,” if I couldn’t imagine a chapter as one or more two-page spreads, I knew something was probably wrong with it. If there were big sections which couldn’t be illustrated, I began to question their necessity. This wasn’t because I wanted to write a picture book, but because I wanted to write a book that would “draw” pictures in the minds of my readers and keep them turning the pages.

“Writing Picture Books” provides many important general keys to writing a story of any kind and for any audience. In fact, when reading many of its passages, it is unlikely you would realize you were reading about writing children’s picture books. This may not be a book to add to your shelf at home, but if you are a writer or an aspiring writer of any type of book, it will likely give you some helpful advice and may be available at your local library.

Never underestimate the power of a picture book! Even as adults, we can find our favorite picture books from childhood sneaking into everyday conversations. I’ll bet you remember “The Little Engine That Could” and “I think I can, I think I can.” One of my own favorite expressions lately is, “I’m just a Pokey Little Puppy today.” (Of course, even pokey little puppies can have naughty days!)

Wouldn’t it be great to be the author of a book that created such lasting memories for your intended audience? No matter their age? No matter their preferred genre?

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!