A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way

A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way“So what is that you’ve done there?” I asked Pearl as she was rearranging some sticks and pebbles and leaves in a cleared out area in the chicken run.

I had brought some of my unfinished drawings outside with hopes of getting inspiration. Some of them were just not coming together.

“Oh, nothing really,” she said.

“Whatever you do is never nothing.”

Pearl seemed glad to have sparked my curiosity. “I thought I might help you with the book.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look more closely.”

And so I did.

“I only see some twigs and pebbles and leaves and a few little feathers.”

Pearl added one more twig to the collection she had gathered, and suddenly an image formed.

It was a chicken, a happy chicken! I couldn’t really call it a drawing, and I couldn’t really call it a sculpture.

“Pearl, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, and it’s so much like something you would do!”

She just smiled up at me.

“I’ve always known you were a collector, but I never knew you could do anything like this!”

“I thought you might need some help with the illustrations.”

She moved a few of the twigs and pebbles, and there was suddenly a completely different chicken pose. Then she added an azalea blossom, and suddenly there was a dancing chicken wearing a tutu made from the flower.

So I sat and just watched as she kept moving and rearranging and creating new images.

“I started making these last summer. When you were teaching Emily to draw.”

“I had no idea.”

“I taught myself how to do this, how to draw like this,” she said. I could not tell whether she had felt left out last summer, but it was likely she did. “I guess I have always gone my own way.”

“That was when you were getting over Blanche leaving us, wasn’t it?”

“May I show you something else?”

Pearl had not answered my question or waited for me to answer hers.

She went up to the darkest corner of her nesting box where I would have never thought to look. One by one, she brought out bits of torn paper and gift wrap she had collected when the trash truck came by on Tuesdays.

Each held a drawing made with the simplest of tools. These were her real drawings, ones on scraps of paper. She had used feathers shaped into pens, soft twigs frayed and turned into brushes, inks made from charred wood and milkweed sap, smudges of mud, and even what looked like the last of some bottles of white correction fluid and fingernail polish.

“Pearl, I had no idea.”

I sat next to her to examine them more closely.

“May I touch them? I will be careful. I want to spread them out so I can see them better.”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

“I don’t want to damage them.”

“You won’t. I trust you.”

I picked each one up as carefully as I had picked up Pearl when she was just a baby chick. As I spread them out in front of us, Pearl hopped up into my lap and whispered so only I would hear, “They are the story of my life.”

There was her life. Had I ever been so introspective? It takes a great deal of courage to look at one’s entire life laid out like cards, tiny snapshots of who we are. But Pearl had done it, and each of these was an expressive masterpiece.

“Most of these are full of light and hope,” I said.

“A chicken’s life can be that way.”

“But some of them are very dark and scary.”

“A chicken’s life can be that way too,” she said as only one who has known dark and scary can say.

We sat there looking at her artwork together. There were times I wanted to ask a question, but chose to stay quiet. I felt the drawings would speak for themselves, and if there was something they did not say, then maybe it was not important to know after all.

I placed one of my own unfinished drawings under one of hers.

“May I use some of these for our book, your book? Some of the chapters have things that only you experienced. Like this one with the opossum. I haven’t known how to draw those things because I wasn’t there.”

“I was there.”

“I know you were. And you lived to tell about it.”

“And draw it too.”

“You did.”

Life must create and create anew. With whatever it can find. Even useless throwaways. Pearl may have once thought about her own life that way. But no longer. Perhaps Life specializes in turning what others reject into priceless beautiful things, if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.

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

Blanche And Pearl…“They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Blanche And Pearl...”They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Today seemed to be a good day to share one of the illustrations which I’ve been working on while my chickens helped some with a few pictures for “My Life With Gracie.” This illustration work really is work!

This is one of four large illustrations for How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. It is for the first section titled “Blanche And Pearl.” Each section will begin with a large illustration and then each chapter will have a smaller panoramic banner illustration. (Imagine just the bottom third of this drawing.)

It is a drawing challenge for me to work with only black lines and gray tones because I definitely miss being able to use color which adds so much life and emotion to a drawing. But with the cost of color printing, it is the only affordable alternative for a book of this length. Having grown up with only a black and white television, I am comfortable seeing the world without color, and I think perhaps the drawing style may somewhat recall a previous time period.

Some things are the same as the drawings which I’ve done from the beginning such as the low horizon line which gives a “chicken’s eye” or “child’s eye” view of the world. Also the illustrations which include people, such as The Bottle Cap Lady, will only show no more than the lower body, not the face. (Not because I can’t draw faces, but because the chickens are the main characters. It’s also important to the story’s message for The Bottle Cap Lady to be anyone anywhere, and facial details or a regular given name would interfere with that.)

You may notice a bit more realism in this drawing. Much of this is because the novel explores Pearl’s real genuine emotions about not being accepted by the other chickens and then later losing Blanche and needing to face life alone. Those themes don’t seem suited to a lighthearted cartoon style of drawing. There are also many straight lines and angular shapes, and only the chickens and the German iris use curved lines and rounded shapes. I think this contrast helps bring attention to the smaller elements in the drawing like the chickens. (Often Pearl feels small and insignificant, though she never gives up hope.)

My goal is for this illustration to capture the relationship between Blanche and Pearl and the feelings expressed by this key sentence from the story’s first part: “They only ever had each other.”

You may be thinking this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas illustration or sound like a typical Christmas story. You are quite right. But then Pearl is not a typical chicken and The Bottle Cap Lady is not a typical neighbor either!

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

How does this drawing look to you? Can you tell which chicken is Pearl? And is this Pearl as you might imagine her in a world of black and white? I live with these chickens and with these illustrations, so it’s often a challenge to see things with different, and perhaps more critical, eyes. Your perspective, even if not-so-favorable, is truly appreciated.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”…An Update And A Possible Cover!

How To Explain Christmas To Chickens

I finished the major editing work for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” on Christmas morning. Approximately the last third of the novel takes place on the days leading up to Christmas and then Christmas day itself.

Each day, I edited what would happen on that day. This helped with details and continuity. Would the pomegranates still be ripe enough for Pearl to use them to make ink for her letter to Santa Claus? Would anyone be laying eggs during the shortest days of the year? Both of these were important elements to the novel’s ending which needed to be feasible to me. Now you may not believe that chickens talk with people who love them and can dance ballet, but as I see it, the other details need to be accurate. (If this seems a little idiosyncratic, I won’t argue with you. It seems that way to me as well.)

After Christmas, I began putting the edited text into publishing format which includes a final check of what I call “the ability to be easily read aloud.”

Everything was moving along nicely, but then on New Year’s Eve, I found a post on Twitter from a publisher in England. They were providing an open submission day – one day only – on January 2, 2020 in honor of their 20th year of publishing.

Honestly I had never considered the traditional publishing route. Who would want to publish stories about backyard chickens? Even ones who enjoy dancing ballet?

But perhaps it would be worth an attempt for no other reason than the publisher is named Chicken House, Ltd. They are located in England. Some of our very favorite readers are in England!

It seems sort of a natural fit, doesn’t it? When Gracie and I looked at their website, we found they were featuring a mystery book about ballet! When she saw that, she knew it was the right thing to do because the publisher must surely like chickens and ballet.

So I had a good deal of quick learning to do. In all of the books I’ve read about writing a novel, I’ve always skipped over the chapters about submitting to a publisher. I never felt that my odds would be very good.

But I kept reminding myself of all my chickens had taught me. I thought of fearless Amelia who launched herself on a journey to fly to the moon. (That story will perhaps be our next novel.) I thought about Pearl, eternally hopeful Pearl, who has never given up no matter how many times her goofy plans may fail. (That story is this current novel.) Most of all, I thought of what Gracie had told me.

“Life is a gift, and so is a talent. Wherever there is a gift, there is also a giver. But do not trust the gift. Trust the Giver of the gift.”

But you will read more about these things in “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” whether traditionally published or self-published.

For now, we are waiting the required six weeks while the folks at Chicken House, Ltd. review our pitch letter and first three chapters. If we have not heard from them, we will just continue with self-publishing as we had planned all along.

Gracie thought you might enjoy a peak at our possible cover design if self-published, and so that is today’s illustration. Hopefully it strikes the right balance between playfulness and seriousness. It could also serve as an illustration for the last chapter of the novel.

It is still difficult for me to say where this book would fit in a bookstore or library. My goal is for it to appeal to a wide age group without fitting into any particular standard genre. Sometimes I think of it as an adult book pretending to be a children’s book, and other times I think of it as a children’s book pretending to be an adult book. Either way, like a bank of snow, there is more than what you see.

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

My Life With Gracie…Christmas Eve Wisdom and Wishes

“The most important thing to know about laying an egg is that it is about giving. Light and Life and Love are about giving, not getting. Don’t ever make any of these things about getting.”

Chicken Wisdom from Blanche in
“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

We are so thankful for all of you who have been following along with our adventures and bits of “chicken wisdom.” More than anything, we want to help bring peace and joy into your heart. With everything we share here, that is our goal.

For my chickens, they just go about their daily routine doing what chickens do. For me, I just draw illustrations and write words to go with them. There’s nothing special in any of those things.

So if anything here touches your heart, it’s not from my chickens or me. It’s from something far greater. It’s from the source of Peace and Joy. It is from Light and Life and Love.

“My Life With Gracie” wishes you Peace and Joy…and Light and Life and Love…and a very Merry Christmas too!

Gracie, Bessie, Pearl, Amelia, Emily, and John

The Most Perfect Plan Ever!

The Most Perfect Plan Ever

This is an excerpt from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” In this chapter, Pearl believes she had found the explanation that will help her understand Christmas and will also help her get what her heart wants most.

Pearl had been studying the decorations at The Bottle Cap Lady’s House without her knowing it. She did not want to be in a Christmas Chicken Freak Show. It was difficult to know when she could trust The Bottle Cap Lady and when she would be unpredictable and maybe even dangerous.

Early one morning Pearl listened as The Big Boy from the end of the street explained Christmas to The Little Boy from the end of the street. The Big Boy’s front yard was the one with The Big Blue Hippopotamus in it, so he must know a good deal about Christmas.

“Don’t be stupid. There are three more days to Christmas. Three more nights and Santa Claus will bring my new go-cart and fill my stocking with candy.

“If you haven’t made your list, you’d better do it now, right now. If you don’t have a list, you get leftovers nobody else wants. If you’re not in bed and if you’re not asleep, you get nothing.”

“So what do I put on my list?” asked The Little Boy.

“How should I know, you little goof!”

“I’d like a puppy. That’s what I’d really like.”

“You don’t want a puppy on your list. Put a new bicycle. You can always get a puppy. People are giving them away all the time. You don’t see anybody giving away free bicycles do you?”

“No. I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right.”

They went off to throw rocks in the little creek across from my house. Pearl saw The Big Boy pointing out all of the places he would be riding his new go-cart in the empty field there by the little creek.

Pearl had figured out this much about Christmas. You make a list of what you want most. Only special things. Not everyday free things. You must be home on Christmas Eve. You must be asleep when Santa Claus comes. When you wake up on Christmas morning, you have everything on your list.

This was perfect! This was the most perfect plan ever! Why hadn’t The Bottle Cap Lady explained all this to her? Did she just want Pearl to get leftovers nobody else wanted?

The next day, Pearl found a scrap of paper. She took some of the pomegranate pips from her food bowl and broke them open so that the bright red juice would make a puddle. This would be her ink. Then she took a feather and nibbled at the end until she had a point that would hold some of the pomegranate juice ink.

Then she made marks on her paper. She loved making marks. These marks would give her the wonderful new life she had wanted for so long.

Dear Santa

Please

Blanche

and Pumpkin Seeds

Love

Pearl

She wondered if it was acceptable to write “Love” to someone she didn’t even know and hadn’t ever met.

What if Santa thought she wrote “Love” only because she was trying to get gifts? But she would love Santa for sure after he brought Blanche back home, and so it wasn’t really a lie. She wasn’t really trying to take from Santa without loving him.

She rolled up the paper so it would fit through the fencing and called to one of the songbirds to come and get it for delivery. She was looking especially content when I sat down nearby to read the newspaper.

“What are you so happy about today, Pearl?”

“Secrets and presents.”

“I see. So you finally figured out what the big blue hippopotamus and the other decorations are all about.”

Pearl nodded happily.

“Well, listen. You don’t really need to give me anything for a gift. I will be plenty happy just watching you enjoy the special Christmas Day treats I have for you.”

Pearl looked at me questioningly. I thought it was because she was trying to figure out what treats I might be saving for them. I found out later that she was wondering about giving gifts. The Big Boy and The Little Boy from the end of the street had not said anything about giving gifts, only getting gifts.

Maybe every time somebody gets a gift there has to be a different somebody who gives a gift. That made sense.

Pearl decided she needed to give The Bottle Cap Lady a gift. She could not imagine anyone else giving her a gift. It would not be good if The Bottle Cap Lady had a gift for Pearl but Pearl had no gift for The Bottle Cap Lady. And even if she didn’t have a gift for Pearl, it was fine because Pearl’s best gift was coming from Santa Claus. He would be bringing Blanche back home along with piles of roasted pumpkin seeds.

But what should she give to The Bottle Cap Lady? Christmas had just gotten much more complicated again.

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

In real life, as in this book, Blanche died on Easter morning. Writing this chapter, I thought of all the children who are asking for something like what Pearl is asking for in her letter to Santa…an end to the hurting they feel in their hearts, hurting that can’t be easily fixed.

If only something as simple as writing a letter to Santa could heal those hurts, it would be such a perfect world, wouldn’t it? Instead it is up to us to heal the hurts when and where we can and to work towards a better world for everyone, including those with the gentlest and most trusting hearts, like Pearl.

“Pearl, My Little Girl, You Sure Have Changed!”

Today’s post is my current best version of Pearl as she will likely appear in “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” The background is a scrap of old gift wrap which fits the story’s two main characters: Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady.

And so she began studying the lights which she hoped would be new friends to take the place of the fireflies and Blanche.

Over the next evenings, more of these lights appeared up and down our street. Some blinked. Others did not. Some had colors which Pearl had never seen before. The more she studied them, the more she wondered if they were truly fireflies. She had to find out. She would need to sneak beyond the boundaries of our safe yard.

Pearl moved quickly from one front yard to another, hiding behind the shrubbery. She would lay very low and then wait to see if anyone or anything had noticed her. She listened for dogs. She watched for silent cats.

When she got as close as she dared to the yard that had the most lights, she was amazed at what she saw. There were strings of lights just like there had been when she did her comedy show in our backyard, but there were more of them and with many more colors than she could have ever imagined.

Her heart beat faster. What a wondrous sight! Perhaps this was where Blanche was. It was certainly a beautiful place. Blanche belonged in a beautiful place.

There were lights and decorations everywhere, just as the wrens and songbirds had described. Some looked shiny and new, but most had the worn look of some of the things Pearl had collected after they had fallen out of the garbage truck. Still the strings of Christmas lights made everything appear beautiful against the darkness of the night.

Pearl wandered slowly through the decorations. They seemed to be set out in groupings to tell stories, and she studied them to figure out what those stories might be. In some places there would just be an assortment of odds and ends. Those didn’t feel like they had come from the pages of a story book like the others did, but they were still beautiful.

Blanche had to be somewhere close by.

Just as Pearl was ready to call out for Blanche, the front door opened. A dark shadowy lump of a figure stepped out onto the porch and sat down in a rocking chair. Pearl squinted her eyes to see more clearly.

From “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

If you have followed my posts for a while, you know the illustration style for this book has really been a struggle for me. No matter what, I always seem to come back to this particular colorful cartoon-like style, and so I guess it’s what is best for my chickens and for me!

The app that I have been using up to now, Tayasui Sketches, has been fine until a recent update has made it difficult to use on my iPad due to the size of my files. The “new Pearl” above was drawn using Affinity Designer.

Because of this change, Pearl is no longer a “Raster Girl.” She is now a “Vector Girl.” (Unless you work with graphics, these terms may not mean much, and really, it’s the results that count. But for some reason, “Raster Girl” and “Vector Girl” make me imagine Pearl wearing a motorcycle jacket and singing “Born To Be Wild.” But that is another drawing for another story!) Anyway, there was a huge learning curve for me to make this transition, but the results were worth it.

You may notice a few differences in how Pearl is drawn. This is especially true of the outlining which does not use the standard blueish-gray that has been in all of my other chicken drawings. Instead the outline colors vary based on the portion of Pearl they are outlining.

Moving back in time, below is an illustration of Pearl in the same pose (without a hat) from “Seasons Of Friendship.” Some subtle changes were made for improved printing quality.

Moving even further back in time, below is the original post illustration of Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady. It was made when their story was just a two-part post. At the time, I had no idea of ever developing their transformations into a 32,000 word novel or even of ever trying to publish a book.

You will notice how an irregular crayon drawing tool was used for outlining which did not do well in print. Because of that, I changed to the smoother outlining you see in the illustrations for “Seasons Of Friendship” directly above.

After comparing the illustration below with the one at the very top, hopefully you will agree with me when I say, “Pearl, my little girl, you sure have changed!”

My Life With Gracie...How To Explain Christmas To Chickens (Part 2)

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

From “Pearl’s Comedy Coop” To “Freak Show Chickens”

Freak Show Chickens

This draft of a chapter comes a little later than the last one which I shared. Tension builds as The Bottle Cap Lady begins to take a greater part in the story.

“Yeah, I see you got them Freak Show Chickens!” yelled The Bottle Cap Lady from the street. “And you ain’t nothing but a Freak Show Old Man!”

She had been walking back and forth, up and down our little block, from her house on the corner to the dead end turnaround.

Like most days when she did this, she was wearing her waitress apron. It had a lace-trimmed pocket for her order pad and matched her lace-trimmed waitress hat. The hat was her favorite part of her uniform, and she wore it like a diamond-trimmed tiara.

Pearl loved The Bottle Cap Lady’s hat.

It might have looked like she had gotten her old job back, but she still had on her house dress underneath. She missed being a waitress. When she wore her apron and hat, she felt as if she was somebody. The Chicken Place has been a landmark restaurant in our neighborhood for many years. It still has a big statue of a white chicken on the roof which has withstood many hurricanes and nor’easters.

Some days, The Bottle Cap Lady would just keep walking back and forth on our street as if she was looking for something or someone. Occasionally she would step into someone’s yard and look behind their trees or in their shrubbery. It was as if she was playing “Hide And Seek” and looking for someone but never found them.

“What are you doing with them chickens? Teaching them tricks for the circus? You and your Freak Show Chickens! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

“They’re all white like little clowns. Give them some red noses to go with them silly hats and you’re in business. The Freak Show Chicken business!”

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” I said, adjusting my newspaper so The Bottle Cap Lady couldn’t see I was talking. “Just stay calm and quiet. She doesn’t know what she is saying.”

Pearl was particularly troubled. She was the only one who had ever worn a silly hat, and that had been the night of Pearl’s Comedy Coop. Now because of it, she felt she had put the whole flock in danger. She wanted to get out and run away from me, from the other chickens, and even away from Blanche.

“Look at that little one running and hopping around like she don’t got any good sense in her head, her Freak Show Chicken head!”

Pearl could feel the pecks again even though she and Blanche were separated from the others and Blanche had become too weak to peck her.

Peck. “Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.”

Pearl heard and felt every bit of it all over again. Only this time instead of the others asking her, she asked herself. “Why can’t I just be a normal chicken?”

Pearl’s face looked troubled. She wanted to run away from herself too, but that is never possible.

“Pearl, there is nothing wrong with you being yourself, even if that means you are different. You are not a Freak Show Chicken, and you never will be.

“I love you, Pearl. We are going to have more shows and more hats and more anything else you want. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“She is as wrong as wrong can be about you.”

Blanche nodded in silent agreement.

By then, The Bottle Cap Lady had move further down the street to another house.

“Why didn’t you go and peck her on the head and tell her to stop?” asked Pearl.

“People don’t do things the way chickens do them.”

“You could have at least told her to stop.”

“But she did stop, didn’t she?”

“Yes, but you didn’t say anything to her.”

“I didn’t have to. Her own conscience told her to stop. A conscience is a powerful thing. It’s when a person doesn’t have a conscience that you have to watch out.”

This big word was new to Blanche and Pearl, just like The Bottle Cap Lady’s behavior was new to them.

They wanted to believe me, especially Pearl. It was easy to believe me when I was right there with them, but they would still be cautious while I was away from home. That was probably a good thing.

When I got home from work the next day, there were a few pieces of corn left scattered around in the old run area. They were white shoepeg kernels, a kind I only rarely give my chickens.

“The Bottle Cap Lady was here again,” is all Pearl would say.

Gracie and the others said the same, but told me more. She only went to the smaller coop beside the driveway. She never went to the large one in the backyard where the others were. She was either too afraid to go any further into our backyard or was only interested in Blanche and Pearl. They looked like the big chicken on top of The Chicken Place.

These visits happened more than once over that season. Sometimes she just stood, leaning over to look more deeply into the wooded brambles, and you would not even know she was there. Other times she was mean and difficult to ignore. After each of those mean times, she would leave Blanche and Pearl a treat the next day.

I was unsure if she had been giving them corn because she felt sorry for her behavior or if she was trying to gain their confidence to take them away. So I asked Pearl to tell me more about what The Bottle Cap Lady did when she came into our yard.

“She is always very quiet when she visits us, and then she gives us something to eat. She goes away with her head down.”

Pearl took a few steps like The Bottle Cap Lady would take to show me how she moved. Then she paused and looked around nervously.

“There was one time that she said something to me.”

“What was it?”

Pearl tried to stand the way The Bottle Cap Lady stood. With a raspy old hen voice she carefully repeated the words exactly as she had heard them.

“Someone as pretty as you should never have to look at someone as ugly as me.”

Then she made a sound someone holding back tears might make.

“What do those words mean?” she asked. “What does that sound mean?”

“I think they mean she is sorry and she can’t help herself.”

Pearl thought all these things over very carefully.

One of the worst and scariest times for us was when The Bottle Cap Lady stood at the edge of our driveway and started yelling more loudly than ever before.

“I’m going to come and get that big fat lazy chicken you got there and take her in to The Chicken Place. They’re going to look at her and give me my job back as a reward. There has never been a bigger chicken and I bet there has never been a juicier chicken either.”

She laughed a deep throaty laugh, “Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

Then she did a little dance in a circle, flapping her arms like they were chicken wings.

“Why don’t you just be a normal old man with normal old smelly chickens?” she called out one last time. Then she tossed her empty beer bottle into my yard and staggered home.

“Blanche isn’t lazy. She is just not feeling well,” said Pearl. “Why can’t she see that?”

Then after a long pause, she added, “And why don’t you just be a normal old man?”

“That’s a fair question, Pearl,” I said. “Because a normal old man would call the police and have her arrested. And that’s not what I want. More importantly, that’s not what she needs.”

“What does she need?” asked Pearl.

“A miracle. Just a simple everyday miracle.”

Pearl had not yet imagined she would be the one to play a part in giving The Bottle Cap Lady that simple everyday miracle.

But she would.

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

My Life With Gracie…Themes And Conflicts And Character Flaws (Oh, My!)

Sometimes The Only Light Is You

My “vacation time” away from posting new stories and illustrations was very helpful. In the evenings, I would sit with my chickens, read one of several how-to-write-a-novel books from the library, and then jot down ideas in a small notebook. (Some of those ideas from the notebook were used in the background of today’s main illustration.) Then in the mornings, I would type away.

One of the easiest suggestions I read was to be sure that there is a central message or theme to the novel. It should be short. It should be a summary of the entire novel. It should make potential readers wonder more about the novel. You can read it in the words for today’s illustration: “Sometimes the only light is you.”

But everything else was not so easy. With a post story, I most often write about cute little chickens doing cute little things to hold a reader’s interest for just a few short minutes. But a novel has a much longer reading time. Cute does not last long in a novel.

A novel usually needs a main character who has a conflict situation (what the external surface plot is about) and a character flaw (what the real internal story is about). There has to be one “What will happen next?” moment after another.

When writing posts, I almost always present my chickens as “living in the best situation ever and being just about the best chickens ever.” Hardly ever any conflicts. Hardly ever any flaws.

One of the most difficult thing about having chickens as main characters is making their lives and problems relevant to readers. (It has to be about more than finding worms.)

Hopefully all of these difficult things have been accomplished in this short excerpt.

Today is the new day my life will begin...

“Today is the day my new wonderful life will begin,” said Pearl, though there were no other chickens nearby to hear her.

It was the day Pearl had been anticipating. It was the day when her life would finally make sense and come together. It was the day when she would be a hen, accepted and loved by all the others at last. It was the day she was going to lay her first egg.

“I can just feel it,” she told me when I brought out their breakfast salad. “Do I look any different yet? I just know I’m going to look different.”

“You look much happier, Pearl. You truly do,” I said.

She felt as if she must surely glow with joy in the early morning sunlight. She had a few bites of chopped apple to fortify herself for her triumph.

“Finally I will fit in, and the others will love me,” she told me as she headed up to the nesting boxes. “I can hardly wait to start soaking up all of that love!”

The others continued eating their favorites from the breakfast salad. Laying eggs was something they did every day. They did not understand what the big fuss was about.

This was nothing new for Pearl. She had never been understood by the other chickens.

“You must fit in. You must not stand out from the flock,” they would tell her. “If you really feel like you need to be yourself, then you need to go somewhere and do it alone, with no one else looking.”

Pearl did not care whether she was understood or not. She only wanted to be loved.

None of the others except for Blanche ever wanted to be around her, not even when it was time to roost at night. She tried to be like the others with all she knew how to do, and then the next minute there would be another chicken calamity. Feathers would get ruffled. Pearl’s head would get pecked.

“Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.” Peck.

“Why can’t you just be a normal chicken?” is what she would hear every day.

Pearl was an outcast.

Once she laid her first egg, she would be a hen just like the others. She would fit in, and her life would turn around for the better. It was what Pearl believed. It was what I hoped.

But not everything turns out the way we believe and hope.

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

The novel I’m working on is based on two posts from last December titled “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. In the novel, Pearl will be “The Only Light” in The Bottle Cap Lady’s life.

By the way, the title of today’s post is a reference to “Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh, My!” from the film “The Wizard of Oz” which was used as an example in several how-to books.

My Life With Gracie…Time For Vacation!

Time For Vacation
In the last year, we have posted 150 times! And 100 of those have been story posts! (The others have been just general information and special posts like our “Family Photo Friday” and “Gracie’s Summer Reading List.”) That is a lot of posts!

The girls and I will be taking a short vacation for a week or two. It will be their first vacation ever, and they are all particularly excited. We may end up at the beach, but then again, we may just stay home and play in a backyard wading pool! You seriously will not believe how difficult it is to find inflatable beach toys small enough for chickens! Flip flops are easy. Pool toys, not so easy. Then there is the whole issue of swimsuits for the beach! (That backyard plastic pool is looking a lot easier!)

We will be back from time to time, particularly with “Gracie’s Summer Reading List” posts. Poolside reading while dipping our feet and toes in the water sounds like a perfect kind of vacation.

I will also be working on our next book which I hope will be ready by late fall. It’s an expanded version of “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” The time away on vacation will give me an opportunity to really work on the story and the illustrations.

You may remember how one of the key characters, The Bottle Cap Lady, has a yard full of Christmas decorations which she has collected over the years. We are talking about a lot of Christmas decorations, and that will be a lot of drawing! I really do enjoy drawing Pearl. She lets me use bright and outrageous colors and props and costumes. While she may often be silly, she truly has a heart of gold.

If you’ve started following “My Life With Gracie” after those posts were shared last December, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Pearl will still be the main character along with The Bottle Cap Lady, and you can be sure Pearl will still be her own unique self as she has always been.

Those two posts were two of the most read and most liked from all of last year. At the time, several people had told me, “John, you need to turn this into a book.” It wasn’t until Pearl died in the spring of this year, that things began to come together for this book. Because Pearl felt such great heartbreak, I knew that she would be the only one who would be able to reach The Bottle Cap Lady and help others who have had to deal with tragedy and loss.

Not to give to much of the plot away though, but here is a brief summary of this book which I’m hoping will be an inspiration to many people.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

Pearl loves being a chicken, and she loves being a comedian. Her natural curiosity leads her to explore her neighborhood. When she secretly visits The Bottle Cap Lady, she learns about Christmas in a most unusual and unforgettable way. Pearl discovers there is a Christmas gift that only she can give, but will she?

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