Two Titles, One (Hopefully) Unforgettable Story

Special Note: Since this post was first published, several changes have been made to both covers. Nothing that was too drastically different though!

Are my stories adult fiction disguised as children’s fiction or children’s fiction pretending to be adult fiction? On which shelf do they belong? These questions have perplexed me for some time. Adult fiction? Children’s fiction?

Neither of those labels accurately fit my latest book. After all, books with strong characters are like strong people. They don’t like to be labeled and put on a shelf. And both The Bottle Cap Lady and Pearl are strong characters.

The original planned title for my next book had always been “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” That is the title of the original two-part story about Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady from which the novel was developed.

But I have had second thoughts about the title. It worked well with the illustrations I had planned, but accompanied by illustrations, particularly my preferred cover illustration, it also gave the impression of being strictly a children’s book.

So I began considering “The Bottle Cap Lady” as a title because she is a main character. Though not in every chapter, she is as important to the story as Pearl. In fact, the ending could not have happened as it did without The Bottle Cap Lady.

Fortunately, as a self-publishing author, I realized (after Gracie’s gentle reminder) I am able to publish two books instead of one.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” will be modestly illustrated and placed in Children’s Literature. (“Modestly” means each major book part will have an illustration rather than each chapter.)

“The Bottle Cap Lady” will not be illustrated and will be placed in Adult Literature.

They will have different titles, different covers, but the same story text. The only difference where text is concerned will be in the preface, introduction and epilogue. In these sections of “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens,” the illustrations are referenced and so these parts must be slightly different. (Yes, there will be things hidden in the illustrations!) The story itself will be the same.

One of the things I like about having different titles and covers is how it forced me to think differently about what I was writing. It’s not just a story about a clever little white hen. This is a story about how we think and feel, how we find value and purpose in life. Even though Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady might be “natural enemies” because The Bottle Cap Lady has served up more Deluxe Chicken Dinners than anyone, they are more alike than what either of them realizes. They are both outcasts and looking for something “out there” when all they need can be found in their own hearts.

The unanimous vote by my own chickens went to “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” because it has “chickens” in the title and they can only read the pictures. They have not noticed the cover of “The Bottle Cap Lady” has a waitress is carrying a tray with a fried chicken leg. When they do spot it…well, that is another one of those awkward discussions which I have been avoiding. It will be particularly important for them to understand that a Deluxe Chicken Dinner is not for chickens or a really fancy dinner given to chickens, you know?

But when it comes to book preferences, people are not chickens.

It is possible that a good number of readers would prefer one version over the other, and that preference may not necessarily match the shelf labeled for their age group.

Whoever decided that adult fiction is just for adults and children’s fiction is for children was certainly not a chicken!

I hope to have my final proofreading done within the next few days after completing the “read-aloud-to-chickens” test. (Gracie seemed quite delighted with what I shared with them yesterday evening.) Then both will be available through Barnes & Noble and hopefully Amazon as well as eBooks.

Once I have received proof copies of the paperback books, then those will be available as well. (Because of the global health crisis, the printing process will likely take longer than usual. So it may take a bit longer for those to be available.) It’s very important to me that the colors be right for the cover and the printing clear on the interior illustrations. I just don’t want to offer a book for sale that I wouldn’t consider buying myself.

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!

“The Scoop From The Coop!” April 2020

The Scoop From The Coop!

Here’s what has been happening lately. It’s what you might call “The Scoop From The Coop!”

WordPress Reading And Posting. I am sorry for not keeping up with my reading and posting here on WordPress, particularly my reading. Right now, work is often hectic with the Covid-19 pandemic that is happening.

I genuinely do feel sad about not being able to keep up with my reading here because I’m missing out on some really great posts from all of you! Hopefully things will get back to normal soon. In the meantime, I will make a point of catching up with your posts as best as I am able.

All My Chickens. Everyone is doing well here. We have been able to get enough organic vegetables from the local grocery stores. As far as the chickens know, life continues as normal, and that’s the way I want it to be for them.

I did have a bit of a scare last week because Gracie was not herself. She was having trouble with her left foot. At first I thought it was something called “bumblefoot” which chickens get and can die from. When I examined her more closely, I found blue-green bruising on the top her left foot. (This is an odd color and at first I thought it was a fungus or something similar. But I guess chickens bruise a little differently from people!)

I didn’t ask her how it happened. I have a feeling she was jumping down from somewhere and didn’t land the way she expected. It may also have been a ballet-related injury. It is still too early to know if she will be able to dance again. As with all things, if she must hang up her ballet slippers forever, she will take that news gracefully.

On the very positive side, yesterday evening, she was able to make it up the chicken ladder and to her favorite sleeping perch without my help and when I wasn’t looking too! So we are very hopeful.

Most important of all: Stay healthy and be safe! Thank you so much for reading and being a part of this creative journey with us.

Your friends,

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