Saturday, May 30, 2015

Where a children's fantasy came from

Writers are sometimes asked, "How do you come up with your ideas for stories?" Here's one where all the credit doesn't fall on me.

When old guys start kid stories
With the help of literary patrons, last week I enrolled in SCBWI's Big Sur In The Rockies, an intensive three days of Children's Book Writing Workshops, held in Boulder's Chautauqua Park. I took three of my manuscripts--two Young Adult novels and a children's story--with me, in hopes of learning how to improve them. I'm two years into transitioning from writing stories for adults to writing for younger people.

Over three days, through four workshops and some panels I learned a lot about what USican authors, publishers and literary agents consider good or great children's literature. Mine didn't always meet their criteria.

Being a writer of my own making, I understand I need to learn "The Rules." Gatekeepers of the children's literary world determine which books are picked up and published, as well as made into movies. That's where financial success and fame are determined.

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Story #1Sleeping, a children's story
This first story was critically shredded by a panel because it begins by centering on an old man, Grand Ta, who's climbing a mountain with a bunch of small kids, all unnamed.

The Rule is that such books should begin with and center on a kid or kids, not grown-ups. There was total agreement that my story needed working to bring specific kids into the opening chapter.

I agreed at the time, and may still follow that Rule. However, relegating Grand Ta to a later part of the story felt and feels wrong. Pinocchio and How The Grinch Stole Christmas are just two children's stories whose opening pages don't begin with the young characters. Geppetto and The Grinch, assumedly, would not see publication today, if the Rule was in force.

I'm not claiming to be the next Dr. Seuss, but it seems to me he tapped something that the Rule doesn't recognize. Children's inherent love for older members of their family--grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others. Their compassion for old people can't be assumed, but neither should it go untapped. Perhaps it should even be nurtured.

Ollin aztec to watch over grandkid
Once upon a time it was. Reverence for the elders was inherent to the survival not just of the family, but also, of the tribe. The shamans, the wisdom of ancestors and the cultural and historical lore of peoples enabled tribes to prosper and survive difficult times.

Of course, publishing in the USican children's stories industry is a different jungle. Children's fiction that begin as mine does, do get published, despite the generic Rule that I broke. We'll see in time how my Sleeping story ever gets rewritten. Or not. My other YA novels were critiqued or praised on different aspects, and I'll incorporate whatever I think would improve them.

Story #4 – When the mouth roared louder than the manuscripts

Drawing of Aztec cradle, different from mine
In the course of the weekend, I related to other writers the news about my new grandson and the rocking cradle I was building. [Almost a month ago, I wrote about that.]

On the final morning, one of the writers suggested that the entire narrative might make for another children's story--Abuelo's Cradle. A second well-published author jumped in and added her agreement and suggestions. I was stunned.

My three completed stories didn't generate as much excitement as my talking about the grandkid/cradle experience. Go figure, I said to myself.

Now, a week later, I'm three thousands words into the new story called A Cradle for Abuelo. Since I'm not into writing children's nonfiction, I transformed the writers' suggestions into a fantasy story. Taking the Rule to heart--just this once--I began Cradle with a kid as the hero-protagonist.

On my cradle & in the story
Why a book about an old man building a cradle for his grandkid is called A Cradle for Abuelo, is the plot twist that I can take credit for. The story's almost completed in first-draft form, so it will be some time before anyone hears about it again. When it makes it past the Gatekeepers, you may read it.

To my knowledge, this is the only time a story of mine came from other people, rather than simply my own head. Next time I'm on a panel and am asked the question about where my ideas come from, this is the one I'll use. If Cradle is published, it'll make for a great response.

Keep writing, but stay alert for strangers strangely provoking strange story ideas.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. the rule-breaking El Abuelo en A Cradle for Abuelo

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