So Happy Birthday, Dragon and welcome Jodi!
“Leave room for the illustrator.”
If you’re writing a picture book, you’ve undoubtedly heard that. It’s grilled into us at conferences. Spelled out in books. Scribbled in red all over our manuscripts by trusted editors and critique partners.
I’m certainly not going to argue the point. In fact, I’m going to expound upon it.
In my humble opinion, leaving room for something (or someone) assumes boundaries. For example:
Leave room in the suitcase for an extra pair of shoes; or
Leave room in the closet for your sister’s clothes; or (my personal favorite)
Leave room in your stomach for dessert.
All of these imply certain constraints. Limits. Walls.
In my mind, illustrators take an author’s words to places outside of those perimeters. Where limits no longer exist. To a level you never dreamed possible.
Perhaps this is best “illustrated” by sharing my own story.
WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, my first published picture book, was written when my husband Larry and I were in the throes of empty nest syndrome (admittedly, this is a chronic condition for me).
That Labor Day was our first time visiting the beach without our two sons, who had left for college a week earlier. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact we were missing our boys, my hubby brought his satchel of sand toys, determined to carry on the family tradition of crafting a sandcastle. Of course, it didn’t take long for him to attract a little army of helpers, as children gravitated toward the “construction site” in droves.
(Note: I spent my time that afternoon flitting around to the ever-growing gaggle of anxious moms, explaining why a mature man would be building a sandcastle, seemingly alone, resulting in luring their precious babies toward him. Apprehension was replaced by relief and understanding smiles when I explained the whole Empty Nest thing.)
At one point, one of the toddlers stuck a piece of seaweed into the mouth of the castle. Always positive, Larry took one look and said, “Look! A dragon’s tail! Our castle is so cool, a dragon moved in!”
And the heavens opened and the angels sang…a story was conceived.
WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN is indeed based on the premise that if you build the perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in. And that’s exactly what happens to one very lucky little boy at the beach. Things are going quite splendidly, in fact, until his family refuses to believe the dragon is real. Then the mischief ensues.
Is there a real dragon in the castle? Or is this just a figment of the boy’s imagination?
That’s what I want the reader to decide for him/herself.
And that’s where the problem surfaced.
I brought my original manuscript to the Intensives at my first SCBWI NY conference, where I signed up for 2 peer critiques, each moderated by an editor. In my morning session, the editor told me that she enjoyed the story, but that I had to make sure the readers knew the dragon was imaginary.
* sigh *
In the afternoon session, a different editor told me he thought the story was well-written, but that I had to make sure readers knew the dragon was real.
* heavy sigh *
Needless to say, I was confused and admittedly, discouraged. I remember saying to my husband, “Well, as soon as I get my rejection from Flashlight Press, I guess I have some decisions to make.”
A couple of months later, I got an email from the amazing Shari Dash Greenspan, the editor for Flashlight. She, too, said she thought the story was really cute…but was the dragon real or imaginary?
* gah *
Before I could talk myself out of it, I typed, “I want the reader to decide” and hit send. I expected the rejection to come lightening quick.
Only it didn’t. Instead, I got an email asking the question: How do we illustrate a creature that may or may not be there?
It was then I realized what a challenge my manuscript posed. Together, Shari and I researched and brainstormed. We read and discussed.
I agonized and ate chocolate.
Thankfully, I am blessed with an editor who thinks like an artist. Shari took my vision and molded, developed and expanded upon it. Then, she placed it in the skilled and loving hands of my brilliant illustrator, Howard McWilliam.
I like to say that Howard crawled inside my head and drew what was in my heart, but in actuality, he created something my heart had yet to even realize.
Howard produced spreads where both options were not only possible, they were visible. They were plausible. They were adorable! We saw – we smelled – the smoke from the dragon’s nostrils…or was it from the dad’s barbecue?
Howard infused color into my concepts, sprinkled seasonings into my settings and breathed life into my characters. He made my dream come true, by transforming my simple words into something simply magical.
Leave room for the illustrator? Why impose such limits? Instead, gift your manuscript to the artist as if it were a beautiful kite. Cut that string and let it soar in your illustrator’s capable hands, free, untethered and uninhibited.
You may just reach heights previously unimagined.
Jodi Moore is the author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN (Flashlight Press) and is totally in awe of her brilliant talent of illustrator Howard McWilliam. Her next book GOOD NEWS NELSON (Story Pie Press) is due for release December 2012 and is presently in the gifted hands of fabulous artist Brendan Flannelly-King.
Jodi considers books, along with chocolate, to be one of the main food groups. She writes both picture books and young adult novels, hoping to challenge, nourish and inspire her readers by opening up brand new worlds and encouraging unique ways of thinking. Jodi is the proud and (admittedly) neurotic mother of two incredibly talented young adults and never ceases to be amazed at how far the umbilical cord really will stretch. She lives in central PA with her always-supportive best friend/husband, Larry, two laughing doves and an ever-changing bunch of characters in her head. In addition to reading, writing and chocolate, Jodi enjoys music, theatre, dancing, the beach and precious time spent with her family. Finally, Jodi thinks it would be really cool if one of her stories eventually became a Disney or Universal movie or theme park ride. Or a Broadway musical. Just puttin’ it out there.
Read more about Jodi at www.writerjodimoore.com.