Focus: From Memoir to Picture Book

Focus: From Memoir to Picture Book

I promised Charles we’d get the memoir he’d written published. But he died leaving the unpublished manuscript and a grieving wife. I feared I’d never fulfill my promise. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t focus. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get my grief and concentration to mix. My heart was broken and I was convinced my head was, too.

Sixteen months later a wonderful thing happened. At a memoir writing workshop, the inspirational Chinese writer, Da Chen roused my spirit with his command, “He gave you love, now you must give him immortality!”

Chen’s decree was literally a wake-up call for me. It eased some of the pain in my grief-consumed brain. I was able to bring the needed plan together to publish Charles’ memoir Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance four years later.

Looking to the future, while promoting Border Crossings, I decided my next project would be to write a children’s picture book of a slice of Charles’ life covering his early wartime years.

Some people think writing a picture book is a cinch. I mean how long could it take to dash off 500-1000 words? But, the truth is writing a picture book is not a cinch. In fact, acclaimed author/illustrator Mem Fox said, “Writing for children is like writing “War and Peace in haiku.”

And beloved picture book author/illustrator Eric Carle said, “Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.”

Words must be few and well-chosen. Pictures tell the story, too. One must leave room for the illustrator. No need to describe every physical detail. In order to reduce that word count one must be focused and discerning. Focused and discerning. And so I struggle.

After surviving a life-threatening illness last fall, my battle with concentration has resurfaced. Once again, I’m grieving.  This time it’s the loss of my former self. Thankfully, I’m slowly on the mend, but the struggle to focus is interfering with the writing and editing of my picture book.

I’m like Eric Carle. Starting out with 200,000 words. I want to write too many details of that time in Charles’ childhood. Of all the things he told me and showed me when we travelled to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Including the thousand year old tree, the underground tunnel leading to the Kralice Bible, the medieval bridge, the white storks nesting in high chimneys, the baroque library and Gobelin tapestries in the Náměšť nad Oslavou castle and much more. Too much!

I think I’ve found a solution to my problem! I will edit the detail out, show some of it through illustrations in the book (not words) and write about these wonders in this blog. Starting with the thousand year old tree. Stay tuned.

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