Behind the Story
"You know, there are little people living up there," said my brother, Scott, pointing to the tippy top bathroom cabinet.
"Really?" I asked. "How do you know?"
"I've seen them. When you turn eight, they will come out and say hello, but not before then. They don't like little kids."
"Does Mom know about this?"
"No, they don't like adults either."
My brother Scott and I had a beautiful childhood friendship. He loved to dream up magical worlds and I loved to believe in them.
We could not have been more different. He was sparkly--outgoing, hilarious, and adorable. Everyone loved him. I, on the other hand, was the quiet kid who sat in the very back of the classroom doodling on my shoes and blushing if the teacher called on me. As opposite as we were, we absolutely adored each other. He was a great entertainer and I think I made the perfect audience.
I wanted to write a picture book to commemorate our childhood, and so I began writing One More Year back in January 2012.
I recently stumbled across my first draft of the story. Take a look if you are brave:
Oh, dear sister, I’m so glad /so glad that you’ve turned two / you don’t yet know / of all the magic that's in store for you.
Unfortunately, dear sister, though/ it won’t start until you're three / that’s when you get to meet the man / who lives atop the trees.
He’s skinny and tall with a toothless grin / and a beard as white as chalk. / He’ll pull you up in a golden basket / and then he’ll want to talk.
Pretty rough, huh? This, my friends, is why we edit.
I sent my sloppy first draft over to our brilliant older sister, Traci, who is a former English teacher and one of the best writers I know. She was very supportive, but also pointed out that my meter was all over the place. She gave me some valuable advice that is worth sharing here:
"Meter doesn't have to be exact, but it's important in children's literature because it teaches the subtleties of language like cadence and inflection. It also aids with memorization, ensuring that a story will be re-read countless times." - Traci Hood, Wordsmith Extraordinaire
Traci helped me develop a strong meter, and then the rest of the story just flowed.
The old man in the tree became a wizard that we'd meet at age three. At four, we'd meet a grumpy elf in the drawer. At five, we'd see a mighty dragon come alive. At six, a princess fairy would join the mix. At seven, we'd....um....well...
Seven. Seven. Maybe we'd find some bread that leavens? An angel from heaven? Nope. Nope.
I was totally stuck. I made tweaks to the story over the next few years, but couldn't bring myself to dig back in. I now realize it just wasn't my story's time.
Fast-forward to 2017 when Scott passed away unexpectedly at the age of 33. Any death is painful, but to lose Scott--our joy, our laughter, our magic-maker--was absolutely devastating. He left behind a wife, two beautiful daughters, a large family, and thousands of friends. I wish I could write more about it, and maybe someday I will, but it still feels so raw even now.
To help manage the grief, I turned back to my story. I knew I had to finish it for him.
Working through the ending became a cathartic family affair. Still stuck at seven, my mom, Sharon, got involved. (I should add here that Mom could and should be a children's book author. She has a vivid imagination and a natural talent for rhythm and rhyme. Mom, if you are reading this, it's not too late to start!) She sent me this:
Seven brings a unicorn / then eight a talking fish. / And nine promises a genie that grants your every wish.
That was it! After YEARS of struggling with seven, we finally had a denouement to wrap it up. I made some modifications and added a few characters, but I still hear Mom's voice every time I read this section.
I joined a local critique group hosted by a vibrant children's book critic/writing mentor named Susie Wilde. She gave me stacks of children's books to study and helped me reduce the wordcount and polish for publishing.
I won't go into the long story of getting published right now--I'll just say that I was thrilled when One More Year was accepted by Warren Publishing. They connected me with illustrator Carlos Vélez Aguilera who could not have been a more perfect fit for the project. (Seriously, click here to read more about him. He's amazing.)
So, while I am technically listed as the "author" of this book, it is really the child of many minds and imaginations. My brother's spark, my sister's structure, my mother's poetry, and my perseverance all came together to create something magical. I couldn't be prouder.