Though working with an editor from start to finish sounds like a dream come true for most of us, the process exposes an author’s first attempts and the very rough beginnings of a manuscript. Here Lindsey McDivitt takes us through her experience of how her new picture book, Truth & Honor: The President Ford Story, came to be.
AND… Lindsey is offering a GIVEAWAY for a copy of the book! Leave a comment below the post to enter.
Naturally I said yes when my editor asked—would I be interested in writing another book for their publishing house? There’s no down side right? And I was feeling lucky. Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story came about via a workshop critique with the same Sleeping Bear Press editor. She’d loved Gwen—she had a tattoo of Gwen’s nature art! Now we’d work together bringing President Gerald R. Ford’s presidency to life.
Most writers have embarrassing early drafts of their manuscripts. Versions they’re grateful editors never laid eyes on. We submit a manuscript we’ve tweaked and polished many times. But Sarah Rockett saw awful early drafts of Truth & Honor: The President Ford Story, including the looong version. Great information gleaned from books, the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Michigan, and from Mike Ford, his son.
With research my admiration grew. As congressman Ford cared about citizens of all colors, voting consistently for civil rights and voting rights legislation, often in opposition to his party. He supported immigrants. While President as the Vietnam War ended he organized the rescue of refugees.
Honest Gerald Ford was the perfect president to follow the lies and scandal of Richard Nixon and Watergate. His story had significance today. But how to engage young people in a 1970’s era presidency? How to include telling quotes such as:
“I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself.” And—
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”
President Gerald R. Ford, August 9, 1974.
So many layers to consider. The facts, brevity, kid interest, and lyricism—a pleasing read-aloud for adults and children. Believe me—early drafts had only the first layer covered. Sarah saw many that made me blush.
I began with Ford as president shown with his dog “Liberty,” and I ended with him at that same desk “piled high with problems.” All good. In between I struggled to condense experiences that shaped Ford growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. How to shine a spotlight on how the values of hard work, honesty and compassion were instilled, with an engaging story?
Shocked to learn that Gerald Ford was born Leslie King Junior, I initially included more about his relationship with his abusive birth father. They didn’t meet until Jerry was sixteen. His mother remarried—Gerald R. Ford Senior, Jerry’s much loved step-father. An honorable man, he had a huge influence.
Learning Michigan’s award-winning illustrator Matt Faulkner would illustrate made it easier to cut words. His art could add drama, like the WW II scene where Jerry almost slid off the ship’s deck into the sea.
Sarah liked the figurative language in Nature’s Friend. (Nature related—Gwen was an early environmentalist.) I love the added kid interest and lyricism. But I felt sheepish about my “sports theme” Ford drafts (Ford was our most athletic president), and “storm” themes (he weathered tough times). I crafted many cringe-worthy metaphors.
Then the sun broke through the clouds! Ha! A Michigan theme about the only president from the Great Lakes state. For example, “he became known for working with the Democrats, bridging the gap the way the Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan’s peninsulas.” And, “the desire for the American Dream flowed through the school as strongly as the Grand River flowed through town.”
Finally, Sarah and I had a “submission ready” story. Along the way I learned all that a talented editor brings to the table.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered in the GIVEAWAY for a chance to win a copy of Truth & Honor: The President Ford Story. Drawing by random number generator on Sept. 25. (Giveaway limited to contiguous US addresses only, please.)