Here’s a fabulous post by author Lindsey McDivitt on how she used a “family story” and made it viable as a picture book manuscript by developing a plot with “doorways.” While some might call these by different names, such as hooks or layers, doorways is perfect, a way to welcome readers in. Read on to learn about the creation of CHRISTMAS FAIRIES FOR OUMA…
AND leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy of the book in our GIVEAWAY!
Congratulations to Danielle Dufayet, winner of PECULIAR PRIMATES: FUN FACTS ABOUT THESE CURIOUS CREATURES from author Debra Shumaker!
Adding Doorways into Your Story for Broader Appeal by Lindsey McDivitt
The true story that sparked Christmas Fairies for Ouma initially had appeal only for my grown children and myself. It was a delightful small family miracle told and retold. But—it had only a beginning and an ending, so no real plot. Ha! Not much appeal for editors or agents. However the themes of grandparent/grandchild love, Christmas and letters had broad appeal for readers of all ages.
As small children my sister Tessa and I sent a picture in the mail from Minnesota across the world to our grandmother, our Ouma. It had no real postage, only Gold Bond Stamps, no address, or even her name. By some miracle it reached our grandmother! At her doctor’s office! Our homemade card with drawings of princesses traveled 10,000 miles to South Africa with “No name, no street and no real stamps.”
I had no idea what happened on our card’s journey and for a long time I didn’t know how to develop the story. Then in 2014 I stumbled on several articles about the contagious nature of kindness. Yes! My story became a tale of kind souls passing on our card, each inspired by being on the receiving end of a kind act. I love imagining the strangers spotting our childish drawing on green construction paper and sending it on its way. Postal workers around the world must have somehow resisted tossing our card into the trash. A chain of kindness became the terrific new doorway into my picture book about a letter from a grandchild missing her faraway grandmother.
My talented agent Kelly Dyksterhouse pushes me to add numerous doorways or entryways into a picture book manuscript. At least six to eight doorways, but preferably ten! Kelly describes them as invitations to readers to connect with the story. She challenges me to think about word play and humor—including adult humor, science, and universal themes like unconventional families among other things.
Kelly and I review the picture book structure, plot, characters and themes. At some point the princesses on Tessa’s card became fairies, and the Gold Bond stamps became fairy stickers. (Gold Bond stamps, those small sticky coupons of the 1960’s hold little allure for kids.) Fairies and Christmas magic were developed as new doorways into the story. To my delight, illustrator Katarzyna Bukiert added tiny fairies hiding on almost every page of the finished book.
Tessa “added fairies with hands hidden in ruffles. Hands tucked into wings. And hands reaching right off the paper. Tessa’s favorite fairies wore fat RED mittens. Just like the ones Ouma knitted for Tessa.”
The handmade card is handled by numerous postal workers as it crosses the Atlantic and travels more than 10,000 miles. I was able to introduce elements of world geography and to hint at other cultures—new doorways many editors and agents appreciate. A Highlights workshop helped me realize that this elevated the appeal to fellow immigrants. Katarzyna’s illustrations of exotic locations, world landmarks and colorful stamps with birds and animals are some of my favorites in the book
There was little to enchant kids in the unlikely doctor’s office ending. With a revised ending I was able to also amp up the kindness theme and the magic. A kind stranger in South Africa posts the card in a bakery window in hopes the right ouma will happen along for Christmas cakes. A breeze catches the card and Tessa’s Ouma assists the chase—a final act of kindness. Again Katarzyna’s lush and whimsical illustrations added Christmas magic to our book. (I was once the six-year-old certain she heard reindeer hooves on the roof.)
The back matter in Christmas Fairies for Ouma always included an author note that shares the true back story. (How could I resist?) But at the urging of my publisher, Familius Books, I added a glossary of terms and fun facts about South Africa and South African Christmas celebrations. (Did you know tiny Christmas lights are often called fairy lights?) Back matter—yet another doorway into the story! I count a total of ten. Phew!
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of CHRISTMAS FAIRIES FOR OUMA. (Continental US addresses only, please. Winner announced 12/16/22)
Lindsey McDivitt has authored biographies for children including A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation and Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story. Christmas Fairies for Ouma is her first fictional picture book. Lindsey is passionate about accurate & positive portrayals of older adults. Learn more at www.lindseymcdivitt.com and on her blog “A is for Aging.”
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