Writing the book

The Writing: how it all started

The author’s story:

While traveling in India more than 20 years ago, I sat down to begin writing a screenplay. Instead, the character and voice of a perky goldfish emerged. That’s strange, I thought. Not what I want to write. But this little fish had such an insistent presence, I went with it. A rough form of long poem, in rhyme, emerged. I had fun playing with the language. I wanted to find a concrete but engaging way to pass on to children the notion of perseverance and helping others. Moreso, I wanted to share some abstract concepts (surrender, letting go, and going with the flow), which are valuable lessons for anyone, especially people on a spiritual path. Gracie Gets Going was born.

A few people in India read my rough draft and encouraged me. Upon my return to Canada, the first woman who critiqued my story wrote 10 pages of single-spaced text, telling me all of the things she didn’t like about it. She ended by saying that she would not read the story to her nine-year-old son again. Ouch. I put the story away.

Months later, I pulled it out and took out the rhyme scheme. I did a few rewrites, sent my manuscript out again, and collected lots of rejection slips. I rewrote and rewrote the story. I researched children’s book publishers, joined an organization for children’s book authors, and attended one of their conferences. In a one-on-one session at the conference, an advisor told me that alliteration, which I had used extensively in my book, was a sign of “amateur” writing. (By that time, I had been writing professionally for more than a decade.) Point taken.

More rewrites. More years of rejection slips. One publisher’s letter said: “We don’t do talking animals.” I kept putting the manuscript away, figuring that it was my learning tool and nothing more. I had to let it go. More years passed. I decided that it needed a more active title. I changed the ending. I took another workshop on writing kids’ books. A friend read the story to a group of five-year-olds. They didn’t get it. A friend had his neighbour’s son read the book. He started squirming before the end. It was too long. I shortened the story and put it away again.

Wondering if there was any life left to the story at all, I went to hear Dennis Lee do a reading at the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt. Afterwards, I mailed him my manuscript and asked for feedback. To his tremendous credit, he praised the story and encouraged me. That inspired me to continue. More rewrites. More years passed.

In late 2010, I went to a literary reading and ended up sitting at a table with a local publisher. When I heard that he published children’s books, among other genres, I thought I’d risk it and send him my manuscript. I did another rewrite. He liked it. Hooray! Soon, I had signed a contract. Gracie was going to be born — my first children’s book!

Read more about the origins of Gracie in my blog post “We can all learn from children.”

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