Creating a children’s book I have learned, is not an isolated endeavor. Even my very first book (about a cat who steals a piece of cheese from a mouse) ought to include a second byline- for my mother, to whom I dictated this story at age 3 and a half.
What’s often missing from the author/illustrator bylines though, is the vast network of people who helped the book come into being. For me, this includes my writers’ critique group, which as of today, September 25, celebrates its first anniversary.
Since last September, we’ve met over both lattes and margaritas (and most recently a bottle Madison County wine in my new studio at Mainframe). Though our beverage of choice may change by the month, I’m always excited to share my work. Somehow, putting it in front of others makes it more real.
Motivation may ebb and flow, but the knowledge that I need something new to present to my peers each month inevitably spurs me on. I know that my current book would not be the story it is now without the discerning feedback from these women.
Spending months detailing one character, vacillating over which verbs to use and where a page break is most effective is much like looking too closely at yourself in the mirror. Your own reflection is too familiar for you to see your whole self, or in this case the whole story.
My crit group therefore, keeps me grounded. As important as the minute details of plot and character are, their feedback reminds me that it’s the bigger picture that matters. Or rather, the bigger community that matters most. Because the truth is, though the original idea was conceived in my own mind, the story belongs to more than just me.
It’s a paradox I’ve been contemplating for the past couple of months as my story, Marcella’s Butterfly has evolved. Marcella is at once a part of me, and a thing in and of herself. She’s like a piece of clay that pushes back as often as it yields to my pressure to change form.
The more I draw her, the more she takes on a life of her own. Once a pencil sketch in a spiral notebook, Marcella is now as real to me as my right hand that drew her.
But it’s not my belief alone that keeps her alive. It’s the belief of anyone who has read my story and believed in her too.