Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wearing my writer's cap

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been acting more like a writer than an artist. While last week I prepared for the AAW workshop, this week my focus has been on revisions for Bill, a picture book biography which will publish with Lee & Low Books next fall. I’m having a ball revising, but I’m also finding it very tricky.

It’s been almost four years since my editor offered me the opportunity to revise the manuscript for publication, and more than two years since it was actually acquired. It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since the last revision. In all honesty, other than When’s this book ever gonna publish? I haven’t thought about it much. Looking at it now is almost like looking at it for the first time. For instance, I found myself getting all salty with my editor, thinking she had added her own phrases to the manuscript. Those words are too good to be mine, I thought. But looking closer at past versions, I realized the words were mine. Somewhere around revision 26, I forgot.

Seeing the manuscript fresh has helped me to see problems I might otherwise have not. But I have to be very careful when making changes – even little ones. The story is nonfiction. My word choices were made very carefully, based on research. So each time I make a change, I have to go back to my research to double-check that I’m not messing up history. What I’ve discovered is that, although one word or phrase might sound or flow better, another word or phrase might suggest something inaccurate.

In addition, the illustrator for the book and the editor have a few questions. The answers will affect the art. Problem is, finding these answers haven't been easy because my story involves a slave. Slaves were considered property, like a horse or a mule, and the census didn't go knocking door-to-door counting mules — or Black people, for that matter.

It's been interesting swapping roles, artist to author. But I've learned that I love telling stories with words as much as I do with paint.

Now, it's back to the drawing board to the manuscript for me.


Bonnie A said...

So why did you decide not to illustrate the book yourself?

I'm interested, because I feel some of my writing projects are not right for me as an illustrator--but it's hard to give up that part of it.

Anonymous said...

Thats a question I'll be answering many, many times over the next few years. The reasons were complicated, however. But I'm happy with the illustrator choice for this book --the editor and I both agreed. I'm happy with the books that I am illustrating, which I think were the right projects for me. And as for my future written projects, I'm perfectly fine with other artists illustrating my words. I always use author Diane Stanley as an example. Sometimes she illustrates her written works. Sometimes others illustrate them. I like that, finding just the right artist for the project.