Monday, May 5, 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

Thanks Renee Gian over Word Disco who tagged me in this blog hop about My Writing Process. Here's my answers:

What am I working on now?
I'm working on a few different story ideas, three of which involve the relationships between kids and their pets. I didn't actually set out to write about kids and animals but I've started to see the child/pet relationship as a wonderful microcosm of every relationship a child has… and is therefore chock full of funny stuff. This may have everything to do with our family's recent acquisition of a fat back cat.

In my illustrating life I'm working on character sketches for my first trade picture book, The Little Kid's Table, written by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle published by Sleeping Bear Press. It's wacky rhyming book about a family dinner and, interestingly enough, has both of my favorite things to write about - family relationships and pets!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I like to think it differs due to my voice. I love to show children and their animal counterparts as obstinate, imaginative, selfish creatures - in a funny way. I think children are underestimated when adults only think of them as sweet or innocent.

Why do I write what I do?
If it feels like I can make something funny or generate pathos then I try to write it down. I don't have any high ideals about teaching kids anything. I'd just like to be able to make the reader see a little bit of themselves in the characters and have that vision make them smile.

How does my writing process work?
I'll hit upon an idea and gnaw over it in my brain for several days to months. Then I write a first draft in longhand in my idea notebook. I do edit as I go. Often the writing exercise itself causes the idea to form better. I don't erase, I just scratch out lines I don't like. When I get a good longhand version then I type it and read it out loud. I make adjustments from there depending on how the language flows. If illustration notes are necessary I'll add them. After a few rounds of this I send it to my critique partners. I don't regularly read out loud to my family but I will occasionally read something just to see how my kids react to a particular line or bit of language. One thing I've started doing while I'm in the early revision process is try to write a single sentence that describes the story arc. This has really helped me focus on the essential elements in the story.

Because I'm usually fitting writing around illustration projects and family activities I keep project folders made up for every active idea. My project folders have a typed or handwritten draft, pencils, erasers, and notes from my critique group if I have them. Then when I know I've got 45 minutes waiting on a gymnastics lesson or 15 minutes in the school pick-up line I grab some project folders on the way out the door. I always try to write at night in bed as usually that's the one time I'm not bombarded by a million other thoughts. I'm a big believer in the subconscious mind solving problems so if I'm trying to wrestle down a plot point I'll usually think about it as I'm driving or falling asleep. Many times within a few days of doing this a solution will pop into my head!

Now for the next two players in My Writing Process I'm going to tag two extremely talented writers, illustrators and friends, Amanda Driscoll and Meridth Gimbel! Check out their answers and their fabulous work on their blogs by May 12th!

Amanda Driscoll is a graphic designer who, after having children, rediscovered her love of picture books and found her true passion. From her home near Louisville, Kentucky, she writes, illustrates, designs, and dreams up book ideas while walking her dogs. She is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio. Her debut picture book, DUNCAN THE STORY DRAGON, will be released in Spring 2015 from Knopf.   

Meridth Gimbel earned a BFA in illustration from BYU where she had the great good fortune to intern with Brad Holland and Brett Helquist. Currently an SCBWI member in Southern California Meridth love anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. See her work on her blog at

The Moment I'd Been Working For

On the afternoon of March 20th I was sitting in traffic happily planning my packing strategy for the beach vacation we were leaving for the next day. Out of the blue, I got the urge to check my email. I hardly ever check email behind the wheel but this time I did. As I scrolled through the list of senders one name stood out. I looked at it and thought, "mmm how do I know that name?" Then I read the first line of the email: "Dear Ms. Uhles, I am the senior designer for Sleeping Bear Press and we have a manuscript we think your work would be perfect for…."

My ears started ringing. Everything else faded to stillness except for the phone in my hand. Traffic started to inch forward. I clicked on the email. Somehow I managed not to drive into a guardrail as I skimmed the message.

There it was, my first offer to illustrate a trade picture book.

Behind that moment lies a patchwork of years of learning and hours of work, all of it held together by one tiny thread of faith that eventually my art, my vision, my characters, my imagination would be seen as trade quality. For this post I considered writing more about starting over and over again after rejections to numerous to count*. But that gets pretty maudlin. Let's just say for the record it's been a long and winding road as I wrote here, here and especially here.

Instead let's talk about the fun stuff!

The name of the book is The Little Kid's Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Reihle. In this wacky rhyming story when the family gathers for a big celebratory meal, those sitting at the kid's table may not eat a lot of broccoli casserole but they do have the best ideas about what to do with spoons and a Labradoodle. As is usual with trade publishing I'm working with the editors and art directors and will have little contact with the author.

Why am I excited about trade when I've already illustrated books for educational and religious publishers? Well for starters I didn't dream about doing art for those books when I was kid. I dreamed about making books like the ones in my mom's library. And this time its my vision that gets to bring the story to life, not a preordained set of curriculum. Plus I get almost a whole year to work on it! I get to make up what I think the characters should look like! I get to put into practice all the stuff I've learned about about story-telling over 32 pages. I'll introduce the characters little by little on the blog as they are approved. For now I'll leave you with a photo of something that makes me very happy. Yes that IS my name in purple ink:

*ps. also for the record, I did keep that maudlin blog about the years of rejection. I hope this book will be the beginning of many trade books to come and I never, ever, want to take it for granted. If someday off in the future I'm whining about some tiny problem related to, oh say, my 10th trade book I plan to keep that blog around for some long term perspective. No matter what problems may arise, I'm very very very lucky to make my living this way.