Sunday, June 20, 2010

Three Years of Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers

The first time I went to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop, I had been working on the same book, off and on, for over a decade. I'd written a few short stories (one of which got published--YAY!!!) and had another novel I would peck at occasionally, but that one book had been my main focus.

On the second day of that workshop, I found out that my one book, my one shining star, my baby, was utterly unpublishable.

The characters were supposed to be college students, but everyone in my critique group said they talked and acted like middle-school kids. The premise and the light, funny contemporary fantasy setting were both middle-grade too. I had started out with an entire chapter of "maid and butler" dialog, in which the characters were informing the reader instead of really talking to each other, and there was so much backstory that my teacher, Brandon Sanderson, said, "Where's chapter zero?"


Maybe had I started the story in the wrong place. Maybe I should be writing middle-grade instead of YA.

That was going to take an OVERWHELMING amount of work.

So I went home and gently put that unpublishable manuscript in a box in the garage. I wrote another book, went back to the workshop a second year, wrote a third book, began a fourth one, but all that time my first book kept calling to me. The characters would not let me go. The premise kept coming back to my mind.

Nearly two years after my initial disappointment, it was time to try again.

I made the characters younger and thought up a new storyline, wrote two chapters, and took them to David Farland's class at this year's WIFYR workshop. Was it good enough now? I couldn't say. I was hoping Dave would tell me.

He gave the project a thumbs-up. A big thumbs-up. Coming from Dave, who has trained a whole long list of bestselling authors, that meant a lot.

Time to get back to work!


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Yay!! What great feedback! I'm glad to see the professionals acknowledge that the story ROCKS! (as I already knew)

The new look is awesome - I love the starry wonder look. But is the header supposed to be all-black? When I load it, it flashes this cool swirly pattern, but then goes to black.

I'm glad you came back so inspired! The conf. sounds hugely productive. I may have to think about going next year! :)

Rebecca J. Carlson said...

Thanks for the feedback on the blog. Are you using internet explorer? I'll see if I can work out the bug.

Kathy said...

I am SO GLAD to hear that you are pulling this story out of the box! It truly deserves another chance at life! I loved it before, and I'm sure I'll love it even more in its new reworked form. See you soon.

Texasblu said...


I'm so grateful to hear the story behind the story. It's fabulous. You're fabulous. It was wonderful to meet you.

I can't wait to see it in print - you will sign my copy, won't you?

:) Aine

LeishaMaw said...

Very cool post. I'm so excited for you!

Rebecca J. Carlson said...

Hi Mom! Wow, did you really read that manuscript? What a dedicated mother you are.

Aine, I'll sign your copy of my book if you'll sign my copy of yours.

Leisha, I'm soooo excited for you. Yesterday when I was making notes on all my Corridor critiques, whose book did I keep thinking about? YOURS!