My Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and colleague, Melanie Fishbane, invited me to be a part of a “My Writing Process” blog tour. I’ve been out of the blogging habit, so I’m thrilled to get a bit of a jumpstart! Thanks, Mel!

Melanie’s YA novel based on the teen life of L.M. Montgomery will be published under the Razorbill imprint in 2015. She has 17 years of experience in publishing, specializing in children’s and teen lit, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves talking about writing, books, old movies, classic women’s lit and anything that amuses her. Melanie blogs at

Without further ado – here we go!


What are you working on?

I have a few projects that are incubating at the moment, taking their own sweet time to form:

A picture book about a boy who projects his desires (both good and bad) onto his stuffed animals… and then they act them out. (I am trying my hand at some drawing, too! New to me…)


An early reader about a misunderstood dog named Bud who lives with two supercilious cats.

A magical realism novel about a girl who draws birds that keep flying away…


How does your work differ from others of its genre?

What an odd question! As the late, exceptional Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod said, “Nobody has your literary fingerprints.” I believe that my work differs because it is my own. Give the same premise to five different people and you will get five vastly different stories… which is why I feel 100% ok with sharing the premises I have above.

What my characters think, feel, and do are of utmost concern at all times. And, since my characters are little random bits of me stuck together, with little bits of my own experiences, snippets of overheard conversations, and my understanding of the world combined, they are unique. Thus, the stories are unique.

But perhaps this question is more after style. I am enchanted with sound and rhythm, and I tend to write in a very close third person voice – that is how the characters come to me. I also tend to write emotionally detached characters who take their sweet time letting me know what’s going on with them! (Argh!)


Why do you write what you do?

 I was moved recently by Amanda Palmer’s TED talk (“The Art of Asking”) in which she describes the beautiful exchanges she had with lonely people when she performed on the streets as “the Eight-Foot Bride.” She stood on a milk crate in a long white gown and handed flowers to passersby. Palmer said she had some profound encounters: through prolonged eye contact she communicated, “Thank you. I see you,” and the eyes of the stranger seemed to say, “Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.”

Writing for me is like giving out flowers. There is so much power in being seen – I write because I hope that readers feel seen when they connect with a character, situation, or emotion I have written about. The beauty is that when that happens, readers are also saying, “I see you,” back to me.

And the other part of this is that I write because I am always working things out. I am answering my own questions. I am learning. I am exploring. I write whatever comes to me because that’s what I need to do at that moment.


How does your writing process work?

Incubate, incubate, incubate.

Freewrite, freewrite, freewrite.

Put it all into scenes.

Recognize when what I have written is “not true” (i.e. I have overridden my characters!)

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Repeat until finished.

Then smooth and preen it.


Thanks for reading and joining in on the blog tour! Please check in next week with Stella Papadopoulos and Silverleaf. Here’s a little taste:



silverleafI started my blog as a journal for my thoughts on mid-life stress – everything from careers to parenting to anxiety. In the process, I rediscovered my love of writing and the blog morphed a bit. It is now also my writing journal; a way to share the poetry and short fiction that blogging has re-inspired in me.


Stella Papadopoulos

Stella Papadopoulos

As a late bloomer, I’ve done many things late, marriage, children, art school, and writing picture books. My circuitous path of life has given me paintings and something to say. I’m passionate about creating art and hopefully one day writing for children.



Picture books, protagonists, and the wonder that is Kevin Henkes – Part 3

In parts 1 and 2, I shared the beginning of an essay about the apparent lapse Kevin Henkes had in keeping to the cardinal rule of letting the protagonist solve his or her own problem. I was perplexed by the emotional resonance of his stories, and wondered how this was achieved. Here’s the last part of my essay:


Robert McKee identifies a variation of the typical protagonist structure that he calls the plural-protagonist.  Here, “all individuals in the group share the same desire, [and] in the struggle to achieve this desire, they mutually suffer and benefit.  If one has a success, all benefit.  If one has a setback, all suffer . . . motivation, action, and consequence are communal” (McKee 136).  It appears that Owen and his parents may be plural-protagonists – they both have the desire for the happiness and security of Owen, and this can be achieved when Owen gets to keep his blanket.  We see through the pictures that the parents are just as distressed as Owen at each of the attempts to rid him of the blanket, thus the suffering is communal.  And when the mother solves the problem, they all benefit.  The story is empowering, and resonates with the reader because of this plural-protagonist set-up.

In Sheila Rae, The Brave, Louise and Sheila Rae may act as plural-protagonists.  While Louise does not appear in the text for six pages, we see from the way Henkes draws her eyes and positions her body that she is truly frightened while Sheila Rae performs her brave feats.  We can tell right away that Sheila Rae’s desire is to always be brave.  But when Sheila Rae calls Louise a scaredy cat, Louise whispered, “Am not,” thereby showing the reader that her desire, too, is to be brave.  What is not so clear is how success and setbacks are communal in this work.  It almost seems that when Sheila Rae is brave, Louise doesn’t have to be, but when Sheila Rae can’t be brave, Louise can be.  At the end Louise states that they are both brave and fearless, and they fearlessly walk backward into their home together.  It’s as though at first there is not room enough for both to be brave, but in the end there is.

While initially all three of Henkes stories appeared to have protagonists who were short-changed of their own empowering ending, it is clear that Henkes tweaked the typical protagonist norms to achieve reader satisfaction in both Owen, and Sheila Rae, The Brave.  He did this by linking two sets of characters together in a way that allowed them all to benefit.  The beauty of this technique comes from the fact that Henkes eludes to an interconnectedness and sense of community in his work – and this resonates with the reader.


There you have it – my essay in three parts. To me, the idea of plural-protagonists opens up a world of possibilities. I believe in community and connectedness, and am excited to explore how emotional resonance can be achieved when characters work in tandem rather than alone. What thoughts, questions, or possibilities has it opened up to you?

BTW – check out Ingrid’s Notes on the idea of working with connection – it’s a great post!


Essay References:

Henkes, Kevin. Chrysanthemum. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1991. Print.

Henkes, Kevin. Owen. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1993. Print.

Henkes, Kevin. Sheila Rae, the Brave. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1987. Print.

Lamb, Nancy. The Writers Guide to Crafting Stories for Children. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001. Print.

McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: ItBooks, 1997. Print.

Paul, Ann W. Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. Print.