In this story, a mouse’s squeak sets off a chain reaction that wakes all the animals in the surrounding meadows and mountains. I painted the illustrations in black and white gouache resist and my sister Kate McGee colored them in Photoshop, as we did for Little Wolf’s First Howling,

THE ILLUSTRATIONS for SQUEAK! are delivered to Philomel for publication next spring. So it is time to scratch around for a new project. How to begin?

BEGIN as a cobbler – laying out all the pieces of the story on the bench. It’s going to be a shoe, but what sort of shoe? Bright buckles? Strong arch support? High heeled, strappy, patent leather?

Begin with an overheard line: “As long as you’re home in time for wormcakes,” or “You’re just a baby. A baby, baby, baby,” or “I remember he was missing a few fingers.”

Begin with a character and the stakes: a child in jeopardy, a badger or weasel or mouse with unquenched desire. Yearning is not enough, begin with clear need.

Begin with a sequence: days of the week, or the five senses, cities along a highway. Sequence can open up a writing experience. Begin there

or with place. Begin with a place that holds memories of the life lived there: the janitor’s hideout in the school basement, a dresser drawer that served as a cradle, a sun-parched hillside.

FREEDOM flows when I approach the blank page. In some ways a new beginning feels like the first time I tried to write anything. In other ways, I lean on 27 years of making picture books.

I think of Seahawks football coach Pete Carroll, talking about the freedom that players gain when they master their skills. He said: “Think of a dancer. Dancers work and they work and they work and they master their skill – or singers – they master their skills so far that improvisation just comes flowing out of them. Their natural expression of the best they can possibly be comes out of them because there is no boundary to hold them back.”

I hope for such intuitive leaps, but am aware of my shortcomings, too, and appreciate encouragement from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem:

      Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.

BEGIN. Let the world fall away and follow the path into the story – as long as you’re home in time for wormcakes.

11 responses to “PICTURE BOOK FODDER

  1. Oh thank you! I am sitting down to write a beginning too, and instead I check my email, and find your post, and am comforted and inspired. Maybe I can do it. xo

    • Here’s the quote I first met in The Artist’s Way that gets me going:
      Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

      All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

      Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
      Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  2. How grateful to hear of fresh beginnings: sometimes light as a feather falling, or as momentous as a thunder shower, but enough to move a little character on his path!

  3. A lovely post, Laura. I vote for “be home in time for wormcakes.: 🙂

  4. Laura, I want you to know that my granddaughters and I LOVE Little Wolf’s First Howling. We howl together when I read the book aloud to them. It’s such fun. It’s my six-year-old granddaughter’s favorite book. Looking forward to reading Squeak!

  5. I’m sitting in my hopelessly messy office at 5:00 a.m. resisting the urge to clean. I read your inspiring post and know: It’s time to WRITE!

  6. Laura, This is the exhilarating part! New beginnings. The world is wide open, stretch your net. I do think “worm cakes” sound mighty tasty…if you are in that frame of mind. Congrats on getting the “ART” in the bag.

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