February 8, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Marcus and Eggplant Save Patokay” (Stories For Children Magazine Online, February 2009) Guy Stewart #13

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Viehl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

This story was my first attempt at a kids’ kids story and I absolutely did exactly what every writing book tells me not to do: I took the story from real life!

At the time I wrote it, we had a cockatiel – along with cats, dogs, fish, hamsters,  lizards, and frogs. I liked to tell people we had a pet animal representing each major animal class: mammal, fish, reptile, amphibian, bird, and insect. My son was Angel’s favorite person. I was probably its LEAST favorite person. But at the time, I was very familiar with its behavior.

Angel loved to have his chest stroked and his head scratched.

He also loved to screech when he was lonely and would fly wherever he could get to then avoid capture to be returned to his cage. We sometimes enticed him with fresh citrus fruits when we had them.

I’d also taken care of a massively and old iguana named Moses, back when I was in college. It was one of those “work-study” jobs. I was a biology major and cleaned the animal room. Most of the job was normal – clean the rat and mouse cages, feed them plus the rabbits, and maintain the supplies. There were two NOT-normal jobs I had to do.

On a table in the animal room were ten fish bowls. In each one was a HUGE, UGLY, WHITE FROG...albino African clawed frogs to be exact. Females and males (the females were much larger than the males and had to be kept separately because, if the male was too small, she’d eat him...

The other odd job I did was take care of Moses. He was elderly, and because he was under the care of a bunch of science geeks, he was pretty healthy and had a row of hard spines on his back running from his head to his tail. My job usually involved cleaning his cage and feeding him part of a head of lettuce as well as piece of fruit, leaves of various plants, and some vitamins dusted on to his food. I also had to take him for a walk in the Biology Hall and into the Administrative Building adjacent to it.

He had a Chihuahua harness that I put on him along with a purple leash. Once a week, it was my job to set him up and then let him do a controlled “run”. He’d start scrabbling as soon as I started to lower him to the floor. Then he’d take off and I’d follow, making sure he didn’t go under or into anything I couldn’t get him out of.

I’d tried breaking into this market with a couple of mysteries I desperately wanted to write that were based on science concepts, but those attempts flopped. Using Moses and Angel – and some names plucked from cultures other than the one I was raised in – I set up the story.

It was quite a bit longer initially, but Stories for Children Magazine (online) was a growing market. Unfortunately, it was a non-paying market, but it did give me an online presence in the early days of electronic magazines or e-zines and so I took the opportunity.

The response to my story was strong enough that they asked if I would permit them to put it into an anthology of stories form their first year. For that they offered token payment...

At any rate, the things that went RIGHT with this:

  1. I was looking for a children’s market outside of the standard CRICKET, et al.
  2. I had experience with animals, and stories like this are popular with kids.
  3. I had the KID solve the problem using information he already had. In other words, he showed up the adults in the story.
  4. I SENT IT OUT UNTIL I FOUND A MARKET! (I wrote about persistence here: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2014/05/writing-advice-persist-guy-stewart-1.html)
So what are you waiting for? Take what you know and write a story and good luck and persistence!
Image: http://static4.quoteswave.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/We-are-all-apprentices.jpg

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