Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oh, the Twists and Turns of Any Book's Plotline!

Find out about our TeachingAuthors autographed Book Giveaway running all this week! Click here for details.

This week we’re celebrating fellow TeachingAuthor Esther Hershenhorn’s newest book, S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, an A-to-Z journey through a writer’s life and process.

Can you give us a feel for the time-line of S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, from the story’s spark to its first review?

I loved sharing with readers in my D is for Drafts side-bar text that Abraham Lincoln spent seventeen days crafting his 272-word Gettysburg Address! S is for Story’s time-line totaled 971 days, from its January 11, 2007 story spark to its September 9, 2009 official release.
But, who’s counting anyway?
And, unlike Lincoln, I saved my many drafts.

Here’s how my book’s plotline played out across 2 2/3 years, in scenes that moved forward to its happy resolution, despite the twists and turns.

January 11, 2007 My story’s spark: a writing alphabet!

January 13, 2007 Submission of Book Proposal to SBP editor Amy Lennex

October 10, 2007 Amy’s phone call, offering me a contract :)

Note: Sleeping Bear Press planned to publish the book in September, 2009; my completed manuscript was due May 1, 2008.

November, 2007 Brainstorming the book idea with my Chicago Alcott School 5th graders

January 7, 2008 Submission of my 26 selected alphabetically-ordered words

Note: I’ve titled this particular Plot Episode “Esther’s Lost Weekend” because that’s what preceded the submission of my letters. My driving question? What story was I telling? What was my narrative arc? I simply could not alphabetically list word after word. My Aha! Moment? When I realized this book was my School Visit, wrapped and ribbon-ed and tied up with a bow, shouting, when opened, “Writers are readers!”

My welcoming, affirming narrator’s voice would address the reader, moving the story from WE writers (and readers) to and through writing’s Magic and on to writing’s gift, namely YOU and YOUR story.

My 26 words needed to offer a balanced representation of (1) the writing process, (2) the six traits of writing, (3) the elements of narrative and (4) the writer’s life.
My quoted and referenced children’s book authors, titles and characters would reflect a multitude of formats, genres and ethnicities.
January, 2008 – March, 2008
Research! Googling! Reading! Oh, My!
Selection of supportive concrete details and a relevant quote for each of my 17 double-page spreads

Note: I’d never solved such a challenging acrostic-like puzzle! I needed to represent award-winning authors living and dead, male and female, inclusive of all genres, formats and ethnicities, whose words enhanced my selected subject word
March, 2008 The writing of my book’s rhymed text – 26 poems that convey, for my youngest readers, the essence of my chosen subject word.

Note: Writing these poems, adhering to my established meter, yet varying the sentence structure and word choice in unique and original ways, took me all 31 days! I have a new respect for the always-admired Mary Ann Hoberman and Lisa Wheeler.
April, 2008 The writing of the 180-word text for each of my 26 side-bars.

Note: The word count included my chosen author’s quoted words. Revising, cutting and refining my copy proved editor Jean Karl’s advice right on: a writer can always cut five words more. I actually loved this challenge. Verbs became my best friends.
April 30, 2008 Submission of manuscript, electronically to Amy Lennex!

May, 2008 A few minor revisions requested and honored

May 23, 2008 An arranged conference call that included Amy Lennex, the Art Director Melinda Millward, the book’s chosen illustrator Zachary Pullen and me!

Note: I’ve never been offered this opportunity before.
I shared how I came to write this book and why I loved it so. Zak shared that he was thinking about following a given set of young writers through the book’s many pages. Our respect for young writers came through loud and clear.
August, 2008 Amy shared Zak’s rough thumbnail sketches

October, 2008 I honored Amy’s request to choose a new U and X;

Note: my original U was for Uses and the X was for Rejection; my revised U was for Unstoppable and X was for eXpression.

November 24, 2008 Amy Lennex’s emailed revision requests, with an attached document.

Note: Though still full of Good Will from Turkey Day,
I was
not instantly thankful for Amy’s sharp, smart editorial eye.
In fact, it took a good two days for me to see the wonder of her comments, each posed as a question. Amy was reading my words on behalf of my readers, young and old, who deserved utmost clarity. I twinge now rereading the draft I thankfully revised. I also needed to tweak 25 of my 26 poems, again for clarity, again for my readers. After but one phone conversation with Amy, I was on my way, eager to get my words and story right.
December 22, 2008 I emailed Amy my completed revisions. :)

March, 2009 I received color images of Zak’s cover and a few letter pages –
B, C, D/E, F/G,M, P, Y/Z. I joined the chorus of viewers’ “WOW’S!”

April, 2009 Line-editing/proof-reading

Note: Over several days, I continually marveled at the fine eye shown my every word, with evident and much-appreciated respect for the author.
June, 2009 Completion of Zak’s art

Early July, 2009 Shipment of book to China for printing.

August 27, 2009 Arrival of books in SBP warehouse!

September 9, 2009 Official release date

September 13, 2009 Chicago Tribune review

Mary Harris Russell’s enthusiasm for our book was palpable.

“These attention-getting pages – often featuring unusual angles on a scene – slow readers to an appreciative pace for each piece of Hershenhorn’s advice. Hershenhorn is experienced as an author and writing coach; that dual expertise show. The words chosen for each letter are distinctive and strongly central for writers: genre, journal, notebook, revision and voice. She is not talking down. Her allusions are to a variety of writers children know and like – Ann Martin, Richard Peck, Beverly Cleary, Sid Fleischman, as well as to Superman, Longfellow and text-messaging.”

Somewhere in my cartons of drafts, emails, sketches and auxiliary materials sits the Chicago Tribune Sagittarius horoscope for Saturday, January 13, 2007, the day I mailed my Writer’s Alphabet proposal to Sleeping Bear Press. Georgia Nicols advised me to muster patience and trust in a Bigger Plan: I was planting seeds that in time would grow to bear prized fruits beyond my imagination.


• Zachary Pullen’s singular, compelling S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet’s illustrations reflect his respect for young writers and writing. Visit Zak’s website to learn more about his work and other books.
• My website offers Young Writers Extras – opportunities to write, read and discover, at home, in school, or at the library.
• Visit my website’s newest page, Tour, to learn the What, When and Where of my out-and-about book events, signings, school visits, conference engagements, writer presentations, teacher workshops and upcoming October-through November Blog Tour.
• Click here for Sleeping Bear Press’ Teacher’s Guide to S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet.

Writing Workout
A Reading and Discovery Opportunity

Dr. Seuss figured he could knock off his The Cat in the Hat in a week. After all, he wasn’t using more than 250 words. Imagine his surprise when after one year, he was still working on the story. Page through Philip Nel’s The Annotated Cat, Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (Random House) to see and study Dr. Seuss’ revisions.

What are some of the changes Dr. Seuss made in word choice and the story’s action?

[Note: book images used with permission.]

1 comment:

Tricia said...

Thank you, Esther, for sharing this. I love the behind-the-scenes look at the making of a book. It really is a labor of love, and hearing about it makes me so much more appreciative of every book that graces my shelf.