Collaboration, creativity, time, family, and the future... read on for my conversation with Jennifer Hatt, a Nova Scotia writer, publisher, and creator of the "Finding Maria" series, a Nova Scotia love story based on true events. You can read more about Jennifer and her work at www.FindingMaria.com
A big thank you to Jennifer for tagging me in this blog-hop - my first ever!
Jennifer: You've had a most interesting career path. What led you to write a children's book, and this specific story?
Me: I think a lot of new mothers think about writing a children's book. It's an overlooked genre for many adult writers, but once you become a parent, suddenly you're immersed in it. You very quickly come to find favourites, and with a writer's eye, it's natural to start identifying what you liked about the story, what made it work, and to start wondering if you could achieve it yourself.
It's not only an overlooked genre, it's an underappreciated one. I've heard so many people say that anyone could write a children's book; "it's only a few words per page", etc. But, like so many other things that appear simple, it's deceptive. It's by no means easy, and I definitely discovered that when I tried it out. My first attempt, "The Luckiest Mommy", died on the drawing board. I just couldn't get the rhythm of the words to work like I wanted to, and the story that I wanted to be sweet and evocative instead became cloying and heavy-handed. After that, I did a lot more thinking about children's literature, and a lot more observant reading.
This particular children's book, The Great Crow Party, wasn't actually my idea. My best friend from graduate school, Heidi Van Impe, asked me to collaborate with her on her vision for a children's book about crows. Heidi, an artist living on the west coast, creates her paintings and mixed media works based in and through a profound connection with nature. She'd had the idea of the crows celebrating in the party tree, and had already created some collages. With her plotline idea, I began writing the poem. It was way, way too long. It went through a few different editing processes, back and forth between me and Heidi. We wanted to preserve the story, so we decided to leave the poem a bit longer than the normal for a children's book, and instead aim it for a slightly higher age group, 6 and up. Because of the art placement, Heidi was the one who handled the layout and creation of the book itself.
Jennifer: Creative collaborations can pose their share of joys and challenges. How has the process been for you with The Great Crow Party?
Since it was Heidi's vision, I tried to defer to her on most matters during the creative process. The thing that caused me the most issue was the poem's length. We went back and forth about it a lot. I was willing to cut more, but we both wanted all the characters and their stories to remain in there. At one point, we just decided to leave the poem as-is and then see how it shaped up in layout. Heidi ended up cutting out some parts that she needed to trim. That was the only time that posed a challenge. As a writer, you do feel a certain ownership, and in an ideal universe I would have done the cutting so I could stitch up the holes, so to speak. However, I think it was unavoidable, and I had no problem with her doing it. We were both involved in our own things, four hours time difference with every communication, etc. and she had to make the call. In the end, we were both very happy with it.
Jennifer: Balancing work and family is always tricky, especially for writers working from a very busy household. How do you manage it?
Me: I think the short answer is that I mostly don't! I'm always moaning that I don't have enough time to write, which of course isn't true, or at least is only as true as you make it. I could get up earlier, I could manage my time better, I could write in the evenings after the kids are in bed. That's absolutely true, but also isn't, and comes down to what you have the will to do. I have some medical issues that result in a lot of fatigue, and being up at night with the kids doesn't help. So there are certainly times that I should be working that, instead, I'm just trying to stay awake. Even leaving that aside, it's hard to sit at the computer while the kids are around. You're always getting interrupted. Last year for my birthday, my husband made me a writing room. It's beautiful, and I love it - and I haven't seen the inside of it for months. The time that I get to work is piecemeal. There's a paragraph here and a sentence there and a blog post here.
For me, first of all I fight the fatigue. When I'm having a good day, I try to cram in as much as I can, which partly makes up for the days I'm not. I try to keep the mid- to late-afternoon as a time the kids can expect to entertain themselves and leave me be for a bit, even though I'm still right there at the kitchen table. I find that's the best time as my daughter is just home from school and my little man wants to hang out with her. Even if they just end up watching tv together, it's a chunk of time I can normally rely on having.
Jennifer: What writing projects are in the works for you now?
Me: I have several ideas for novels, and I work on them with various levels of success. I am my own worst critic and worst enemy, so it's not unusual for me to have quite a bit of work invested in something and then decide it's all garbage, or that it's not working and has to be completely scrapped and re-done. I'm always second-guessing myself. Even with my website, I'll post something and then wonder, "Should I have? Should I have put that? Maybe it's not that good."
I've always wanted to be able to write funny, and I always thought I couldn't. In the past few years, I've really been drawn to writing personal-type essays, and I was shocked when I found that people thought they were funny, too. I find that so fun and exciting. So I do a lot of essay-writing. They come more easily than fiction right now, and if people find them funny, that makes my day.
I have a partially-finished coming-of-age novel set in Newfoundland that I recently decided was garbage and has to be completely scrapped and re-done. I have a fantasy novel in the beginning stages. What I'm trying to do right now is to channel my inner Diana Gabaldon (I should be so lucky), as she once said that when she tires of one thing or hits a wall, she then works on another until she hits the wall on that one, and so on. It's an intriguing and ambitious way to work, but I think it's the way to go.
The first step is to take myself and my writing more seriously, which is hard to do when you're a stay-at-home mom and are prey to feeling out of the loop. But slowly, surely, I'm making my own loop. It feels good.
Thank you, Jennifer Hatt, for the great questions and for including me in the blog-hop! Now it's my turn to ask questions of two more authors:
Angela Yuriko Smith is a professional writer with extensive experience in newspapers and online publications. Her work has been featured internationally, including a live interview on NPR. She has written for a variety of publications, including the Community News featured in the story. An American, she currently lives in Australia with her husband, and maintains her blog dandilyonfluff.com.
Rebecca Graf lives around Milwaukee with her husband and three children. She worked as an accountant for twenty years before pulling out of the corporate world and focusing on writing. She has been writing online for five years. Currently, she writes for various online sites as well as writes her own stories. She is the author of the children’s religious series, The Redemption Tales, as well as an adult paranormal/suspense trilogy, the Connections Series. www.rebeccagraf.com