They say when you are writing a book, whether it is an 80,000 word novel, or an 800 word children's picture book, you better cry when your protagonist cries. You better laugh when she laughs. You better feel what she feels, or you simply aren't there yet.
I cry a lot when I write from my adult place for adults. It's like a long chat, over tea in some dimly lit corner of an empty cafe. It's a 911 call from a friend, "Can you meet? I have no one talk to and I need you." It's easy to feel over conversations like these. With the children's book, however, I wasn't laughing or crying with this project.
Normally, I write as I would talk to friends when I know (or think) no one else is listening. Writing for kids, with such a seriously shitty subject, was different. Multiple Sclerosis is a bit of a topic for an adult mind, let alone a kid. Umm,paraplegia, adult diapers and catheters? I don't think so. I'm laughing as I write this...wth do you do with such an adult topic in a little kid's book?
If you need me to answer that for you-you don't go there. I don't let my mind wander there. There's no way I would lead my child's mind to those worst-case scenarios.
So, I really struggled to find my voice. How to be honest and not scary, and then be MYSELF was a tough place to find. I didn't know if it was even a place. Ask Johnny. He was there. It was a laborious, almost tedious task, but it felt like a job and something I had to do. I was tortured and pissy. BUT, walking away was not an option.
Side note: I actually did walk away for 3 weeks and wrote a novel in that time. That shows you how much harder it was for me to write a seven page children's book.
I couldn't curse or use my natural voice. On one particular school night during all this, I was giving Zoe advice about a struggle she was having at school, and she walked away looking dazed and confused. I realized I just spoke to her like she was a 40 year-old woman and confused the crap out of her.
I shut the fridgerator door, continued out of the kitchen and mumbled to myself while shaking my head, "I have no business writing a freaking children's book."
But the thing was, I had no choice. If I can leave my daughter one thing, one loving, lasting message long after I was gone, something she could cuddle up to at night after she put her own kids to bed...it was going to be this freaking book. So, on I went, on WE went. Johnny was patient. It isn't easy trying to sketch beside an ever changing manuscript. I was like a story bomb and you never knew what ick of a story might fly out of my head on any given day.
Eventually, I came to a place where I was comfortable. It was the finished product, an 811 word children's picture book. It was 'good enough'. But at the end of the day, in the pit of my belly or soul, or heart, or that place where they all connect, it wasn't right. I wasn't identifying. I wasn't laughing. I wasn't crying when she was crying. And then something happened this weekend when I felt the title needed to be changed. With that teeny tiny change, the story changed in a big way. After rewriting and revising for a few days, and walking away for a couple days in between, I opened up the manuscript for one last look, one last 'no big deal' revision.
I tweaked and tightened. I revised and refined. And finally, fucking, finally...when the theme wrapped up at the end, I cried. It was rhyming and rhythm and a beautiful message, the precise words I knew were perfect, if and when I leave this world. It was me and my daughter, in the corner of a dimly lit cafe, talking and looking back at how well she managed all this. It was my voice, speaking to her. I cried.
Zoe Bowie and the Meatball MS Blues is done.