A little treat for you before the month is over. Picture book author Natasha Yim is visiting to share a revision story about her newest book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas. To me, writing picture books is about the hardest thing to do as a writer. I have personally failed at every attempt. They look deceptively easy, and I’m so impressed by anyone who writes them well. This book looks charming as could be, and if you’re looking for a diverse book for your children’s library, make sure you pick this one up.
As a children’s author of four published picture books and many articles for magazines, I’m no stranger to the revision process. Still, I could never have foreseen that my latest picture book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Jan. 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing) would take an arduous nine years to publication. Along this lengthy journey, the manuscript passed through the hands of four beta readers in a writing group (multiple times), five editors, marketing personnel (yes, they have significant input in whether a title is acquired or released), and two publishing houses who all had different visions, different perspectives on what the story did or did not need -- more Chinese-themed details, fewer details, more authentic setting, more American setting, and so on. At times, I felt like I was holding one of those old movie reels and the film was unraveling on the floor and coiling at my feet in one jumbled, messy heap.
The journey began about a dozen (or so) years ago, when I learned about fractured fairy tales at a writing conference. I was intrigued by the idea of re-writing a familiar tale from a different perspective. I played around with a few fairy tales, but something about the Goldilocks story had always stuck with me. Here was a little girl breaking and entering into the three bears’ home, destroying their stuff, and leaving a mess never to be heard from again. How rude! And what kind of message does this story give kids? I wanted to re-write it with a more compassionate protagonist and a more satisfying ending.
My first few attempts told the story from Papa Bear’s perspective (I believe it was called “Papa Bear’s Good Deed”). The story began from the moment Goldilocks ran away, leaving her hat behind, and Papa Bear’s journey to find Goldy and return the hat to her--and all the people he inadvertently frightened along the way (because he was a bear) even though he had set out to do a good deed. It went on for about 2,000 words. Yeah, not even close to publishable. And, it didn’t have the unique angle I was looking for or the resolution that I felt was missing from the original story.
Then, a title and a “what if” question popped into my head. What if Goldilocks wasn’t a little girl with blonde ringlets, but Chinese? I came up with a Chinese name that sounded phonetically similar to Goldilocks and hence, the first seeds of a story called “Go Dil Lok and the Three Chans” began to germinate. This was eventually changed to the easier to pronounce Goldy Luck (“Luck” serving the double purpose of being a Chinese last name as well as mirroring the theme of good luck in the story). But I wanted the book to be about more than just Goldy having a different ethnic background. I wanted the story to also offer some insights to Chinese traditions and culture. So, Goldy Luck began her fictional life in a skyrise apartment in Hong Kong (where I had spent my adolescent years), preparing to celebrate the biggest and most colorful Chinese festival of the year, Chinese New Year.
In an attempt to give the mundane porridge/chairs/beds a modern twist, earlier versions of the story included an aquarium (Goldy smudged the glass), an oriental rug (she spilled fish flakes all over it) and a computer game (Goldy beat Little Chan’s record). It also had a greatly detailed Chinese New Year parade with lion dancers. Ultimately, an editor wisely suggested I simplify the story and revert back to the original three bowls/chairs/bed structure.
Still, I wanted a slightly different spin. Enter my uncle’s massage chair and my parents’ Tempurpedic electric bed (as a writer, I never know what every day event or thing creeps into a story!). The really fun part was implanting the traditions and rituals of the New Year (receiving “lucky” red envelopes, eating turnip cakes) into the story and thinking up ways to make Goldy’s experiences more culturally relevant (“She felt like stuffing in a pork bun”, “The mattress felt as hard as a week-old almond cookie”.)
The transformation process was slow, gradual--and painstaking. But with each revision the story became tighter, the narrative arc more clearly defined, and I’m truly grateful for all the editorial hands that helped shaped the book. Picture books can appear deceptively simple because of their brevity, but like any story, it can take months, if not years, of hard work, slaving over the right story line, the right word choice.
But in the end, what better reward is there for a writer than seeing your name on the cover of a published book?
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
One Chinese New Year, Goldy Luck’s mother asks her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighbors. The Chans aren’t home, but that doesn’t stop Goldy from trying out their rice porridge, their chairs, and their beds—with disastrous results.
In this funny and festive retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Natasha Yim and Grace Zong introduce a plucky heroine who takes responsibility for her actions and makes a new friend (and a whole plate of turnip cakes!), just in time for Chinese New Year.
Includes back matter about Chinese New Year and a recipe for turnip cakes.
Where to get this lovely book:
Barnes and Noble
Penguin Random House
Natasha Yim is the author of four picture books: Otto’s Rainy Day (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000); Cixi, The Dragon Empress (Goosebottom Books, 2011); Sacajawea of the Shoshone (Goosebottom Books, 2012); and Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014), a Junior Library Guild selection. The paperback version of Goldy Luck will be released in December 2015. Her nonfiction articles have been published in the children’s magazines “Highlights for Children”, “Appleseeds” and “Faces” as well as various adult magazines. Natasha is also a playwright whose short plays have been performed in venues around Northern California, Los Angeles, and internationally in Australia, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Natasha’s upcoming picture book, The Rock Maiden—a re-envisioned folk tale from Hong Kong, will be released by Wisdom Tales Press in 2017. She is currently at work on revising another picture book and writing her middle grade novel.
I’ve done a fair amount of blog interviews this past year, and two just this past week. In all of them, I’ve been touting that I’ve been a published author for 20 years.
It’s a lie.
Yesterday, I went up to the attic to dig out my old clippings in order to find my first published story and do a blog piece about how my writing has changed in 20 years. In doing so, I discovered that my first story was published in 1994 in Catalyst magazine. Apparently, I’ve been published for 21 years.
I had thought about sharing the story here, but upon reading it after all this time, I decided to spare you that. Despite the title “When the Praises Go Up”, it isn’t a religious story. It’s actually a mini-dystopian and a bit strange. I remember it was based on a dream I had one night. I recall writing much better stuff than this back then, and I wonder what it was about this story and this publication that clicked and earned me $20 and my first byline.
When doing my interviews, the first publication I had been thinking of was “Wishes From Aphrodite” a poem included in Whispers Magazine in 1995. I am not a poet, although I did a fair amount of songwriting in my teens and twenties. I didn’t write this to be a poem. I submitted these lines to this particular publisher as ideas for a line of inspirational greeting cards. I got a letter back asking if it would be all right to put the lines together and publish them as a poem in their magazine (which I didn’t know existed before submitting). Why not? I thought.
I have also mentioned in interviews that the first writing for which I got paid was a children’s musical.
A Pirate Tale came to be because an actor friend of mine knew I loved children’s theater and was writing a series of fairy tales*. He asked if I would write an original fairy tale for his children’s theater company to perform in Los Angeles. A Pirate Tale follows the constructs of a typical fairy tale, but it’s about pirates instead of princes and princesses. It sold out every performance. That was in 1994 as well. In 1995, I followed that show up with another musical called Who Stole the Circus.
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave a comment. If you’re an author too, share when and what your first publication was. In September I’ll be doing a “Back To School” theme, and I have seven wonderful authors scheduled to visit and share school scene excerpts from their YA or MG novels. Hope you’ll come back and check it all out.
My Wattpad romantic fairy tales that you can read for free just by clicking on the title.
King or Beggar
Voice of Desire
Pretty jazzed to be doing a cover reveal for one of my favorite authors. Dax Varley has a new YA horror novel coming out soon. I know I’ll be reading Bleed. Check out this awesome cover!
LIFE IS A NIGHTMARE FOR Miranda Murphy. Without knowing when or why, blood oozes from her palms—an anomaly that makes her feel like a freak. But her abnormality is now the least of her worries. She’s just enrolled at “Suicide High.” Three deaths in three months—one occurring just days before her arrival.
When she bumps into a cute boy named Jake, things don’t appear so glum. Especially since Jake’s a psychic who can predict the immediate future. But his gift of sight can’t prepare her for the horrors that await.
Through Jake, Miranda meets three other extraordinary students:
Topher – who can heal by touch.
Sam – who eats the sins of the dead.
And Xyan – who speaks and understands all languages.
It’s then that Miranda learns the secret behind why she bleeds.
When it becomes evident that supernatural forces are at play, the five determined friends team up. Now it’s up to them to destroy the evil that’s infecting their school.
I’ve been a little silent here lately. June was such a busy month with the conferences and all the blog posts that I decided to relax a bit for the remainder of the summer and work on some other projects. Once I got Whisper of the Woods off to my publisher (my Cry of the Sea sequel), I knew my next project was to dive into revising my Middle Grade novel Dragon Surf and get it ready to start submitting to agents and publishers.
Dragon Surf has had a long road from idea to finished project. Back in the beginning of my writing career, when I still wrote lots of short stories and thought I would be a huge success as a horror and/or fantasy novelist (for adults), I penned a short story about a bunch of young men who get drunk one night and head down to the shore for some night swimming. Soon they find themselves terrorized by a dragon that lives in a cave nearby. This story was so awful, it wasn’t even worth submitting. I didn’t even make it clear if it was contemporary or set in a medieval type of land. Some of the character names were just… weird. I don’t have it anymore, thank goodness.
A few years later, when I had decided my path should be writing for kids, I approached the story idea again. I changed it to a contemporary short story about two boys who sneak down to a beach on a foggy morning to go swimming. A dragon appears in this story as well, but instead of terrorizing them, he saves them from drowning. I titled the story “No Lifeguard on Duty”. I never knew what to do with this story as it didn’t fit with any of the children’s magazine guidelines, so it sat on my computer for a few more years.
In 2009, an author I followed was having her fantasy story published by Stone Arch Books, a publisher that focuses on Hi/Lo stories for boys. I rewrote my story as a chapter book of about 40 pages and submitted. They weren’t interested but encouraged me to come up with some other topics. That’s a long story in itself, which ultimately wound up with the creation of my other novel On the Water, no longer a Hi/Lo for boys but an Upper MG for girls. Yeah, my writing life takes turns.
So, No Lifeguard sat again. In 2013, though, I decided to take my fledgling chapter book and pump it up into a full Middle Grade fantasy novel. I wrote an outline and got it ready for NaNoWriMo. I completed it at 55,000 words that month.
But then Cry of the Sea came out, and I sold a book to Schoolwide Inc that needed revisions, and I rewrote On the Water twice, and I wrote Passing Notes, and I wrote Whisper of the Woods… Talk about letting a first draft sit for a while. Finally, this summer, I got the chance to take a look at my book. I was pretty happy with it, actually. I tweaked, clipped, added, and slashed. Changed the title. Except for the final line, which I still hate, I’m feeling pretty good about it.
I sent Dragon Surf out for its first submission last weekend. Who knows when or if it will sell? But I’m happy to have finally found a version of this story that I think is sell-able. We’ll see, and I’ll definitely let you know.
If you have a revision story about your book, I'd love to feature it on the blog. Email me donnadriver68 (at) gmail (dot) com
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.