Monday, June 16, 2014

My Writing Process - Pyewackett of Salem

Last week, children's writer Sophia Mallonee linked to The Daily Mermaid from her post on The Red Door Blog. This week I'm sharing my process and projects. 

What am I working on now?

I’m working on several different picture book manuscripts right now. In particular this year, I’m focusing on a story called Pyewackett of Salem/Pyewackett Sets Sail. It’s the story of a ship’s cat on the merchant vessel, the Friendship of Salem, and a cabin boy named Thomas, taking their first voyage to sea together.

I wrote the story with my husband George Courage who is an illustrator and graphic designer. We put together a dummy of the book and two sample illustrations and submitted it to three publishers so far. We're getting ready to send it out to another publisher this week.

How does my work differ from others of the genre?

This story differs from other picture books because it’s based on a historical time period and therefore required a bit of research for both the story and illustrations. Having a ship's cat on a merchant vessel was a common practice during the late 1700's, early 1800's. While I couldn't confirm for sure that the Friendship had a ship's cat, it's fairly likely. So, in writing the story I wanted to imagine what it may have been like for a ship's cat and a cabin boy's first sea voyage. We wanted to make the story as historically accurate as possible while still making it fun and engaging for children.

Another thing that makes this story different is that people can visit the ship where the story takes place. A full-size replica of the Friendship of Salem is docked at Derby Wharf and is part of the nine acre National Maritime Historic Site in Salem's waterfront.

Since we live in Salem it’s been pretty easy to walk downtown to the Visitor’s Center to talk with the park rangers who give tours of the Friendship, visit the Peabody Essex Museum, and to find books and resources about Salem’s maritime history.

Why do I write what I do?

I write picture books because I love the form. I love how words and pictures blend together to create a magical experience for children. I also love picture books because they’re one form of writing that’s almost always read aloud, so there’s a certain aspect of performance to reading them. I have a background in theatre and oral interpretation, so I have a deep-held love for the spoken word. There’s a unique thing that happens between an audience and a performer, and I feel that reading picture books captures part of that.

I wrote this particular story to tell about an aspect of Salem’s history with which people might not be as familiar. Most people know about the Witch Trials of 1692, and what a tragic event that was, but there is more to Salem’s history. I chose to tell the story of a ship’s cat because I love cats, and it’s an interesting entry point into the history of this period.

How does your writing process work?

I keep a small journal in my purse and by my bed in order to record any ideas or interesting dreams I have.

Dreams are great for ideas or for brainstorming new stories. I sometimes feel like I’m the most creative when I’m asleep. Sometimes I get really funny, kooky ideas that would be great for picture books. Other times I have really scary, fearful dreams. Not that I would use those in a picture book per se, but it’s always interesting to analyze them, and they could become a motivation behind a picture book character.

I also like to visit and explore museums, gardens, reservations, and historic homes in and around the area where I live, and when I travel. The journal in my purse is perfect for visiting these kinds of places. Inspiration for a new story can happen anywhere.

As far as making time to write, I work full-time during the week, so I write mostly on the weekend. I’ll sit down on Saturdays in the late-morning or Sunday afternoon to hash out an idea I have, make revisions, or write a blog post.

Thanks for reading! Next I'll be passing the blog tour baton to illustrator Nancy Meyers.

Nancy Meyers, whose mother was a watercolor artist, grew up surrounded by paints, pastels, crayons, and colored pencils. She continued to study art throughout high school and college. After working more than 20 years as a designer and art director, she began writing and illustrating for children's publishing. She has illustrated over a dozen books for children, and her doodle books (Buster Books, London) have been translated into six languages. Nancy endures the world's most absurd weather extremes living in Minnesota with her husband, two daughters, and one not-so-well-behaved dog.

See more of Nancy’s work at

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