Some of you have expressed interest in my fiction writing, but I really have never completed a single piece of … anything. I don’t even like reading fiction. All those unnecessary adjectives and long descriptions about people’s movements. I’m a plot and dialogue girl. Just say it and move on. But sometimes it’s fun to just write from the imagination.
Since my retirement from full-time journalism, I’ve even gone to two writing workshops held at the library on fiction writing. I enjoyed them because they were sort of a pep talk for closeted writers, and I guess I’m a closeted fiction writer. Or maybe even a step back from that. I’m like those people who stand around watching a game of pool and keep telling the players how they should have hit it, but never pick up the cue themselves. OK, but hopefully I’m not that annoying.
I also enjoyed these talks because I like being around other writers. There’s this undercurrent of wanting to create something, to put your thoughts on paper and have other people agree and approve, but then never really living up to your own standards or expectations. With that in mind, I can’t imagine being a full-time fiction writer. Even when I was a full-time journalist, I felt like that was just half of my life. If writing was my full life, I think it would be a depressing life. Unless I was one of those super wealthy full-time writers who lives at a beach house and writes in front of a window facing the ocean while drinking a gin and tonic or some other delicious beverage while writing one hour per day. That, I think I could get into.
Despite my inability to really flesh out a whole story, there’s one area of fiction that I’m still drawn to—children’s books. And I don’t mean pre-teen melodramas or even anything that comes in a paperback, I’m talking about board books. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, board books are printed on cardboard so they’re easy to flip pages and you can’t rip them out or bite off part of a page or smear the ink by drooling on them. Rye still reads board books almost exclusively, because he gets frustrated with paper pages, but so many board books are terrible. We have about a dozen good ones that we own, but when I try to get more out of the library, I usually only find one good one per week. And almost none of them are good enough to want to buy and expand our collection.
Which leads me to believe that it must be pretty darn easy to get published in this field. Not that getting published is something I’m really shooting for; I almost see this as an act of public service, improving the reading options for toddlers (and their parents) everywhere.
I’m currently reading a biography of my favorite children’s author, Margaret Wise Brown, called “Awakened by the Moon.” If that name doesn’t sound familiar, you would recognize it immediately once you saw the cover of this book, because it has part of the picture of the “great green room” from her most famous book, “Goodnight Moon.” She actually wrote over 100 books, 40 of which are still in publication. I’m only familiar with a half dozen of them, but they all have this alluring, poetic quality to them. Others you might be aware of are “The Runaway Bunny,” “The Little Fur Family,” “The Big Red Barn,” and one that my mom gave us when Rye was born because my dad was a mailman, “The Seven Little Postmen.”
So far I’m still in the childhood part of the biography, but supposedly she drew a lot of her stories and scenes from her early memories, which is perhaps why they all have a sort of dream-like quality to them. I might try to track more of them down, because I have a habit of unconsciously altering my writing style to whoever I’m reading, and if I could be the next Margaret Wise Brown, that would be amazing. Except for the part about how she died at 42.
When I saw that in the introduction, I was freaked out that she had committed suicide or had a drug overdose or something, but rest assured, she died of a blood clot after a routine operation. So these ethereal stories, which sort of have a non-sad melancholy to them (if that makes any sense), were not the work of someone who took her own life. I don’t think I’d want Rye reading them so much if that was the case.
So in honor of Margaret Wise Brown, here is my first finished attempt at children’s fiction/board book writing. This is a first draft, mind you, and I’m no artist so the publisher would have to hire an illustrator, but I think I’ve given them plenty to work with.
“The House on the Hill”
In the house on the hill, there was a big front door that was painted red. Next to the door was an umbrella stand, holding an umbrella with a parrot-shaped handle that was left there since the last rain storm.
Inside the front door, there was a blue mat where the children left their shoes. Sometimes the cat would lay on the rug and smell its fibers, snooping out what adventures her family had been on while she had stayed home curled up on the bed.
In the living room, there was a big fireplace, where the father would stack loads of wood to keep the house warm day and night. The fire glowed orange and made the house smell like the campsite where the family would stay in the forest for a week each summer.
The dog liked to lay by the fire, but the dog could also be found in the dining room, under the walnut table, waiting for the youngest child to slip him her beef when it was too chewy. The girl had to keep a napkin in her lap so she could wipe the dog’s saliva off her fingers before reaching back up to her plate.
In the kitchen, the cupboards were filled with sacks of flour and sugar and chocolate chips, and every Sunday, the mother would bake delicious cookies for all of the children.
Upstairs, there were four bedrooms, each with one bed. Mother and father had the biggest bed, which sat very high, stacked with pillows in a mix of yellow, blue and gray.
In the oldest boy’s room, there was a picture of an eagle on the wall that he had painted in school. The eagle looked very powerful, and it scared the younger brother from coming into his room.
The younger boy’s room had orange walls and a striped rug. The younger boy liked to pretend the stripes were roads and sidewalks and he drove his cars in between the lines.
And the girl’s room was filled with purple. Purple walls, purple blankets, purple curtains, and even a purple elephant where she stored her toys. The cat found this room the most favorable, and thought the purple was purr-fect.
The house on the hill was very high, and from the highest window in the attic, the children could see all the way to the next town. Sometimes they would see their friends playing in their yards down the street and they would try to yell to them and wave, but they were too high up to be heard.
It was a good house, nice and warm and filled with laughter and love. Whenever the children stayed at a friend’s house for too long, they would start to miss their home and their family. Sometimes the girl would call her mother and ask her if she could be picked up early because she was so homesick.
At night, the moon shined through their windows, and the stars felt closer because they were so high on the hill.
In the summer, they would look out the attic window and watch for a shooting star before they would go to bed. They always saw one. And then it was time to go to sleep and dream about their house on the hill.
And that’s just my first idea, which I thought up and wrote in 15 minutes. You might not be impressed, but I think it’s better than at least 80 percent of the board books at the library. Do any of you readers want to be my illustrator? I think I’ve got something here.