I'm so excited to share my newest picture book with you all. It's Little Thief! or Chota Chor! in Hindi. Based on a real experience when I was a child in India, I wrote about it 18 years ago for my ICL Assignment 3, a description of a place we remember using all five senses. More on this later.
So I wrote about the time I awoke in the middle of the night to my mother screaming, "Chor! Chor!" The door to our home was thrown wide open; we were terrified. The thief got away with a few things--my mother's watch, money, and a box of river rocks that my sister and I had collected. The thief also dragged a suitcase of our clothes outside and we were most worried he might've taken our American panties. Priorities! We had returned to India just a few months prior after living in the US for a year and loved our ultra-thin, ultra-comfortable, elasticized American underwear. My sister and I laughed in relief to find our precious panties, then laughed about those rocks; we imagined the thief opening the cardboard box and getting mad. Serves him right, we thought.
Fast forward to 2017. There was a call for diverse stories on the SCBWI Blueboard from Benchmark Education. They were starting a trade imprint, Reycraft Books, with a focus on #ownvoices stories. I sent them a couple. No cigar. So I revised this memory with an outcome I've always dreamed of...and it was accepted! We went through several rounds of revision. One day I hope to do a revision workshop with Eileen Robinson, my editor. She is phenomenal. If she's ever teaching near you, sign up. You will learn so much. She asks the best questions and of course, it is in the answering that one finds the better path. My new Charleston critique partners gave me valuable suggestions too--Andrew Barton, Muffet Frische, Rebecca Ivester, and Mo Morris. Thank you! I hope we can meet soon. I miss you.
I received e-galleys earlier this year and was I blown away by the art! The colors are so vibrant. Although the story takes place at night, it's not a dark book. It's filled with light and shadows--and just look at those shadows--how menacing they can be! Now my husband finally understands why I still sleep-walk and talk. I love how the artist Nayantara Surendranath, captured the imagination of my child-self.
So about that ICL assignment 3: Memories are great but I discovered that adapting this to the present moment is a very easy way to work yourself out of writer's block, if it happens. Focus on the concrete without any judgments. Allow the words to flow and in a little while, you'll make connections with other things swirling in your head. I find that my blocks almost always occur because I have too many things on my mind and if I can tease out one thread, I can be very focused. I know that every writer is different but it's something to try.
And now, I just have to share my wonderful instructor's response: I must confess that I was quite dazzled by this piece of work--which is more a description of an event than a place, but I'm certainly not about to quibble about that. What makes this piece especially fine is the quality and quantity of specific, concrete sensory impressions that you've woven into it; pots aren't merely stacked in a corner, they are "nested inside each other"; cockroaches aren't simply big, but are "the size of baby mice" (eeek!); Mother's purse isn't soft, but "soft as a moss growing on tree bark"--all of which provoke images in a reader's mind that stick there.
She went on to make minor suggestions with big impact--word choice--with instructions for the next assignment, and ended with: Marvelous! I loved every word... Such wonderful encouragement. I have learned to teach writing from one of the BEST. Pat Calvert, thank you!