The Story of the Purple Elephant

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write books for children. Reading was my favorite pastime as a child, and close behind it was writing stories. For a while my goal was to read every book in the children’s section of my hometown library. I didn’t make it, but I tried.

Somewhere in boxes in the garage I have dozens of stories I wrote in gradeschool. I wrote my first “chapter book” in fifth grade. It was a story about a family who moved to Mars. Then, as I grew older, I stopped writing stories for a really long time. I wanted to write, but I was always hung up on the plot. I kept reading children’s books, though. I have always found them to be much more fun than books for grownups.

When my son Andrew was a baby I discovered Harry Potter. I was enchanted! And inspired! Now I really wanted to write! Then I stumbled across No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. Baty is the inventor of NaNoWriMo, a web event in which tens of thousands of people write 50K word novels in the month of November. I looked at the calendar and November was in two weeks! Andrew was a very light sleeper and I was looking for quiet activities I could do while he napped. I decided to go for it.

The idea behind NaNoWriMo is that you just write and write and the plot will somehow figure itself out. I’m not quite that good at winging it, so as my starting point I took one of those campfire stories that you can drag out forever. I was still stuck, though, so I began my novel, “It was a dark and stormy night.” The beauty of NaNoWriMo is you can write absolutely anything and fix it later.

I started NaNoWriMo with great enthusiasm, but burned out pretty quickly. I’m not sure I would have finished if I hadn’t found a group in town who were also participating. We met once a week, competed on word count and generally encouraged each other to keep going.

Once my story was completed, I took a break and read it through. I was astonished to see that it wasn’t too bad! I decided to edit it and self-publish it for Andrew by the time he was old enough to read. If I’d known how much work that was going to be, I might have had second thoughts, although I hope I still would have done it. The problem with NaNoWriMo is that if you write absolutely anything, you have to fix it later. It took me over a year to do the first edit. Then I did the second. Then the third. I don’t know how many edits I went through. At a certain point I decided it was ready, but it was still about 40K words, which experts said was too long for my target reading level. I chopped it in half, finding a natural ending point in the middle.

I found an illustrator, Kim Sponaugle, and she gently suggested that I might want to have it edited by a professional. I did, and the manuscript went through the wringer a couple more times. Edits, illustrations, more edits, layout, final edits, publish, proof and The Purple Elephant was born. The thrill of holding my very own book in my hand was so great that from that day on I have been encouraging aspiring writers, young and otherwise, to publish their work.

What happened to the other half of my story? The part that got chopped? After even more editing the second half became The Purple Elephant: The Journey Home. If you enjoy the first book you really should finish the story by reading the second. The Purple Elephant: The Journey Home wraps things up, but I also included a little teaser because I have the concept for a third book that will (probably) complete the series. Maybe I’ll write it next November…

 

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