When it comes to writing, or any other creative pursuits, time used to explore possibilities is never wasted.
How a Dead End Led to a Children’s Book
One of our family’s favorite activities when we’re on the beach in North Carolina is watching for ghost crabs, those skittish little creatures that live in deep holes in the sand along the shore. One year, my grandson, then three, was frightened by a large ghost crab that ran right across his foot. We promptly visited Village Books in Buxton to find a picture book about them for him. Surprisingly, we came up empty-handed. “Well,” my daughter said, “You’ll just have to write him one.”
So I wrote a story about a boy who visits the beach for the first time, and how his big brother’s story about ghost crabs scares him. What would happen if he then had to rescue a crab from a girl with a net? I sketched out pictures with markers and colored pencils, and printed it myself for my grandkids.
The love of story kept me going
As a writer, I thought the story had possibilities. I fine tuned the text by putting my poetry skills to work and began querying children’s book agents. From what I understood, publishers typically select the the illustrator for picture books, not the author. That was okay with me. It had been a long time since I’d done any serious drawing, and this looked like a big project.
Finding an agent or publisher can be a long process though. While I queried, I decided I may as well try doing the illustrations, too. Why not? I had the skills, even if they were a little rusty. The biggest issue was I’d attended art school in the seventies, long before art was digitalized, and I felt this put me at a disadvantage.
I bought myself an iPad and an Apple Pen. That was the easy part, because I had no clue how to draw on an iPad, or even what app to use! It took me a year, a full year, before I finally got serious about learning how to use Adobe Sketch.
I watched a lot of YouTube how-to videos. I also had to study children, beaches, and crabs, which I’d never really drawn before. Have you ever considered how hard it is to draw ocean waves? They are tricky!
Meanwhile, I kept getting rejections or no response from agents.
Despite the rejections, I felt productive. In addition to fine tuning my drawing skills, I studied picture book layout, and learned what in the story to illustrate in order to keep the story moving ahead visually. I went to a conference on publishing children’s books and talked with an agent who suggested adding science facts at the end of book.
A year or two later, I sought out a publisher on my own. I worked hand in hand with editor MaryChris Bradley, who’d published my novel, In the Context of Love, under a different imprint. She had excellent ideas for fine tuning the text. However, she told me my illustrations were too small to use!
Ugh. I resized them, but in the process, they lost clarity, so I had to redo all the drawings for optimal reproduction. Not only that, after the book was laid out, there were three more pages to fill! I expanded the educational portion of the book with more fun facts and science. And more drawings.
That dead end created “The End”
At any point in this journey, I could have thrown up my hands and said “I’m not a children’s book author,” “I’m too far behind in my skills to illustrate a book,” or “Agents keep rejecting me!” Many times, I thought “This is too much work.” But I kept at it. I’m so excited to see how my early conception of a children’s book morphed into this final product.
My grandson is seven now. I hope my grandchildren, and your children or grandchildren like this book. It means a lot to me.
Gordy and the Ghost Crab Book Trailer
Gordy and the Ghost Crab
Gordy is afraid of the crashing ocean waves and a strange creature he sees skittering across the beach. It doesn’t help his fears when his big brother tells him it’s a ghost crab that will pinch off all his toes. What will Gordy do when he meets a girl intent on capturing a ghost crab? Will he stay away, or will he rescue the little crab?
The story highlights empathy, problem solving and the value of caring for nature. The book also includes fun facts about different types of common crabs and offers a gentle conservation message.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s poetry, short stories and art have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. Gordy and the Ghost Crab is her first picture book. Her first novel, In the Context of Love, won four finalist awards, including the Hoffer Award and the Sarton Award for Fiction. She also has a poetry chapbook award, three other poetry chapbooks, and a Pushcart Prize Nomination. Her MFA is from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She volunteers at The Neighborhood House, a nonprofit social services organization.