Happy April!

       I am writing from my art studio and look forward to writing about my creative world that gives me so much happiness.
       One thought is that children and adults might find it a good time to write and illustrate their own story. With that in mind I thought I would write a little guide. I am more of an illustrator- storyteller than a writer so first I'd like to offer two books that give valuable insight on writing. The first is Stephen King's book. ON WRITING, A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, the second is AN INTRODUCTION TO POETRY by X. J. Kennedy. I will try and paraphrase from memory the forward of Kennedy's book. He says if a student comes to him saying he or she had great things to say to the world, he would be cautious about their choice of being a writer, but the person who said  they liked to play around with words would be a far likelier bet. Please read it yourself for his words will express the idea better than me! The last bit of advice that has helped me get started on a new book came from my first editor, Walter Lorraine. I was in his office at Houghton Mifflin with my art portfolio, which he liked. I was at The Boston Museum School and I was just finding my way. He said I'd have a better chance of being published if I thought up a story myself, rather than waiting for a manuscript to come along that would work with my style of illustration. When I said that I wasn't a writer, he asked, "Could I tell a story?' I was dubious until Walter said, "you know there are only like 10 plots, it's how you tell the story that makes it work. I got thinking and what came to mind were common plots for example, there's no place like home, I'm different, my specialness turns out to be an asset, there?s always room for one more, the trickster stories, the creation myths, and so on. Some of my stories are a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and some of them are stories of things that have happened to my pets or when I was little that I embellished.
       My best advice is to start with the plot of your story. It is easy for me to think of an interesting character or setting, get all excited about it, and then not be able to go forward for lack of a turning point and satisfying resolution. Authors will often talk about the "arc" of a story and once I think of a plot that will come into play. Sometimes an idea will come fully formed into my mind. That happened with COZY and THE HAT. I just thank my lucky stars when that happens. I would never say never, but often a true story, particularly about an injured animal is not fruitful. Solving a puzzle or solution is a good route. One of my favorite picture book plots is about Harry a dog who is given a sweater knitted by the grandmother that is patterned with huge pink roses.  Dignified Harry loathes the sweater but doesn't want to hurt the grandmother's feelings. Somehow, he tries to get the sweater off and a bird passing by picks up the unraveling yarn. At the end Harry has disappointed the grandmother until a walk in Central Park. He barks looking up in a tree and there for all to see is a bird's nest made out of yarn and patterned with huge pink roses to the delight of all. It's a perfect little story complete with a good dose of ludicrous humor.  Plot; be true to yourself.  The book is called NO ROSES FOR HARRY by Gene Zion. Another plot affect that can get stale is a surreal adventure that introduces danger and leaps of the imagination when the main character wakes up and the whole thing is a dream.  It is hard to pull off, but easy to be intrigued by because dreams can show us our subconscious feeling and can be a path to knowledge.  If you go the dream route, make sure your story is very fresh and original. I'm working on a picture book now, THE NUTCRACKER by E.T.A. Hoffman that is based on a dream, and I am really struggling with the end. I am counting on it being a traditional and beloved story to help pull me through!
       Spring is my favorite time of year and being restricted to our house and surrounds is OK for me. I'm able to share my thoughts on making books. I like to think people may take the opportunity to write their own story or make a wordless, illustrated story, or even an illustrated letter to a young person.
       Books are very meaningful to me and I love handling all my hundreds of books I've collected as I do the research for my new book. I have a whole shelf now on Musk Ox related books, and if I want to smile all I have to do is look at a photo of a baby Musk Ox or look at their antics on The Musk Ox Farm website. I also love to run, and it is a great way to sort out ideas at any stage of a book I'm working on. Best of all I love to draw and paint and with so much time spent at home I can lavish more time creating my illustrations!

       Your friend, Jan Brett