Monday, June 6, 2016

Behind the Book...with Megan E. Bryant!

Happy Monday, friends! Today, we Cottagers are very happy to welcome author Megan E. Bryant, to talk a little bit about the story behind the making of her debut picture book, DUMP TRUCK DUCK! 

Take it away, Megan!

The idea for DUMP TRUCK DUCK came to me from a jar of buttons I was sorting with my daughter. These two buttons—a duck and a dump truck—fell into my hand, and the title immediately popped into my mind. My writer’s intuition started whispering. This is a good one, it said. You should write this manuscript. You should write it in rhyme.

Just as quickly, I heard something else: the sound of glass breaking, records scratching, and brakes shrieking. Write it in rhyme? Was I nuts?
It’s one of the great ironies of children’s publishing that rhyming picture books are the first thing that come to mind when most people think of children’s books—and yet, just about any professional will tell you to avoid writing in rhyme. It’s sound advice, too. Not only is writing in rhyme—or perhaps I should say writing well in rhyme—tremendously difficult, there’s a strong bias against it in the industry. Why? I suspect that agents and editors have been victims of such a barrage of forced rhymes and uneven rhythms that it feels like a personal affront. After all, a bad rhyme isn’t just cringeworthy; it’s painful.
That’s why I tried to resist the urge to write DUMP TRUCK DUCK in rhyme. But sometimes, ideas have minds of their own. My early prose drafts were plodding and dull. Even worse, rhymes kept popping into the prose even as I tried to avoid them. At last, I had to accept the inevitable: For me to write this story, I needed to make it rhyme. And if I was going to write it in rhyme, it had to be as flawless as possible.

Once I started rhyming, the text evolved into something lilting and playful; it flowed with much more ease, even though I was spending a considerable amount of time on the end rhymes and the meter. Opportunities to add alliteration felt like a game; writing like this was joyful and exhilarating, teaching me a lesson that continues to influence my writing: Don’t be afraid to flout conventional wisdom when your story demands it.
After a few months of intense work, it was time to see if my rhyme was ready for the world. Every day, alone in my office, I read the manuscript aloud, listening intently for bumpy or awkward lines. Of course, I was naturally biased to adjust the way I read it so that everything would sound just right. That meant I needed to hear how it sounded when other people read it—an especially important step since picture books are meant to be read aloud. Whenever anybody stumbled with the text, I made a note; it was fascinating to observe how an individual’s inflection, regional accent, or pronunciation could reveal an issue with a line I previously thought sounded just fine. Each reading led to a little more editing, a little more tweaking, until the manuscript was ready for the final test: review by a dear friend who has a master’s degree in poetry. She examined each and every line, marking them to highlight the stressed beats so that when she sent the manuscript back to me, it looked like this:

With their vests and hardhats on,
Ducks dig up the scrubby lawn.
Clouds of dust and dirt appear
As the site begins to clear.

My friend’s expert review was invaluable; now I always mark the beats when I write in rhyme. If your manuscript rhymes, I highly recommend finding a poetry professor to review it for an honorarium. An expert’s feedback would be worth every penny.

At last, I was confident that the rhyme in DUMP TRUCK DUCK was as good as I could possibly get it.  All that hard work paid off, as this manuscript—the one that resisted prose at every turn—was the one to attract interest from agents and eventually became my picture-book debut!

Thanks so much, Megan — and thanks for this awesome coloring page:

Megan E. Bryant has written more than 250 children’s books for ages ranging from babies to teens. Two of her books, Mythlopedia: Oh My Gods! and Mythlopedia: She’s All That! were named 2009 VOYA Nonfiction Honor Books. As a former children’s book editor, Megan had the opportunity to edit more than 325 books and learn the inner workings of the publishing industry, experience that she uses to help emerging writers navigate a complex industry. Megan will have eight new books launching in 2016 and 2017, including a new series from Scholastic called Pocket Genius and her YA debut, Glow. Learn more about Megan and her books at

1 comment:

  1. This looks like such an adorable book!! Congrats to you, Megan! Nice to see you here (as well as at Tara's blog more recently :) )