Rebecca Gardyn Levington Shows How Writers Might Get Their Ideas
Most summer mornings my mind works on story problems as my hands work in my garden. Nature has a way of sparking my imagination. Today, I’m glad to feature Rebecca Gardyn Levington, author of BRAINSTORM! Her debut picture book is being published by Sleeping Bear Press and will be released on August 3rd.
For our Kidlit Creatives Members, you have a chance to win a 20-minute Ask-Rebecca-Anything Zoom call. To WIN this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.
First, I want to share illustrator Kate Kronreif’s colorful cover art!
About this book: When it's time to write in class, one child feels like she has absolutely nothing to say. But suddenly--ker-plink!--one drop, one tiny thought, hits her. Before long, she's caught in a shower of funny phrases, a whirlwind of adjectives and verbs, and a downpour of huge ideas. Boom, CRASH! A gigantic brainstorm of creativity for her to soak up and play in!
Manju: Welcome, Rebecca. Congratulations on your debut picture book – BRAINSTORM! Please share your process for writing this creative story about writing.
Rebecca: For this book (and many of my books, actually) I began with a short poem and expanded from there. In fact, these days I try not to think of my drafts as "drafts" but rather as "poems with potential" (it takes the pressure off!) and then I tinker from there. There weren't a ton of "versions" of this book, more just expansions and revisions and playing with word choice, lyrical language and such. But the core of the book was really there from the very beginning.
One thing I like to do often, especially when I’m writing a book with an extended metaphor like this one, is I create a “Word Bank,” which is essentially a list of words on a separate document related to whatever I’m writing about. So, for BRAINSTORM!, I had a huge list of terms related to weather and storms (ex: “dreary,” “flash,” “drizzle,” “downpour,” “gusts,” etc.) as well as a list of writing and story related terms (ex: “beginnings,” “middles,” “endings,” “punctuation,” “characters,” “phrases,” “themes,” “topics,” etc.) Then, when I was writing, I had that document open for inspiration and tried to squeeze into the manuscript as many of those words as I could.
Manju: Which lines were the most fun or challenging to rhyme?
Rebecca: This is so hard to answer because I wrote this story almost 3 years ago. But I went back to my various drafts and I see that early on I had one couplet that went:
The wind blows in, a subtle breeze,
knocking phrases off the trees
It’s not terrible. It has some nice assonance with the “wind/in.” But the version I ultimately went with in the final was:
An easy breeze… becomes a blast
of funny phrases flying past.
I love playing with the sounds of words and I really love the assonance of “easy breeze” and the alliteration of “breeze/becomes/blast” and “funny/phrases/flying.” I just find that whole couplet so fun to say!
Another one of my favorite stanzas to write was:
I’m sopping wet with wacky thoughts
of characters and twisty plots,
of images and bits of dreams,
of settings, scenes, and quirky themes!
(Although, I must apologize to my friends across the pond because I know that “thoughts” and “plots” don’t rhyme in the UK. I considered changing it, but my editor seemed to like it and so it was a case of not wanting to kill my darling!)
I also had a ton of fun adding in all the onomatopoeia in the book, most of which didn’t exist in the earliest versions. Ker-plink! has quickly become one of my favorite words. In fact, it has become a running joke in my house. Whenever my husband gets an idea about anything he yells: “KER-PLINK! I’m having a downpour of ideas!”
Manju: Do you have a meter that feels right to you or does the meter depend on the story?
Rebecca: I never consciously choose to write in any particular meter. At this point, I’ve been writing in rhyme so long that I don’t even know what meter I’m working in. It is just second nature to me, so I really just let whatever rhythm I’m feeling guide me and I just go for it!(Without getting too much into the weeds, “meter” is basically the sequence of stressed and unstressed beats that creates a particular rhythm in a line of verse.)
I honestly couldn’t even remember what meter I used for BRAINSTORM! until you asked this question, so I went back to figure it out (For those who are interested, it’s Iambic Tetrameter – “Iambic” is when each “foot” of rhythm contains an unstressed beat followed by a stressed beat: “da-DUM” and “Tetrameter” means there are 4 feet per line: “da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM”)
Ooops! I think I wandered into the weeds by accident. If I’ve completely lost you, please don’t worry about it. UNLESS, of course, you want to write in rhyme, in which case you MUST worry about it. Please don’t “wing it” because you “have a good ear for it.” Trust me, that doesn’t work. You need to know the technical stuff before you can play. If you are looking to learn, I HIGHLY recommend Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab course -- https://www.reneelatulippe.com/writing-courses/ -- she is TRULY an amazing teacher!
Manju: I love the back matter – Cloudy With A Chance of Ideas (writing prompts) and A Tornado of Terminology. Please share how these pages were developed.
Rebecca: Thank you! I’m so glad you like the back matter. I feel very strongly that, these days, it isn’t enough to have a “fun” or “cute” story if you want to get an editor’s attention. We have to remember: writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. We must think about and show publishers WHY someone will buy our book over all the others. Adding back matter can give a manuscript that extra “hook” or extra reason WHY. In the case of BRAINSTORM!, I knew that providing curricular tie-ins and exercises that teachers and homeschooling parents could use with students would only increase the publisher’s ability to market the book and get it into the hands of kids – which is the ultimate goal, after all.
In terms of developing the back matter, both pages (and their titles) were included in my original submission and never changed (other than some very light copy-editing). Most of the writing prompts I made up myself. But I also found ideas for some of them online, which I then tweaked slightly. For the glossary, I went through the manuscript and highlighted all the terms that kids learn in school as they begin lessons on sentence structure and narrative story-telling. I used the dictionary to provide definitions and then made up example sentences for context.
Thanks very much, Rebecca!
Thank you for having me! It was a pleasure.
Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. Her debut picture book BRAINSTORM! (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022). She has four more rhyming picture books being published in the next two years, including WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, 2023) and I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2024). Rebecca’s award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in the suburban jungles of New Jersey with her husband and two boisterous boys. Find out more about Rebecca at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com and follow her on Twitter at @WriterRebeccaGL.
BRAINSTORM! will be in bookstores on August 3rd! You can pre-order a signed and personalized copy at Rebecca’s local independent bookstore here: https://store.wordsbookstore.com/preorder-signed-copy-brainstorm
or pre-order wherever books are sold.
Prize offer: For a chance to win a 20-minute Ask-Rebecca-Anything Zoom call, read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Friday, July 22nd.
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