(*As originally published on 'Picture Books Eh', March 13, 2021)
My newest picture book, This House is Home, is about a young bunny named Lily, whose home has become stranded in a sea of urban construction. The book tells the story of how she and her family come to terms with change and upheaval through creative problem solving.
The book was inspired by photos I’d seen of Chinese “nail houses” – ancestral homes that are, quite literally, held captive inside a landscape of urban development. Although I felt energized by the premise of the story and wrote the opening lines fairly easily, the manuscript took a few years to finish.
Why? The ending.
This one took longer to figure out than any ending for any of the books I’d written before. You see, the premise of the story demanded that I paint my characters into a concrete corner – and once I had them in this seemingly impossible situation, I couldn’t figure out how to get them out.
My characters, their house, my writing – all of us were stuck.
What do you do when your creativity feels like it’s been encased in cement?
I tried writing dozens of different possible endings. I tried re-arranging the sequence of events in the rest of the story. I tried asking my critique group for help. But in the end, the only thing that helped get me un-stuck was stepping away. Not giving up, but closing the file on my computer and moving on to other projects. When I eventually came back to the manuscript many months later, I found the perfect ending sitting there, staring at me in the face. Hiding in plain sight between the lines of the opening pages I’d written many months before!
This book really helped me appreciate the value of patience as a writing tool, and to trust in the maddeningly-meandering pace the creative process sometimes sets. The next time I get stuck, I’ll remember that some stories need to simmer longer than others…and that my own subconscious can be my best writing ally. All I need to do is have the confidence to let it take the reins once in a while.
‘This House is Home’, (written by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang, and published by Owlkids Books) releases on March 15, 2021