Six weeks ago, I shared my excitement that HALF-TRUTHS was finally on submission. At that point, the answer to the question, "What's Next?" was to query agents and editors. For those of you who are writers, you know that process can take a long time. Agents and editors are backed up and although I've sent the full manuscript in response to a few requests, it can still be months before I hear back from anyone.
Meanwhile, the best antidote to obsessively checking my email is to get busy with a new project. Without further ado, I want to introduce you to my next WIP (Work in Progress) a middle-grade graphic novel that I've tentatively titled ESCAPE FROM NURENBERG. The story is based loosely on my father's and grandfather's experiences in Germany from 1935 to 1938.
When my parents died, I became the keeper of their papers. These included an assortment of documents and photographs. There were several versions of my father's autobiography, personal letters, my grandfather's report cards from medical school in the early part of the 20th century (that a friend translated), and a speech he gave to doctors in Ohio after he immigrated to the United States.
As I looked through these precious documents and pictures I wondered if there was a story that I could write. I usually answered that question with "no" because there are already so many Holocaust stories for kids. But there was one unique event in my grandfather's life that occurred before he left Germany. It wasn't a story by itself. But maybe it was the ending. And when I thought about my father's account of how he was bullied in the public school I thought--that could be the beginning.
|My father, Henry Federlin, is on the left. He is standing with|
his mother Elsie and his father Sigmund.
All I needed was the middle.
I made a note to myself in my phone:
- Learn how to use Scrivener for writing a script.
- Learn how to write a graphic novel.
- Learn what was happening in Germany during this time period.
- Come up with a story arc.
In the last six weeks, I've done all four.
Based on what I read online, Scrivener's scriptwriting program was ideal for writing a graphic novel. The only problem was that I had no idea how to write a script! Fortunately, I found a ton of images and tutorials online and within the Scrivener software itself. Since I learn better by trying my hand at something rather than reading about it, I jumped in and created a project. Like all software there's a learning curve, but I'm getting there. I love keeping track of my research, the story, and images all in one project--with the ability to simultaneously work in two documents:
WHY A GRAPHIC NOVEL?
I spent 16 years writing HALF-TRUTHS and I wanted a break from that form of storytelling. I also asked the KidLit 411 Facebook group how to tell if an idea was better suited for a "regular" novel or for a graphic novel. I tagged Kirsten W. Larson and she responded, "I would think about the visual possibilities for your story. Like picture books, graphic novels are visually driven. You have to ask yourself the same questions about whether you have scenes that are visually interesting and distinct from each other." Since I was already picturing the action in many of the scenes, I thought I was on the right track. This blog post describes the process that I stumbled into. A graphic novelist imagines each panel as the reader will encounter it. Kirsten Larson told me that the process of "paneling" takes time. I believe it. Imagining what will be shown on a page of panels can easily take hours of research. I'm also studying graphic novels and seeing how the author employs transitions, and shows dialogue, captions, and narrative information. As I did with HALF-TRUTHS, I'll be reviewing some of these books here.
LEARN ABOUT GERMANY
I'm a hands-on learner. Whereas some novelists may choose to research and then write, I prefer to jump in, learn, save new information, and incorporate it into my WIP.
Although my parents were both born in Germany and had family who died in the Holocaust, by the time my brother and sister were born in 1950, my parents were ready to put those events in the past. I came along three years later and my parents rarely talked to any of us about their childhood growing up in Germany. My best friend's mother had a tattoo on her arm from being in a concentration camp--but we never talked about it. I knew the names of the cities where my parents grew up, but it wasn't until I was an adult, that my father started sharing some of his experiences before leaving Nuremberg. Fortunately for my siblings and I, my father composed several short, type-written autobiographies. My mother's memory wasn't as good as my father's, but I interviewed her a few times and have some glimpses of her life as a child in Speyer. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I knew only a thimbleful of information about the Holocaust. I am rapidly rectifying that situation through books and amazing websites like the United States Holocaust Museum with information such as this about children. When I enter various museum websites it's like diving into a deep hole. I go from link to link and come back to Scrivener having forgotten what I was looking for. When my dad told me he grew up in Nuremberg, I didn't realize how Hitler used that centrally-located city as his propaganda launching pad. Not only did it have a huge park that Hitler transformed into his political Rally grounds, his antisemitic follower Julius Streicher, published the virulent Der Stürmer newspaper there.
This is what my father had to say about Striecher:
"My public elementary school was right across the street from an anti-Semitic weekly newspaper, Der Stürmer published by one of Hitler's favorite cronies, Julius Streicher, Nazi boss of Franconia, a noted pervert and one of the most unsavory characters in the Third Reich."
As I pictured my father attending school across the street from a widely-read tool of Nazi propaganda--my story became more real.
|A group of young German boys view Der Stürmer, Die Woche, and other propaganda posters that are posted on a fence in Berlin. ——US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Julien Bryan Archive|
I had story nuggets for the beginning and the end but I didn't know what was going to happen from Point A to Point Z. My unofficial "research assistant," my sister Barbara Federlin, and I brainstormed possibilities. The more I read, researched, and imagined what my father's and grandparents' lives were in Nuremberg, the more a story began to take shape.
|Fifteen years ago I toured Nuremberg with|
my oldest daughter, Lisa, and my husband.
We visited the medieval city and saw the street
where my father grew up. These images help construct my story too.
Kirsten W. Larson is mentoring me as I plunge into the graphic novel world. I took a webinar with her last year which convinced me that the Kidlit publishing world is wide open to this genre. She encouraged me to create a synopsis using this template. You can use it at any step of your writing process. Filling it out even if your WIP is not a graphic novel and even if it might change, will help you imagine your entire story arc.
Thanks for joining me on my next writing journey. I'll be sure to let you know what happens next.
Congratulations to Becky Scharnhorst who won THREE CANADIAN PIGS and to Marci Whitehurst who won GOOD MORNING, SUNSHINE. Thanks to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for more contests--I have a stack of books to review and give away!
I think you know how much I love historical fiction but this graphic novel will appeal to so many audiences. Congratulations! I look forward to seeing it in print!!
Thanks so much for sharing your process as you develop this new book! It sounds fascinating! And I think you're on the right track. I'll bet Kirsten is a terrific mentor. Good luck!
Thanks, Jilanne and Connie. Your enthusiastic responses make me smile!!
Thanks for sharing some of your family's story and telling about your process. I had no idea Scrivener was set up for a graphic novel script format! I wish you the best moving forward on this project.
And good luck being on submission!
hanks, Theresa. We'll see what happens next!
That's awesome that you're learning how to write a graphic novel. And some of the most powerful stories I've read have been ones based on family members' lives. Good luck with your new project.
Finding the story in your familial backyard! This will be so powerful and I'm happy you have a new and different project to work on. I have no problem imagining the excitement of discovering the story!
Thanks Natalie and Joyce. I appreciate your support!
How exciting to be writing a graphic novel. I'm familiar with Nuremberg and can't wait to read your story. Happy MMGM
Thank you, Brenda. I appreciate your support.
How fascinating! Thanks for sharing where you're at with this.
Wow, you are learning so many new things at once. And yes, I'm seeing authors turning some of their published books into graphic novels. Kids love them. And it may be an easier way to bring across some heavy information. Good luck with your project. Thank you so much for sharing your process and leaving a few links!
Fascinating background on your new WIP. Graphic novels are increasingly popular with middle graders so your timing is perfect. Looking forward to seeing this develop to completion. Thanks for sharing your story on MMGM.
Thanks, Greg, for sharing your platform with other MG lovers!!
Thanks for your support, Patricia!
Thank you, Faith, for leaving a comment. I'm glad it was interesting to you.
This sounds amazing, and what a treasure to be the keeper of the family history and to be able to bring it to a new life in the writing of your book; to put yourself in the shoes of your ancestors and imagine the horror of a time that we can scarcely imagine. You have done an incredible thing, and I hope your book is read by many, many people. I will look forward to reading it myself one day!
Thank you, Kathy. I wish I had asked my father and grandfather so many questions. Your comment really touched me. Much appreciated.
It sounds like you're embarking on a really exciting writing journey, Carol! It's really neat to hear how you're learning the craft of graphic novels through reading them and working with a mentor. The story sounds so compelling, and good luck working on this new book!
This sounds like an exciting project, Carol. I didn't know you were an artist, too. A graphic novel would be too daunting for me. Good luck!
Thanks, Max. It's fun to be learning something new! I appreciate everyone's MGM support!!
Rosi--I'm not an artist. That will be someone else's job!!
I think this sounds an absolutely fabulous project! It's going to be a great story, and I love how your own family history is the inspiration! It must be very different writing a graphic novel, when I presume you write the story and the publisher finds the artist? Looking forward to hearing how it goes, and best of luck with it! And also with Half-truths! I hope the wait isn't too long!
Thank you, Valinora! Your comment makes me smile. Writing a graphic novel is VERY different and yes, I assume the publisher finds the artist--not me!
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