I like writing. [Insert world’s largest ‘Well, DUH!’ here.] And while I’ve been content to write a blog — great practice for any writer, if you ask me — it’s just not the same as when you write for someone else.
Which I have. I’ve been fortunate enough to write a few things (articles, not long ones) for which I’ve been paid, and presumably read. That’s a bit more rewarding than merely standing on a soapbox and yelling into The Void. But even that isn’t quite enough.
I think that’s what I wanted to write a book. But not the one I just published.
Yes, published. We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, writing a book. A book is more than just a story. The vast majority of my blog entries are in the vicinity of 1,000 words — roughly the length of an article. That’s not by design, or by requirement, it’s just how I ended up writing things out. It’s long enough for me to write something interesting, but not so long that it’s a royal pain in the keister to write and edit.
But there’s a downside to that length: it’s also not long enough to get out a really detailed story. A story with deep plot lines and interesting characters and different scenes and places. A real writer’s challenge: can I write over 200 pages (the bare minimum, I think, for a good novel) and do it (reasonably) well?
I asked myself this question back in 2008. I jotted some notes, and started the first basic plot line. Then I got myself involved with an idea to write a different story, which distracted me. Then I thought of more stories that kind of tied in with the first story, but then I made those more complicated, which required more stories to flesh out the entire arc.
And then, one day, as I was tucking Monkey into bed, she asked me: “Can you tell me a story?”
Monkey loves stories. I mean loves stories. She’s been reading (sorta) since she was only a couple of months old. No lie! I have a video of her reading Sandra Boynton, and listening intently. (Okay, *I’m *doing the reading, but trust me on this, she was paying attention!) She loved stories so much that we’ve amassed quite a collection of books. That first story I mentioned above? Inspired by having to read the same story to her over and over and over and over.
She’s six and a half now, and reads all on her own. She reads like a vacuum cleaner. And she has a good memory for stories and characters. She always wants another one. Which is what brought her to asking me to tell her a story. And not one I’d read to her before, she wanted something new, something I could make up.
Making up a story on the spot is hard. Yeah, sure, I could easily rhyme off the plots to any number of movies I’ve seen or books I’ve read, but where’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge of conveying something through words that doesn’t already exist? Is that not the real core of any storyteller, to create a new story?
So that’s what I did. As requested, I told her a story. Well, first I had to come up with the idea. And it was a simple one, to be totally honest: how to do something difficult.
Kids don’t like difficult. They like easy. Yes, we adults like easy as well, but we deal with difficult much better than kids, who get frustrated when they can’t do something off-the-cuff. Monkey is no different, and gets frustrated easily when she can’t quite tie her shoelaces, or falls behind because she doesn’t run as fast as the other kids.
For my story, I spun it as how a girl climbed a mountain. And to be totally honest, I rather impressed myself with the story, having had only fifteen seconds or so to spin the plot in my head. When I finished telling her the story, she gave me the biggest hug she’d given me in ages (and I get lots, so it was pretty huge), and told me that it was “the best story” she’d ever heard.
Well, ego thoroughly inflated, I raced over to my trusty laptop, and put the proverbial pen to paper, making some adjustments to the story to make it a wee bit more involved. And thus was born “The Girl Who Went Up A Mountain”. (It was originally “Climbed”, but I changed it to “Went” because the act was more about the “why” than the “how”. But I digress…)
And I honestly went through all the motions to publish that story, all 2,746 words of it. I was going to publish it on Kobo and Amazon, almost entirely as an experiment: how much trouble would it be? I was going to publish it for free, too, just because. Except that Amazon wouldn’t let me do it for free, I had to charge something, apparently.
That sent me back to the drawing board, where I added four more stories — all about the same length — and came up with my first book: Monkeystories. Why the name? Well, obvious first part: it’s named for Monkey, who inspired me to tell them. But they’re also about being a kid, and imagining, and dreaming, and being a little bit crazy.
Today, finally, it went out on the wire, and Monkeystories is now available on Kobo and Amazon. I have no aspirations that it’ll sell well, if at all. For me, it’s about the experiment, and writing some stories that I think Monkey would like. And it was fun.
(And before you all start going on how ebooks aren’t really publishing, and that unless I sign on with a “real” dead tree publisher, I’m not really published, I’ve already considered all of that. And you should know better than to not think I haven’t considered that, or believe for a moment that I was willing to put out work that wasn’t ready for consumption. Just to get that out there.)
I may yet write another volume, as she’s already given me the basic idea of another story that involves one of her first stuffies, a pink monkey named, somewhat oddly, “Monkey Moo”.
But for now, I’m returning to the book I’ve been writing for the last few months. I’m over 116,000 words on that, with at least another 20,000 to go, I think. And that’s just for the first draft. Let alone all the other stories I want to write.
‘Cuz I’ve got lots…
[Ed. note: I think I only ever sold one copy of Monkeystories. It was only ever an experiment. All the stories are now available at https://sowrey.org/children/]