Letting Go: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks

originally posted on the Emu’s Debuts blog. 

reflecting on the surprising angst that followed my book contract. The
angst of letting go.
See, I love the inventive stage of writing. Don’t
get me wrong, writing is damn hard. But, I love that evolving sense of
possibility when worlds and characters spin out of thin air and land as
words on the page. Imagination is magic. Even in nonfiction. From the
moment I began writing my debut, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL
JIM KEY, I occupied the story. All writers do this. Before we can add
depth and motion to our words, writers visualize until our stories
unfold movie-like on the big screen of our mind. We are all eager to
control the script and staging. We like telling our characters what to
do, what to wear, how to stand. If we can’t visualize it, we can’t write
it. In the case of nonfiction, it’s about telling the truth and filling
in gaps. Sometimes, that means converting 125-year-old images from
two-dimensional, dingy black and white to Technicolor. In panorama. And
in 3D.
While writing, the world on the page is mine, mine, mine!
I am in control. Mwahahaha!
Until I am not.
My editor had suggestions on STEP RIGHT UP. Lots of
them. Some of her suggestions were that I undo some of her suggestions.
Add, cut, expand, simplify, redirect, rinse, repeat… In a way, my story
became a collaboration. But, as the word weaver, I still felt a sense
of control. Sort of.
Until I wasn’t.
Enter, the illustrator.
I am in awe of artists who can press “copy” on
their mental printers and, voila! They sketch, sculp, paint, and
pixelate their visual imaginings for all the world to see. More magic!
So, I was surprised to be so full of angst as I awaited the illustrator
reveal. Seriously, y’all. Angst! And worry. And maybe a tiny speck of
An illustrator will have his/her own visual interpretation. Their
own image of the world Doc and Jim lived in. Their own tinted lens
through which the mental movie plays for them. Aaaaack! I found myself
playing the “What-if” game. What if the illustrator can’t capture Doc
and Jim as I see them? What if his/her art is too silly, too serious,
too dark, too light, too cartoony, too portraity, too realistic, too
And, besides, horses are hard to draw. Just ask the
people I forced, I mean asked, to draw for me. (Some of these people
may be related to me. Except for the tile guy.)
Thankfully, I can be confident that an illustrator
will do better. But letting go is hard. As I peruse the books on my
shelf, I’m reminded that it takes many creative perspectives to create
visually stunning and memorable stories. Magic multiplied. Now, I find
that my illustrator angst has given way to excitement. The kind of
excitement I felt, not knowing what kind of wonderfulness was wrapped
under the Christmas tree. There is a childlike wonder in this
I’m ecstatic to announce that Coretta Scott King Honor recipient, Daniel Minter will
bring Doc and Jim to life through his spectacular art. Better still,
Daniel and I have been communicating. He would like my input. I think
I’m in heaven. Check out his work, y’all. My little book baby is in very
good hands.

2 Responses to “Letting Go: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks”

  1. Tatum Flynn

    Congrats! Am right there with you – my publisher wants to have illustrations for my MG novel, and am both hugely excited at the prospect and nervous in case they don't match up at all with the pictures in my head…