Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!
Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Dora M. Mitchell!
Visual Storytelling Meets Middle Grade Mystery
The Haunted Serpent is a paranormal mystery illustrated with snippets from the main character’s research notes. But I didn’t set out to write an illustrated book. Somewhere I’d read that it’s harder to get a debut novel published as an author/illustrator, and it’s better to focus on one or the other. (To any aspiring author/illustrators: this advice was wrong. If you can do both and want to do both, go for it!)
I’d been itching to illustrate it—my drafts were all covered in doodles of the characters and settings—but I held back. It wasn’t until it was finished (or what I thought was finished, silly me) that an agent I’d queried suggested illustrations, and I felt like I had permission to do what my instincts had been telling me to do all along. If there’s a lesson here, it’s to create the book you’re passionate about—don’t get too bogged down by advice in books and blogs. (Except this really great advice you’re reading right now, obvs.)
Since I hadn’t planned for illustrations, I had to go back and find places to add them. In a wonderful twist, I discovered this is a slightly less painful way to cut word count! I wanted to be sure the pictures weren’t merely decorative, but actually carrying the story, so wherever I had described a setting or a person I cut some or all of the text and replaced it with a picture. This led to the idea of making the illustrations snippets from my protagonist’s trusty notebook. I decided to try something in the vein of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, or one of the other diary-style series, except built around a mystery instead of a slice-of-life school story.
Next, I realized I didn’t want to have all the images simply be Spaulding’s sketches. I wanted that “found document” feel—photos, newspaper clippings, letters. Now I wasn’t just finding descriptive passages to transform into pictures, but places where I could add richness and depth to the story by having Spaulding tear out a newspaper article, tape a letter into his notebook, draw up a contract between himself and his aunt, and so on.
Soon my so-called “finished” story was dismantled and laying in pieces all over my hard drive. The process of creating Spaulding’s notes gave me a whole new grasp on his voice, which led to extensive re-writes—and, in the end, a much stronger book.
In fact, I’d suggest something similar as an exercise for any writer, whether or not you’ll use the results in your story. Try writing a few notes or a journal entry from the POV of your protagonist. Jot a note from her perspective about a clue she found or a suspicious character she spotted. Try a sketch or two, even if you don’t consider yourself artistic! You might find it’s a great way to gain new insight on how it feels to be inside your story as it unfolds, not just telling it from the outside.
Dora M. Mitchell is a writer, illustrator, and children’s librarian living in a small Northern California town that dates back to the Gold Rush. She writes surrounded by dark woods where the evidence of mining days can still be found hidden away among the trees—the inspiration for the setting of her debut novel, THE HAUNTED SERPENT. Her illustration work can be seen in THE BOATMAN, by Kat Hawthorne, and in her webcomic, The Curse of Crooked Mile.
Add THE HAUNTED SERPENT on Goodreads!
Click here to win a copy of THE HAUNTED SERPENT!
The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.
Tune in on Friday for a guest post from C.M. Surrisi!
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