By Brittany Davenport
Author Michelle Staubach Grimes visited the University of Dallas on Feb. 10. Previously a lawyer who had also been involved in business marketing, Grimes made the decision to spend 18 months drafting and revising her children’s book, “Where is Pidge?” In her presentation, she discussed her decision to self-publish and serve as her own intermediary in all of the business aspects of the book’s production. She also talked about her creative process and the logistics of artistic choice and preparation involved in making the book itself. The story speaks not only to children but also to the adults who take the time to read with them.
“Where is Pidge?” tells the tale of Pidge, a middle child who often feels left out and forgotten. After being left behind at a restaurant, she decides once home that she is going to run away through the laundry chute. She gets stuck, and at first enjoys herself. Here, she says, “No one can tell me what to do.” Eventually, she hears her dog, Maverick, enter the laundry room and nudges the door with her foot. The dog notices and her parents follow soon after. Her parents and siblings tell her just how awful their day was without her, saying that “being in the middle means there are people on all sides to love you.” Pidge decides that she is happy being the middle child after all.
Grimes, a middle child herself, said that she included many details from her own life. The brother’s football jersey that blocks Pidge’s way down the laundry chute has her son’s number, 21. Maverick is a Burmese mountain dog, the same breed as Grimes’ real-life pet. Even the name Pidge comes from her mother’s childhood nickname. The story of getting stuck in the laundry chute?
“In real life I have a laundry chute, in real life a kid got stuck down there” said Grimes. “Seriously, like three years ago, one of my kid’s friends.”
Grimes said that she started studying story writing two years before she started the book. When she began writing, she ended up with around 3,000 words and cut it down from there.
“I learned about [techniques such as] the 15 story beats and it’s a great way to follow through, making sure you hit all the elements,” she said. “Some people wanted to teach kids words. For me, I wanted that full story arc. Fiction does not proceed without conflict. That’s how we progress in real life, by conflict, by overcoming little things.” She recalled that when she started the journey of creating her book, she was not really sure how the industry worked.
“I had no clue what a creative agency did. That was a huge learning curve for me. You kind of just have to do research,” she said.
When it came to the choices for the look of the book, she gave her illustrator creative license but made sure she still had input.
“Authors have visions in their head of what they want characters to be, but [with] traditional publishing houses, you have no input,” she noted. “When it came down to what the story was, I wasn’t going to budge on that.” She laughed a little at her investments. “I was like ‘Sure, we’ll make it better.’ And they’re like, ‘This is what it’s going to cost you.’”
Grimes referenced renowned American children’s author Harriet Ziefert on writing a children’s book.
“It’s often said that a good picture book resonates on two levels — for the child and for the adults reading to the child. What’s not said is just how a picture book goes about doing this. I believe there are issues that surface in childhood that continue throughout our lives, and that when we’re 80, we’re still negotiating these basic issues … These stories that have the most powerful effect on both child and adults are the ones that deal with at least one of these lifelong struggles. Though a child’s experiences are different from a 20-year-old’s, and a 30-year-old’s are different from a 40-year-old’s, the same feelings are at the core.”
Grimes talked about how her son addressed her at one point.
“‘Mom, you don’t get it,’ he said. Well, I did, but in a different way.”
Grimes seemed extremely happy with the message her story was sending and her decision to create the book in the first place. She encouraged people to follow their own creative visions.
“Look at me, I was a lawyer and now I’m writing children’s books. It’s much more fun.”
“Where is Pidge?” will be released mid-March of 2015.