The joys and anguish of finishing my first chapter book
By Jane E. Ruth
My initial idea of a children’s chapter book involving the Ngabe children on the comarca in Panama, Central America, was exhilarating! I was so excited to write a fiction story that had real elements of life on the comarca for the children. The story was fiction, but the poverty was real.
My husband and I have a ministry that helps the Ngabe indigenous in Panama, and we often are on the comarca visiting or helping with their needs.
I loved trying to decide which Ngabe names to use in my story. The Ngabes have some different and intriguing meanings as to what they call their children. I made my decision concerning names and, of course, had to change one of them after I learned I should not have two names starting with the same character in the alphabet.
My thought was a story that would delight the Ngabe children and also be of interest to other children in the world who were not even aware that there is a Ngabe culture in the world. The fact that most Ngabe children learn Spanish, and are not always knowledgeable about their own native Ngabe language, encouraged me to have the book printed as bilingual in Spanish and English. It being bilingual would help the Ngabe children to understand and possibly learn a few English words, and vice versa for other English speaking children to learn a few Spanish words.
I embarked on a writing journey that has taken many months and studying numerous courses. Being a novice writer, I knew nothing about the complexities of learning plot, characters, story structure, editing, etc. I had a children’s Writing course years ago in another life and even submitted two short stories that went nowhere. I had three mentor authors with that course.
I now had to refresh my memory on basics plus add a multitude of writing courses, so I could at least feel somewhat competent to attempt to write a children’s chapter book.
After reading the advice of some weathered authors, I was not too sure I would be up to the task. It all seemed so formidable. What I did not know about writing was paralyzing me even to begin to write. What if I get it wrong?
I eventually realized I had to shut out the voices and well-meaning advice and proceed to do it.
I was able to set up my story and the settings and scenes and even the dialogue! I liked my character's names, but I did change one; it did not sound quite right. My characters started to come alive with quirks and personality traits that fit quite well into my story.
I had to do tons of research, yes, a children’s chapter book – must have the facts correct for the iguanas! I also have to ensure that the information is equally valid for the Ngabe nation and their way of life and how conditions of poverty are prevalent in the comarca. These ideas and truths have to be intertwined into my story somehow without becoming stuck on narrative and devolving into boredom. I must keep up the action and tension!
Then, there is the question of -should my book be bilingual? The Ngabe children in real life speak Spanish, very little English. I want the book to be for them in a language they understand. They need children’s books about their culture and way of life. I can not find any comp books that relate to the Ngabe children other than commentaries from Peace Corp workers or a few non-fiction books concerning the Ngabe people. When the Library opens again (due to the quarantine), I want to visit and ask the Librarian if Ngabe children's books exist in this country. I have found several for Panamanian children online, but I am hoping there are more selections the Library can show me. I miraculously discovered that there is a publishing press here in my town that is the only one in Panama to publish bilingual books! How cool is that! If I only print an English version, how will the Ngabe children read the story themselves? How much more money is required to print a bilingual book?
That tidbit then threw me into the anguish of - do I go traditional or self-publish? Since I am seventy-five years of age, I had to think about this. Traditional publishing can be a long, drawn-out process. Self-publishing is quicker. It entails putting more cash out for editing, illustrators, and such, before getting your book published. Traditional has more perks, but also some drawbacks besides the time element. It seems to me after researching both venues that marketing your book is a requisite for both.
I want my book to be the best for my readers. It has to be quality whether I decide traditional or self-publishing.
I am coming in the last stretch, which involves a lot of work with revisions and checking scenes and following the plot structure and the myriads of other writing edits. I have to ensure everything is kosher and invites the reader into my world of adventure and keeps them wanting more.
What a herculean task!
To say that writing requires the treasure of your time is an understatement.
Besides writing the story, one also has to consider what follows after publishing. Many authors state that you should have your website set up and your author platform, which is a feat in itself. What server and domain should I use? What will my author's name be?
The next hurdle to jump over is deciding your marketing strategy. Amazon, BookBub, Goodreads, are just some marketing venues.
Still, taking writing courses to improve my knowledge, and completing assignments, and writing essays or short stories in a writer’s group which meets every week for helping newbies, does not negate finishing my original chapter book.
I must confess among the anguish of learning new information and struggling to process how to apply it to my writing; I enjoy writing. I am astonished that I can imagine storylines and then follow through with a coherent piece of fiction. I enjoy the dialogues and humor I can create, and it all sounds real! I even laugh at my own stories. A rather interesting turn of events for someone of my youthful age.