Absurd, Said Bird: A Guest Post by Tricia Gardella
There are many challenges in being a writer. I believe the biggest challenge of them all is being able to write to take all your ideas and put them on paper.
I've noticed the more I write the more stories I come up with. Each character becomes more and more real; their life story expanding before my eyes. In doing so, many of my stories become series. The characters living on in many stories rather than just one. But writing series can be difficult. Making sure characters don't act out of character, or have character growth can be difficult to juggle.
Tricia, our guest author of today, talks about her experience writing series and how she is able to come up with her ideas. Let's see what she has to say!
Absurd, Said Bird
By Tricia Gardella
Back in the late eighties when I first began writing, you –the beginning writer—were never supposed to talk about your book being turned into a series. That was for the publisher to decide. I published with HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, Orchard and Boyds Mills Press. None of them offered to turn a book of mine into a series. Then in the year 2000 began what became my twenty-year sabbatical. We had bought a building in a tourist town near our ranch in the Gold Country of California and I thought I could do both. Silly me. When I finally got back to writing many years later, series were nowhere in my mind. In fact, self-publishing was nowhere in my mind. Back in the day, self-publishing, too, was anathema. It was not until my discovery of indie publishing that I realized the error of my ways. My how the world had changed in a mere twenty years.
And did I love this new publishing world. Oh, the control. I got to choose my illustrator. I got to choose the layout. And I got to pay for everything. Oof. Plus, I had to learn marketing. Double oof! But now I understand why we are seeing so many series. If one of your books is doing well, why not cash in on the success? Makes sense. But it was never intentional for me…how I got into series writing.
One night a title hit me as I was falling to sleep. Santa Claws. The holidays were coming. I had a new young cat who was quite the character. I began thinking about my quirky cat and all the silly things she did. I began thinking about her as Santa’s helper at the North Pole. Then I began thinking about the life of a cat living at the North Pole with Santa year around. Almost before I had chosen an illustrator, eight picture books were written and waiting.
I signed one of my first illustrators, Izzy Bean, for this book. I loved her vision. And Santa Claws, published in 2022, became one of my first self-published books. For me, being a bit on the prolific side, the book seemed to take forever. Which I now realize, after publishing another fourteen books, it did. But this is something else you need to keep in mind. How patient are you? How long are you willing to wait? For an illustrator, agreeing to do a series is quite a commitment. I knew when I asked her if she was interested that Izzy would be slower than I had planned. But I loved her work, and I had plenty of other projects to keep me busy. Plus, there will only be eight books in this series. I think. One more freedom of series writing. What works for you works.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. It has been a little over a year since I discovered illustrator Ginger Nielsen. I remember warning myself when first reviewing her portfolio, there is no way you are going to sign this one. But you never know unless you try. So, I sent my email off with fingers crossed. It couldn’t have been even four hours before I found an email in my box saying that she would love to see my story.
Off went a copy of my standalone, Absurd, Said Bird. Ginger liked the story and said she was already ‘seeing’ her illustrations. I signed her. In a couple of weeks, I saw roughs for the entire book. In less than three months my book was ready to go. I’m not an author who likes to tell an illustrator what I envision. My joy comes when they ‘see’ what I see but, in most cases, better. This happened with Absurd. I now think of it as my magic book. The minute I saw Ginger’s Mouse, I fell in love. When the book was published, my heart hurt that it was done.
The story is about a barnyard mouse who decides to make a trip to the moon to get himself some cheese and promises all the farm animals that he will bring back cheese to any of those who help him find the parts he needs to build an airplane. All the animals are behind his plan except Bird. It isn’t until the end that we discover why Bird keeps squawking, “Absurd.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about Mouse. One day I started talking to Mouse. I asked him what he wanted to do and he told me all he wanted was to travel. But where? And how? Then it came to me. He would have an easy goal. He would travel to various National Parks. The USA has 63 of them so this one series had the potential of keeping me busy for the rest of my life. But, how was he going to get to these parks? Then came the fun part. At the end of Absurd, Said Bird, we learn that the reason Bird kept saying absurd is that everyone knows it takes a rocket to get to the moon. So, off Mouse and Bird run to build a rocket.
I call Book 2 of that series my transitional book and, lucky me, Absurd, Said Bird was set up perfectly for such a transition. So, in What Bird Heard, Bird is completely involved in the project…until they discover an insurmountable problem. Where were animals going to get rocket fuel? Mouse moans, “All I ever wanted was to travel.” Bird comforts him with, “There are plenty of places to travel right here in our country.” But still Mouse wonders where and how? That’s when Bird mentions a place of information called a library and suggests that Mouse visit it.
The fun thing about series is that you get to know your character(s). You learn what they like. You learn what they don’t like. And you get to add things that they learn to like…or not. Then come the challenges which can also be fun. After his library visit, Mouse learns where he wants to travel but it’s how to get there that becomes the challenge. I write what’s called informational fiction so I can get creative some of the time but need to be spot on at others. That’s another reason I like this series so much. I’m free to let Mouse lead me in all sorts of crazy directions. But when it comes to the parks themselves, we need to be accurate. A month after Mouse Visits Joshua Tree National Park came out, I remember a panic hitting me because Joshua Tree is a desert area and I have Mouse sailing down a creek on a tree branch. Is there even a creek in Joshua Tree? I hadn’t checked. Then Ginger pointed out a few things to me. First, this is fiction. Second, we know it might be a wet season because the cacti are in bloom. Maybe there has been a recent storm, and this is simply drainage. Third, we know there are events called flash floods. Maybe this is the aftermath of one. One more advantage of a good illustrator. She often becomes your therapist.
Things to keep in mind when writing a series. Your first book can act as a template as it does in my Traveler series. Mouse moves from park to park. He uses the same method of travel each time. The story line itself might differ, but he still visits the most popular tourist spots in the park, he still keeps an eye out for different mice species, and he’s always on the lookout for Bird who he hopes to run into again at one of the parks. And the end pages cover pretty much the same topics in each book. Whereas, in the Claws series, each book is more of a standalone. The same characters each time but always in a complete story. Maybe we might call this one a collection.
You also need to keep in mind that you must find an illustrator you are comfortable working with, someone who likes the project as much as you do. My favorite place to ‘shop’ is childrensillustrators.com. And I always look for someone who is not agented. I am much more comfortable with direct communication. I feel I have been more than lucky with the ten illustrators I have worked with to date but I always listen to my gut. If I have a single doubt, I keep looking because, depending on how long your series will go, you could be working with them for a long time. But the main thing to keep in mind? Whether traditional or a collection, series are fun. If you like to read series, you will love writing them.
You can learn more about Tricia Gardella as well as find her books at her online shop.
Guest Post Wrap Up
Like I mentioned above, writing series can be hard but it's doable when you set your mind to it! Tell me in the comments below if you are in the midst of working on a series. If you haven't already, go check out Tricia's website where you can see all her stories.
You can also check out some of the latest guest posts including self-publishing authors Kaity Joy or Teresa Davis. If you would like to be featured on the blog, please feel free to reach out at email@example.com.