Writing Process Blog Tour

Thumbnail drawing from The Storyteller

I was asked to be a part of the Writing Process Blog tour by my new booking agent, at The Booking Biz, who is an author herself, Carmen Oliver. You can read her post HERE. It's sort of a blog chain letter that asks authors to explain a little bit about their how they write.

I'll be answering four questions about my writing process, which was a fun prompt for me, since this blog is mostly about my illustration and animation. But I love creating stories, whatever the medium.  I'm in the process of creating my first children's book as author and illustrator, so this seemed like a great kickoff.

What am I currently working on?

Thumbnail drawing from The Storyteller
As I mentioned above, I am in the process of writing and illustrating my first solo children's book tentatively called The Storyteller. While reading in preparation for a 3 week trip to Morocco a couple of years ago, I learned about Morocco's rich storytelling history. In a nearly one thousand year old tradition, public storytellers gather a growing audience reciting all the tales from 1001 Nights, hundreds of Moroccan folktales, and stories from the Qur'an, all from memory, and weaving the tales together to impart lessons and entertainment to their audience. This tradition, though, is in danger as less than a dozen storytellers remain in Morocco, often with no apprentices. Inspired by this, I began writing a story in which a young boy unknowingly becomes an apprentice to a storyteller and uses those stories to inspire hope and community to rescue his city from a looming sandstorm.

I am also currently working on an animation and illustration project in conjunction with Dalvero Academy, at Mystic Seaport. I am documenting the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world, which was built in 1841. This summer, I was one of 79 voyagers selected to sail aboard its 38th voyage, and first sail since 1921. My animation, although still in the early stages, deals with the emotional and cultural impact of whaling on whale and human populations today, and how we can strive to live and grow from that history and use it as the catalyst for healing and a new attitude towards whales and nature. It is a follow up project to my award-winning animation "Patterns" about the global cultural history created by the industry of whaling.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think that my work differs from other children's literature because I have a very serious interest in culture and history, but a very loud, playful, and experimental approach when it comes to art and illustration. I often find that with children's books, more serious or historic topics are often dealt with
in a very somber way, and I like to think that I have a fresh, exciting, and diverse approach to a range of topics from serious to silly. But I am still very new to the children's book industry, so I guess it remains to be seen what will set me apart!

Why do I write what I write?

I write what I write usually because some piece of information, or art, or a story will interest me and I can't help but want to learn more about it and tell that story to others. It is always amazing to me when working on a project how so many different elements all seem to fall into place in one story, and I can discover new ways to tell stories and explore topics. Often I just get excited by the idea of creating art around the idea of a story, and the rest of the pieces come together in the words. I have an interest in folk tales, culture, and art from around the world, and I think there is an immense amount that we can learn from relating to, learning from, and telling stories about traditions and stories that have stood the test of time.

Thumbnail layouts from The Storyteller

How does my individual writing process work?

I usually will begin in an aimless research phase, where I go to museums and draw, travel, or read books and make thumbnails, and just go wherever my interest leads me. Usually, a thread will pop out somewhere along the line that will excite me to learn more, or make more drawings. As a story begins to form in my mind, I usually write it in a shorthand way, just figuring out the layout of the story itself, while making notes, thumbnails, and exploring the art along the way. This is always the most exciting step, when there are infinite possibilities for the art, and I have to sift through them to figure out how best to tell the story. When the story begins to get fleshed out, I will work on creating the page layouts in a series of of thumbnails and working on the actual manuscript for the story. Sometimes, though, the project will turn towards an animation, rather than a book, and I'll have to change gears (or vice-versa). It is all about getting the story across in the best way possible.

Next week, author Tim Anderson will join the Writing Process Blog Tour. I just finished his new book Sweet Tooth, and it was hilarious! I highly recommend it.

Tim Anderson is the author of Sweet Tooth and Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries, which Publishers Weekly called "laugh-out-loud funny," Shelf Awareness called "so much fun," and Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times completely ignored. He is an editor and lives in Brooklyn with his husband, Jimmy; his cat, Stella; and his yoga balance ball, Sheila. Tim also writes young adult historical fiction under the name T. Neill Anderson and blogs at seetimblog.blogspot.com. His favorite Little Debbie snack cake is the Fudge Round.

Morocco: Jemaa el-Fna and the Halqa

 As we headed back to Marrakech, there was one more thing I wanted to find. I had read books about the storytellers of Marrakech, and how this thousand year old tradition was not too slowly fading away. These men turn storytelling into a public art, with a catalog of hundreds of tales to choose from, stored away in their minds, each one shifting and growing depending on their audience. In 2006 it is said that there were less than a dozen storytellers left in Marrakech, and they often getting older with no apprentices. In Marrakech, their stage is The Big Square, Jemaa el-Fna. Here western tourists and Moroccan tourists alike come to see this flurry of energy full of hissing cobras and snake charmers, horse-drawn carriages, apes on chain leashes, water-sellers in flamboyant costumes, and pushy throngs of women doing henna tattoos.


At night, the square transforms. As the sun sets behind the Koutoubia minaret, the center of the square unfolds into a series of temporary restaurants with loud auctioneers competing for the attention of the hoards of tourists and locals that flock there at night. Where snake charmers sat before, musicians and performers take their place, and I was hoping, maybe a storyteller.

Smoke from the open flames of the grills fills the air.

We searched all over the square for several nights, behind every orange juice stand and date seller, and on every hidden corner we could find, but we couldn't find a single storyteller. Perhaps we weren't looking for the right things to find them, or perhaps they weren't there that night. What we did find, though, was the lifeblood of the storyteller, the halqa. A halqa is the circle of people that forms around the storyteller (or halaiqi) and other performers.

After standing on the edge of a circle of people surrounding some musicians and drawing, they eventually pulled us into the center. Although I couldn't understand the stories he was telling, or the words to the music, I began to feel a part of the halqa. They laughed at my portraits of them, and gave Chris and I some Berber whiskey (mint tea).

We may not have been able to find one of the storytellers, but the feeling of the halqa is one I won't forget. It's a spontaneous connection with people, and you can feel the energy of it and how it feeds both the performers and the audience.