So, you want to be a writer? But, how to get started? When I first
started writing for Boys' Quest and Hopscotch magazines, I looked at their
theme lists. Going down the list, I asked myself, “What do I know about each
subject?” Aha! Turtles was on the list! I knew a few things about turtles
since I'd had them for pets when I was a child.
I'd recently experienced an alligator turtle encounter. Visiting a
friend's farm to check out her new barn, we crossed a small bridge over the
pond. I spotted something in the water that looked like a prehistoric creature
lounging on the rocks. The water in that area was fed by a natural spring and
wasn't as cloudy as the deeper water farther out. I asked, “What in the world
My friend yelled, “That's an alligator turtle! Keep your eye on the rascal
until I can go get a garbage can to catch him. They eat all of the fish and we
need to get him out of there and relocate him.” She ran to the barn.
I kept my eye on the culprit. He looked scary, but turtles were harmless
enough, right? I'd been swimming with gigantic turtles off the island of Maui in
the Hawaiian islands and had a wonderful experience. They didn't mind if I shared
their underwater space. They were huge and could have taken a chunk out of me if
they had so wished. But the creature in the pond was different. He had a nasty
temper. I was soon to find out why he was called “alligator” turtle. When we
tried to scoop him into the garbage can, he was a vicious fighter. It took what
seemed like forever for us to corral him into the plastic can. He hissed and
struck out at everything with his sharp beak, just like an alligator with large
jaws. Scary creature from the lagoon indeed, one reason why I would never swim
in a pond!
So, when I saw “turtles” on the Boys' Quest theme list, I decided I
would do some research on the critters. Was there really a difference between
a tortoise, a terrapin, and a turtle? My story then tumbled out in rhyme. Editors
will tell you not to write in rhyme unless you're a professional poet. It's harder
to make the ideas work and keep to a perfect rhyme. If you feel like writing in
rhyme, though, give it a try. You can always go back to prose if the rhyme doesn't
work out. It's easier to remember stories if they're written in rhyme, and plenty
of stories are still published using this form of storytelling.
Another hint: You also increase your chances of selling your tales if you
have good clear pictures to accompany them. Publishers sometimes pay extra for the
pictures. Carry a camera with you at all times. You never know when you might see
something of interest. The small digital cameras now make it easy to snap shots
and you can delete if you don't like what you've taken. Then, when you're bombarded
with an idea for a story, go to your photo file and see if you have something on
the subject. For this particular story, "Turtles Wearing Girdles," I sent in the
manuscript without a picture and the editor still bought it. The publishing
company had an illustrator, an artist who draws pictures for written stories,
draw pictures of the different turtles around the printed poem. I especially
liked the picture of the turtle with the tape measuring for a girdle and also
the alligator-looking turtle. Jane Bodnar did a great job illustrating my story.
So, against all odds, I sold my first story without a picture - written in
rhyme - competing against hundreds of other writers who'd sent in manuscripts to
these magazines. There's always a chance your story is the one story editors are
looking for. If you don't write it and send it in, they can't publish it.
Scroll up or down and click the kids button again to see the other issues where I've published stories. The magazines can be ordered through Boys'
Quest or Hopscotch magazines if they are still in stock. I have more tall tales
to be published in future issues.
And a nice thing, a few of my stories have been bought the second time,
what's known in the publishing world as 2nd serial rights. That means I get paid
twice for the same story! Now, that's not bad!