Like Katie, I also turned in my final manuscript to my editor recently. But unlike Katie’s novel, my picture book manuscript has far fewer words. Like, almost a couple of orders of magnitude fewer. Including the back matter, my book will have about one thousand words. (And that’s considered L-O-N-G for a picture book these days.) So editing it should be a piece of cake, right? There are only a limited number of times you can read a thousand fairly simple words, right?
Nope. No cake. No limit.
Even though my editor had relatively few comments (yay!), revising the manuscript took a lot longer than I anticipated. It was also much more interesting than I expected. From the first round of edits to the (hopefully) last, we were having a dialogue through Track Changes. Our comment-bubble conversation led me down side roads, some I had already traveled, most I had not.
THE NIAN MONSTER is a Chinese New Year story, a folktale retelling, a trickster tale, and a foodie story. It’s also set in Shanghai. One editorial comment, asking about whether the word “chef” would be used in China, took me down a historical path. I ended up writing a long-winded, horribly didactic, reply-comment-bubble about Shanghai’s history as an international port, the French Concession, and whatever other justification I could come up with. When my editor commented back, “Fascinating,” my inner geek did a little jig of joy. Or maybe just arched an eyebrow. (Note: I got to keep the word “chef.”)
Addressing another comment sent me back to grammar school — Chinese vs. English grammar, that is. The comment was about using the word “the” in front of names of landmarks. We don’t say “the Times Square,” but is it appropriate to say “the People’s Square?” How do English-speakers in China refer to these places? I didn’t know how to respond to this. The little Chinese I know, I absorbed from listening to my parents and suffering through Sunday Chinese School. I knew when something sounded right in Chinese, but I could never explain why. It turns out that there is no equivalent of “the” in Chinese — it’s a language without a definite article. That answer allowed me to choose where to keep and where to delete the “the’s.”
I did more research and thought harder about my story during the editing process than I had when writing it. None of the history or the grammar I learned will make it into the book. But I don’t regret any of it. More knowledge is never a waste, right? And I love that when I read the text, I see the fingerprints of my mentors, my critique partners, and now my editor. I hope that kids will come up with their own questions after reading the book. Or maybe even the same questions. I know they’re just dying to learn about the French Concession.
Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in December 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.
Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before embarking on the writer’s journey, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.
You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang.