Cantastic Authorpalooza: Ishta Mercurio

Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by great Canadian children’s writers! Today’s guest: Ishta Mercurio. Take it away, Ishta!

A Noisy Kind of Quiet

Ishta Mercurio

I wrote the first draft of SMALL WORLD in 2011.

When I tell people that, they always pause. I can see the gears working in their minds: am I THAT BAD at this writing thing? Is publishing THAT SLOW? Does it always take THAT LONG? And how can they ask me these questions in a way that’s not insulting? (After all, this is Canada. Being “not insulting” is our brand.)

Well… The answer to those questions is mostly YES! That’s not insulting; it’s just the truth.

That first draft was… Well, it was okay. The beats were there, and it had an arc and a circularity to it that is nice in picture books. In fact, most of those basic elements—the skeleton, as it were—are still there. But it was flat. The language was fine, but bland, like angel hair pasta with butter instead of a rich sauce. The storyline just sort of ambled along. The main character had no agency. It was “quiet,” and not in a good way. Everyone who read those early drafts (there were a couple) said the same thing: “This is so lovely, but it’s quiet.” First drafts? They always suck. ALWAYS.

It took me a while to figure out that “quiet” in this case meant “lacking tension.” It took me even longer to figure out how to fix it without turning it into a completely different book. I wrote a lot of manuscripts in the meantime. One of them—a chapter book—got me an agent. I almost gave up on writing picture books. But two things kept me coming back to them, and to SMALL WORLD in particular.

The first thing was that the chapter book didn’t sell. And the second thing was that SMALL WORLD, my lovely book that was “too quiet,” wouldn’t leave me alone. That manuscript was the one that poked at the edges of my mind, knocking around and whispering in my ear and begging to be dusted off. For a quiet book, it sure was noisy.

So, I revised it a couple more times. I sent it to my agent, and she loved it. She had revision suggestions, which I made. She said that it was about “dreaming big for your future,” which I hadn’t noticed. (That happens more often than you would expect: you think you’re writing a book about geography and geometry, and it turns out to be about dreaming big for your future, and you’re like, “Yes, IT IS! I totally did that on purpose!” Even though you totally did not do that on purpose. And then you try to figure out how you did that, so you can do it again next time. When did the main character develop agency? Which revision *was* it?)

And then, miraculously, near the end of 2016, it sold. AT AUCTION. My little quiet book. It comes out on July 2nd, over eight years after I wrote the first draft. It’s still quiet, but in a good way this time. Jen Corace illustrated it and infused every spread with joy. I can’t wait to share it with everybody.

I’ve revised the chapter book, and we’re trying again. It might not sell, but I have a feeling that this time, it will. It, too, won’t leave me alone.

Ishta Mercurio is an author and actor. Raised in Cincinnati by an Irish-German-Italian-American father and a Polish-American-Filipino mother, she has traveled to England, Scotland, Italy, France, and all over the United States. She now lives in Brampton, Ontario, where she films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Small World, her debut picture book, releases from ABRAMS Books for Young Readers on July 2nd, 2019. Find her online at www.ishtamercurio.com, on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theoneandonlyishta/ , on twitter at @IshtaWrites and on instagram at @ishtamercurio.

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