Today's guest for the WHAT is Tamera Will Wissinger, who writes stories and poetry for children including Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, This Old Band, and There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink. Her verse novel Gone Camping arrives in 2017. You can connect with Tamera online at her website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.
It was spring of 2006. (I know; even low word-count books can take their time.) As sometimes happens in my writing, fishing and the water’s edge crept into the work. As I was toying with rhythm and rhyme, some funny images emerged when I began to rhyme unexpected words – line and dine, bobber and slobber. As I played I remembered the old folk tale, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and the concept of a fisherwoman gobbling her bait and tackle at the shore sprang forward.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
That summer I had enrolled in a rhyming picture book workshop with Jill Esbaum. One of my first drafts began with the old lady swallowing her boat. Jill gave me good feedback and suggested that it might work better if I started small and worked my way to the bigger items. That made sense, so I tried it and built from there.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
Yes. This book morphed a number of times as I worked with different trusted readers. At one point I called the old lady an old fisher, then old angler, but learned those words might not resonate with young readers. And there was also a gar in the story at one point which was…bizarre, so the gar had to go.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Story ideas do come to me often. I invite them, actually, and am always on the lookout for funny or poignant conversations and situations. Whether I’m at the grocery store or jolted awake at night with an idea, I try to jot story ideas down as soon as I recognize them. Otherwise they may disappear. Only a small percent of those ideas develop into a poem or a story – many times they seem wonderful in the moment only to fall flat when I begin to explore more deeply. That’s okay with me, though. Who knows; maybe I’ll be able to do something meaningful with those ideas later.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
Hmm. I usually go with what’s tugging most at my heart – the characters or situations that are dancing or jumping for me to turn their way. Writing shorter stories and poetry it’s a tricky balance, though, because often more than one story begs for attention. If that happens, I do divide my time. When I see one story that’s emerging most strongly, I’ll focus more energy there until I’ve seen it through.
When it comes to naming characters, I just rest my hands and let them tell me what their names are. What’s your process?
I like your process of resting and listening to your characters. Most often I’ll begin to write using a name that I like, knowing that it may be a filler name. As the character grows it becomes more apparent to me whether or not the name fits the personality of the character. If the name no longer works, I go searching for the just-right name. Often I wind up researching on a baby name website. Some sites give name definitions, which I find interesting and informative, too.
Thank you for hosting me today for this interview, Mindy. It was fun to think about your WHAT questions.