After I had been writing for twenty years or so, articles for magazines and newspapers mainly, my wife suggested that I write up some of the stories I used to tell our children when we all lived on a black-water swamp in Horry County, South Carolina, inland from Myrtle Beach. Since I was starting to toy with the idea of delving into fiction anyway, I decided to take her suggestion and do one story.
I wrote the original manuscript one year – and filed it on the computer. It was about 30,000-words. I called it The Banco Affair, since one of the main characters was named Dick Bianca; he was accused of robbing a bank so the news reports called him Banco.
The script stayed in storage for another few years while I wrote a novel, some text book supplements and a non-fiction book. One evening, as we sat over coffee, Joni Lee brought up the idea again: “Why don’t you dig out that ol’ children’s book manuscript and revise it, buddy? Juvenile fiction is important, and popular.”
“Maybe I will, but I don’t know much about the market.”
“That’s why God made the Internet.”
So I researched what other people were writing for middle-grade readers, kids aged 8 to about 12, and what agents and book editors were saying. I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They put out a Publication Guide that taught me a lot and got my juices flowing. I started rewriting. And rewriting. I submitted it around and Brownridge Publishing expressed an interest. The editor liked the writing but said the storyline was uneven. We started rewriting some more.
She would suggest a scene and I would write it; she’d send me a couple of dozen pages with electronic sticky-notes appended. I would evaluate her suggestions, some detailed, others general, and either comply with them or argue my case. It was an amazingly civilized process that went on for nearly a year. She thought the title sounded “too old,” so we changed it to “The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp.” And we had added nearly 10,000-words.
Finally Brownridge was happy with the manuscript and wanted to publish it. I was happy too. The book came out in November 2012 and I gave my author’s copies as Christmas presents to our grandchildren. My wife sold another fifty to mothers and grandmothers at her bible study group and I did the same at the high school where I teach.
I have since learned to appreciate the dynamics of children’s publishing. I talk about my book to anyone who will listen and am going on the in-house TV Morning Show at the local grammar school. It’s been fun. Kids are a genuine audience.
I am still working on my two adult novels but am writing another children’s book too. It pays to diversify.
Paul A. Barra is a decorated war veteran, a teacher and a freelance journalist. He previously was a reporter for local newspapers and won numerous awards from the South Carolina Press Association. He was the senior staff writer for the Diocese of Charleston and won numerous awards from the Catholic Press Association, a national organization. Earlier publications include four independent science readers (Houghton Mifflin), a novel (“Crimson Ring,” Eagle Press) and a nonfiction book about the formation and success of a Catholic high school, despite diocesan opposition (“St. Joe’s Remarkable Journey,” Tumblar House). He is under contract for the publication of a historical novel called “Murder in the Charleston Cathedral.”(Chesterton Press).
His latest book is the children’s/middle grade novel, The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp.
Visit Paul’s website at www.paulbarra.com.