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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Where Can We Have The Party?

By Deb Hockenberry

I’ve been asked to write about ‘Where Can We Have The Party?’, my debut picture book. Since I wrote my book for ages three to eight, it has a very simple concept: Giraffe wants to have a party for his friend, Chimpanzee. Where did I get this idea? My own life. As you can tell by little book’s cover, the story takes place in a jungle. But where? I placed it in Hungle Bungle Jungle. Where’s that, you ask? Let your imagination run free. It could be in the deepest darkest jungle of Africa. Maybe Hungle Bungle Jungle is in the jungles of Asia or India. Who knows? There’s no wrong answer here. As you can guess, ‘Where Can We Have The Party?’ is a very simple concept with a very simple problem. As I said before, Giraffe wants to have a party for his friend, Chimpanzee but he can’t think of a good place to have it. Like all kids do (and adults) he turns to his friends for help. They all have great ideas, but for one reason or another, they won’t work. I better stop here or I’ll tell you the whole story! I’ve always been interested in reading and writing from the time I was a child. During summer vacations, my siblings and I would spend a lot of time at our local branch of the Carnegie Library. I think I read every book in the children’s section of the library! This is going to sound fantastic and totally out there, but I read all the mysteries, boyfriend/girlfriend books, horror, fantasy and the rest but I never found a book that I personally wanted to read. Oh, there were plenty of books about parties and plenty of books with talking animals but, there were no books with talking animals and parties in one book. I really liked talking animal books even though I was a bit too old for them (I thought so) but they fascinated me. One night, as I was in bed trying to fall asleep, I decided to try to write one myself. So, my story began, as most stories do, in my head. It had evil monkeys, some with guns and some with knives, kidnapping King Lion at his birthday party. I decided then that I was going to be a writer and get my story published. But how? The librarian of the library I mentioned before, went to the same church as I did and I decided to ask her. I didn’t do it that day, though. I kept wondering if I’d be laughed at for asking her about writing properly. Also, I could just imagine what my younger brothers and sisters would say if they heard me ask her. I went home and thought about how I’d do this. The next time we were at the library, I hurried my siblings into the children’s section and told them I’d be right back. Naturally, they wanted to know where I was going, but eventually I got out of there. An adult was talking to the librarian, so I hung back. At last the person left and the librarian smiled and asked if she could help me. I slowly walked up to her desk and gulped. Taking a deep breath, I asked her if there were books to show me how to write a story. She didn’t laugh! Instead, she told me to wait there and walked into the adults’ library. I thought she was going to bring out some books for me. She came out and signaled for me to follow her. She took me into the adults’ section, sat me in a corner table, went to the shelves, and pulled some books. They were ‘The Writer’s Handbook’, ‘The Writer’s Encyclopedia’ and another book whose title I can’t recall. Needless, to say I was thrilled! Well, our times and society changed and so did my story after a few years. Then, I was stopped. What stopped me from working on my story was my elementary school principal. I decided to start a school newsletter. It would be full of that I thought would be interesting to my fellow scholars. Things like: Sally fell in a mud puddle and she really looked funny! Well, somehow (to this day I don’t know how) my little newsletter made it into the hands of the principle. I was called down to her office. The fear of writing was really put into me that day. I didn’t bother thinking about my story for a few years, but it never left me. It kept nagging at me. The characters never gave up on me and kept nagging until I went back to re-writing the story playing out in my head. When I started giving them attention again, they stopped bothering me so much. Fast forward to the 1980s. I was hospitalized several times and once I was even put in a rehabilitation hospital. While I was doing my physical therapy exercises, I was also writing thinking about my story. By then, it was pretty much as it is now except the characters were different. It was then I decided to do something about this need to write. I did start writing it down, then. I took two courses from The Institute of Children’s Literature which helped me so much. Then, it was a correspondence course where a new assignment came every six weeks. You learned to write descriptions so other people can experience what you felt what you were describing happened. You learned how to write you story properly including how to indent dialogue. Every six weeks I had to send in another story based on what the assignment was on and promptly start the next one. It was intense, but I fully recommend this place if you’re interested in writing for children. It’s worth it. I think the whole course is on the computer, now. I was constantly working on my story as well as my assignments. I felt great about my story and felt that it was good enough to go out into the world. Two of my school books that The Institute of Children’s Literature sent me were marketing books. In doing marketing for my story, I soon found that publishers didn’t want talking animal stories. So, I saved it. I did think about changing the characters to small children instead of talking animals, but my characters raised a stink about that! Toward the end of the course, we were permitted to write about anything we wanted. We just had to remember everything we learned and incorporate it in the story. Well, I sent in my story, ‘Where Can We Have The Party?’ talking animals and all. I was sure they were going to love it. Boy, was I wrong! I received a letter from them saying how good the plot was and how they liked the little lesson in it. They went on to say how publishers just throw the talking animal stories away and would I change it to little children? Every fiber of my being said no and of course, my characters raised a ruckus! But, I did it and sent it in. In a few weeks, I received their response in the mail. They loved it and said it was publishable as is. I never felt so disappointed in all my life. I was determined to keep my characters animals. I re-wrote it again. I got permission for my niece to take it to her kindergarten class where the teacher read it to them. My niece said they loved it and they laughed. I felt I was getting closer to publication if kids liked it. Now, if only the publishers would start accepting my kind of story. That didn’t happen until the early 2000s. I sent it out to a traditional publisher who immediately accepted it. Needless to say, I was thrilled. But I learned something. You really have to be patient with a traditional publisher. I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, something great happened. Most of the bad stigma was removed from Independent Publishing. I pulled my story and got it published through CreateSpace and don’t regret it a bit. So, you see it’s been a long journey for ‘Where Can We Have The Party?’ to make it into the world. It’s still cut down to 500 words and it has morphed yet again to what it is now, but it has my talking animals in it! I learned another big lesson in writing this. Always listen to your characters. Where Can We Have The Party?’ is currently available in both e-book and paperback formats.

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