Just Read (Sterling, 2019) illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov and Cock-A-Doodle-Oops! (Creston Books, 2014) illustrated by Deborah Zemke. Lori is a master at zingy wordplay and she's done it again with her latest adorable picture book, Travel Guide for Monsters (Sleeping Bear, 2020) illustrated by Dave Szalay, which Kirkus calls a "giggly geography lesson for trip planners and daydreamers."
I reached out to Lori to talk about her books and how she cracked the code on writing rhyme.
QUESTION: Can you talk about your creative process? How do ideas work through your mind—do they evolve slowly over a stretch of time, or do they appear fully formed?
LORI DEGMAN: Usually, I get the idea for the story and/or the title immediately. Then I figure out the opening and how I want it to end, and go from there. Plotting is where I struggle most, so it usually takes a while until I finally figure out the middle. For my stories that are a series of vignettes and don’t have typical plots, like Travel Guide for Monsters, Just Read, and Like a Girl illustrated by Mara Penny (Sterling, 2019), I finish my first drafts pretty quickly, once I’ve decided on the rhyme scheme and the book’s structure. I tend to work on more than one story at a time. I’ll open up several stories on my laptop and start with one, then when I get stuck, move on to another. That suits my ADHD brain well.
Q: Rhyme is hard, but you make it look effortless. How much refining and reworking did you do in writing Travel Guide for Monsters?
LD: I’m lucky that rhyming comes pretty easily to me—I have a good ear for meter. Still, I spend a lot of time tweaking the meter to make it as close to natural speech patterns as possible, so the reader doesn’t have to think about how they’re reading it—they just read it as if it were prose. For Travel Guide for Monsters, once I decided on a location and the behavior I wanted to highlight, it came pretty easily. One thing I’ve learned is, at least for me, writing in rhyme is easier than writing in prose because of the parameters it creates. But editing in rhyme is much harder. If you make one change, it has a domino effect and other words and lines need to be changed. In prose, you take out a word, phrase, or sentence and that’s it!
Q: What helped you most in the writing and revising of Monsters? Reading out loud? Creating a dummy to get a feel for page turns? What devices really help you bring a manuscript to its best possible version?
LD: I always read my stories out loud—even the non-rhymers. I also ask other people to read them so I can hear where the meter is off or where they trip up. When I don’t want to bother my friends and family members, I’ll paste the story in Text Edit (on Mac) and it will read it out loud. Because Travel Guide for Monsters doesn’t have a plot, I didn’t have to worry about page turns. I did have to think about the order of the locations they’d visit.
I always check to make sure I don’t use the same words multiple times or more than once for the rhyming words. I’ve only made one book dummy, and it helped a lot with reducing the word count and for creating page turns. It was for Norbert’s Big Dream (Sleeping Bear Press, 2016), which is my only published book in prose. It’s something I’m sure I’ll do again when I have a “near submission ready” prose manuscript.
And of course I have to mention my many critique partners who always give me thoughtful and helpful feedback! The best thing is when they tell me a manuscript is submission ready—I know I can trust them, so I can send it out with confidence!