Thursday, February 11, 2010

Leonardo’s Lesson: The Story Behind the Story

Leonardo’s Lesson
Written by Mariam D. Pineno Illustrated by Martha Pineno-Hess

“Will there be a sequel?” Kind of tongue-in-cheek, Marileta Robinson, a Senior Editor at Highlights for Children magazine asked after reading her gift copy of Talented Tabby. She had guided my first cat’s tale in early-draft stage during private mentoring sessions at the 1996 Highlights Writers Conference at Chautauqua, NY.

Sequel? A possibility I had considered. But what followed T.T. morphed into an earlier-reader version of Leonardo da Cat’s antics, not a chronological progression. Brighter watercolors, shorter sentences, more white space and action for young read-yourselfers.

“He’s your cat, Marti,” I said. “Give me some ideas to go on.”

Well, never one to run from a challenge, she did. Our second collaboration started with her sticky-note scraps of paper, each briefly stating some real activities in Leo’s Cygnet Studios’ life. And no surprise, my accumulation of scene prompts eventually exceeded the reasonable number for my perceived-reader interest: pre-school through second grade. I’d need to cut. I did.

The story’s subtle ending shows how making friends doesn’t need to be hard. My friend, Joy Cowley (Author of Mrs. Wishy Washy fame), after a week-long Highlights Foundation workshop and the book’s printing, proclaimed, “I love Leonardo! What a cat!” And “Thanks for my copy. I shall treasure it.” High praise from a world renowned writer who met him only through my words and Marti’s art.

Joy, as mentor/editor reinforced the idea-limiting concept. So Leo wasn’t alone in his quest for learning. To be a good writer I had learned: Sometimes we must delete our “darlings,” printing only the best and filing the rest.

Thanks for reading my stories,
Mariam D. Pineno

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