The writing of Houdini and the Magic Molt
A book begins with an idea, an idea that must be fleshed out, nurtured and finessed. The creative process for Houdini and the Magic Molt began with just that, an idea for a children’s book about a Chinese praying mantis who finds magic in the process of molting. Like many good ideas, this fictional story stems from a real life scenario. From the moment my husband, Mike, and I purchased an ootheca from an online vendor, watched the hundreds of tiny mantises emerge from this mantis egg case, and invested ourselves in their ultimate survival, we found ourselves entranced by these small creatures with big personalities. We were inspired by their patience when hunting for food or waiting for an impending molt. The molt process itself is truly magical, as the mantises one-by-one shed their old skin, growing larger and stronger each time. It was indeed the magic molt of one particular mantis that almost didn’t escape his exoskeleton, who we later named Houdini, that inspired this children’s fictional and educational story.
However, this idea was just that, an idea, until Callie and I actually transformed this real-life account of a molting mantis into a full-length children’s adventure book. As Callie mentions, it was difficult to get the story going, to believe that this idea was worthy of creation. Callie’s excitement for what the idea could become was beyond inspirational. And so we began the process of writing the story plot on a 3x5 notebook during our holiday visit. We thought about what creatures would share in Houdini’s adventure, what he would see in a garden and what he might learn. We thought about mantis facts we could share with the reader and what age group we wanted to target. But most importantly we thought about how the story would be told, from both the voice of the young child, Melody, and the praying mantises that she would entrust to save her vegetable garden plants.
Much like the tenacious mantis in this book, a writer must exhibit patience and perseverance when shaping their tale. Working from the loose storyline that Callie and I generated into that of a 32 page book took a full year to complete, as the story morphed and changed into its present state. As I expanded upon the story plot and wrote new action into the story, Callie became an expert editor, giving her insights into which word choices might be too complex or made suggestions on ways to strengthen the story from a child’s perspective. This feedback continued to motivate me, and the story evolved into something very special. Editorial feedback on plot and grammar came from many voices. Without this feedback from family and friends, this story would not be what it is today. An author must remember to be flexible and open to suggested changes when necessary.
From the beginning, Callie and I knew that our children’s book would be incomplete without illustrations. We always envisioned the artwork as a tremendous support to the written story, reinforcing the action of the book. On the day we started the book, we enlisted the artistic talents of my mother. From the time we talked with her together on Skype that first day, we knew that she was the perfect fit. We all felt the excitement and motivated one another to keep the project going. Even as I was writing the story, Mom was illustrating what parts she could, getting a feel for how to best share visually the unique qualities of the characters she was drawing—human, animal and insect. Her artistic renderings were stunning, having both elements of fantasy and realism. We communicated often about new plot developments or changes that would affect the artwork. The end result is something we are all proud to share with children and adults alike. This is a book about family values, the journey to find your self through the missions you undertake, the balance that we must all find in our lives, and the magic to be discovered in all of nature. One needs only to step outside and explore the backyard to forever feel the imprint of science on their life.