I was excited to discover one of my creative writing professors has published a book that’s perfect for budding writers: Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice. The book, with words by Catherine Lewis and illustrations by Joost Swarte, makes a wonderful gift for the writer or reader in your life.
(Or, in the words of my favorite Parks & Recreation characters, you can always “treat yo’ self.”)
This slim little volume is chock-full of lessons, but they are artfully modeled around the nursery rhyme story of the three blind mice. With the help of these three blind mice (each with their own personality and quirks), readers learn about suspense, point-of-view, figurative language, and so many other facets of a story. Each lesson takes up only a page or two, and a handy “Snip of the Tale” at the end of each page gives a one-sentence summary of the term. For example, the “Snip of the Tale” on the character names page states: “The sound and length of names, along with their associations, all play a role in giving life to characters, often by suggesting something about their identity.”
I found the illustrations in Thrice Told Tales to be charming and very funny, and the layout of each page was refreshingly different. Because my eyes jumped around the page, I felt constantly engaged in the story and illustrations. If you think the idea of reading a guide on writing is boring – think again. This was anything but. As the book’s synopsis states:
If your writing is your air, this is your laughing gas.*
*That’s a metaphor, friends.
I reached out to Catherine Lewis, who was happy to answer my questions about her book and the writing process. I’m happy to be sharing this Q&A with you today!
DV: What made you decide to write Thrice Told Tales? In your mind, was it always going to be illustrated? (The illustrations are so great!)
CS: Someone asked about the difference between story and plot in a class that I was teaching. I often use metaphor, mental images and humor to help students grasp and retain concepts. I’ve been known to use props too; in this instance mice puppets did the job. From there the ideas kept flowing.
I always imagined the book would be illustrated. I submitted some of my own rough sketches and ideas and the art director and my editor found the perfect illustrator. His name is Joost Swarte and his work is just terrific. His drawings are funny, sophisticated and visually engaging.
DV: Do you have a favorite segment of the book?
CS: Gosh, that’s a hard one. I worked for years on these concepts, often revising, rewriting, and trying to pare each one down for maximum clarity. But I do have favorites; among them are: Premise, Formula, Pathetic Fallacy and Unreliable Narrators. When I hit on the idea of a prescription pad for premise; a recipe for formula; a mnemonic device for pathetic fallacy; a vending machine for snack foods of unreliable narrators—all those just seemed fitting. And Keyboard Digression came after hours of sitting in front of the computer; even when I took a break, the hamster wheel was still turning.
DV: Do you think learning about writing and technique benefits readers?
CS: I do. Think of a book as a house. Readers can be seduced by its beauty or oddity or even comforted by its familiarity (think genre). But when they learn something about its construction, when they see what’s behind the painted walls and flooring—a whole new level of architecture presents itself to the reader. We can appreciate on a deeper level what went into its construction. One obvious drawback to this (or not, depending on your optic) is that knowledgeable readers demand and expect more from the houses they enter; as tastes become more nuanced it’s sometimes a challenge to find books that appeal to us as easily as they once did.
DV: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
CS: Writing is a muscle you must exercise.
Thank you, Catherine! I’m certainly ready to break out my notebook and start writing!
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Received: Library copy