A Whale of a Tale

Nancy Cote

It’s been several months since I was able to indulge in a Free Fall Friday at Kathy Temean’s fabulous blog Writing and Illustrating. June’s first page prompt was this delightful summer night swim scene from Nancy Cote, who happens to live here in Massachusetts. But where was my story line? I had nothing. Nothing! Just 36 hours before submissions were due, I imagined a rock turning into a whale and racing off with a resting swimmer.   I gulped out these lines in rhyme, trying to jam it all into my 23 line maximum, and awkwardly turning my last couplet into a triplet:

A Whale of a Tale

In the dusk of the day, we went for a sail,
The moon glowed above us, all milky and pale.

We came to a beach where some green cacti grew,
And a tiny brown owl was calling Whoo whoo.

“Drop anchor!” we cheered, then swam for a while.
My sister sat down on a smooth round gray isle.

SPLOOSH! gushed a geyser straight into the sky.
It lifted my sister up eighteen feet high.

“Help me!” she cried, “I think it’s a whale!”
It scooped her up quick with a flick of its tail

And raced to the ocean, my sister in tow.
I pulled up the anchor and shouted “Let’s go!”

But the wind disappeared. Our boat would not budge.                                                         Some fishes swam over and gave us a nudge.

Then WHOOSH! came a wave like a giant tsunami.
On top rode my sis, sobbing “I want my Mommy!”

Next came the whale. He seemed quite contrite.
“I’m sorry, young miss, if I gave you a fright.

I was asleep when you hopped on my head,
But I brought you back safely. Good night!” the whale said.

“Thank you! Excuse me?” I called to the beast,
“It appears we are stuck since the breezes have ceased.
Could you give us a push toward our home in the east?”

I was fortunate to have my submission critiqued by the incomparable Susan Hawk from The Bent Agency.  Here’s an excerpt:  This is a funny, sweet picture book story with an imaginative plot that continues to build on itself, until things get delightfully absurd – I think kids love this sort of flight of fancy. I wonder if you need to keep the text rhyming? I noted a few spots where the rhyme felt somewhat forced and I think that moving away from the rhyme scheme may give you even more room to play with story and character.

Whew! While this story certainly would have been deep-sixed from the slush pile, it wasn’t completely hopeless.  There are four other great submissions and critiques from Susan using this prompt, and I hop you’ll pop over to Kathy’s blog and read those as well.


PS – My thanks to the lovely Iza Trapani for her WordPress formatting assistance! 


About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Children's book author, repped by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, alumna, autism advocate, book reviewer. Reach me via email at cmealey@post.harvard.edu or Twitter @catballoumealey
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8 Responses to A Whale of a Tale

  1. I love this Cathy! What a wonderful story, and what encouraging comments from the agent! Slush-pile? i don’t think so! 🙂

  2. For such a short time, I think you wrote a lovely story. It’s fun and kids would enjoy it! Great use of imagination. Great critique from Susan Hawk — love it when it’s so constructive.

  3. A really fun piece, Cathy! And considering that you cranked it out in a day and a half, I’m pretty envious. My one stab at verse took me forever.

  4. Iza Trapani says:

    It’s a wonderful story, Cathy! And while I love the rhyme (especially the line with the tsunami :-)) I think the editor has a good point that there is more room for character and plot development in an unrhymed version.I can’t wait to read that one!

    As for WordPress, I have also had formatting issues, and it’s so frustrating. I just learned this week how to make my poems come out single-spaced. Instead of pushing “enter” after typing a line of a poem, push “shift+enter” to get a single line break. Does that help a bit?

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