Sneak Peek: Why I Wrote a Children’s Book — Put Out the Fires!

Sneak Peek: Why I Wrote a Children’s Book

I have heard some people say that there is a book in each one of us, just waiting to be written.  I believe that to be true.  In my case, however, the depth and breadth of that book does not extend beyond a 32-page children's book.  That's about all I can handle.

The Writing Process

"Put Out the Fires!" took me a year and a half to write.  I came up with the basic plot within a few days.  What followed, however, was a grueling strain through alternate endings, more cutting and whittling than a boy scout on an aspen branch, and scrambling to find words that rhyme with "extinguish" and "river."

Yes, it's true: this book is a rhyming book.  Popular advice says to avoid writing rhyming children's book.  (I first ran into that advice right after finishing my first draft, which was all rhyme.)  I rewrote the book in goofy kids' language, but it didn't feel right.  It all came together once I decided to forget about popular advice and write "Put Out the Fires!" the way it was supposed to be written.  Back to rhyme!

Many of you have asked me if this is something I have always wanted to do.  Confession: no.  Once the story came to me, though, I didn't want to just let it sit (like I have done with many other ideas in the past).  I wanted to bring it to life and to go through the process of self-publishing: storyboarding my own book, finding an illustrator, drafting a contract agreement, and going through all of the marketing effort to share it with others.

How I Came Up with the Story

​One day (almost two years ago), I contemplated why fighting fires at work is such a prevalent problem.  Everyone I know can relate to this problem of having to deal with the unexpected and urgent exigencies that arise in the workplace.  "Corporate fires," which keep us from doing our most important work, are frustrating time-wasters that lead to stress, busyness, and burn-out.  (Something you've never experienced, I'm sure!)

I came up with a character named Clyde who travels around putting out fires.  Like many of the happenstance heroes of our corporate world, Clyde feels valued by contributing in this way, and he makes it his heroic quest to put out fires.  I wish I could tell you the whole story, but I am not ready to do that yet.  Just know that it teaches a simple business principle that will change many people's careers.  (Now you just HAVE to check it out, don't you?)

"Put Out the Fires!" is both a serious business book and a whimsical children's story.  Something that I carefully monitor throughout this book creation process is that this story doesn't turn into a business book that just so happens to have pictures with it.  In fact, I REFUSE to publish this book if it doesn't work purely as a great children's book.  So far I am convinced it does.  The story is all innocent adventure, humor, and fun. No preaching at all.

Why I Like Children's Books as a Medium of Storytelling

​The standard 32-page children's book format is a beautifully minimalist structure that forces you to tell a story in as simple a way as possible, but no simpler.

If you use language with too many syllables too many times, you have ruined it.  It's okay to use some big words, but only if you are fully convinced that the big word is what you really want-- that it will convey the message (an emotion, a bit of humor, or an idea) better than an alternative small word.  I really enjoyed the process of honing my story to be accessible to all ages.

Children's stories are told in increments of two-page spreads.  That means the page turn is important.  You can use the page turn to influence the pacing of the book.  Sometimes, like in the sneak peek below, it means the page turn adds to the suspense of the story.  You are going along in the story, all is happy and bright, but then, right at the end of a page, you come to a cliffhanger that gives you the unmistakable impression that some drastic change is on the horizon.  You hold the page in your hands and your breath in your chest as you anticipate... the flip... of the page.  AAAH!  

What wondrous power a page turn holds!

First Look: The Power of a Page Turn

Are you ready for the first glimpse that anyone has ever received of the book?  This is the first time I have shared pictures + text with anyone.

The following scene takes place close to the beginning of the story.  In it you will see an example of how the page turn can be used to enhance the storytelling.​

Pages 6-7 of "Put Out the Fires!"  (Click the image to zoom in.)

Oh no!  What's going to happen?  How can you even stand it?!? The page turn plays into the storytelling, leading to a suspenseful delay before this happens:

Page 8 of "Put Out the Fires!"  (Click the image to zoom in.)

Clyde meets fire, and the rest is history.

I can't wait for you to hear the rest of the story!​

So there you have it: the first glimpse of the book!  If you haven't already, please subscribe to the newsletter so we can let you know when the book is ready.

And please share this post with anyone you know who "fights fires" on a daily basis.  (I know that's a long list, but just pick one or two people to share with.  Thank you!)

About the Author Mark McKenna

Mark is the creator of Put Out the Fires. As a dad, husband, instructional designer, and business owner, he enjoys crafting stories and systems that enhance learning and life.

  • Lynn Squire says:

    Ahh….I can’t stand the suspense!! Finish it already, I am dying to read it.

  • Patti Rokus says:

    Mark, you’re a genius! I can’t wait to have your book, and gift it to others. I can’t wait to read the book! I’s seriously excited!

  • Glad you stuck with the rhymes, Mark, and that you went with your own thoughts. And it takes talent to make those rhymes! I don’t know why people would advise against it for a children’s book. I have also been revising my manuscript in some places with words more suited to younger people. From my years of experience in Primary, simple is always best. . . and more powerful. Love the illustrations.

    • Mark McKenna says:

      Thank you, Christine! I completely agree. I love Albert Einstein’s quote (or at least attributed quote): “Everything must be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

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