Author and MFAC alum Tamera Wissinger* talks about her new book, There was an Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink. Learn about her writing process for this fun and original take on a classic rhyme.
Tell us about your new book.
It’s my take on the folktale There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. In this new version the old lady is a fisherwoman down by the dock who gobbles a skink, a worm, a bobber…all kinds of fishing tackle and supplies.
Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite character?
Hmm. I like how all the parts works together to create suspense and fun for young readers. Those elements lead to a surprise at the end, which I hope keeps with the tradition of the original.
Did you workshop this story at Hamline or work with a faculty member?
I worked with Marsha Wilson Chall and Phyllis Root on this story. Both of them gave me great insights and helped me fine-tune the story. As a result, it became part of my creative thesis and one of the picture books I read for my graduate reading.
When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
I began this story nearly a decade ago – in the spring of 2006. I was toying with a few different story and poetry ideas when a cluster of interesting water and dockside rhyming words and phrases emerged. Once I recognized that a might be able to write an homage to the old lady original, the story really took off. That summer I went to the University of Iowa summer writing festival and worked on it with children’s author and teacher Jill Esbaum.
In 2007 I put it aside for my first two semesters at Hamline and pulled it back out in 2008 when I was paired with Marsha and then Phyllis. I finished a draft that was ready for submission in the fall of 2008. That was my final semester at Hamline. It took me a few years to find the right publisher. Once it was accepted at Sky Pony, the editor and I tweaked it slightly, so the text was officially completed in 2015.
As the work progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about?
The biggest change came early in the life of this story. Initially I wrote the old lady eating the largest items first. Jill suggested that I consider going from small to large. I thought that was a good idea so I tried it. That wasn’t as simple as just reversing the order, though – it meant basically rewriting the entire story. In the end it’s a stronger story that way, so worth the effort.
What research did you do before and while writing the book?
Most of this story grew out of my own experiences of fishing with my family when I was young and my imagination. Once I had decided to write this in the spirit of the original, I read that version and many other versions to see how those authors handled the sequencing. I spent time thinking about the order of the items and logic of that order. Also, I went fishing with my husband and family and quietly paid attention to what happened during the day.
Where did you do most of your writing for this book?
At the time I wrote this book I was living in the Chicago area, so I wrote much of this book in my office looking out at a cluster of pretty maple trees.
Any final thoughts on the book you’d like to share?
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to work with Phyllis and Marsha on this manuscript while I was at Hamline. They both gave me thoughtful feedback and were advocates from early in the life of this book.
*Tamera Will Wissinger writes poetry and stories for children. She grew up as a reader in an Iowa fishing family and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She is the author of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK and THIS OLD BAND from Sky Pony Press as well as GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse and the forthcoming GONE CAMPING: A Novel In Verse from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. She has gobbled many things, but never a skink, or worm, or bobber, or any of the fishing gear gobbled by the old lady in her book. You can connect with Tamera online at her website, on Twitter, Goodreads, or on Facebook.