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#FirstDraftFriday with Debbie Zapata

It's #FirstDraftFriday!! We've got guest author Debbie Zapata here to dish on her just-released debut picture book, UP AND ADAM, and to share her tips on getting those first drafts done! Read on, then get writing!

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

Debbie is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details at the end of this post.


Debbie’s debut picture book, UP AND ADAM, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang, just came out on May 3rd from Kids Can Press.


To order, visit:

https://debbiezapata.com/books/up-and-adam/


Let's hear from Debbie about the book and what inspired her to sit down and write the first draft of it.


UP AND ADAM is about a boy with Down syndrome who helps his neighbors in the aftermath of a big storm in a way only he can. Adam and his dog, Up, see the mayor on TV asking everyone to pitch in with the cleanup. She says, “Now, it’s time to get to work. Up and at ‘em!” When Adam hears the mayor tell him and Up to get to work, he’s on it! Adam’s most important contribution to his community is one he doesn’t even think about—his smile. Because when anyone sees Adam smile, they smile, too. And as Adam says, “A pair of smiles can make a difference.”


The story is inspired by my son, Adam, who has Down syndrome. At school, Adam is everyone’s friend and he brightens people’s days with his kind and loving heart. My son greets everyone with a cheery “Hi! Hiii!” He has a contagious smile, the best laugh and fills the world around him with love. Everywhere he goes, Adam enriches people’s lives. He reminds others to practice patience, share the gift of a smile, and take time to have fun.


I love that the story was inspired by your son! What was your drafting process like? Any hiccups with getting the first draft done?

I got the idea for the story when my son was a baby. Over the years, new details would come to me. For example, I envisioned a seaside town for the setting. When hurricane Sandy struck New York City, where I used to live, I knew the story would include a big storm.


The first big challenge was needing a nudge to get me to actually sit down and start writing. So, when my son was nine, I finally made myself put words on paper. I wrote a first draft version for my son’s student of the week project.


Another challenge was not knowing how to write an actual picture book manuscript. I am fortunate to live in Austin, and I found my way to the Writing Barn. After taking picture book writing classes, I was able to rework and revise my story. It is the story that landed my agent, and six years later, it is my debut picture book.


How did the manuscript change from that draft to what it is today?


There were many changes to the story as it went from a school project to a first draft to a polished manuscript. My wonderful editor also helped me tighten the story. There were minor changes such as the town’s name. There were major changes such as Adam was new to Portville in the early version. In UP AND ADAM, he’s a resident of Portville. I like the change, and I feel it works better with Adam already a part of the community that he loves. What stayed the same is the lovable duo of Up and Adam and how much their kindness impacts their community.


Are you a pantser or a plotter? And how does that affect your drafting of a story?


I am a pantser. A big reason is because I write character-driven stories. So, I depend on the characters to show me what they want to say and do when sharing their story. Sometimes it turns into a pile of thoughts and then I have to figure out the heart and storyline. I’m a big believer in revising stories. I’m very patient with hanging in there until the end to see where the story lands.


Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?


Sure! It’s due to the editor in my head. Drafting can take me time because I love words. I slow down to change words, think about words, look up meanings of words and more. I recently challenged myself to draft without all the editing. I remind myself that I can dive into the word magic during my revisions. My new drafting mantra is: Get to the end!

What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?


It feels like I’m finally finding the sweet spot of being a pantser. It’s safe to go down the rabbit hole if I have a few ideas for each act and what the story arc might look like. It’s a balance of free flow creativity and the bones of a story.


What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?


Music can help me get in the mood to write. So, I like to find the right companion music for a story. For fiction, I play music with similar feelings whether amusement, joy, or dreaminess. For biographies, I like to play music from the same era or similar themes. It helps me get into the groove to get words on the page.


To use music for writing inspiration, you might have to play the song a few times on repeat. You can ask a few key questions:


1. How does the song make you feel?

2. What do the lyrics make you think about?

3. What kind of story would use this song as a soundtrack?


A perfectly paired song for UP AND ADAM is You are My Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell. A nice mix of moods: energetic, sad, and exuberant.


Soundtracking your MS is such a fun tip! Let's DJ and draft because #FirstDraftFriday has begun!


To enter for a chance at a free critique of a picture book manuscript (less than 700 words, non-rhyming) from Debbie, do the following by 8 pm ET today (May 6, 2022):

  1. Follow both me and Debbie on Twitter: @HollieWolverton and @debbiezapata

  2. Complete a full picture book draft

  3. Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password).

You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 8 pm ET tonight.


Now crank the tunes and get drafting!

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