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#FirstDraftFriday with Kailei Pew

This is a special #FirstDraftFriday for me as we're featuring one of my wonderful CPs, author Kailei Pew! She's here to talk about her forthcoming picture book, THE MONSTER ABOVE THE BED, which I had the pleasure of critiquing at various stages and can't wait to hold in my hands. Read on to get inspired and then draft your own picture book manuscript today.

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

THE MONSTER ABOVE THE BED, written by Kailei Pew and illustrated by Steph Lew, will be out October 24th from Clarion/Harper.


To pre-order or learn more about Kailei, visit: kaileipewbooks.com

Kailei is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.


Welcome Kailei! Tell us a little about THE MONSTER ABOVE THE BED and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?


Hi, Hollie! Thanks so much for having me! I am thrilled to be here.


THE MONSTER ABOVE THE BED was actually a StoryStorm idea. At first, all I wrote down was “flip the monster under the bed story. WHO is the monster there?”


I knew that I wanted it to be a story that addressed perceptions, judgments, and othering in a really fun and silly way. But I sat on it for quite a while before doing anything about it. Because I didn’t want it to feel didactic, I wanted there to be an element of “creepiness,” and I wanted to figure out how an entire world could be under a human’s bed, not just a single creature. All while staying somewhat true to the classic “monster under the bed” fear.


It was really messy in my head for a long time. But it was in getting the first draft down that things started moving on it.

So you thought about this idea for a while before attempting a first draft. Is this how you usually work?


Yes, I sat and stewed over this one for quite some time. And that’s fairly typical for me. I like to get some ideas in my head so that when I sit down to write a first draft I have a good idea of where it’s going.


While you mull over an idea, do you do any pre-drafting or brainstorming exercises to help you flesh it out?


I don’t know if I’d call them exercises, but I’m a bit of a list maker. So after sitting with the idea for a while, I make a list of ideas that I might want to include, words that seem really fun that I’d want to use, and things like that.


For this particular book, I wrote out a few first lines and (very badly, because I am NOT an illustrator) sketched out a few ideas just to get my mind thinking about this new world. Then I created a list of things that you might see in Blossom’s world and ideas for how her world would connect to the human world.


Do you remember what you thought of your first draft of THE MONSTER ABOVE THE BED when it was done? Did you think it was a winner or were you not even sure you’d keep working on it?


Haha. That’s a good question! I remember thinking that it COULD be a winner. But the first draft was really bad.


I had originally written it in first person, but I quickly realized that the mysterious vibe I was trying to go for wouldn’t work that way. When it was written in Blossom’s voice, it was just not possible to really tease what was above the bed the way I wanted to. But writing it in first person (at first) ended up being a really valuable thing, because it got me in Blossom’s head and helped me to see why she was so scared of the creepy sounds coming from above her bed and what she did to deal with it.


So I definitely knew I wanted to keep working on it. I felt deep down that people would really have fun with the premise of flipping the traditional “monster under my bed” fear. I just had to figure out how to make it work.


Can you share part of your original manuscript that changed significantly, and how it appears in the final book? How did you know this needed work and what was the process like to get it where it is today?


Oh boy! This is going to show you that I do not write good first drafts! But here goes:


Original: “The monster always starts squealing right when I’m getting ready to sleep. Then she usually jumps around to rattle my roof.”


Ooof. I’m a little embarrassed to put that out there! Hahaha. But it just goes to show that you can edit away the bad stuff.


First of all, like I mentioned, I knew writing this in first person wasn’t working. Because how would Blossom know what was going on to say things like “she jumps around”? Plus, this all felt super telly and didn’t have any fun read-aloud qualities.


So, the first item of business was switching to third person. But even after that, it still felt very telly. (The whole story did, really). So I dove in to edit in a way that provided that sense of “creepy” for Blossom while also being really fun to read aloud.


Final: High pitched screams made her fur stand on end as she crawled under the covers.

Weeeee! Eeeeee!

Something shook her window just as her eye started to close.

Rattle, rattle, creeeak.


Did you have any favorite darlings you had to cut that you’d like to share here. Tell us why you loved it and why it had to go.


I’m not sure if it was a “darling” or not, but the original draft had an entire page of back-and-forth dialogue. And pacing-wise, it was a mess. So slow. And honestly super confusing. There were parts of it that I really loved, but I’d say about 95% of it had to go. And in the final draft, it’s a very streamlined exchange.


For you, what is the hardest part of writing a first draft? And how do you deal with that?


I think the hardest part for me is just getting it down! (Is that a bad answer? Haha). But honestly, I am my own worst critic, as they say. So it’s hard for me to keep writing a new draft when I know it’s bad. I get trapped editing as I go, or not being able to move on when something feels extra sticky. But I’ve learned that it’s important to just get the draft down and remember I can fix it later. A couple of things that have helped me are:


1. Taking the time to think over a manuscript before I start writing. If I have some ideas in my head and a plan for where the book is headed, I feel a lot better about the drafting process.


2. Forcing myself to just finish the draft before editing. It’s easier said than done for me, but I do so much better if I just get the whole thing out there before tweaking (or totally overhauling) it.


Any other tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?


Remember how exciting it is to write something new. When I get caught up in making it “just right,” I find myself editing too much as I go. I get stuck thinking that something has to be good to be worth writing, but that’s so not true. Way more of my manuscripts will end up never out of the proverbial “junk drawer” than will be published. But it’s all part of the process. You have to actually write to be a writer. Don’t let worry that it’s not “up to snuff” keep you from writing. Remember that every single manuscript has value. You will learn something from each one. And every now and again, you will find (or make with lots of blood, sweat, and tears!) a gem of a story.


Love it! Great advice! So, who's ready to be a writer and write today? I hope you are because it's #FirstDraftFriday!


To enter for a chance at a free picture book critique (under 1000 words) from Kailei, do the following by 10 pm ET today (Sept. 1, 2023):

  1. Follow me and Kailei on Twitter @HollieWolverton and @KaileiPew (You can also follow Kailei on Instagram at @KaileiPewBooks)

  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 or full name. 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 10 pm ET tonight.


Happy drafting!

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31 Comments


Thanks for sharing your journey regarding THE MONSTER ABOVE THE BED, Kailei! (We had a house full of company at the family shore home today, so I'm just writing a draft now ...past 10 o'clock and my bedtime 😁

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Lauren Simmons
Lauren Simmons
Sep 02, 2023

Thank you both for the great interview! Such great insights on just getting that first draft out. I used one of my Storystorm ideas, too. I also enjoy stories about what might be going on beneath our human world as well, and just pulled off a first draft! It felt really good to get that done! Thanks ~ @LaurenNSimmons1

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Thank you both so much for your inspiring post today! I loved hearing about your monster from a flipped perspective. I also love that you are critique partners in real life. What a blessing! I'm grateful to have pulled off a first draft (based on an adventure with my precious grandson today.) Thank you for creating such encouraging and thoughtful posts each month. 📝💟🦕 @JennMBarnes

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My draft is done! Thanks for helping me to get September off to a good start.

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Aw, you're so lucky that you get to work with Kailei regularly! She is amazing!!! I love that she felt comfortable enough with you to share her first draft foibles!


My draft is (finally!) done! :) @laureannawrites

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