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#FirstDraftFriday with Kelly Swemba

Updated: Jan 29

#FirstDraftFriday 2023 is underway, and we've got debut author Kelly Swemba here to share about her heartfelt new book, MISSING VIOLET.


But first, a quick reminder that everyone is welcome to participate in #FirstDraftFriday; however, if you want a little extra accountability and motivation—plus a chance at a GRAND PRIZE at year-end—take the pledge to try to complete 12 #FirstDraftFridays in 2023. (Only available to sign through the end of today, 1/6/23.)


Now let's get started! Read the blog, get inspired, and then draft your own picture book manuscript.

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

Kelly Swemba’s debut picture book, MISSING VIOLET, illustrated by Fabiana Faiallo, will be out later this month from Beaming Books.


To pre-order or learn more about Kelly, visit: kellyswemba.com


Kelly 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. But before we get to that...


Welcome, Kelly! Thank you being here. Can you tell us a little about MISSING VIOLET and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?


Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Hollie! I’m so grateful to be able to talk with you about my story and its inspiration.


MISSING VIOLET focuses on friendship, the loss of a best friend, and how a child starts to navigate the emotional journey that grief has brought into their life. In this story, best friends Violet and Mia are inseparable and life is full of sunshine. Until one day, Violet leaves school sick and doesn't get better. Without her best friend, Mia slips into a gloomy existence. As she moves through the stages of grief like the colors of a rainbow, Mia wonders if she will ever feel like herself again. When Mia reaches out to her classmates, she remembers what she loved most about Violet.


This idea started when I was in nursing school doing a rotation at Nationwide Children’s Hospital on a chronically ill unit. The children had elongated stays and the staff became like family to them. I wondered who was missing them…if they had friends or siblings that wished they could be with. I wasn’t writing stories or even thinking that was a possibility, but this idea tugged at my heart and stuck with me.


Fast forward to the pandemic, where tragedy occurred and grief knew no age limit. My heart broke as I imagined children waiting to see their friends again only to be struck with the horrible reality this wasn’t possible. I wanted to do something. I wanted to help. And that’s when I decided to write a story about a child that loses their best friend.


Did you dive right in and start drafting once you decide to write this story or did you let it stew for a while? Is this how you typically work?

A few years ago, I became serious about writing. This idea came to me and the words flew out of me all at once. I’ve noticed when a story is special to me, it takes hold…takes over, and I write it all out in one sitting.


But it doesn’t always work like that :)


So, when it doesn't "work like that," what do you do?


There have been times when I’ve wanted to write about something, but haven’t figured out its focus or the approach. This is when I let an idea sit in my head. (I don’t draft anything on paper.) I love to think about things as I move throughout my day. And when inspiration finds me, I sit down and write.


But when I do write, I always paginate. I’m a visual person. I need to SEE the story, see the page turns and imagine what is happening in each spread. I find that this approach has really helped my writing.

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


I didn’t think of it in that way. All I knew was that this story had my heart. It was different from my other stories because it was a topic that was important to me. I felt connected as a nurse, a mental health professional, a mom, and a person who experiences lots of emotions. I thought of all the children who had experienced loss and wanted to write something to help them. As I wrote, I cried, and still cry when I read it or talk about it (like now).

For me, it felt needed because I hadn’t found a picture book that showed the grief a child experiences as a result of losing a childhood friend. So I had to write this, to share my thoughts no matter how hard or challenging the topic.


Was there any part of your original manuscript that changed significantly that you’d like to share here. Tell us why you loved it and why it had to be revised.


There’s a special moment where Mia’s class comes together to say goodbye to Violet. Originally, the story had the school children release balloons with messages on them. I envisioned the balloons filling the sky with color and love. It took two writing friends, on separate occasions, to point out the harm this action causes the environment. Eventually I let this scene go, changed it to something different and am really happy with this scene of remembrance.


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


Waiting! Waiting for an idea and inspiration to strike. I don’t write regularly or on a schedule. I’ve learned that inspiration comes in waves, and when the time is right, I’ll know. I had to get used to the space between stories and trust that I would have another idea…eventually!


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


I think that depends on everyone’s individual writing style. The best advice I can give to someone is to trust themselves and their process. If you work best writing everyday, do that. If you wait for inspiration to strike, follow that. Whether you write on sticky notes, scribble on napkins, write in a journal or make an outline, do what works for you. Trust that ideas will come…because you’re a writer. And somehow, in whatever way, the words find us. So trust yourself and do what works for you!


Well, writers, I hope you're feeling inspired because it's #FirstDraftFriday!


To enter for a chance at a free critique of one non-rhyming picture book manuscript from Kelly, do the following by 10 pm ET today (Jan. 6, 2023):

  1. Follow both me and Kelly on Twitter: @HollieWolverton and @KSwemba (Not on Twitter? You can also find Kelly on Instagram at kellyswemba)

  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 10 pm ET tonight.


Happy drafting!

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