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#FirstDraftFriday with Marietta Apollonio

Author-illustrator Marietta Apollonio is here for March's #FirstDraftFriday! This is the first time we've featured an author-illustrator, so I'm eager to see how her process might help all of us. Read on to get inspired and then draft your own picture book manuscript today.

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

Marietta’s debut picture book, JACK THE LIBRARY CAT, will be out May 11 from Albert Whitman & Co. To pre-order or learn more about Marietta, visit:

Marietta is generously offering a dummy, portfolio, or manuscript critique for someone who completes a draft today! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.

Welcome Marietta! Can you tell us a little about JACK THE LIBRARY CAT and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?

Hi Hollie! Thanks so much for including me on First Draft Friday.

Jack the Library Cat is about a stray who loves to sneak into the library for storytime, but cats are not allowed in the library, and Ms. Fisher the librarian is NOT a cat person. But when a new boy moves to town and needs a reading buddy, the duo will do more than just sneak in for stories. They show everyone that library + cat = purr-fection.

The idea for Jack the Library Cat actually came from a poster a friend had emailed. A cat named Max (who had a home) lived near a college campus and often would try to get into the library. The poster on the door let people know that the library and Max’s family did not want him in there. A few years later as I was thinking about stories, the idea for a stray cat who loves to sneak into the library for storytime followed.

Since you both write and illustrate, which did you do first?

For this story, I wrote first. It helps to start getting the idea on the page, and as I revise, simultaneously think about what a page or spread might look like, add lots of art notes of what is happening in a spread, maybe some doodling, which then helps me be more choosy and describe less with words.

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?

With Jack I took some time to think about what might happen, who the characters were, theme, arc, all the good stuff. Then I jumped into writing the first draft. This is different from what I do now. Three years changes a lot! I still think about the story, sometimes I even come up with a title first and then think about what the story might be, but before I start the first draft, I use a 3-act framework to map out what happens. From there I write the whole first draft. I find it to be much easier, and I end up with a lot less revision files. When I’m ready to share a draft with my weekly critique group, The Saucy Supremes, I set-up the very first page with my pitch, themes, motifs, ideas I might have about the overall concept for art, anything important. It helps me to have that information and my framework at the beginning of each revision, so I can revisit it.

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 was really happy with the first draft of Jack the Library Cat. I also knew it needed work, and it was too wordy. I’m thankful to have The Saucy Supremes to help me work through drafts and edits. Of course I do have a bunch of “napping” first drafts or beginning first drafts for other manuscripts. But a lot of times it’s not because I think they aren’t worth working on, it’s usually because I’ve come up with another idea and I feel more of a pull towards that.

Was there any part of your original manuscript that changed significantly that you’d like to share here. How did you know this needed work and what was the process like to get it where it is today?

The very last lines of the story and what leads up to them were totally different in the first draft. Originally Ms. Fisher had the idea of kids reading to Jack. This change happened about 9 book dummies in (out of 17!). I made the decision to add Pascal having the idea and sharing that with Ms. Fisher and the other kids.

This is pretty typical for me. A lot of changes happen during my dummying process. Even if I have 20 revision files of a manuscript, more often the most beneficial changes happen during the dummy. It’s easier once I have a full visual of the book laid out. I can then see important changes or reorganizing that may have eluded me in the writing process.

Original: “No more sneaking about. We’ll have to make this official.” Miss Fisher led them back to the group. “Would anyone like a turn reading to…” She looked at Henry.

“Max.” He smiled as ten hands reached for the sky.

Final Book:

“I have an idea,” Pascal said to Ms. Fisher.

“Would anyone like to read to…” Pascal looked at the cat. “Jack?”

Pascal smiled, as ten hands reached for the sky.

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

The beginning and end. No matter how much I map it out, getting that beginning and end right often requires some away from the computer thinking and lots of revision, just to really get the wording right. If just thinking about it doesn't quite do it, my next trick is doodling characters, thoughts on what the beginning and end spreads might be. I’m lucky to have that default. OR, I wait until my weekly writers group and share what I have. My outline, ideas, etc. They are such an incredibly supportive group of women.

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

Try doodling. Get your eyes off of the screen (or page if you handwrite) and just start doodling, without any preconceived notions of what it “should” look like. Without thinking you “can’t draw”. Doodling takes you into another way of thinking. Start with something simple that might relate to your story. Is it about a garden? Doodle a flower. Who cares what it looks like, no one is going to see it. You might end up figuring out what you're struggling with at the same time.

I also recommend checking out the book Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald. It has been immensely helpful to me for plotting stories before starting to write the first draft.

Oooh, a book rec and permission to doodle! It doesn't get better than that. I hope you've got some paper handy for doodling and are ready to get drafting because it's #FirstDraftFriday!

Today's giveaway has lots of potential prizes! Marietta is happy to look at work from author-illustrators, so either a dummy OR portfolio, OR for authors-only, she's happy to critique a picture book fiction manuscript (but no rhyme or nonfiction). She will also send today's winner a small drawing of Jack! To enter the giveaway, do the following by 10 pm ET today (March 3, 2023):

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

  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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