“Friends for Frances” – the Story

In early April, because of a flight delay, I spent two unexpected hours in the Seattle airport. With comforting traveler noise around me, I sat at a sunny table and tried to figure out a beginning, middle, and end to “Friends for Frances” – dividing a picture book’s 32 pages into thirds.

I ended up with rough paragraphs and some details: Wolsey and Cromwell arrive (the only image I’d had in my head to begin was of Wolsey and Cromwell outside our garden gate), then something happens, and there is resolution. An arc so conventional that it doesn’t sound like it should have been a discovery – but if felt like one.

By the middle of April I had grappled mightily with the demons of doubt – not good enough, can’t draw them, dumb story (familiar drill). I also reread in an old textbook about the distinctions between storybook and picture book. True picture books tell the story with few words or none, but Lady Baby and I love words when we read and myriad variations on the form exist.

So I kept at it and made what I thought of as a fat draft, writing the story in too many words but with some flow. One morning before our walk, I read it to my husband, saying I was having trouble with what exactly happens at the point where the story should get interesting – the action that brings Frances, Wolsey, and Cromwell together.

Part of the original idea had the newcomer cats protect Frances from a danger. Perhaps raccoons. But that meant demonizing the raccoons, and required much suspension of disbelief about who could climb a fence and who could not.

So on our walk I outlined some book plots I recently read to Lady Baby and wondered if maybe Cromwell and Wolsey just help Frances with something – like friends do. My husband asked if I remembered when we first got her, just before Christmas one year. We had a party – and somehow she got outside in Alaska winter cold.

That did it. By later that day I had a little story, which I have pared and polished, and now made too big a deal about here. It’s the simplest, most familiar possible narrative.

To begin (while also doing the studies you’ve seen), I made a storyboard – a grid of squares like these but representing the whole book in miniature.

FFF storyboard P 1-4

To keep working with the story, I glued typed-on scrap paper together for pages, stapled the side into a rough dummy book, and taped words from the fat text version to appropriate pages. That cobbled together book has now passed through many iterations with pasted on drawings and text, as I figured out the scenes in the story. (Below is the very first page when the dummy was skinny.)

In the next weeks I want to share the story as I work along. Mostly I want to say that your comments and encouraging messages have been wonderful – posting here has definitely kept me on track – thank you!

Frances dummy first page-1


22 thoughts on ““Friends for Frances” – the Story

    • Thank you Cynthia! and I am continually inspired by the beauty of your photos – AND all the other tidbits of real life from food to those amazing stained glass windows – and your stories.

  1. Katy – you are awesome! As you shared your process in developing the “Friends for Frances” story, it occurred to me that I would never have been as disciplined in keeping on task as you have been. It will be so exciting to see the story evolve as words and pictures form a finished book. I am so impressed!!!!             Love, Jane

  2. Like you and Lady Baby, I’m a devout word/image reader. As a college teacher I taught the history and art of the movies. I still think our “adult” books need pictures. Story boards are commonly used in narrative film too and I love the way your engaging images of the cat-friends-in-the-making are emerging within the frames of the book’s pages. A little house in the woods…those words juxtaposed with a sketch tug at my heart and mind. Let the story begin!

    • Hi Susan, it was so interesting to make the storyboard early on – and then the dummy really became my “go to” – you are right about the storyboard’s usefulness though – to see in a glance the whole layout, those tiny little scenes. I love it that you found “Her spirits rose…” and and have been here for this huge learning process, thank you!

  3. It inspires me to see you working and working out the tangles of life lived and life created on page and easel…

    • I’m glad to read this Susan – and I do think I’ve made an experience a little like The Workroom must be for people. It helped so much to declare to supportive people this is what I want to do, and then feel accountable in a good way.

  4. I could say “I’m so glad you have kept going with this project,” but I never for one minute thought you would abandon it. You are a great example of how to follow through from start to finish. And we are the lucky benefactors of the process and its outcome. Very excited to see more of the book, and to see how a very aloof and private Frances copes with visitors. I’ve never done a storyboard, so I’m learning from your narrative as you go along. Thanks!

    • Thank you so much Carol – ye of much faith! I certainly doubt a fair bit, but my bar is low here, we know the Lady Baby is easy to please with her critters (and Frances about whom she says: “Frances says hssss!”). The word storyboard is so evocative – but for me, the dummy was the deal, many layers of corrections on that creation. The learning has been enormous. Thanks so much for your kind words.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your process and work with us Katy—inspiring as always! I knew without a doubt that you’d see it through!

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