Dawn Prochovnic and I are in a 2021 marketing group and we’re also Rate Your Story Judges together. I’m thrilled to learn about her writing journey and her newest release LUCY’S BLOOMS.
This lovely and lyrical story is the perfect read aloud for themes of family, love, persistence, empathy and resilience. It’s an intergenerational story that shows the power of example- I love how Lucy cares for her blooms in a way that mirrors how her grandmother cares for her.
Whimsical illustrations by Alice Brereton add to the power of well chosen words to create the kind of story that lingers in your mind and heart–the kind of story that will evoke discussion about how we love, who we love and why it’s important to accept and love all types of people.
Kirsti Call: Welcome to Writer’s Rumpus, Dawn. What inspired you to write LUCY’S BLOOMS?
Dawn Prochovnic: LUCY’S BLOOMS was inspired by an experience in my own garden, many years ago. As I diligently tended to the flowers in my carefully prepared flowerbeds, I observed two additional plants that had independently sprouted in a patch of soil that bordered my front walkway. I didn’t know what these plants were, only that they were beautiful and thriving. Eventually, more experienced gardeners informed me that these plants were actually weeds, and I was advised to pull them. This vigorous and lively pair of weeds brought me such joy as I passed by them day after day, I couldn’t fathom the idea of discarding them. Instead, I nurtured them. I watered them, I talked to them, and I admired them as they grew…and grew…and grew.
As I reflected on this experience, I considered the impact of socially constructed labels, such as beauty and worth, and how these labels impact our everyday actions. I became fascinated by dandelions, in particular, because they are widely considered to be an invasive nuisance that should be controlled/eliminated, and yet, every part of a dandelion (root, leaves, petals, etc.) is edible, they are rich in nutrients, and they are known to have healthful, curative properties. Plus, they are easy to grow, resilient, wildly familiar to (and beloved by) children, and in my view, absolutely beautiful. Thus were planted the seeds of LUCY’S BLOOMS.
KC: Can you tell us a little bit about the writing and editing process for this book?
DP: I dug deep into my revision files to answer this question. My earliest drafts of this manuscript were written in 2006. In 2008-09, I had some promising interactions with editors, but these did not materialize into contract offers. Later that year, I received contract offers on other manuscripts that led to multiple books, keeping me busy for a number of years. In 2012, I dug back into LUCY’S BLOOMS, and submitted the manuscript to agents in 2014. Yet again, I had some very promising interactions, but these did not materialize into offers of representation. You’d think I would have eventually filed the story away for good, but I had developed a deep, emotional connection to it, and since the story itself was in part about persistence, I was unwilling to stop believing in it.
I definitely fine-tuned the manuscript over time, but the heart of the story remained similar throughout. One of the early revision challenges I had was letting go of an unnecessary bird character (that was inspired by a glass figurine that sits on my desk and was given to me by my Gram.) I also needed to find ways to make the blooms lively and engaging without being anthropomorphic, and I had to carefully balance Gram’s role in the story so she was big enough, but not too big. With the help of my critique group and several writing conference critiques, I eventually got the manuscript to a place that was satisfying to me and began submitting again in 2018. It turns out LUCY’S BLOOMS was the right story for the right moment at West Margin Press, where I had recently placed two potty humor books.
Freelance editor Michelle McMcann edits most (maybe all?) of West Margin Press’s picture books, and she is brilliant at helping authors and illustrators uncover and lean into the essence of their stories; her work on LUCY’S BLOOMS was no exception. Most importantly, she helped me revise some key structural elements and descriptive details to better convey how Lucy and Gram’s relationship develops the foundation for the ways in which Lucy likewise loves and cares for her blooms. When I compare the manuscript draft that Michelle and I started with, to the text of the final book, they are actually quite similar, but the specific revisions that did take place made all the difference in the world. The book is stronger (and more aligned with the story in my head than the one I originally had down on paper!) because of Michelle’s skillful editorial guidance.
KC: This book is very lyrical. I love the line: “A fantastic flurry of silky seeds swirled and twirled behind her.” You also have a song that goes along with the book. Did the story always flow like a poem, or was this something you changed during revision?
DP: The story did get more lyrical over time, but it always had lyrical undertones. The line that you’ve referenced came to me in one of my later revisions, and it felt just right when it landed on the page. It was suggested by critique partners, and even some members of the creative team involved in the editorial process, that the line was unnecessary and might be better left unsaid. I’m glad I followed my instincts and held firm on that particular language — I especially love the placement of those soft, wispy words alongside Alice Brereton’s beautiful artwork on that page.
The song lyrics came together for me much faster and more easily than the story itself. I’ve written many books in rhyme, and writing the lyrics for the song pulled from that muscle memory. Maiah Wynne, the musician who composed the music and performed Lucy’s Song, helped me make some minor adjustments to the lyrics to better fit song structure. The song is a gorgeous work of art in its own right, and seeing my words come to life in this way has been wildly gratifying; I’m grateful to Maiah for collaborating on it with me.
KC: Do you love to garden? What is your favorite flower?
DP: I DO love gardening, and it is something I enjoyed doing with my own children when they were young. It was very important to me that they experienced first-hand the joy of putting a tiny seed or sprout into the ground, then caring for it and observing it as it evolves into a large, beautiful flower, or a vibrant plant, abundant with food, such as ripe, juicy strawberries or tomatoes. (I recently discovered this sweet photo of my daughter gardening alongside my Gram back in 2007.) One of my most memorable birthday celebrations was the year I asked my friends and family to help me work at our local elementary school’s community garden. It POURED with rain that day, but people still came. I felt very supported and loved, and so did the garden.
I have many favorite flowers. If I had to pick one, it would likely be a sunflower (which, incidentally, is a cousin to the dandelion.) I also enjoy herbs, such as lavender, and I’m a big fan of bulbs, with tulips, irises, and daffodils being amongst my favorites in that category. I have a patch of daffodils in my front yard that started with a bag of bulbs my own Gram gave me several years before her passing. Each spring when their leaves emerge out of the ground from their winter slumber and their sunny faces pop open, I still feel a connection to her.
KC: I love how this is an intergenerational story. What is your favorite memory with a grandparent?
DC: Some of my fondest childhood memories are rooted in the red, brick planter box outside my Gram’s front door where we gardened together. In fact, I still plant nasturtiums in my own garden each year, because it connects me to that time and place. That said, my ALL TIME favorite memory with a grandparent was when my Gram took me on a “shopping spree” at the mall for my 9th birthday. She said I could choose anything I wanted. I was sensitive to the fact that she was on a tight budget, but I also knew that she really did want me to choose something special. I chose two hamsters and related supplies: Susie, who turned out to be a biter, and Fuzzy, her timid mate that one day got lost in my dad’s recliner chair, never to be seen again. I’m not sure if my parents ever fully forgave my Gram for the decision to bring me home with those two critters, but I sure did love her for it!
KC: What advice would you give aspiring authors?
DP:I get this question often, and my advice typically falls along these lines:
Keep doing the work. Read. Write. Revise. Seek feedback. Revise again. Build a body of ready work. Attend book events. Support others in their work. Make friends. Seek out and accept opportunities that align with your interests. Strive to better understand the book market. Submit your work, as it becomes ready. Repeat.
I’d also say to hold on tight to the stories you especially love. Let them germinate for as long as they need to. Keep turning the soil and tending to the roots and words and wonders deep within you. Eventually, that story you love will blossom and bloom.
Thanks for the great questions and for inviting me to Writers’ Rumpus, Kirsti!
Thank you, Dawn! I loved learning about your writing journey!
Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Lucy’s Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist. She is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides early literacy education and creative writing workshops. Dawn lives and gardens in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.