Written by A Guest Author June 20th, 2023

The Story Behind “This Is Not My Story”

By Ryan Uytdewilligen

In early-2015, I was working outside in the rain when an idea for my first children’s picture book struck me like lightning. It was about a little talking raindrop named Drew Drop who loses his parents when they are absorbed by the sun through the water cycle. It rhymed. It was philosophical. The story dealt with big issues. All signs simply pointed to me becoming the next Dr. Suess. I eagerly scribbled the story down and sent it out to countless agents and publishers. What I got back was a resounding no.

I was crushed, but through the many rejections, I learned a lot of valuable lessons on what the market was looking for and what made a successful manuscript. I learned the proper formatting and that rhyme schemes were out of fashion. Less text was more in most cases.

Some years later, I found myself working in the children’s section of a Canadian bookstore chain called Indigo, which allowed me to see what parents were buying. I quickly noticed what was popular and became inspired to give picture books another go. The problem was there were so many different genres to choose from. Adventure? Fantasy? Western? Narrowing down the premise for attempt number two was no easy task.

But suddenly, one day, it all became crystal clear. What if the book was about all the different genres to choose from. A book about the main character trying on all types of tales. I had the title instantly – This Is Not My Story. With pen and paper, I started sketching out the plot.

An author and his hero embark on a genre-bending journey to find the right story. They try everything from science-fiction to even romance. Made up of fun fourth wall breaks, an original graphic novel–style design, and an author’s note defining the genres, it became pretty darn clever and original.

I have written and published in many different genres, including journalistic efforts, non-fiction film history books, and novels. They mostly came before my children’s book attempts. I can tell you writing picture books is by far the most challenging but absolutely the most fun. Every word has to count (literally). It has to make sense to a child and hold their interest. If nothing else, it’s an exercise in creativity.

I don’t have children or siblings, so it often surprises people when I tell them about my projects geared for little eyes and ears. Not that it’s a prerequisite. I think my interest in children’s literature stems from memories of being read to as a child. When school classes took place in the library or when my mom read a book aloud, I was in heaven. Would it be something, I figured, if I could inspire, connect, or entertain someone with a story of my own?

The humor and style of This is Not My Story came from my love of Looney Tunes cartoons, the rhythm of Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and great meta-fiction I grew up with, such as the forever classic, The Monster at the End of This Book. With the failed experience of Drew Drop, I was able to correctly format the book, stick to the hard and fast length of 1,000 words, and submit it properly. A few months later, Kids Can Press reached out, having pulled the project from their slush pile, and the rest is now history.

Together, the publishers and I shaped every word over the next couple of years, making it as funny as possible. Illustrator David Hyuck then brought it all to life with his stunning work. It was a long journey, but in the end, completely worth it.

For anyone wanting to write and publish children’s picture books, I’d advise you to be patient, learn the unwritten rules, and have fun. Keep writing and improving because you never know what your own story as a writer will be. I still can’t get over holding the physical book in my hand or seeing it on bookstore shelves.

The cherry on top is that I dedicated This Is Not My Story to my best friend’s two-year-old son, Patrick. Maybe I’ve inspired a new reader? Being at that age where friends are having children at a rapid rate, they’ve all been asking me to dedicate the next book to their child. So, now I’ve got to get writing all my brand-new ideas.

Bio: Ryan Uytdewilligen has written many stories in a variety of different genres. He loves classic black-and-white movies and has penned several books on film history. He is also the author of three novels. This is Not My Story is his first book for children. Ryan is from Coaldale, Alberta.


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