What is "Ren and Marie?"

17 July 2017

To start my blog, my thought was to make the initial series of posts an overview of what I am doing. The last post was about my novel series, now I’m going to go over my children’s book series: “Ren and Marie.” This series is so different than TCD, it is hard to know where to begin. When introducing someone to what I write, invariably there is an awkward moment when they try to wrap their heads around the differences between the projects. For the most part, their consternations are reasonable. Not only are there substantive differences across the entire literary spectrum, but the mindset required is exclusive: I cannot write both at the same time (let’s cover this issue in a later post, shall we?).

 
 Marie is always there to help out her buddy Ren. Let's just say this image has multiple contextual meanings for me.

Marie is always there to help out her buddy Ren. Let's just say this image has multiple contextual meanings for me.

The differences start right away in the origins: “Ren and Marie” was conceived as a gift. On April 1st, 2015, a dear friend told me she was expecting her first child. I remember the exact date because it flashed in my mind she might be pranking me. She was not kidding, so I began to think about an appropriate gift for the child. While I like to think I have many friends, there is something different with this one. Early 2014 was rock bottom for me. In short, when I was at the bottom of my figurative hole, she climbed down there to help me climb out. If I began to lose my footing, she would catch me and put me back on track. She entered my world at exactly the right time, and I am OK with admitting she saved my life. This is the person I need to get the right gift for.

Back to May 2015 and I am still racking my brain for the solution. I was helping my friend Tanya with some schoolwork when I expressed the problem aloud. Tanya knew I had recently published one novel and had been helping her refine her own writing abilities, so she suggested I write my pregnant friend a book. As cliché as it sounds, it clicked right in that moment. I didn’t want to buy clothes the child might fit for two weeks or toys they may never play with. A book was something that would be timeless and maybe impact the child far beyond the infant years.

There it was: a children’s book. Now, as of this writing, I have no children. I would like some, but I have none of my own, none on the way, and honestly current prospects are in percentages defined by a wish. What do I write for young children? How does a novelist used to going on 3500 word tangents tell a story in less than 100? Eh, well I’m committed. Fortunately, I do have friends with young kids, so I went on the research trail. What I found both confused and disappointed me. Overwhelmingly, I found modern children’s books to be quantitative in nature. This is not a problem, little ones need to learn their letters, numbers, animals, sounds, etc. I felt I could do something different; so I did.

I knew there was a bit of fate in this project when my mind went into overdrive developing the concept. The “Ren and Marie” series is a seven-book project. The book releases are supposed to correspond with my friend’s daughter’s even birthdays (following me?). Each subsequent release will advance the reading level, and when she turns fourteen, the last book will be a young adult novel. Each book has a corresponding qualitative theme. The titular first title’s theme was friendship. The forthcoming second book, “Ren and Marie: Stepping Off,” is themed to feature the importance of fostering curiosity.

 My cousin Adrienne and her two wonderful children after receiving their copy of the first book in the series.

My cousin Adrienne and her two wonderful children after receiving their copy of the first book in the series.

 McCal and I from our 2016 Forum article. The full article is linked in the Press tab.

McCal and I from our 2016 Forum article. The full article is linked in the Press tab.

Another major difference is working with an illustrator. I am eternally fortunate to be able to work with the amazing McCal Joy. It makes all the difference to work with someone who takes the time to get to know me and how all my little quirks add to the personality of the project. Only time will tell the impact she will have on my writing career as a whole.

That about covers the origins of “Ren and Marie.” As with TCD, this series will get its proper treatment as I continue this blog.

Thanks for stopping in!

- Z. E. Duval