Writing "Ren and Marie"

31 July 2017


I have made no secret that writing my children’s books is very different than my military science fiction series. In reality, some have had to suspend disbelief and it wasn’t until making it to the author page of "Ren and Marie" they accepted that I actually wrote it.

To quote Jon Wurtzler…

“Does it have guns?” he asked, his face screwed into a comically questioning expression over the Google Hangouts display.

No, Jon, no it doesn’t, although your point is taken. What Jon was getting at is my long literary history with firearms, violence of action, and weapons of war. I make no apologies for this, it is just another facet of who I am. However, if you strip away the hardware, my storytelling chops are actually well suited to building this qualitative structure for young children to learn some life lessons and have fun in the process.

OK. How did I actually write Ren and Marie? Short answer: very carefully. Like all of my work, it went through the long building and filtering process in my mind. From the start, I knew I would not be able to use the book writing itself as a refining process, given the lack of space. Additional challenges included simplicity of grammar and vocabulary, limiting dialogue, limiting text of each panel to one sentence, and actually telling a story in 100 words!

The development process took about three months (May-August 2015). I specifically remember the day I wrote it. It was a Wednesday in mid-August and I had just finished up lunch at Noodles and Co. with my friends, Joe and Erica Westbrock, and their daughter Enora (I had Wisconsin Mac and Cheese). I headed to one of my writing holes (Caribou Coffee on 13th Ave S, West Fargo), to do some work for the afternoon. I wasn’t initially sure what I wanted to do, the second TCD book was in editing and I didn’t feel like starting on the third quite yet. I got my drink (Mango Black Iced Tea, probably) and set up, and it clicked.

Caribou Coffee, West Fargo. I have written a few things here over the years.

Caribou Coffee, West Fargo. I have written a few things here over the years.


These are the moments authors really live for. The muse slapped me upside the head, I downed my 5 Hour Energy shot, and went for it. Three hours later I had the script written. I say script because that’s exactly what it is. Beyond panel text, each page had a description paragraph or two. It is important to note at this point I didn’t have an illustrator, I had never dealt with an illustrator, and was flying blind. All I knew is I wanted as vivid descriptors as possible, leaving room for artistic styling, but specific enough to produce the images I wanted.

So I did it! Three hours to hammer this book out. I have learned a lot about the process and I can tell you that the writing process for “Ren and Marie II: Stepping Off” was very different, but that is for another day.

Thanks for stopping in!

-Z.E. Duval