Under in the Mud

Have you ever wondered how animals survive the winter in cold climates? 

In this rhyming picture book based on the folk song, “Over in the Meadow”, learn how ten different animals use their adaptations or have developed strategies for surviving the cold.

Backstory and Inspiration

January 2017. Marina’s awesome Nature Kindergarten teacher, Peter Dargatz, had arranged a field trip to Retzer Nature Center to do some snowshoeing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much snow that day, but fortunately, we still hiked quite a bit of the trails.

In true Marina fashion, we were the last ones in the group, and she was poking around all of the logs, trying to find frogs. This being January, I said, “Marina, there aren’t any frogs out right now. It’s too cold for them.”

“Where did they go?” she asked quizzically.

“Probably under the ground,” I replied, not exactly knowing what frogs actually do in the winter.

“Under? In the mud?” came her reply.

Within her almost six-year-old curiosity came a book idea. I loved the rhythm of the statement and the grammatical parallel with one of my childhood books, Over in the Meadow.

I didn’t have a good answer for Marina that day. But as we walked to catch up with her class, we started rhyming out loud. What would rhyme with one? Sun? Fun? Run?

Run. Where she had been poking around was a streambed that filled in the spring with meltwater and seasonal rains. But that day, it was just muddy, a place where a stream used to run.

Verses started forming in my imagination as we wandered back up to the nature center, and when I got home I added my rudimentary thoughts to my writer’s notebook.

And there it sat.

My notebook is full of page titles with ideas. Not a lot of fully formed text or experimental writing. But ideas? I have a lot of those.

I just needed a push for the follow through.

In 2019, I used some gift money from my in-laws to purchase a membership to SCBWI – the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was recommended to me by Peter Dargatz, who also has a head full of ideas! One of the benefits of membership is the ability to be a part of a critique group, where 4-6 members submit short pieces of writing on a regular basis and then get feedback from like-minded peers.

So, with a firm submission date looming on the horizon, I knew I needed to actually WRITE. I paged through my notebook to see which idea felt the most inspiring. And there I found “Under in the Mud” with some rudimentary notes. Given the structure of the piece – a rhyme with a defined format and a set number of animals – I thought this would also be a good place for me to just try.

I carried my notebook with me in the car, stealing moments to think and write while I was waiting for my kids at their music lessons or at soccer practice. And slowly, it came together. There were many internet searches for what animals ACTUALLY do in winter. How do honeybees survive? What is brumation? What are the Narcisse Snake Dens. And OMGOODNESS EVERYONE NEEDS TO LOOK THIS UP ON YOUTUBE BECAUSE I CAN’T UNSEE THIS NOW.

I also wanted to make sure that my information was accurate, so I reached out to naturalists in the area to check the facts I had written, both in the rhymes and in the back matter for the book. All seemed to check out.

December 13, 2019 – submission day! It was a weird feeling – putting so much of yourself into your writing, and then putting that writing out there for others to READ. Knowing that if I was to publish anything, I had to be able to take in and learn from critiques, I sent it out.

And you know what? It wasn’t as scary. My critique group had incredibly helpful feedback – check the number of syllables carefully, check the repetitive words, don’t kill off the mice! And when I ran it by my family, they said many of the same things. So, edits were made.

In all, I went through at least six different rewrites of this manuscript. Some big and some small, some more difficult than others. It was really hard to write the squirrel verse. “Leaves” and “three” maybe don’t rhyme as well as I want them to. Snakes – how did they move? Slide? Slither? Wind? Present or past tense? Which fit better with the meter of the verse?

When I was truly happy with what I had written, I resubmitted it to my critique group. The suggestions that they had given me helped to make the manuscript much, much better – improved words, improved flow, improved imagery.

Around this time, I also stopped in at Orange Hat Publishing in Waukesha. I was introduced to this publishing house by chance – the husband of the owner happened to be on a field trip with his daughter to my work. I made a mental note to pursue this connection.

I am sure that Shannon at Orange Hat was overwhelmed with the questions I asked! But just having someone to talk to about the process and business of publication was eye-opening and mind-clearing. I knew it was something I wanted to try.

You know how they say you should do something that scares you every day? On February 25, 2020, I did my scary thing – I submitted my first manuscript to a publisher! Read and reread, each word combed over for its best possible usage, so many thought-hours – and with one click of a button, it was off.

Then Covid hit.

Then we were quarantined at home.

But I had this small little hope to hope.

It was a little over a month before I heard back from Orange Hat. And they wanted to publish my book!!! We were on a family walk around our big country block when the email came through. I remember squeezing Peter’s arm and telling him that this little project (of which I didn’t really talk to him about too much because I didn’t want to get my hopes up THAT much) was going to be moving forward. And I don’t remember much else from that walk because I was JUST. TOO. EXCITED.

From there, it was a few meetings, a lot of emails, and a lot of reviewing illustrator portfolios on SCBWI to see who I could ask to be my partner in this book adventure. With a hybrid contract from OHP, I was able to choose my own illustrator. After much browsing and many (many, many) emails to illustrators, my older daughter, Sierra, just really loved the artwork by Mara C. Williams and she was available! She began work on the illustrations in May.

So, here we are! I spent quarantine figuring out how to market and sell my book, got thoroughly overexcited each time Mara sent updates on the illustrations, and annoyed Sierra every time someone asked how it was coming along. (She’s a tween, what can I say.)

I am truly humbled that you (because yes, you’ve taken the time to read this far into my mind) value my thoughts and my writing. Sometimes it just take a little idea – like a question from a six year old – to spark a movement in your life. But it’s been a great process of learning and connecting with others who know much, much more than I do. And isn’t that what life is all about?

Hope you enjoy the book.