All books have a back story and this is a fun one. An editor I did not know (who has become a dear friend) asked me for her publisher (of a company I did not know then) if I could help edit/rewrite a picture book. They had gorgeous illustrations that told the story, but the illustrator’s writing skills were not up to his artwork. That sort of thing is always a stretch.And can be a spiderweb of good intentions that ends up killing everyone involved.
This began as an interesting quote I read in a birding magazine, moved on to a poem (I write a poem a day and send them out to over 1,000 subscribers) and at last-with some additions and fiddling– a picture book with my favorite publisher of truly elegant books, Creative Editions.
So, twenty years or so ago, I had an idea to write a kind of middle grade sequel to MOBY DICK in which a fourteen year old boy in 1860s Nantucket hears a knock on the door early in the morning. His mother, who has been sick on and off all winter is still sleeping. His father is first mate on a whaler that is overdue. The boy opens the door and sees a stranger standing there.
Written with my ten year old granddaughter, Maddison Stemple-Piatt, and sold ten plus years later. (She is now in law school!) And the publishing company who bought it–Magination Press–hadn’t been running yet in its current form. Both Maddison and I were young ballet dancers and dancing remained in both our lives…
Originally written when my editor Bonnie Verberg (who started the Dino-sty as I call it) was let go by Scholastic. It was to be the last book in a multi-million copy world-wide series of picture books. My granddaughter Maddison, then age 24 wailed, “That’s my entire childhood, gone….!” Then cooler heads prevailed at Scholastic and so it is no longer the last of the dinos.
After the first book came out–Eeny Meeny Miney Mole from HAacourt, the company itself changed hands. Editors (including mine) left, and no one wanted the second book. But years later, (20 Years maybe?) it has found a new home. The two books are about the three mole sisters who live in a deep dark hole. I have now written a third book abut them. Hope it doesn’t take that long to get it out!
I already have ten books of adult poetry that have come put of that daily poem work, and Kaddish–a book of poems in two parts, one feminist Biblical midrash and the other poems about the Holocaust–is the eleventh. The poetry publisher, Holy Cow! Press already did three of my books…
I have talked about “showing up” before. But here are some further–though rather scrambled–thoughts about it. Being a writer–or any kind of artist–is essential a selfish activity. Note I don’t, as far too many people do, call it a “lonely” job. Maybe an alone job, but lonely? Not when I am surrounded by my invisible …
So, David L. Harrison was posting on his personal web page about how when his son (now in his 60s I believe) was a boy, David had always promised to write him a story about a lonely tiger, but never did. And so I wrote back (also on David’s site) the beginning of the story set in India and after we had this open to the public several pages going on, I said: “Think it’s time to take this offline and really go for it.”
Bear Outside turned out to be my first ever book with the famed editor Neal Porter and my (accidentally) 400th book. It has an interesting backstory. About five years before I wrote and sold A BEAR OUTSIDE, I had been helping one of my editors find an illustrator for a different bear book of mine.