Over the course of a lifetime we accomplish so much. What seems like a great achievement to some people might seem quite small to others. And what seems quite small to some might seem great to someone else. When one looks back over a lifetime, perhaps then it is possible to get some perspective. Certainly my marriage and family feel like a very great achievement. My publishing career, also, fills me with awe when I take a step back and look at it. My friendships have felt very significant in the measure of my life. If you wrote each thing you accomplished in a single day on a slip of paper, if you did that every day over the run of your lifetime, if you put all those slips of paper into a hall the size of the hall pictured above, if you randomly pulled out one slip of paper each time you were asked such a question as this, any of those slips of paper, any of those achievements would be a valid response to this question, don’t you agree?
I love documentaries. One evening, while preparing for bed, I caught the last portion of CHILDREN OF CHERNOBYL, a haunting retelling of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Glued to the screen, I watched until the end and then searched for when the show might be rebroadcast in full. Not only did I watch it repeatedly, but I recorded the audio and listened to that over and over. I’d become obsessed. Often, when I fixate on a topic, the only way to move forward is to go as deeply as possible into the material and write my way out of it. That’s exactly what I did in this instance, researching nuclear power plants, the science behind them, the people who run them. I also researched life on a sheep farm once I’d settled on that as my setting. This was perhaps the most challenging two years for my family as I wrote my way out of this obsession. We were all grateful when the manuscript returned to my editor for the last time.
Wish on a Unicorn
While running a quick errand with my young daughter one morning, I drove past an abandoned car filled with all sorts of things: from pots and pans to pillows, blankets and books. On the roof of that forsaken car (it no longer even had tires on its metal rims) was a two foot tall stuffed unicorn, growing more and more dejected looking by the minute under a steady drizzle. My daughter had not seen the unicorn when we passed it the first time but I knew she would see it on our return trip. I prayed the unicorn would not still be there because I knew if my daughter saw it she would want to bring it home and I didn’t think that was right. As we approached the little parking lot where I’d first seen the stuffed unicorn, I stared in wonder. The car, the pots, the pans, the pillows, the books, and the unicorn had all vanished. It couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes. How could a car with no wheels vanish in such a short period of time? It seemed impossible to me. It seemed like a miracle. Upon arriving home I wrote a short story inspired by the experience. In time the story became the novel you know as WISH ON A UNICORN.
The writing of LAVENDER fits your description perfectly. One day, many years ago, I sat down at my keyboard not knowing what to write, simply remaining open to whatever came to me. What came to me were thoughts of my aunt who has always been a very important part of my life. So I spent the morning writing about my aunt and my happy memories of her. In the afternoon I continued writing about my aunt. At the end of the day I had finished, more or less, writing LAVENDER. Here’s the really fascinating part…It turns out that as I sat down to write that morning, 500 miles away my aunt slipped on the ice in her driveway, breaking her leg in several places. She called and called for help but no one heard her. After dragging herself back into the house, she managed to phone for assistance and was taken to the hospital where she stayed for several days. Do you suppose at some unconscious level I heard my aunt calling from 500 miles away and wrote LAVENDER to comfort her?
I’m happy to report that my aunt fully recovered from this incident. And I suspect her favorite of all my books is LAVENDER. What do you think?
At last, MY THUMB arrives in bookstores. Written for those who derive comfort from a thumb, for those who love someone who derives (or once derived) comfort from a thumb, this book celebrates the unique bond between our darlings and their digits.
And just in from the medical community:
Compared to children with neither habit, those who sucked their thumbs and bit their nails were far less likely to develop sensitivities to common allergens, according to a report published Monday in Pediatrics.
This inquisitive lad is Asher, my great nephew, the inspiration for MY THUMB. Notice, the just-turned-seven-year-old has kicked the thumb-sucking habit.
Next across the finish line will be MY THUMB, due in bookstores this summer. In this rhyming picture book the joy of thumb-sucking knows no bounds…or very nearly so. Inspired by my great-nephew, who, to the best of my knowledge, is still dedicated to his thumb, this book is dedicated to our one and only Asher.
In the mid-1990s, after a snow storm on Mother’s Day, I decided I’d had enough of Vermont weather and began, with my husband, to explore other areas where the living might be a bit easier. One of our stops, Boone, North Carolina, held great promise. But in the end I realized, despite late season snows, Vermont really was my true home. Though I didn’t move to Boone, I wrote a book about it, a story about a boy and his father. That book, alas, was never completed, but a secondary character from the manuscript refused to remain in a file drawer. That character’s name was Justus Faulstich and she became the hero you know in JUST JUICE.
photo by Ria Novosti
Because I had decided to use the epistolary format to tell Rifka’s story, I needed, within the internal logic of the book, to provide her with the means to write. She would not have had access to writing paper, nor the luxury to carry that paper with her. She also would have been unable to send letters. Rifka’s entries to her cousin were more self-soothing/interior explorations than a real attempt at correspondence. So, I decided to give Rifka a book to travel with. My Aunt Lucy remembered that she had carried books with her though she couldn’t remember the titles. Giving Rifka a book helped to expand the reader’s understanding of her character, as well as providing a vehicle in which she could record her tale. After doing a bit of research, I felt Pushkin, whose poetry I knew only in passing, seemed the best option…his work would have been in print and it’s possible Rifka’s family, particularly her cousins, might have had a copy of it. At that point I began dedicatedly studying Pushkin’s body of work. After going through it the first time, I combed through it again, this time with Rifka’s journey in mind. I recorded sheets and sheets of quotes and excerpts from Pushkin’s verse and ultimately matched up a brief selection of his poetry with each chapter of my book, using the Pushkin quotes to prepare the reader for what was to occur next in Rifka’s story.
For additional information: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award
I attempted to start this book many times with no success. I would bring a first chapter to my writing group, read it, then throw it away. I probably drafted seven or eight first chapters. Part of the challenge was converting the impressions and memories of an eighty year old woman back to the sensibilities of the child she had been. Another part of the challenge was separating the woman I knew from the fiction I wished to create. But possibly the hardest challenge was simply finding the voice. One night, after several frustrating months of disappointing false starts, I posed a question to myself before going to sleep…How can I capture this girl’s voice? In the morning, in the shower, it came to me…letters. Once I put Dear Tovah at the top of the page, everything began to fall into place.
For additional information: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award
editor, agent, inspiration, muse, beloved friend, Brenda Bowen
Reading and writing provided me escape when I was young. Writing, even when I was a fledgling author, supplied me with an identity and a network of wonderful people from whom I could learn. It filled a deep hole in my soul and gave me a multitude of reasons to embrace each day, the good and the bad of it. So I suppose it could be said that no one single thing, but, instead, everything, my entire unique and particular life, has influenced my writing the most. Perhaps that’s a very broad answer but it’s an honest one and one I suspect holds true for most writers.
for additional information: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award