While researching a book I am insatiable. I want to know everything about my subject. I read thousands and thousands of pages. My brain crunches all of that research into a single story; details gleaned from my research rise up at just the right moment to illustrate the text. Of course, less than 2 percent of what I’ve read actually makes it into the finished book, but probably 80 percent of what I’ve learned is subtly woven into the story. When the book is finished I have no desire to return to that subject again. I feel as if I have exhausted the topic and the topic has exhausted me. And, therefore, I have little or no interest in writing sequels.
As a reader, I find certain books linger with me for months, for years, and occasionally for decades. Books have kept me afloat when I wondered how much longer I could hold on. They have taught me about decency and integrity. Books have shown me how survival is possible even when the odds suggest otherwise. Books have also taught me the elegance and beauty and power of language, not just for the message it contains but for the simple way it rolls off the tongue, the way it delights and excites every sense. Do I expect to have the same impact on my readers that certain writers have had on me? No. But I am grateful for every reader and for each opportunity to communicate and to share. If the reader feels less alone as he or she spends time inside one of my books, that’s enough for me.
Ideas come from so many places. Sometimes, when I’m reading the work of other writers, I feel a finger of inspiration tickle my brain. I’ve transformed magazine and newspaper articles into novels and picture books. Concerts, lectures, documentaries, television and radio interviews can also become story catalysts. Occasionally a fan letter will open up a possible avenue to a story, or an overheard conversation in the doctor’s office, or someone sitting across the aisle from me in the theater. I trawl my own life, both my childhood and my adult years, for story ideas, too. Not every experience leads directly to a book, but every experience holds that potential within it.
No. I’ve always written what I “had” to write. When a story won’t leave me alone. When it won’t let me put it aside, or ignore it, or discard it. When it haunts me until I have no choice but to write it, I surrender in the end and give the project my complete heart and soul. That’s my process. Winning the Newbery Medal and the MacArthur Award changed my life in many, many ways, but it did not change how or how much I write.
It had simply been too many years since I’d written the book to give an accurate answer.
Well, after pulling SABLE off the shelf and revisiting Tate’s world, I estimate Sable was on the road for about two and a half months.
Thank you for leading me back to my own book.
In 1993, two year old Sasha wandered into our lives more dead than alive. She’d been abandoned and had been on the road for weeks when she limped into our back yard. In no time at all she became a sometimes trying but mostly endearing member of our family. She hated thunderstorms, loved finding the hidden cookie, hated when company came, loved going for walks, hated other dogs, loved fetching balls.
After she had lived with us for several months I decided to write a book inspired by her. “If this book is published,” I told her, “you will have cookies whenever you ask for the rest of your life.”
SABLE was published and Sasha became a very fat dog. We had ten amazing years with her. She plowed through the snow on winter mornings to bring us our paper. She always brought me one slipper when I came in from outside (but never the other).
(Though it looks rather like her, this is not a photo of Sasha but instead a puppy we met in Arkansas many years ago.)
Well, almost all of my books have animals in them:
Lester’s Dog has a bully dog and a kitten in it.
Sable is about a girl who longs for a dog.
The Cats in Krasinski Square bristles with heroic cats and dangerous dogs.
Wish on a Unicorn features a stuffed unicorn.
Phoenix Rising runs on sheep and dogs.
The Music of Dolphins…well, Richard, you know which animal you meet in that one.
Out of the Dust has rabbits and horses and cows, but they only make cameo appearances.
Stowaway introduces all sorts of animals. It’s a veritable ark.
Witness ends with a deer.
Aleutian Sparrow…think cold-climate fauna.
Brooklyn Bridge wouldn’t be any kind of book at all if not for stuffed bears.
The upcoming Safekeeping gets close and personal with dogs, cats, and chickens.