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.
I researched potato farming for a few months before writing the text for SPUDS. But the illustrations required more than book research. Wendy knew she had to experience the setting first-hand. So the two of us drove to Northern Maine. Our intention was to scout around, take photographs, and come home with a pictorial archive from which Wendy could “draw”.
But the very first morning in Presque Isle we met a gentle couple at breakfast, told them our reason for being in town, and before we knew it we’d been invited to come with them to the Kenney’s potato farm.
What a rich experience we had in Aroostook county with the Kings and the Kenneys graciously educating us about the hard and rewarding work of potato farming.
I first met Wendy at an author/illustrator picnic held in Vermont about twenty years ago. Later Wendy relocated from Topsham to Brattleboro, right around the corner from my home. We began walking together regularly, often talking about our work. When I discovered the story that inspired The Cats in Krasinski Square I knew in my bones that Wendy would be the perfect artist for the project. Both Cats and Spuds have been beautiful dreams realized. Wendy is a consummate professional. She is also a beloved friend.