“How many pages did you write today?”
“Four,” I said.
I used to feel a little self-conscious answering someone who can turn out a book in a day and considers herself an expert on publishing.
This is a piece she wrote two years ago:
“Do you want to know how to make a book? Well, if you do, you’re asking the right person. First, you brainstorm for ten or fifteen minutes. Next, you get a piece of paper and write the story down. Then you send your story to the pudlisher. Last, you get a note from the pudlisher that says it’s a good story. Finally, the pudlisher makes it into a book.”
My daughter is going into fourth grade this fall. Her babyhood inspired a board book with teething corners, but she had ten teeth by the time I turned it in. She’s the subject of One Good Egg (an illustrated memoir about having her), but sharing that story required heavy parental paraphrasing. The books in the Kate the Great series are the first for which she is the perfect audience. Involving her in the “pudlishing” process (except on the “go away, I have to finish this book!” days) has been the perfect opportunity to deepen her understanding—as a reader, as an aspiring writer, and as my daughter.
In the beginning, we brainstormed what would make Kate “great”: being a good friend (her idea), being a good sister (her idea again), being herself (my idea), being able to say the alphabet in less than five seconds (hers). We went over the outline and the character sketches. Nightly recaps became part of our bedtime routine.
There was the one time when I had to confess, “I didn’t follow the outline. Kate went upstairs to loan Heather [the Junior Guide Leader’s not-so-nice daughter] a pair of clean shorts and ended up giving Heather . . . well, stealing one of the horses from Robin’s old collection.”
“How did that just happen?” she asked doubtfully.
“Heather was pressuring her. Now Kate has to get it back.”
“It’s like they’re real people,” she said, almost admiringly.
“On the good days!” Or so I thought, until I had to explain to her why my page count was in the negative numbers a couple of weeks later.
“I’m going to swap Nora for Heather. No one cares about Heather. She doesn’t have a big enough part in the story. So I have to go back to the soccer game and revise.”
“I care about Heather,” she protested. Once I let her know that my editor, my agent, and our writer friend were in favor of the swap, we had the perfect opportunity to talk about revision. I explained how I actually like revising because I know I’m making the book better. When I was nine, I dreamed of seeing my name on the spine of a book as I scanned the library shelves. (And as long as we’re talking about dreaming, forget the spine—visualize your book with the cover facing out.) I told her that if my name was going to be on a book, I wanted it to be the best book it could be.
There was the night I told her I was stuck. We brainstormed a list of all the things people do to get unstuck: jump on the trampoline (her idea), have a snack (hers), skip ahead (my idea), ask for help (hers), write in the wrong voice (mine), listen to music (mine), play with the cat or dog (hers). . . . And when I was still stuck the following night, she left a drawing of Linda Watson the Book Fairy (who fixes manuscripts in the middle of the night) by my place at the breakfast table the next morning.
My daughter saw me work through being stuck. We went to Dairy Queen to celebrate the submission of the manuscript and sketches. We had hot fudge sundaes at Cabot’s after the final art went in. She was there when I opened the box of advanced reader’s copies. Yesterday she held her own copy of the hardcover, dedicated to her, which was exciting until she saw the stickers in the activity kit.
Back in June, we were waiting for the bus and she asked, “Is writing books the hardest job?”
I may have over-deepened her understanding. “Sometimes it’s hard, but most of the time I feel really lucky—very few people get to be what they always wanted to be,” I answered, as one aspiring writer to another.
Add attribution? asked my daughter–? I don’t know who’s speaking here.
I’m confused. Again, I don’t know who’s having the above conversation.
Who’s she? Suzy? Confused.
Grades 3–7; Kate’s older sister is way too perfect. Her younger sister is way too cute. And her mom wants her to be pals with her frenemy, Nora. Her art teacher, Mrs. Petty, is way too uncreative, and how can Kate pay attention at Junior Guides when her pod leader has a sweat stain the size of the town beach? Now she has to get through her Christopher Columbus role during Discovery Day and her “Colonial Buddies” report, but little does she know how much “help” she’ll be getting from Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein.