It was an editor on the phone, one I especially enjoy working with, and I found myself smiling. That the author of Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins would be admired for her capacity to write sweet! I was charmed. So I wrote The Christmas Baby. It was sweet, and the book has been a success … probably in great part due to Richard Cowdrey’s illustrations, which are even sweeter than the text.
However, the next time the same editor came to me, wanting something new for Christmas, I hesitated. Perhaps I had run out of sweet. Or of fresh ideas for a two-thousand-year-old topic.
Picture books are curious endeavors. Some of my picture book texts have been written from beginning to end in a couple of hours with little revision ever needed. Some I can struggle with for months before I finally lock them into place … or give up because they won’t lock.
Recently I’ve been working on a new Christmas picture book idea called A Happy Christmouse to All! I finished it after a couple of rather intense weeks of work, and I loved it … and I realized even as I was loving it that it didn’t work.
It wasn’t particularly sweet, but it was light and fun … and it didn’t work.
It had some marvelous lines, some great rhymes … and it didn’t work.
Picture books have to arrive somewhere. They must click into place. They must, by the end of the story, give the heart what it longs for. This one didn’t do any of those things.
I passed my Christmouse through my picture-book guru, Kathi Appelt. She liked it and told me that it didn’t work.
I showed it to my agent, Rubin Pfeffer. He praised it and said that it didn’t work.
Then he and I talked about what the story needed. I listened and agreed, but agreeing doesn’t give me a stronger concept or the new voice I need to discover before I can start over. I’m waiting for those to come. Christmas gifts, perhaps?
In the meantime I have a great title, A Happy Christmouse to All!
And I wish every single reader who honors me by reading this blog a Happy Christmouse, too.