Friday, May 6, 2011

Buddies, Bullies and Blankies

     Roxie and her pals sat in my "possibilities" file while I wrote and sold two more picture books, and researched my next novel. I kept thinking of one of my first editors who told me "There's a story in there somewhere." She was referring to Yankee Girl, which, at that point, I had been writing for over three years. I knew there was a story in Camp K-9. . . somewhere.
    I would like to say that I had one big "Aha!" moment and found that story.
    I didn't. Instead, I had a lot of little "Oh" moments.
    One "oh"came when I realized that most of my camping experience had been as a counselor. I was fourteen when I had my only experience as a camper.  I thought of Roxie as an eight-year-old in "people years." Most of my personal camp memories would have to go.
    Great.  My manuscript was vanishing, not growing.
    Another "oh" moment came while stuck in Atlanta traffic, which happens at least once a day.  I was planning a writing exercise for one of young writers' day camps. I decided I would have them write about their most precious possession.  I needed to give them an example of something or someone you are deeply attached to. I didn't want a lot of essays on X-Boxes or their latest birthday present.  What had been my most precious possession?
    From nowhere (because I wasn't thinking all that hard) I thought "my quilt." When I was born, my Grandmother Rodman made me a quilt from corduroy remnants. It was the size of a twin bed coverlet. I wasn't as bad as Linus and his blankie, but I dragged "the Quilt" everywhere.  I called it "Meemaw's Quilt" after it's creator. After I started school, the Quilt left the house only for road trips and sleepovers.  Since everyone took bedrolls to sleepovers (in the days before pink My Little Pony sleeping bags) no one ever noticed the quilt.
      I had taken it to that 8th grade camp, rubbing on s particular corner, worn velvet soft, comforting myself to sleep.
     I had just enough time to scribble "M'maws quilt" on a Wal-Mart receipt before the traffic on Georgia 400 once again took off like the Indie 500.
     I was actively thinking about Roxie as I was taking the MARTA train to the airport one day. Specifically, the conflict between Roxie and Lacy. Lacy was a bigger dog. Would that be enough to make her so disagreeable?  Would it be enough for Roxie to fear her?
    The answer; no. What if Roxie had a secret she didn't want anyone to know, especially not Lacy?
    I heard the voice of one of the many superstar writers I had listened to over the years.  I don't remember who it was, but the voice said "It isn't enough to get your character into a jam.  You have to put them in as much peril as you can without killing them. And remember, they have to figure it out for themselves. No fairy godmothers, no magic genies coming to the rescue."
    Now the voice didn't say that the Situation (not the one from Jersey Shore) must be life-or-death. The character didn't have to be tied to the train tracks with a locomotive roaring in her direction. "You find  the worst thing to happen to your character. It might not be life-or-death for you, the reader, but you must understand how perilous this is for him/her."
    Not an "aha" moment...just another question I couldn't answer. I scrawled "life or death for Roxie" on a Walgreens receipt before I was shoved out by the crowd at the Airport Station.
    That night I was in an unfamiliar city, trying to sleep in an unfamiliar bed. I always fret over these presentations, no matter how many times I have done them before. A good bed helps. I recall with fondness a room in Miami with one of those cloud-like coverlets and a pillow to support every part of your body, and fabulous Egyptian cotton sheets.
    Well, some schools and organizations have more money than others.  This bed had the scratchiest linen ever and feather pillows.  I am allergic to feather pillows. The TV didn't get Comedy Central.  I can't sleep without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Oh, and the thermostat was one of those locked ones, and the room temperature hovered in the low 80's. Yeah, I was really going to be on the ball in the morning.  I left The Weather Channel on and wished for something, anything to comfort me to sleep. Like Meemaw's Quilt.
    At that moment, sweaty and half asleep, the Big AHA shot through my brain. Of course, Roxie would not Lacy to know about her blankie, but what if...?  And what was camp really all about anyway? I opened my computer and typed away with The Weather Channel droning in the background. This time I knew I had nailed it, and the good folks at Peachtree agreed and bought it.  And it only took four years.
    Some of my fellow writers never read their reviews.  I do, because quite frequently the reviewer will tell me what my book was really about. For instance, A Tree for Emmy is about the deadly sameness of suburban life, feminism and ecology...none of which crossed my mind while I was writing it.
    So far, the reviewers have told me that Camp K-9 is "a cosy tale of friendship" which, in the end, was what I was aiming for. But another review stopped me short when it mentioned it was a story of how to deal with the growing problem of bullyism. Really? Hmm. I guess it is.  I was just telling a story about dogs having a good time at camp.
    As for Meemaw's quilt, I still have it, as carefully preserved as my wedding dress. Why?  Because I always want to be reminded of that eight-year-old who could soothe away her troubles by stroking a corduroy quilt.

Don't forget our second blogiversary critique giveaway. Details at:

And if you want to find out more about Roxy and Lacy, enter our book giveaway for Camp K-9. 
See Monday's post for further information.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

1 comment:

mary ann rodman said...

I have really enjoyed talking to you all this week. You ALL kernels of great stories to be. Thank you for sharing, and it's not too late to get in on the giveaway.