It took about three years in order to secure those first book contracts. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard to carve out a career for myself as a writer and illustrator.
The final footnote to this story involves why I was never published by Harper & Row.
During the two years that I was constantly drawing specific “ideas” for T—-, it never occurred to me that nothing would ever come of it. As Fate would have it, one day when I was bringing in another batch of requested drawings to show that I could draw ‘whatever’, I bumped into the editor who had the office next door to T—-.
Her name was B—-. We literally bumped into one another and when she figured out who I was she burst out with “I love your work! If T—- doesn’t want to work with you, I would love to!”
I was astounded! Here was an editor that I had never met, but who had seen all those drawings I had been slaving over and she was excited about my work!
B—- invited me into her office and explained to me that she worked for a subsidiary publishing house at Harper & Row called Thomas Y. Crowell. Her speciality was nonfiction picture books.
She said: “If I knew you could write nonfiction I’d offer you a contract on the spot!”
I replied: “I can write nonfiction! In fact, I would love to write a nonfiction picture book on a fascinating prehistoric village that I visited in 1978 and have gone back to explore every year since!”
B—- said: “Well, if you want to show me a manuscript about it, I’d love to read it.”
This was a Friday. I took the train back to Philadelphia and spent the weekend writing my first nonfiction manuscript titled: Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village.
I called B—- first thing Monday morning and announced that I had finished the nonfiction manuscript.
B—- said: “You’re kidding? YOU wrote an entire nonfiction manuscript about an archaeological site over the weekend?”
I replied: “Yes, I did. And it’s good. I know the story of this village and how I’d like to tell it like the back of my hand.”
We made arrangements for me to take the train the next day back to her office so that I could show her the manuscript.
B—- read the manuscript while I sat quietly in her office. When she finished she took off her glasses and put the manuscript down.
“This is really good,” she said. “I want to publish it. Do you have any sketches of this place?”
Of course I had sketches! Tons of them!
After looking at the sketches and glancing through the manuscript again B—- went on to say: “I not only want to offer you a contract for Skara Brae, but I would like to offer you a second contract for you to write a nonfiction book for children as to just HOW an archaeological dig is done; how a site is uncovered/discovered, and all that. Think you could do it?
Naturally, I said “Of course, I can! But, I will need a bit more time to do some research in order to come up with just the right way to tell the story as to how an archaeological dig is done.”
And this is my first author photo published on the back inside flap of Skara Brae:
I tried very hard to look like a serious writer to be taken seriously!
Note: It never occurred to me that editors were in competition with one another in securing manuscripts, writers, and illustrators. I learned that T—- never really did have any real interest in publishing my work, but she thought I had talent and she didn’t want another editor to offer me a contract. It was a hard lesson learned, but I learned it well.
So, now I had contracts for Eddy B, Pigboy and TWO nonfiction picture books. I had one last appointment to meet with an editor at an independent publishing house called Holiday House.
M—– was as energetic and enthusiastic about books as I am. She was tall and angular and was one of the most talkative editors I’ve ever met. When I arrived for our late afternoon meeting I was so excited as to how my day had gone that I had to tell her my great news! I was being published by two editors!
M—– was taken aback with the news and jumped right onboard.
“WHAT projects do you have left that haven’t been signed up? I want them!”
And that’s how Ravena (No One Will Come to Dinner) was signed under contract along with Mogwogs on the March!, Fergus and Bridey, and a blank contract to be filled in when I had a manuscript.
During the course of one week I signed seven book contracts!
I never did fill out that application for the Wharton Business School. I still wonder IF I ever had a chance of getting accepted. But, then again, why wouldn’t they have accepted me???