Thursday, October 30, 2014

Finally, HOT TIMES Have Ended!

Finally, after 15 years, my story, HOT TIMES IN THE BIG CREEK WOOD, will be published!

(back cover) Bear Track Press 2015
I had rewritten and illustrated this story for the past 15 years. Time and time again, I was never happy with its outcome. Why? It wasn't ready to be born. I had to let the flames inside me go out. Extinguish strife and let the rebuilding happen.

It's never easy to write a children's book, and with the oodles of books out there most would think it an easy thing to do. Books and stories are personal. Sometimes they can sting. This story hit home. My home.

The story, Hot Times in the Big Creek Wood, is about my father. A good, hard-working, a caring man, passionate, yet hard-headed in opinion and hot-tempered. When crossed by anyone, like a misbehaving, inconsiderate neighbor--fur will fly, fences will be built.

My siblings and I were many years ago, party to my father's plan of building a "feudal fence" between his northern Michigan wooded property and that of his neighbor to the south. Both men were in their seventies and should have behaved as adults. But it was what it was and soon became a full-blown feud.

After the fence went up I watched and wondered about this situation. I noticed that my dad's behavior and characteristics fit those of the beaver--a diligent, non-stop builder, and those of his neighbor, well--a lumbering bear. It was after driving past the neighbor one day that I saw him sitting under an apple tree, eating apples in the shade as happy as a clam. He looked like a bear! Wearing bib overalls, bushy graying sideburns and all. I had my story characters. It rolled off my pencil like water!
Shanty-Bob Bear

Boomtown Jack, the beaver.

The place where my dad lived had been part of the Great Fire of 1881 and I researched that story online. I found fabulous and horrifying accounts of the raging blaze that ate Michigan. One particular event that was recorded was when a survivor of the blaze hopped into a lake and stood watching the fire all night standing next to another person in the water. All night, the two stood, silently as their homes were destroyed. In the morning, the man turned to his neighbor as the smoke cleared. The neighbor he stood next to all night in  the lake was, a black bear!

The story, Hot Times, centers around the feud between the neighbors, beaver and bear, where the beaver builds a fence so he won't have to watch his neighbor "shake his shimmy". Revenge becomes both neighbors' answers to the feud. They inadvertently bring hot times to the neighbor and if the bickering wasn't enough to affect the other's' lives, then the next thing that happened changes life for everyone.

I wanted to take and make this story a learning experience, for others and for me. My father never lived to see it published. Fences were built. Today I tore them down. He and I rarely saw eye to eye, nature and outdoor work was our connection. I added little phrases he used to say in the story. Hidden things that only my siblings and I would know. "Daylight in the swamp". "Arbeit macht das Leben suess!" (German for 'Work makes life sweet!') and "a dollar, 2.98". These little gentle touches helped tear my own fence down. I would like to say that the neighborly feud and my father's and my feud had had happy endings, but that just never happened. So I made it happen here.

At the end of the book I added how two people, different as night and day, can get along. I gave the story a positive spin and even added educational material. The beaver as a keystone species and the bear and his contribution to the environment help keep the neighborhood healthy and happy. It's all about seeing the value in the other and being tolerant.

The book originally intended to be a picture book is one of my graphic readers. The story although intense, has funny and sweet moments, with some cool information at the end on the Great Fire 1881 and Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. I am glad to finally put this file and all the versions of dummies and paintings away. It is done and turned out better than what would've come out ten years ago or three!

At long last, there is peace in the Big Creek Wood. After the fire, new green shoots sprout and grow, life continues, homes are repaired. And this is good for the Big Creek Wood.