Please describe the book.
The text is minimal – most of the book is a dialogue between a boy and a lion. The boy is looking for Lion, and the lion is looking for lunch. The lion follows the boy through the neighborhood, refusing every food the boy offers to him. Readers might wonder: IS THE LION GOING TO EAT THE BOY? WHAT DOES THIS KID MEAN, HE’S LOOKING FOR LION? CAN’T HE SEE THE LION RIGHT THERE? Lion and boy speak—seemingly at cross-purposes— until a surprise reveals that the boy has everything under control after all.
As the story progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about?
This story began as another story entirely: one about a boy-king named Rusty and some lions. The initial story idea came from the illustrator (who had a loose story). He asked me to collaborate. We worked on this story for a couple of years, but after many revisions, it still didn’t work. Still, something about it wouldn’t let me go. Months after we scrapped Rusty, I doodled a what-if idea on a diner napkin. Keeping in mind my African travels and childhood around-the-world folktales, I borrowed from Rusty—the first two lines and a lion— but set it on Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. I wrote a different kid – this time, just a clever kid who knows how to be a friend.
Initially, I needed that specific setting to shape the story, but by the time the editor suggested an urban setting, the story was strong enough to let that happen. To me, this change adds to the sense that the boy leaves his home to wander through the neighborhood of his imagination.
In a previous revision, the boy slyly (knowing that the lion would refuse) offered different animals to the lion to eat – the editor suggested the change to the food the animal friends were eating.
This book was truly a collaboration between me and Larry Day. While aiming both for a tongue-in-cheek surprise and entirely interdependent words and pictures, we paid close attention to the interplay of text rhythm and visual rhythm through every revision.
When did you first begin work on it?
When did you finish?
What research was involved before and while writing the book?
I grew up on folk tales from around the world, so while that’s not research, it is background. I cycled through so many animals in the many revisions, and – this sounds silly — I did tons of research on eating habits and habitats. (I wanted to make absolutely sure that the foods the animals were eating would have the necessary irritating effect on the lion.)
Your first book was published in 2009. What have you learned about being an author (v. being a writer) since then? In no particular order:
- There is, apparently, a thing called “Strategy” when it comes to publishing – what you debut with makes a difference. If your first book sells well, editors are more likely to give your next manuscripts a look. (Duh, right? But I didn’t have a clue.)
- I write across ages and genres. Very smart people have advised me to publish under two different names – one for YA (and up), one for the younger set.
- I’ve learned that agents and editors often move around, and it’s a good idea to pay attention to who’s where.
- I’ve learned that while YES, this is a people-driven business, and many times more of a popularity contest than we’d like to believe, there’s room for all sorts of quirky personalities.
- And I’ve learned that almost everything is a flash in the pan – bad reviews, good reviews, trends – everything passes. It’s best for my own forward motion to pay only small doses of attention to any of that stuff that’s not in my control. To paraphrase Jane Resh Thomas, “Do your work. It’s the only thing that over which you have any control.”
Where do you do most of your writing?
These days, I’m at my dining table. (My office is too messy!)
Do you remember the first book you loved?
There were so many! But one of the first was Ruth Krauss and Ellen Raskin’s Mama, I wish I Was Snow; Child, You’d be Very Cold. It is one of the few books I still have from my childhood. I loved that book so much I wanted to dive into it. (As is evidenced by my delicate longing-filled crayon work on the endpapers.)
Miriam Busch is a January 2014 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She lives in Illinois.