I tend to write novels that require a lot of research. ESCAPE UNDER THE FOREVER SKY takes place in Ethiopia, and when I started it, all I knew about the country was that it was somewhere in Africa. CAST OFF, my novel in progress, is set in the 17th century. Two years ago, when I got the idea for the book, I knew that 17th century meant 1600s, and that was about it.
But GRANDPA HATES THE BIRD is different. The character of Grandpa is based on my father, who really did hate our pet parrot. And my dad, like Grandpa, used to devise all kinds of tortures for the poor bird: Birdie in the Microwave, Dig a Hole to China and Send Birdie on a Trip, and my personal favorite, Bird and Coyote Are Friends. One day, when my daughter was about four, she asked, “Mommy, does Grandpa really hate the bird?” And because I believe in being honest (plus I suck at lying), I said, “Yes, Pie, he really does.”
I know. What a fabulous idea for a children’s book.
I adore doing research, but there’s a particular pleasure in writing about what’s familiar. Taking people I know and things that really happened and changing them, bit by bit, until what’s real is unrecognizable but the spirit remains. I love the freedom of not having to worry about accuracy, the fun of just making it all up. Kristin Cashore wrote a great blog post today about what it’s like when writing is hard. I’ve had my fair share of that kind of misery, but not with GRANDPA. Writing GRANDPA has been pure pleasure.