A dog, a tiger, a mouse and now a china rabbit. Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's menagerie expands with the publication of her fourth novel, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
So Edward Tulane exists. He is a gift from (author) Jane Resh Thomas, to whom the book is dedicated. Can you tell us about that?
She's been my teacher and my friend and long ago we got in the habit of exchanging rabbits, stuffed rabbits, rabbit dishes. I don't know how that started but this rabbit is...
The mother of all rabbit gifts?
Yes. He's not made out of china. I think it's melamine but melamine doesn't have quite the verbal flair as "china." He has a fancy schmancy outfit, very elegant. I brought him home and put him in the living room and sometime later an image of him underwater, minus his clothes—which I know sounds a tad off—popped into my head. Here was my fancy rabbit, literally and metaphorically, at sea. I thought it would be a picture book but the story unspooled in front of me.
What was it like to write about a character who starts out as unsympathetic?
The rabbit was always himself. He had this integrity of personality. Perhaps because he looks haughty in those clothes, I felt he was in need of redemption. But even though he changes dramatically by the end of the story, I was always under his sway. I loved him deeply even though he was insufferable at the beginning.
In her review of the book for PW, Katherine Paterson brought up The Velveteen Rabbit. Did that classic inspired you?
The Velveteen Rabbit, oddly enough, is not what pops into my head. There are a lot of echoes of the books I loved as a kid. I see Pinocchio and The Mouse and His Child. I can see Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice in Wonderland. Those classics have articulated a deep collective need in the human heart for love—unconditional love—and Edward is trying to plug into that.
This is your first novel since winning the Newbery Medal for A Tale of Despereaux. How has that award changed your life?
Edward was done before Despereaux even came out. The reason it's taken so long to come out is because it's illustrated. Spectacularly illustrated, I might add. I haven't written a novel since. I've turned in the fifth manuscript about Mercy (her Mercy Watson easy reader series) and written two picture books, but right now, my desk is cleared and I'm hoping an idea develops. You can't look for it directly. You have to look at things out of the corner of your eye and see what happens.
So would you say the Newbery has changed your routine?
In my head the Newbery is connected to novels, so it's easy to go off and do easy readers or write a picture book. As to the routine, it's still two pages a day.... Actually, I guess the answer is I'm washed up. I'm done.
Hmmm. Washed up. Isn't the launch party for Edward being held on Feb. 14 at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, where Prairie Home Companion is performed?
Do you know how many seats the Fitzgerald has? Eleven hundred seats. I am going to be so shamed. I would say it's intimidating but I'm perpetually intimidated.
In the Flying Starts interview PW did with you back in 2000, you mentioned that after the publication of Because of Winn-Dixie you began to hear a Greek chorus behind you saying, "This isn't like Winn-Dixie" or "She's writing the same story over and over." Do you still hear that Greek chorus when you write? Or has the volume at least gone down?
That Greek chorus is rowdier and louder than ever. That's why, to go off and do Mercy or a picture book, it tricks the Greek chorus into shutting up. Really, it's like dealing with a mental patient.
What was it like to see Winn-Dixie adapted into a film?
I was incredibly pleased with the movie and I give a lot of that credit to the cast and to [director] Wayne Wang, who really believed in the book. It was a really positive experience. I learned a lot personally and it brought so many new people to the book.
Are any of your other novels optioned for the movies as well?
Edward has been optioned by Wendy Finerman, who produced Forrest Gump, but an option's just an option. Despereaux is progressing. They're aiming for a December 2008 release as a feature-length animated film. There is a script, and Sylvain Chomet (TheTriplets ofBelleville) is directing, but that's about all I know. I prefer to watch the whole thing unfold at a distance while I'm here, you know, writing novels.