To call Mildred D. Taylor's latest novel, The Land, a "prequel" is misleading. In many ways, it is the book Taylor has felt most compelled to write. Even before she began her Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), she had attempted to write her great-grandparents' story but, she says, "It wasn't coming; it wasn't right."
The Land (Penguin Putnam/Fogelman, Sept.) is "very personal on two levels," Taylor says. The first being the most apparent--her family ties to the legacy of her great-grandfather--and the second being her own struggle to obtain land in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Much of Taylor's long, patient process of contracting for that mountain property informs her writing here.
The novel begins in the Reconstruction-era South and centers on Paul-Edward Logan, grandfather of Cassie (from Roll of Thunder). Born of a white plantation owner in East Texas and his captive, an African-Indian woman, Paul-Edward finds himself torn between the strong bond he shares with Robert, his white half-brother, and a blossoming friendship with Mitchell, whose parents were both born into slavery and whose father works for Paul-Edward's father. Taylor does not shy away from the complexities of living in a society in which racial lines are clearly drawn and of growing up in a family in which the white patriarch shares his table with his three white sons as well as his mixed-race children and their mother.
The Logan family's land forms the essential backdrop of all Taylor's novels, and in this book readers learn why. After a family betrayal, Paul-Edward leaves home and makes great sacrifices to buy his own property in Mississippi. "When I was a child, we'd go from Toledo, Ohio, to the family home in Mississippi," Taylor recalls. "There was a big picture of my great-grandfather over the fireplace. I was always fascinated by him. He died before my father was born. Everyone revered him. 'I'll never be the man my grandfather was,' my father used to say."
Taylor has worked with editor Phyllis Fogelman since her first book, Song of the Trees (1975). The author said that when she decided, four years ago, that the moment for her great-grandfather's story had come, Fogelman stood by her. "Phyllis was terrific," Taylor says. "She would make suggestions in terms of developing some of the characters, so that part [of the creative process] was different. She also knows I get to a point where it becomes too painful to do the work over."
Has Taylor finished the story of the Logan family? She replies, "There is a final book to do. It will be after the war and through the dawning of the civil rights movement." She will be switching back to Cassie's voice as a young woman, and says she felt so comfortable using her great-grandfather's voice that she's "not sure how I'll enter Cassie's voice again." In the new book, Taylor plans to discuss the family's migration north as well as their commitment to keeping the Mississippi land. The working title is simply Logan. Taylor's many fans will eagerly anticipate its arrival. --Jennifer M. Brown
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
What did dinosaurs really look like? Back in the 19th century, British artist Waterhouse Hawkins dared to answer that question with more passion (and believed accuracy) than most; he is credited with creating the first life-size models of these prehistoric creatures. Hawkins's life and works so intrigued author Barbara Kerley (Songs of Papa's Island) that she knew she had to write a book about them. The result is the nonfiction picture book The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (Scholastic Press, Oct.), illustrated by Brian Selznick.
"Sheer luck" is how Kerley says she unearthed her topic. "Back in 1995, my daughter, who was then six years old, asked me how big a T-rex was," Kerley explains. "I didn't know the answer offhand, so we went to the library together and took out a huge book on dinosaurs. In it, there was a drawing, made at the time, of a dinner party Hawkins hosted where the guests dined inside a life-size Iguanodon model. When I saw those Victorian gentlemen stuffed in the dinosaur, I knew there was a great story there."
From that spark of an idea, Kerley embarked on a lengthy quest. "I didn't realize what I was getting into," she explains . "It took a couple of years of research before I could even write anything at all." "A lucky turn of fate" led her to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The Academy archives are home to a rare scrapbook/sketchbook of Hawkins's work. Both Kerley and Selznick acknowledge archivist Carol Spawn and author Steve McCarthy (who had published an adult book about Hawkins) for their "invaluable" input.
With her manuscript finally taking shape, Kerley began submitting it to publishers. "Scholastic was not the first place I sent it, actually," she says. "I got a lot of rejections. But I never gave up. In my mind I could see the book, and I knew there had to be an editor who would see it, too." Anne Dunn at Scholastic turned out to be that editor, but she left the company shortly after acquiring the project; the dinosaurs then found their way to executive editor Tracy Mack. "I feel blessed that Tracy fell in love with the book, even though it wasn't hers originally," Kerley says. "I learned a tremendous amount from her."
Illustrator Selznick came on board at the invitation of Mack, with whom he had worked on Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride and other titles. "As soon as Tracy described the story to me over the phone, I said I would absolutely do it," Selznick recalls. "I had never heard of Waterhouse Hawkins, but found his story incredibly dramatic."
Though Kerley stayed close to home for most of her research, Selznick logged plenty of miles for his preparation. He traveled to Philadelphia for a first-hand viewing of Hawkins's sketches and photos, then headed to England to see Hawkins's life-sized models, which still stand at the Crystal Palace Park in Sydenham. Selznick took inspiration from accurately reproducing some of what he saw and also created his own flourishes. "From start to finish, it was totally thrilling," he remarks. "It was like time travel. I saw what everything looked like in full, glorious color. Then I tried to imagine what the dinner party would have looked like, lit by candlelight, putting myself into the scene. It was an amazing process for me." He echos Kerley's sentiments when he concludes, "It has been one of my favorite projects." --Shannon Maughan
In the Company of Men
As an introvert, I found that keeping a journal was a good way to funnel all the anxieties, stress and emotions I was feeling," says Nancy Mace of her therapeutic journal-writing during the challenging three years she spent at The Citadel, the renowned military academy located on the banks of the Ashley River in Charleston, S.C. From August 1996 until May 1999, when she became the first female to graduate from The Citadel, Mace chronicled her bright and dark moments in her journal, which, she comments, "became my best friend." A year or so after her graduation, she revisited that friend, shaping from its pages her autobiographical account, In the Company of Men: A Woman at the Citadel (Simon & Schuster, Nov.).
Mace's tenure at "El Cid" was highly publicized from the start: network and local TV stations began calling her family's South Carolina home soon after she submitted her application to the school and, at The Citadel's request, she reluctantly agreed to let 48 Hours tape a segment on her departure for college. Given this exposure, it was hardly surprising that a number of publishers approached the new graduate about writing a book on her experiences as a cadet. Since she had just begun working for a management consulting firm and didn't have the time to broker a book deal herself, Mace hired Tandy Rice (also a graduate of The Citadel) as her agent.
Among the phone calls Rice received was one from Amy-Hampton Knight, an associate editor at S&S Books for Young Readers and a native of Charleston, whose father had called her from the golf course after hearing Rice speak about Mace, praising her as an impressive woman who had made history at The Citadel. "Since I grew up in the shadow of the school and knew well how much its traditions mean, I realized what a big deal Nancy's achievement was," explains Knight, who told her father she had to hang up, and immediately phoned Rice.
After landing the project, Knight then lined up Mary Jane Ross, who has co-authored autobiographies by Lorna Luft and Terri Baker. California-based Ross traveled to South Carolina to spend time at The Citadel with Mace and meet her family (her father, a brigadier general, is the most decorated living graduate of the college, and became its Commandant of the Corps during her second semester there).
"I could not have asked for a better coauthor," Mace remarks. "What I was telling was so personal and so close to my heart that I wanted to work with someone who was able and willing to understand my story and help glue it all together. Mary Jane definitely did that."
Mace acknowledges that reopening her journal rekindled some difficult memories--of hazing and intimidation by upperclassmen, of denigrating comments based on her gender and of bouts of loneliness and isolation. "Some of the journal entries were very painful to read," she comments. "Being at The Citadel is like a roller-coaster ride, because of all the emotions you feel in a single day. To go through that for three years is a very long roller-coaster ride, yet it was a far greater learning experience than I could ever have received anywhere else."
Currently substitute teaching while living at Fort Benning in Georgia, where her husband (also an alum of The Citadel) is stationed, Mace notes that her experience writing the book "has opened my eyes to a whole other world," and muses that she may well try her hand at another kind of writing. "I'm not interested in writing more about my life, but perhaps about the lives of others," she comments. "I have finally told my own story and I feel as though I have a newfound freedom. I can look back and be proud of my accomplishments. And I can now move forward." --Sally Lodge
This story begins with a Sunday drive and a phone call.
No, wait, back up--it really begins some 400 years ago, with Leonardo da Vinci's dream of a magnificent horse cast in bronze, a dream that was never realized. Fast-forward to 1977, when art lover Charles Dent read about the Renaissance artist's life-long passion and decided to use da Vinci's sketches to bring it to fruition, which he did in 1999.
Author Jean Fritz, who lives in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., not too far from the Tallix Foundry where the larger-than-life statue was cast, had a house guest that June. "My interest in writing about it wasn't intentional at all," she notes. "I was working on another project at the time." But looking around for something to do with her friend one Sunday afternoon, she learned that, prior to being shipped to its permanent home in Milan, the completed statue would be on display at the foundry.
"From the top of the hill as we drove down, I saw this horse in the meadow in front of the foundry," she recalls. "It was so majestic, so wonderful--it looked like a mythological horse ready to fly away. I said, 'Oh my gosh, that belongs in a book.' "
Fritz searched the crowd to find who was in charge, and spotted Charles Dent's son Peter answering questions. "I went up to him and said, 'This horse belongs in a picture book, and I'd like to put it there!' "
Dent greeted her request with polite skepticism. "He said, 'Well, I'll send my children to school tomorrow to see if they have any of your books at the library.' " Fritz pauses, then laughs. "They came back with about 30, so I guess he decided I'd be all right."
Fritz's longtime editor Margaret Frith was "immediately enthusiastic," says Fritz, and Leonardo's Horse (Putnam, Oct.) was off and running. Meanwhile, the hunt for an illustrator began.
Coincidentally, artist Hudson Talbott was traveling overseas at the time. "I had a layover in Milan," he recalls, "and tried to figure out a way to see this monumental horse, but there wasn't enough time." When he returned home, a phone message from Frith was waiting for him, asking whether he'd be interested in collaborating on a picture book about Leonardo's horse. "It was Kismet," he says, "and of course I jumped at it."
For acclaimed biographer Fritz, the project offered an opportunity to get to know yet another historical figure. She immersed herself in research ("I knew Leonardo, but not well enough yet") and ultimately traveled to Milan, where she attended the unveiling of the statue. "I had never been to Italy, so it was a marvelous adventure," she says.
Fritz says she is particularly fond of the illustration in the book that shows Leonardo's discarded sketches for Judas for his painting The Last Supper. "Hudson actually went to Leonardo's notebooks, and used the pictures of the ugly men he sketched when he was trying to paint Judas."
Leonardo never did find his Judas, it turns out. "And I didn't see him either," quips Fritz, who says she kept a sharp lookout when she was in Milan.
For Italophile Talbott, who was raised in Kentucky and attended the Tyler School of Art in Rome, the project "brought my two big loves together, horses and art." It also marked the first time he illustrated someone else's text. "It was a new thing for me, and it was fun," he says.
The process, he continues, "is not necessarily easier, but you do have the great advantage of responding and reacting to material rather than just purely pulling something out of the ether."
Collaborating can be a little tricky, too, he discovered--especially when he got the idea of using a die-cut to turn the top third of the book into an arch (to echo Italian Renaissance architecture, as well as the dome Dent built to accommodate the horse's creation). "Margaret was the liaison between Jean and me when I started coming in with these odd ideas." he says, "particularly the die-cut, which meant trimming Jean's manuscript to accommodate the shape of the book. Fortunately, I have a great editor and a great art director [Cecilia Yung], who were willing to listen to whatever wacky ideas I came in with. And from what I understand, Jean was excited about what I was conceptualizing, too."
Indeed. From the book's unusual shape to the bronze endpapers and bronze foil letters on the cover (another Talbott innovation), Fritz is equally delighted with the end result. "Hudson and I are clearly on the same wavelength, and I just love it," she says of the finished book. "It exceeds all of my hopes." --Heather Vogel Frederick
A little boy called me a week ago and said, 'You're still going to write after this, aren't you?' " Patricia MacLachlan recalls, referring to last month's terrorist attacks in the U.S. "And I thought, 'By God, I owe it to him.' " It is that characteristic spark that fans of MacLachlan and her writing--and specifically, of the collection of books that began with Sarah, Plain and Tall--have come to expect.
This fall the author is back, with Caleb's Story (HarperCollins/Cotler, Oct.), the third novel about the Witting family, in which she explores a new narrative voice, that of the title character. "I wanted Caleb to have his voice heard," MacLachlan says. "I always have these voices in my head." Even though Caleb's voice intentionally is not as poetic as his sister Anna's narration in the first two books, MacLachlan says, she enjoyed the writing every bit as much.
Unlike Sarah and Skylark, MacLachlan wrote Caleb's Story first as a screenplay and then adapted it into a book. Glenn Close, who produced and starred in television-movie versions of both previous books, will reprise her role as Sarah in the production. "It's always harder to write the book after the movie," MacLachlan observes. "This book took me about a year, in between a lot of other things. I have lots of interests--writing is what I do, not who I am."
Once she finished writing the book, MacLachlan says the editing process went very smoothly; in fact, she says she enjoyed it. "I have two very talented editors [Joanna Cotler at HarperCollins and Craig Virden at Random House], and they ask me the right questions that allow me to write a better book on my own," she says.
MacLachlan will be supporting the release of Caleb's Story with a few bookstore appearances this fall. Though her tour was trimmed back a bit, she is looking forward to hitting the road: "I get a great deal from meeting kids; they are so outspoken and willing to tell you exactly what they think of your writing," she says. "I don't know if writers for adults get that. Children have such a fervent connection to what they read--they give me the satisfaction and inspiration to keep doing what I do."Judging from her affection for the Wittings, it seems likely that MacLachlan will continue writing their stories. "I like the fact that this family goes on," she muses. And with the development of the new character of Cassie in this latest book, the stage appears to be set. "Cassie is stubborn and she's strong," she observes. "I guess she's a little like me. She is also like Sarah in that way, and Sarah was ahead of her time." For MacLachlan--who says she gets as much out of these characters as she puts into them--as well as for her legion of readers, it will come as good news to hear the author's pronouncement: "Indeed, I might write more books in the series... but I don't intend to take Sarah into menopause!" --Jason Britton
What Is Mr. Winkle?
For those who don't know, there's a new dog in town. His name is Mr. Winkle, and he aspires to be more popular than Lassie, more lovable than Martha, bigger than Clifford--and he weighs only five pounds.
When Lara Jo Regan, Mr. Winkle's owner, found him on the side of a road five years ago, she had no idea he would turn out to be such a doggy sensation. After spending a year nursing Mr. Winkle back to health from injuries he suffered after being dumped on the street, Regan began taking him out around her Los Angeles neighborhood. Everywhere he went, it seemed, Mr. Winkle drew a crowd. Perhaps it was his doll-like qualities that people were attracted to; Mr. Winkle, full-grown, is half the size of a house cat, and his tongue, too big for his mouth, sticks out at all times. "He looks like every cute creature ever created, all combined," Regan says. "He's vulnerable, too, and puts people back in touch with their own vulnerability. I knew I had to share him with the world."
Mr. Winkle's rise to fame began last year, when Regan, an award-winning photographer for a number of national news magazines, compiled a Mr. Winkle calendar and a Web site to promote it. After a story ran in the L.A. Times and other media outlets (including CNN and The Rosie O'Donnell Show) picked up on it, Regan was flooded with orders. The Web site, www.mrwinkle.com , has received more than 22 million hits since last October. Soon, Regan said, she found herself working exclusively on Winkle-related activities--which include cards, posters, apparel and an independent film that Regan and her brother are writing and producing.
And then Mr. Winkle (and Regan) got a book deal: a four-book deal with Random House, to be exact. "[Editor] Courtney Silk came in to me with tears in her eyes and asked if I'd been to the Mr. Winkle Web site," recalls Kate Klimo, v-p and publisher of the Random House Books for Young Readers Group. She had not, but after visiting the site and receiving more enthusiastic pleas from Silk, Klimo decided she wanted to do a book. "Courtney contacted Lara--two dog lovers spoke--and a week later Lara was in the office." The first title, What Is Mr. Winkle? (Random House), edited by Silk, will be released this week with a first printing of 50,000 copies.
The book shares its title with Regan's Mr. Winkle calendars, and a number of the photos are the same in both, but despite the repetition Klimo believes that the book will appeal to Mr. Winkle fans, as well as making him some converts. It is being marketed both through traditional children's channels and a number of special markets, including various dog-lover networks. As with Mr. Winkle's initial cultlike following, news of the book will also likely travel by word-of-mouth. Next spring Random House will release a second book starring the pooch, entitled Winkle's World. "It's a day in the life of Winkle," as Klimo describes it. "Winkle on the road, Winkle getting room service." So what do those in the know think Mr. Winkle is? "He's the Cindy Sherman of the canine world," says Regan, laughing. "An angelic dog, a totally trusting soul, a dog without baggage," according to Klimo. "He is a cult of personality of dog. And we are in need of Winkle therapy now more than ever before."--J.B.