It must be comforting to know, as an author, that your editor is guaranteed to return your phone calls and emails ASAP – and vice versa. Married for more than three decades, David Friend and Nancy Paulsen had a seamless author-editor rapport after she acquired With Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck. Written by Friend and illustrated by Michael Rex, the picture book is due out June 14 from Paulsen’s eponymous imprint at Penguin Young Readers. Told in verse, the story tracks a boy’s dreams of driving a different big machine – including a backhoe, fire truck, and crane – each year of his life between the ages of two and seven. With this children’s book, Friend switches gears from his recent professional endeavors: he has been Vanity Fair’s editor of creative development since 1998, after serving as Life magazine’s director of photography. He is also author of Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11, and has won Emmy and Peabody awards as an executive producer of 9/11, a CBS documentary. In addition, Friend has, with Graydon Carter, edited nine Vanity Fair books, has covered conflicts throughout the Middle East, and mounted photography exhibitions on three continents. PW checked in with Friend and Paulsen to talk about his new picture book.
With Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck is quite a change in creative pace for you, David. What sparked the book?
David Friend: Well, I like to say that I love to write a children’s book every 25 years or so! I did my first picture book, Baseball, Football, Daddy and Me, when Nancy said she’d really like a sports book on her list.
Nancy Paulsen: Yes, I published that book in 1990 when I was an editor at Viking. I mentioned to David that we didn’t have a picture book about sports, and he wrote this story about going to all kinds of games with his dad. His only request for the art was that the little boy in the book wear a Cubs hat, since his father, Marty Friend, is an avid Cubs fan. Incidentally, he just turned 86, and he is sure that this is the year the Cubs will win!
Did With Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck have a similar genesis?
DF: Yes, in fact. About a year and a half ago, Nancy mentioned, “I need a boys’ book.”
NP: We don’t say “boys’ book!” What I said was that we needed a great book about trucks.
Given that premise, what came next?
DF: The book came from a few places. I grew up in Illinois, and when I got my driver’s license I used to spend a lot of time driving the short distance over the border to Wisconsin, visiting farms and looking at all the farm machinery. Later, as a college student, I did a lot of hitchhiking – in those days, if you were trying to save money, you hitchhiked all over the place – and it was always truckers who would pick me up.
Also, I’ve always loved watching workers and their equipment at construction sites. And I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago, where my father, an attorney, had his law office. There is obviously a lot of snow in the Chicago area in winter, and I was always fascinated by snowplows. So for the book, I pulled all of those things together: farm equipment, truckers, construction vehicles, and snowplows.
Most books about trucks and other big machines don’t put a kid behind the wheel. How did the driving aspect of the book surface?
DF: I didn’t consciously add driving – it was always a component. I think kids like to imagine what it would be like to drive, to be mobile, to go from a bike – wheee! – to something with more wheels!
NP: When I suggested the book to David, I just said the word “trucks.” And one of the things I loved when I saw his manuscript was that it was also about the joy of driving. It’s an absolutely perfect angle, and he covered it in such a cool and unique way.
Was it difficult, given your current immersion in writing for adults, to turn your focus on writing for the picture-book set?
Since I was the director of photography for Life and do a lot of visually driven projects at Vanity Fair, I tend to think visually. So creating a picture book is really not that different or difficult for me. And I’ve always been someone who wrote lyrics and poems for family birthdays and other occasions. My grandmother did the same, and our son Sam is a songwriter. So I guess in our family, writing in verse is sort of a natural thing.
On the subject of visuals, how was it that Michael Rex came to illustrate With Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck?
NP: Putnam did a great book with Michael in 2004 called Truck Duck. He did a super job showing different animals driving different vehicles, and all the vehicles he chose for that book were wonderful. He was absolutely my first choice as illustrator for David’s book. Michael hadn’t done a picture book for a while – he’d been doing chapter books – so he was thrilled to get back to it. I loved the variety of trucks David brought to the book, and Michael then went full-steam ahead, and did a lot of research to make sure he got everything just right.
Is it at all tricky for you, as husband and wife, to step into the author-editor role?
NP: It all went smoothly. David’s story was fully baked when it came to me – technically everything was there and I didn’t have much to edit. The one thing I suggested is that he make the protagonist a bit younger, given the target age level for the book. But I had to use very little red ink on the manuscript.
DF: I often see Nancy going back and forth and back and forth with her authors on their manuscripts, so I guess I was spared – this time!
Might that hint at future collaborations?
DF: I love collaborating with Nancy, but we can’t do it in the kitchen, so we have to do it on the printed page.
NP: Here’s why: in the kitchen, David makes such a big mess that it’s easier for me to edit his writing than edit his cooking – or his grocery shopping. How many times have I said, “What? You bought the wrong kind of bread again?
Culinary clashes aside, might there be another picture book brewing?
DF: I think I might like to do another book about vehicles – maybe one that involves sailing or flying.
NP: I’d say we’re likely to see more picture books from David. I have a feeling he may be on a roll.
DF: I just hope I don’t get a flat tire!
With Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck by David Friend, illus. by Michael Rex. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99 June ISBN 978-0-399-16956-4