The Denver Post
Succeed, then worry
By Mia Geiger
It’s hard to believe that an author who has won the top prize in children’s literature, has seen her books become bestsellers and has had a book turned into a major motion picture would have much to worry about.
But Kate DiCamillo worries. She worries whether readers will like her newest book, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.” She worries whether reviewers will be harsh. And she worries that any day now, people will realize she’s just been incredibly lucky rather than the enormously talented author than is widely believed.
“I exist in a permanent state of jitters,” says the effervescent author from her home in Minneapolis. “I haven’t been doing this that long — my first book was published in 2000 — but I’m more nervous now than I’ve ever been.”
If the new book follows a similar pattern as her earlier works, DiCamillo, 41, can rest easy. Her first book, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” became a critically acclaimed bestseller, was turned into a big-screen movie and received the Newberry Honor. Then came “Tiger Rising,” a National Book Award finalist. She won the literary jackpot with “The Tale of Despereaux,” which garnered the prestigious Newberry Medal.
In her newest children’s book, a toy china rabbit who can think and feel emotions but cannot talk or move, is taken on a journey from belonging to a little girl, to being lost at sea, to being adopted by a fragile family, to traveling with a hobo — each time learning a little more about love while alternately enduring heartbreak.
Narrated with exquisite prose, the gripping-yet-gentle, heartwarming-yet-heartwrenching story has been optioned to be made into a major motion picture. DiCamillo took time out after her 6 a.m. writing routine and just before her late-morning workout to chat about her new book.
Q: Where did you get the idea for this book?
A: I got a rabbit doll as a gift a couple Christmases ago. He’s a very singular-looking rabbit and he’s elegantly dressed. My friend told me his name was Edward. I had this vision of him under water, at the bottom of the sea, and he didn’t have all his fancy clothes on and I thought, “What’s the deal with that?”
Q: You’ve featured a lot of animals in your books — a stray dog, a tiger, a mouse, and now a rabbit. Is there a reason animals keep cropping up?
A: By the time I got to my third book I thought, “Man, I gotta write something that doesn’t have an animal.” But it just keeps happening. I’ve got a monkey and a chicken in my next two picture books, so there’s no end in sight.
Q: The Edward Tulane book is for children, but it has some pretty scary scenes; the rabbit gets lost, gets broken, is alone for extended periods of time.
A: I think we as adults forget what it’s like to be a kid and we think that kids aren’t aware of how terrifying life can be and we like to pretend to ourselves they are not afraid or aware of the truly terrible things that can go on. But they are aware. It does a tremendous disservice to them when stories are nothing but sweetness and light. They know the truth and I think they want the truth reflected in their stories.
Q: The characters in your books experience sadness, particularly loss, lonliness and separation. Do you intentionally set out to do this?
A: No. It just all gets in there in spite of me. I’m not a sad person at all so I don’t know why it keeps on showing up. I’ve always said I could benefit from therapy but I don’t want to know, I’m afraid then I wont be able to do it. The story comes from someplace that remains a mystery to me. I don’t want to lay it all out on the table and understand it because then I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it again.
Q: This book does have a happy ending, though.
A: Yeah, you didn’t think you were going to get it, did you? I didn’t realize that was going to happen until it happened. I like happy endings as long as there is some recognition of just — I think life is equal parts sorrow and joy. There’s certainly a lot of sadness in this book, but there’s a lot of joy.
Q: You seem to be in touch with what children want to read and how they feel, even though you’re single without kids.
A: I wouldn’t presume to say so, but it would delight me to think that it’s true.
Q: You’ve been quite successful with your writing.
A: I feel like I’ve been really lucky. It’s one of those things where everything just lined up in the right way and I got lucky. I know a lot of writers who are more talented than I am who haven’t had the good fortune I’ve had.
Q: What are your hopes for this book?
A: I want people to read it with their hearts. I just hope people connect to it. That’s a pretty grand wish, but that’s what I hope.
Q: Do you have a nickname?
A: When my best friend’s brother met me, he said, “You’re a real pip.” So now it’s Pip, Pippy, Pipster.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a weary battle.”
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.