I spotted a raccoon drinking rain water out of a bird bath nestled in my garden. A moment later, my cat appeared, squatted behind the raccoon and closed her eyes. The raccoon glanced over his shoulder and wandered off. I wondered, What is their relationship? What is our cat telling him about us? What does this wild animal think about a pet getting free food when he has to dig through my barrels? And how do animals feel about what we’re doing to their world?
In 1993, 30,000 teddy bears washed up on the beaches of Rhode Island. I took photos of the soggy, sandy bears and kept a few. I wanted to tell the tale from the bears point of view until an editor suggested making the story part of a collection to celebrate the bear's 100th birthday. Soon, I was at a Teddy Bear Rally surrounded by hundreds of homemade bears listening to “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” on a loudspeaker. (Photo by the author)
I was asked to write a children’s book to accompany an exhibit of baseball art at the Folk Art Museum in New York. My editor needed the first draft in three weeks. I wanted to immerse myself in the sounds and stories and write like the most diehard fan, so I watched Ken Burns' "Baseball." I laid pictures of each work of art on my dining room table and moved them around until I had an outline. I did more research and began to write. (My Favorite Baseball Stars quilt was made by Clara Schmitt Rothmeier of Missouri.)
I was asked to write a book illustrated with images from the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. It was a challenge. Spies, their handlers and ofther their governments lie so there are many versions of what happened. I met with Peter Ernest, Director of the Museum, who took me into a room full of people who worked at the CIA. I asked, "What is the one story that I might overlook, that simply has to be in the book." They all said, Oleg Penkovsky (page 86). He has been described as the spy who saved the world. (The lipstick
was a pistol used by the Russians in the 1960s.)
I read about the dolphins a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina. I was inspired by their perseverance so I wrote their story and sent it to my agent. At first, ten editors were interested. Then they decided that it was a Katrina story and the hurricane would soon be forgotten. Years later, I reread my draft and thought, It’s not a Katrina story. It’s a dolphin story. Eventually, I flew to Mississippi and interviewed the trainers. As they described their favorite dolphins, I realized that the real story was the love between the animals and their trainers. “It was never a job,” one told me. “It was our world.”
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