You love an assignment. Why wouldn’t you? So much easier than tromping around the lakes trying to sift through the zillion ideas that come floating up out of your scattered brain. If you worked for someone else who was always dumping unasked-for projects on your desk, maybe you’d hate them, but such is not the case.
“It’s your lucky day,” said someone close to you during a phone conversation a couple of years ago. “I have an assignment for you.”
“Yup, I know how you love an assignment,” said the someone. “And here it is: a powdered doughnut*.”
A powdered doughnut! Fabulous!
“Right?? It’s the perfect story,” said the someone, who could hear your happiness over the phone. “Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
This is just exactly the kind of assignment you most love. A single phrase. A single image. A single line from a song. A powdered doughnut: who could ask for anything more?
You immediately set to work. Work begins by picturing the doughnuts you have known: powdered, yes, but what about jelly –your favorite when you were tiny– and glazed, raised yeast and classic cake? Chocolate-covered Bismarcks, as they are known in the midwest, or Boston Creme, as they are known in the Northeast? Custard-filled. Apple fritters. Doughnuts with sprinkles, as they are known everywhere but upstate New York, and jimmies, as they are known nowhere but upstate New York.
And the granddaddy of them all: Persians, as they were sold at both Hemstrought Bakery in Utica, New York or in the back of Trumy’s in Mapledale, New York. Nothing compares to a Persian. Oh, you miss Persians.
But you digress.
Doughnuts, we have gathered you here today to discuss the fate of one of your brethren: the powdered.
You write all kinds of books. You most like writing novels and you least like writing picture books. These two reasons –the most-like and the least-like, are probably why you focus on both novels and picture books. The ends of the like spectrum. The extremes.
“Like” isn’t the right word, though. “Challenged by” is more accurate. Novels are hard, and they take you a long time because you never know what they’re really about before you begin. That means that you have to write, say, 900 pages before you start whittling and shaping what ends up to be, say, 220 pages. You have to create the granite before you can begin to chip it away to reveal the sculpture waiting inside.
But you love writing novels because they take so long. You can wander and meander and not have any idea where you’re going but it doesn’t matter. You’re open to serendipity. Take me wherever you’re going, novel, you think, I’m just along for the ride. As long as you manage a couple thousand words a day, that’s good enough.
Picture books, ugh. They’re the other end of the length spectrum, because they’re usually no more than 300-400 words, and they are so very hard for you. Trying to get one right is like capturing a firefly inside a jar and hoping it doesn’t die before you can figure out why it’s all lit up like that. (That analogy makes no sense and yet somehow it does make sense, to you anyway.)
The love and the hate, that’s what you like. That’s what challenges you. The safe middle, oh no. Perish the thought.
Again you digress. Back to the powdered doughnut.
This was one of those rare, so rare, so horridly rare, books that just kind of wrote itself. The Sheriff! His deputy! And their mission: to bring a dozen doughnuts safely home!
Writing it made you laugh the whole way through. You sent it off to the someone who’d given you the assignment in the first place.
“I knew you’d love this assignment,” she said, and then she started cackling in that semi-maniacal way she has. “Good job.”
Off it went to a fabulous editor –thanks, Nancy Conescu, for your smarts and your humor– and then to a fabulous illustrator, who came up with all those fabulous illustrations –thanks, Isabel Roxas, you little genius you– that made you laugh all over again. Fabulosity all around.
At some point in the whole process, you and the editor and the illustrator all sat around a restaurant talking about doughnuts and laughing. Here’s hoping that The Case of the Missing Donut makes you laugh too, along with some little kid you love.
*Doughnut became donut when I crowd-sourced the spelling on Facebook; the vast majority came down firmly on the side of donut. (Apologies to all the traditionalists out there. It hurt me too.)