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ARE YOU WRITING A BOOK REPORT?
Many of the questions posed here are things that my readers write to me asking about when they’re researching the book for book reports. If, when you’ve finished reading this interview, and exploring the ABOUT ME page, you still have questions, you can e-mail me [email protected] or post your question on my BLOG and I’ll try to get back to you as quickly as possible.
In what year is the story set?
Actually, I chose not to set So B. It in a specific year. I wanted it to feel like it’s taking place somewhere in the not too distant past. If your report has to name the time period, I would suggest that you say, “The story takes place sometime in the not too distant past.”
Why is there a kite on the cover of the book?
If you look on the bottom of pages 46-47 you will find a reference to a kite. The designer chose the cover image based on that passage from the book.
How is So B. It different from any other novel that you’ve written?
Probably the biggest difference is that the subject matter is more serious. The books in the Guy series deal with some important issues like divorce and friendship and blended families, but those books often rely on humor to help get the point across. So B. It has its funny moments, but there are also some very sad moments, and Heidi is a deeper more emotional character than any other I’ve written. In the end I wouldn’t say So B. It is a sad story though, I think it’s a very hopeful story.
How has your background and your childhood affected the way you write?
I come from a very tight knit family, and I was lucky enough to have parents who loved each other deeply. My father was extremely funny, and I like to think I take after him, so I really enjoy writing humorous stories. My first marriage ended in divorce, and I watched my kids deal with the fallout from that. I think this is probably why I sometimes write about families that are coping with some kind of loss. My boys are grown now, but when they were little I found great inspiration from them. Without their influence there would not be the Regular Guy series or the Boyds will be Boyds series.
Is the character, Heidi based on you?
Heidi isn’t me and her story is not the story of my life but I really enjoyed creating Heidi and making up her story. She’s a much more serious person than any of the characters in my other books. Not that Heidi doesn’t have a sense of humor, I think she does, but she has important questions on her mind and I enjoyed helping her find her way to the answers. As I said, So B. It is not about my life, but I did put some of my own childhood memories into the story – like when Ruby cuts Heidi’s hair. My mother used to cut my hair out in the kitchen. I remember sitting on a stool with a towel wrapped around my shoulders and how it tickled when she blew the hair off my neck. That’s why I had Ruby do that to Heidi. People often ask me if I was like Heidi when I was her age. I guess I was in some ways. All of my characters have parts of me in them, but none of them are exactly like me because they each have their own story, and I have mine.
Where did the idea for So B. It come from and why did you choose to make Mama’s mysterious word soof?
The idea for So B. It didn’t come in one big chunk the way some book ideas do. Instead it came in smaller pieces, which eventually began to take on the shape of a story. One thing I remember thinking about as I began working on the book was this idea that people are like locks, and in order to find out what makes them who they are, you have to find the right key to unlock the mystery.
With Mama, I decided that key would be a word, soof. I chose the word because of the “oo” sound. I just liked the way it sounded. It reminded me of words like moon and truth and soothe. Just like Heidi, once I settled on the word, I began to hear it all around me. One time, I was getting off a bus and as the doors closed behind me I heard it – soof. I decided to use that idea in the book.
Heidi’s neighbor, Bernadette loves words. She has a very colorful vocabulary, and when she can’t find just the right word, she sometimes makes them up. Was there anyone in your life who taught you about words the way Bernie teaches Heidi?
Absolutely. My father was an English professor at the University of Michigan, and at home we had a big dictionary on a table in the living room, just like the one in So B. It. We all visited it often for meanings of words, and pronunciations, and in my case for the correct spelling too since I’ve never been very good at spelling! I loved to be read out loud to and I have very pleasant memories of sitting at the dinner table as my father read a section of the newspaper to us or something that he was teaching in his class. He really loved books and words and he passed that on to my brother and sister and me. My mother read to me every night at bedtime and my parents took us to the library all the time when we were kids. It was easy writing about Bernie’s love of the library and how she liked to smell the books when Heidi brought them home since she couldn’t go to the library herself anymore. I remember loving the smell of the library books too. Actually, I still do.
What made you decide to make one of the main themes of the book, “What is truth?”
I think it’s a very interesting question. It’s one of those questions that seems like it would be easy to answer, but then when you try, you find out it’s a lot more complicated than you thought! What one person thinks is true may seem completely false to someone with a different point of view. Heidi wants to know the truth about who she really is, but what she finds out along the way is that sometimes the truth is like dinosaur skin, nobody really knows for sure what color it was, so all we can do is guess.
What inspired you to write So B. It?
One summer day, driving around in the Catskill Mountains with my sons, Natty and Gabe I saw an old abandoned house by the side of the road. There was something about that house that called to me. I went back later and took pictures of it and looking at those pictures, especially the one of the front door with its tattered lace curtain in the dusty window started a story unfolding in my head. Humor and rhymes and music have always come easily to me. So has boy speak –the kind of language that Guy and Buzz use in the Guy books. But I knew from the get go that the story unfolding in my head wasn’t going to have any of those things. It was going to be something completely new. It was going to be about a girl named Heidi. She was going to be lucky. And she was going to go on a long journey and end up outside that door with the lacy curtain in the window, looking for something. Herself.
How long did it take you to write So B. It?
I spent four years writing the book. That’s the longest I’ve ever spent writing anything. I did many, many drafts and I sometimes got so frustrated that I had to put it aside and work on something else until I was ready to try again. I have written a lot of picture books, and also a lot of songs, since I was a songwriter before I was an author. In the end I realized that although So B. It was much longer than either a song or a picture book text, it still needed to have the same shape, the same arc, the same three basic parts—beginning, middle and end—and that helped me to finally be able to finish telling Heidi’s story.
Will there be a sequel to So B. It?
No. I’ve told as much of Heidi’s story as I want to tell for now. I’m excited to be creating new characters and new stories like Jumping the Scratch and As Simple As It Seems.