Today it is my great pleasure to feature Edith Hope Fine! I met Edith through the San Diego chapter of SCBWI. She is warm, funny, and a natural born teacher – she has this uncanny way of making me want to be better…. a better writer, but also an all-around better person. I guess you could say she makes me want to grow!
Her latest book, Water, Weed, and Wait is the result of a collaboration with another local author, Angela Demos Halpin.
EHF: Angela Halpin and I belong to the same book group and she started the garden at her three sons’ school in San Diego. When a San Diego Master Gardener told us that teachers needed a book to read to their kiddos about building a school garden, the idea sprouted.
WOTS: HOW DID THIS STORY GROW? FOR INSTANCE, COULD YOU SHARE YOUR PROCESS FOR COLLABORATION?
EHF: Like all writers, we checked to see what was out there about school gardening. The answer: zero. Voila! There was that hole on library, school, and home bookshelves that writers seek.
We’d meet for delicious editing sessions at the Pannikin in Del Mar, passing the manuscript back and forth on the big wood bench outside BookWorks, so all the loose words running around inside could come out to play.
A collaboration bonus—our Tricycle editor sent us a sampling artists’ online portfolios for our input. What a privilege. We love Colleen Madden’s whimsical style and the sorbet-hued palette she chose, a perfect fit for our light-hearted, can-do take on school gardening. (www.greenfrographics.com)
WOTS: WERE THERE ANY WEEDS OR OTHER PROBLEMS ALONG THE WAY TO PUBLICATION FOR THIS BOOK?
EHF: Knowing how the word “underwear” makes kids giggle, we first used “Mr. Grumpy Drawers” as we searched for a name for Pepper Lane Elementary’s grouchy neighbor. But kids today only equate “drawers” with places for shirts or silverware (or underwear!). We renamed this central character “Mr. Barkley,” nicknamed “Mr. Barks-a-lot” by the kids.
For me, tracking changes online with our editor was a prickly process. Sometimes there’d be seventeen blobs attached to one sentence or phrase and I wanted to reach for the weed killer! A slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. I still prefer to edit by hand. There’s something about holding that pen . . .
At first, we wrote far more detailed information on school gardens for the back of the book, but soon realized that soil conditions, temperature, school size, number of volunteers, and many other factors differ so widely nationwide that it was crazy (impossible) to cover it all in a picture book. Plus great info and resources for school gardens are easy to find online. We did include web sites and you can see Before and After photos from Angela’s school. Look for Master Gardener groups—these enthusiastic gardeners do consulting for schools. A great way to get started. (www.mastergardenerssandiego.org)
As always, getting from idea to holding a finished book in your hands takes longer than one thinks humanly possible. You pull one weed and another one pops up. Reading the manuscript aloud was the key to hoeing out the extraneous words and keeping those word furrows straight.
The hardest news came in November when our lovely editor called to say that Random House was closing Tricycle Press. RH will keep the Tricycle books on their backlist, like my CryptoMania: Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids and our Water, Weed, and Wait, but fans of the remarkable Tricycle team are pained to see this quirky, high quality, daring children’s imprint vanish from the scene.
WOTS: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF WRITING?
EHF: I love the moment when I feel that shivery frisson, knowing that an idea is unique, and fresh and just waiting for me.
Visiting schools is fun. Both of us come from teaching backgrounds. Angela was a natural at her first-ever school presentation. We’ve been startled at how little the kids we’ve met seem to know about how things grow. Few youngsters could tell a lima bean seed from a radish seed. The obvious exception is at schools with active school gardens.
As a friend says, “Today’s kids live so far off the ground . . .” with computers, Wii, and an increasingly techie and potentially isolating world. Like Michelle Obama and other leaders in the school garden movement, we want to see students outside, getting their fingers dirty.
On one school visit, I showed a PPT slide of a red potato with eyes that had grown out. I walked the aisle with this potato and they kept asking, “How did you DO that?” meaning how did we make the potato grow eyes? Neglect in a cool, dry place! Just cut said potato into pieces and plant. There’s nothing like new potatoes from your yard for dinner.
The funniest thing that’s happened with Water, Weed, and Wait was at the launch at San Diego Botanic Garden in September. When Angela read the part about Mr. Barkley’s head popping over the playground fence so he see what all the noise is on clean-up day, she looked out at all the kids gathered for the story and said, “Show me your grumpy eyebrows.” A total hoot. Where was our camera?! We’ve used that line every time since.
I must also add my fellow critiquers. Our subjects vary widely, but to be with other logophiles who can offer, specific insight and support is incredibly valuable. The mysterious chemistry works. And I’m active in our San Diego Chapter of SCBWI, another reliable source for inspiration.
WOTS: WHAT MAKES YOU PROCRASTINATE?
EHF: What doesn’t? I’m much better off, workwise, on tight-schedule days than loose days. If I didn’t create fake deadlines for myself, playing with grandkids or reading or walking or making soups or or swimming or Sudokus or even laundry can take over. Angela teaches full-time so she gets extra kudos for squeezing out the moments to co-produce Water, Weed, and Wait, her first book.
WOTS: DESCRIBE YOUR WORK SPACE FOR US.
EHF: I had to laugh reading Anne Mazer’s WOTS interview, because my office matched her description. But this November I decided to give myself a Christmas present and really worked hard to toss old papers, duplicates, irrelevant materials, long-published manuscripts, grocery lists, coupons from 2004 . . . So now I could actually Skype with classes from here without being totally embarrassed. A friend, spying the change, asked sweetly, “Were these counters always here?”
WOTS: ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY NEW PROJECTS THAT YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT?
EHF: In my writing file I have five manuscripts on the front burner and about twenty-one simmering on the back burner. Some queries are out, but even though I’ve written fifteen books, it can still feel like starting from scratch when trying to sell a new piece. I’m quietly working on an adult novel, too. It hasn’t told me where it’s going yet—I’m waiting in hope while it percolates.
WOTS: WHAT’S ONE THING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
EHF: Like our fictional characters, we all have secrets. Most of mine will remain mine, but not too many people know I’ll try to root any plant from seeds, bulbs, cuttings, leaves (try coleus), a la my college botany class. Three-toothpicks in a sweet potato, peanut butter jar, water? I grow them, then plant in the yard. A pineapple top! Sure—and it’s now big with long spikey leaves. I’ve got blueberries, lemons, arugula, and a bunch of volunteer Sweet 100 tomatoes pop up each year.
I still find the most extraordinary cloud shapes. And when I go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, I can spread my arms out and almost match that ape arm display!
EHF: That’s getting to the root of our new book, eh? Hope you’ll get out there with your favorite kids and water, weed, and wait.