People are often curious how a creator came up with the idea for a new book, and it can be fun for the author to go back to that pivotal moment when a story seed caught hold in the dirt.
Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth dawned in a tired hotel room boasting overly-large patterned carpet and faded curtains. In lower Michigan. The geopoint is important to note because the story is rooted 2,500 miles away in northern California. (More on that in a minute). My mom and I were sharing the hotel room while daughter #3 attended an out-of-town volleyball camp. Mom drove north from her home while I drove south, and we met for a night to get caught up. It was mid-August, and I was tired of being hot.
I rose early to finish final edits for my second book, A Cool Summer Tail, coincidentally about how animals adapt to heat. It’s written in rhyme, and the edits were literally breaking my brain. My mom heard me sigh—again—and said, “Honey, do you know what’s happening in the top of redwood trees?” I appreciated the diversion but wanted to get the edits done so I gave a limp response, “No, but I bet it’s cool up there.” She said, “Not only cool but there’s an entire ecosystem no one knew about because it’s so high off the ground, and it wasn’t until tree researchers figured out a way to climb up that they started to learn about it. You should watch the National Geographic special about it. A researcher climbs the tallest tree on Earth.”
Wait. What? Questions immediately formed in my head. The tallest tree on earth? How tall is it? How did they figure that out? How did they find it? How did the researcher get up there? Who is this researcher? Why is he interested? Are there others? What are they learning?
That was it. Game over. The story seed caught hold and my final edits instantly became even harder to finish.
What was it about this tree, this ecosystem, this untold story that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go for the five years it took to bring it to market? What kept me pursuing it through the inevitable frustrations of research, dead ends, multiple drafts, critiques, and lots of waiting?
Yes, it was the tree and ecosystem and untold story. It was also learning something new about that environment and its social history and wanting to share it with readers both young and old. It was recognizing how close we came to destroying this ancient voice but how people came together to save it. It was shining a light on the beauty and wonder of nature. But the seed began with my mom’s voice telling me there was a special world waiting and I could jump in.
I hope you jump in, too.