by Stephanie Jacob Gordon
IN THE BEGINNING… (no, not that beginning)
In the beginning there were two writers who became friends (with no idea of what the future held for them…yes, I know that is foreshadowing). They were at the Writer’s Conference given by SCBW in Santa Monica, CA, all wide-eyed and overwhelmed. The speaker they were listening to was so famous, so respected in his field that the two friends were rapidly writing down every word the speaker said. After all, he was the renowned children’s book writer, Sid Fleishman. And they, Stephanie and Judy, were conference newbies (of absolutely no renown).
That day we, the newbies, learned two very important things from Sid (who would become a dear friend) that have served us well throughout our careers. One: If we ever got a contract it would be so terrible that Sid would never sign it. And two: Never throw away good words and ideas—put them in a doggie bag.
Not much later, when we, Stephanie and Judy—now writing partners, were contracted for the Scholastic YA Sunfire series and asked to set our first historical novel at the time of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. We were excited. Much of Old San Francisco was still there, alive and well. There was an Earthquake Room in the Main Library downtown packed with facts and pictures and old newspapers on microfilm. The turn of the century mansions, that had survived earthquake and fire, were still there, so lovely, and the cable cars still ran on their original routes. San Francisco was (and is) an historical writer’s died-and-gone-to-heaven. There were newspaper stories of Enrico Caruso’s short stay and quick get-away, swearing never to return to such a dangerous place—and he never did. Were we especially proud of finding an article about a little dog that survived the earthquake and fire in the basement of the St. Francis Hotel. Francis the dog lived the rest of life at the hotel.
Practically skipping to the post office we sent NORA to our editor (it was her mother’s name). This is what her editorial letter to us said, “KILL THE DOG!”
We were desolate, but Francis was no longer a part of our book. We loved him… He was so funny and cute… Oh Francis we have been undone!
And then a little voice said, “Do not despair Stephanie, Judy, and little Francis. Remember… Sid’s doggy bag!”
And in went Francis head first. And there he stayed until…
One day we remembered our fabulous trip to San Francisco and began to reminisce. We knew so much historical stuff about the city, why not write a book about it?
Not a book about San Francisco—A BOOK ABOUT FRANCIS! And we will call it…
FRANCIS THE EARTHQUAKE DOG
And out of that doggy bag that Sid told us to keep came Francis and his picture book that was sold all over San Francisco, bookstores, bakeries, candy stores, souvenir shops and the St. Francis Hotel. On Francis’ fifth anniversary the St. Francis Hotel commissioned a stuffed dog to accompany our book. Amazing! All that because we heard Sid Fleishman speak, kept a doggy bag, and killed the dog!
This is definitely a case of the tale wagging the dog!