Readers who adored Pat Zeitlow Miller's debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash, will be running to the bookstore today (June 28, 2016) to pick up a copy of its sequel, Sophie's Squash Go To School.
Writers who adore Pat's work will enjoy this behind the scenes look at her path to first time publication and the sometimes scary route to a sequel.
When I first wrote and sold SOPHIE’S SQUASH, I never envisioned I would write a sequel.
Well, SOPHIE’S SQUASH was the very first book I had sold, and I was thrilled just to have that happen. And I knew that most books by debut authors glow quietly rather than burn brightly.
My hope was that SOPHIE would sell enough copies to earn back the advance I’d received and to ensure Schwartz & Wade wasn’t sorry they’d taken a chance on an unknown author.
Also, while I know some authors write a book and already have future sequels mapped out in their head, I didn’t. I had no other adventures planned for SOPHIE, as charming and quirky as I thought she was.
But then, then … SOPHIE’S SQUASH started doing better than anyone had expected. It never reached bestseller status, but it did fine. More than fine. Quite well indeed. It got four starred reviews, won or was a runner-up for several very nice awards and became something of a book darling.
I started getting pictures from parents of their children holding butternut squash. Schools read the book and planned units around squash. One school even added a butternut squash as an honorary classmate. The squash had a name, a nap mat and several outfits and accompanied the class everywhere.
I heard from parents whose children planted their squash and grew new squash plants and from several people who read the book to their elderly parents suffering from dementia and found it calmed them.
Interestingly enough, when the book first was published, I worried that it would be too quiet and not stand out enough to make an impact. I remember asking myself, “But what’s its hook?” I didn’t realize the squash itself would become the hook.
So when Schwartz & Wade asked if I had any sequel ideas, I said I didn’t, but I would think about options. That ended up being a lot harder than I anticipated.
The first SOPHIE’S SQUASH had – if you’ll pardon the gardening pun – grown organically from my youngest daughter’s real-life infatuation with a butternut squash. All the pieces of the story were there. I just had to take some literary license to put them together.
My youngest daughter is, if I do say so myself, a very funny kid who has had a dry, offbeat way of looking at life from the very start. So I went back through our favorite family stories about her looking for another gem – and found it.
When she was in preschool, she came home very distraught because of a little boy who repeatedly tried to hug her and told her he was going to marry her. Three-year-old Sonia wanted no part of this plan and described to me everything she’d do to prevent a wedding from happening.
I knew I couldn’t write a picture book about preschoolers’ marriage plans. But what if the annoying classmate just wanted to be friends, but Sophie felt that she already had all the friends she needed with her two squash, Bonnie and Baxter and had no interest?
That might work.
First, I had the story set around Valentine’s Day, but it quickly became apparent that a first-day-of-school angle worked much better.
While I’m extremely happy with how the final book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, turned out, it was much harder to write than the first.
First, I was writing on a deadline with not as much of a fully formed idea as the first time.
Second, there was pressure. When I wrote SOPHIE’S SQUASH, I was unpublished and not sure I ever would be. When I wrote SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, the first book had done well and I felt an obligation to not let Sophie’s fans, Schwartz & Wade or myself down.
There were times I wasn’t sure I would pull it off. But, fortunately, I loved Sophie and her family. I knew them. And getting back inside their world and remembering all the great things about it made it possible for me to write a story I like as much as the first one.
Whether others feel the same way remains to be seen, but I hope they do.
A big 24 Carrot Writing thank you to Pat for being a guest blogger and sharing her wonderful insight.
I'm off to my independent bookseller to pick up my copy of Sophie's Squash Go To School!