The Premier of Belle Teal
Late August 2001
I've been counting the days for a long time now, waiting for my new book, Belle Teal, to be published. Sometimes I feel like those actors and actresses who appear on talk shows to discuss their latest movies. They talk about how much fun the movie was to make, how much they liked working with the director, the cast and the crew, and how excited they are that the movie is finally coming out since they finished it a YEAR ago! And I know that people watching the program are probably asking themselves, "What takes so long? Can't you just shoot it, edit it, and release it?"
Believe it or not, the production of a book is very similar to the production of a movie, at least in terms of the time it takes from the start to the finish. I knew I wanted to write Belle Teal after I first introduced her character in a short story I had written. Belle Teal was so interesting to me, and very different from anyone I had ever written about before. After getting the project approved, I worked for a long time getting the story outline together. (BSC readers know I like to work from a detailed outline.) Then I outlined chapter summaries and character sketches, and handed all of this in to my editor, Liz (who is kind of like a director, except she directs a book instead of a movie).
It can take months of writing and editing and re-writing before the book is done. Then it's time for the publishing company to schedule art work, final editing, marketing, printing and other production-related activities. So even though I may have finished my part, it will be many more months before I get to see the finished copy of my book.
BSC readers may be surprised to know that the series books actually took just as long to be published as a book like Belle Teal. A new BSC book came out every month, but the title and storyline were actually "born" about a year earlier. From an author's perspective, however, there was a big difference between writing the series books and writing a novel like Belle Teal. After so many years of writing about the baby-sitters, I got very comfortable with the characters and the contemporary setting, and I didn't wonder much about what anyone would do in any situation.
Belle Teal Harper is a very different character. As a ten-year girl growing up in a rural part of the country in the 1960s, Belle Teal is raised with very little money but a lot of love. It's a scary time, too, because her grandmother is getting more and more forgetful, her mother has to work long hours at different jobs, and some angry parents at her local elementary school are protesting the admission of African American children to the formerly all-white school. I loved the challenge of writing in a different time period and about a rural setting. It's strange, because even though I finished writing Belle Teal's story many months ago, I'm having trouble getting her voice out of my head. Hattie, the main character in the book I'm working on now, is totally different from Belle Teal, but sometimes she will talk or react as Belle Teal does — and she's actually nothing like her! I suppose this is another similarity to being an actor or actress. It's probably hard to move on to a new character in a new movie when the previous one has made a lasting impression on you.
I know it's not the same as being interviewed on a late night talk show, but let me take this opportunity to say to my online-audience that I loved working with the director and cast (oops, I mean my editor and everyone at Scholastic!), and that if you get a chance to read about Belle Teal, I hope you'll enjoy her story.