Because of Winn-Dixie is a story that is a result of my own longing. I was homesick for Florida (where I grew up) and it was the worst winter on record in Minneapolis (where I live now) when I sat down to write Opal's story. Also, I was living in an apartment where no dogs were allowed (what a terrible, terrible rule!), and I was experiencing what I call "dog withdrawal." I was desperate for the companionship of a dog, so desperate that, sometimes, if there was a dog in a car next to me in traffic, I would honk and wave madly at him or her (and, it must be noted, the higher caliber of dog would wag its tail and/or prick its ears by way of returning my greeting).
Those two longings, homesickness and dog-sickness, are, I think, responsible for the book that Because of Winn-Dixie became. But the rest of the creative process is (as it is for every story I write) a mystery to me. I began with one sentence ("I have a dog named Winn-Dixie") and the sound of India Opal Buloni's voice clear in my head; and after that I just listened and wrote down what Opal told me.
Writing the book was a wonderful experience. Every morning, I woke up excited; I would think, "What the heck am I so excited about?"
And then I would remember.
Opal. And her dog, Winn-Dixie.
"I wonder what's going to happen next?" I would say out loud. And then I would sit down at my desk and find out.
Because of Winn-Dixie is a book about hope and love and comfort and joy; and in the process of telling the story, I was given all these things: hope and love. And comfort and joy. That, to me, is one of the great miracles of storytelling, how it can fill some of the holes in the teller's own heart.