This summer, I’m re-posting the 10 Most-Read Stories Behind the Stories from this blog. I’ve rewritten each essay somewhat and included the most-often-asked question about the book.
This book is #9 on the most-read list, my 43rd book.
Crispin: the Cross of Lead
The story of Crispin: the Cross of Lead is complex.
- My wife and I were driving from Denver to the mountains, listening to a lecture by Dr. Teofilo Ruiz, chair of the History Department at UCLA. It was all about the medieval period. I was fascinated, and told myself that surely there was a story here, and I must do some reading.
- I did read a lot more—found wonderful stuff—and began to shape a story in my head.
- I also had a dream—I think it was a dream—and it was about an extended medieval story which I would write in four parts. The dream told me the beginning, the middle and the end. An orphan boy was in it along with a large man who befriends him.
- I wrote a first draft, but decided I had to go to England to do more research. When in London I went to the British Museum, the medieval section. There I saw a case of lead crosses, given to people during the period of the Black Death. Only then did I incorporate the key lead cross into the story.
- The story takes place when the English spoke Middle English. How to suggest a different, but readable English? The first draft was written in verse, in a form of unrhymed poetry used in 14th Century England. [Chaucer, Langland] The resulting number of pages was much too long, so I collapsed the lines, but all the same, much of the book remained in iambic pentameter. I just never mentioned that to anyone.
- Meanwhile editor A at Publisher B asked me if I would publish with her. I said, yes. A contract was signed but no book was stipulated.
- Crispin, at the time titled No Name, was submitted to editor C at Publisher D.
- Editor C decided the book, in the draft I had submitted, was not what was wanted.
- Meanwhile, A had resigned from publisher B.
- No Name was offered to publisher B
- Since the editor at Publisher B, the one who had offered the contract, was no longer there, No Name was assigned to Editor E.
- The revisions were long and arduous, none more so than the opening pages.
- The book was published with the title Crispin: The Cross of Lead. It was dedicated to Dr. Ruiz, that fellow whose lecture gave me the idea for the book. It got fine reviews, but I am not one to have expectations about awards. In any case, I was working on another book.
- ALA Midwinter is when the Newbery Award committee gathers and announces the award on Monday morning. The conference is not one which many authors attend. For the only time in my writing life (before or since) I was invited to attend to support another book of mine, the picture book called Silent Movie.
- At the Conference I had the worst case of flu I have ever had. I was sick to the degree that I was shivering. Whenever I could, I fled to my hotel room, got under a blanket and was sick. The worst time was sitting at Sunday breakfast with a few members of the Newbery committee, although at the time I didn’t know who they were. I was in no mood to chat. I excused myself and flew home, changing my flight so I could leave Philadelphia as quickly as possible.
- Back home Monday morning at 5 AM (still ill) I was on my computer rushing to rewrite my daughter’s letter of application for a summer job, when the phone rang. It was the chair of the Newbery Committee, Starr Latronica. “Congratulations,” she said, “you have won the Newbery Award.”
- In truth, my first thought was, “The next book better be good.”
- I hung up the phone, and burst into tears.
- “What’s happened?” asked my wife.
- I said, “I won the Newbery award.”
- All my flu symptoms vanished.
What did I learn from all this? If you get a bad case of the flu, winning the Newbery award will apparently cure you.
Most often asked question:
The Crispin series consists of three books. Was there not supposed to be a fourth, set in Iceland?
There was a fourth volume, and it was to be set in Iceland. I even began to write it. Went to Iceland. (Fascinating place!) But the series had an odd publishing history. The first and second books were published by Hyperion. Then the original editor left and went to HarperCollins. It was there that book three was published. But for whatever reasons—I was not told—they chose not to do the fourth book. I have always wished to do so, but I don’t know who would publish it, and therefore have never completed it.