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Story Behind the Story #71: Ragweed & Poppy

Ragweed & PoppyThe origins of Poppy, and the Poppy series can be found on this blog in a post dated June 13, 2017.

If you read that post and the other posts about the sequential books, you’ll note that I never intended to write a series, that even as they appeared they were not written in sequence. Moreover, that first poppy book appeared in 1985. In other words, the series began twenty-five years ago. That’s a stretch.

Now, years after that first book appeared, here comes another (and presumably the last) in the series. Ragweed & Poppy fills a gap in the over-all story, answering a question I’ve been asked many time by readers; how did Ragweed and Poppy meet?

Just to refresh memories: Ragweed (the first book in the sequence) ends with Ragweed, after one mighty adventure, leaving the town of Amperville. He has had many experiences, made friends, and has a purple earring dangling from one ear.

The next book—in story sequence—has Poppy and Ragweed atop a hill. It is a romantic moment. Ragweed wants to dance in the open. Poppy is rather nervous about that. There is an owl—Mr. Ocax lurking. Disaster strikes.

The point is there was an obvious gap in the sequence: how did these two mice meet? How did Ragweed, last seen on a train, get to Bannock Hill?  My job was to find the answer to that question. Could I write a sequel to a prequel?

Once I decided I would write the book the problem was simple: I had no idea how these characters met.

Second problem. In Poppy, our heroine goes from being rather cautious, to becoming bold and adventuresome. I had to honor that without making Poppy a very timid creature with no mind of her own. She had to have agency.

Then, not a small issue, what would the book look like? Could it exist without the art of Brian Floca? My strong feeling was no. Happily, Brian was willing to do his job. As ever, his art is fundamentally part of the book and story.

Ragweed & Poppy illustration
illustration from Ragweed & Poppy, copyright Brian Floca, published by HarperCollins, 2020.
Used here with permission.

From a writing point of view, what saved me, what pointed the way, were the characters themselves. That is to say, they had become so lodged in my mind that I could rely on them to show me the way. Yes, Poppy could dance. But she would not engage in a boxing match. While not bold (yet) she would find a way to enhance her own safety. As for Ragweed, he could be bold, but not so bold that he would do everything by himself. Whatever he did, he would need help. He was a social creature. And so on.

Then I had to cross-reference all the books. If a character had X characteristics here he/she needed the same characteristic in the new book.

Oh yes: the book had to be, like the others, funny.

Finally the editor. In the course of the series’ long history, it has had three editors. In order: Richard Jackson, Elise Howard, Alexandra Cooper. Three very different people with different styles of work. Yet the books all needed to have the same voice, tone, style.  No easy task.

In the end then, what did we have to do? We had to make the new book the same, only different. I think we have done so.

It will be now possible to read the whole story arc start to finish. Hopefully, new readers will not note the odd way it was written, or how long it all took.

That’s the wonderful way kids read. Never mind the twenty-five years. It’s all now.

Enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Story Behind the Story #71: Ragweed & Poppy”

  1. Thank you for sharing the process you journeyed through to make the new book a reality after so many years! A series beloved by millions of kids and adults that bring good memories. to mind. And we so need those happy thoughts!

  2. Whenever I read your writing, be it a book or a blog, I feel uplifted. Thinking about Poppy, one of my favorite of your wonderful characters, made me smile on a very tough morning. Thank you for the time and care you put into every page. Thank you for honoring your illustrators as a valued partner in your creative process.

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