Musing On Norman at 10

My fish baby is 10 years old!  

So many fun Goldfish birthday cakes on the internet. Norman wants one!

So many fun Goldfish birthday cakes on the internet. Norman wants one!

In celebration of Norman's birthday, I thought it would be fun to flip back through my file of rejections letters & revision notes with editors & my agent—yes! I keep them all. 

Was it fun? Fun… maybe, sort of, in a painful, embarrassing, sort of like childbirth way in that I know I wrote it-revised-revised-agonized over it. I can remember pacing the sort of cat-walk upstairs hallway of our then home in Katy, weighing pros and cons of various pets, but I can’t feel how miserable I was.

I just think this is a fabulous premise for a story, and not just because I’m more than a little partial to goldfish myself. . . . My concerns about the story are still with the plot line and structure. . .
— Sarah Ketchersid, via email Jan. 28, 2003

Miserable? Yes, writing is miserable work. I feel miserable, frustrated, inadequate when I CAN’T. GET.  IT. RIGHT.  What’s most incredible is that somehow, this once, with this story, I did. (Even if that critique who shall remain nameless called my text “bald”.)

Hey Sarah! DO NOT TELL ME THIS IS AN APRIL FOOL’S JOKE!
— after Erin called to say Sarah at Candlewick Press wanted to published Not Norman

What’s weird and sad is that we writers (me, anyway) never know when we’ve gotten it RIGHT. It takes readers to tell us that. And even then, upon rereading, we won’t have a clue how it happened. Many readers tell me the best part of Not Norman is the scary night climax scene. The scene that had Mimi and Brian’s granddaughter Rebecca so worried she practically sucked the rubber off her binky?—again and again and “read it again.” That scene where our boy wakes in the middle of the night to Scritch Screech? I have absolutely no idea where it came from. I can’t recall writing it.  And I definitely never knew it was “the best,” all I knew is it worked—and it was done.

We are looking for someone who can capture the relationship between the narrator and Norman and also be able to express and perhaps even expand on the story’s humor, subtle sarcasm, and poignancy, too. . . We think we’ve found someone who can do all of that. We’d like to suggest an exciting new illustrator named Noah Jones.
— Sarah, on selecting the illustrator, May 9, 2003
This is one of Noah's art samples Sarah sent when suggesting he illustrate Not Norman.

This is one of Noah's art samples Sarah sent when suggesting he illustrate Not Norman.

After many versions and revisions and years, Not Norman, a Goldfish Storymy Goldfish Story lives! And lots of kids and teachers love it! (Thank you everyone who has ever sent me a note to that effect, and/or a photo of you and yours reading Not Norman.)

And some parents hate me for writing Not Norman because they have to read it over and over and over again every day, every night. (I know because they write and tell me so.)

Another sample: This has the feel of that scary SCRITCH SCREETCH night scene, doesn't it?

Another sample: This has the feel of that scary SCRITCH SCREETCH night scene, doesn't it?

So, during this auspicious month, I’m pulling out some snippets of Norman’s journey. For you writers, maybe they will help you as you work through your own stuff. For the rest of you, maybe it will explain the way it works. Interesting? Informative? (You decide.)

For now, before the notes, here are the kudos. Thanks to all of you who’ve bought and read and shared Not Norman, big hugs and glugs!

Enter to win a free copy of Not Norman from @CandlewickClass on Twitter here!