The path to publication began in 2007 — 15 years ago — at a conference in Washington, D.C. where I had lunch with some publishing people and we got to talking about Bobby Kennedy and I told the story I detailed in a post last week. One of my tablemates spoke up and said, “You know… the story I love most about RFK is the one where he spoke extemporaneously from the back of a truck in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King was killed… there was rioting all over the country, but not in Indianapolis that night, Bobby made a difference in his remarks to the mostly-black crowd…” and I had to go look up that story, because I didn’t know it. Here is the full text.
I had already talked many times with my long-time friend Robin Hoffman at Scholastic Book Fairs about our mutual admiration for Robert Kennedy and how his death had affected the country and us over the years. Now, after this lunch at the D.C. conference, I wanted to write about Bobby, but I didn’t know how. His story was so wide, deep and textured. I told Robin this. A few months later — now in summer 2008 — Robin sent me the Sunday New York Times Magazine with the cover story about the “RFK Funeral Train.” I also did not know this story in full until it unfolded for me in the pages of the Magazine. (You can read this story here.)
On a plane to somewhere — I traveled to so many schools and conferences in those days — I drafted my story for the fifth or sixth time. I had sold the Sixties Trilogy to Scholastic that February, and now I sent them my draft of Bobby. Kara LaReau at Scholastic was enthusiastic — RFK was a hero of hers as well, who knew? Scholastic bought the story.
Soon after I lost my editor, and what followed from there was a new editor and a series of drafts over several years, attempts to find the right illustrator for the story, revisions to a draft we thought was just-right, a revision to that draft when we had the right illustrator, additions to that draft, a return to an original idea, you name it, we did it, and I just made myself laugh ruefully to remember all the permutations.
At one point my writer friend Jane Kurtz was visiting me for a “picturebook intensive” and I was so desperate to figure out what I couldn’t see with this story that she had me lay out the pages on the floor, like a train from one end to the other, so I could visually see what I was trying to say, to see where the beats fell and how the structure worked. It was a turning point.
Was all this time and effort worth it? Of course it was. Along the way, it was remarkable and so gratifying to watch this team of book makers come together in a cohesive unit to make a book we all loved and could be so proud of. Ken Geist struggled alongside me to get the story right as the just-right editor for this book. David Saylor worked with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh on the moving and powerful images that enhanced and elevated the text. Unsung people, every one important, worked behind the scenes preparing for Bobby’s debut — a delayed debut thanks to Covid and shipping problems — and now here is that book, in your hands, today. I am proud and grateful and oh-so-hopeful for Bobby as it comes into the world, standing on the shoulders of all its midwives.
The dedication reads: “For Paula and Rubin and Robin and Kara, and Steven and Janie, and Ken and David and Tatyana, and for all those whose hands and hearts reach out in the service of justice, and story.” Thank you.
Here we go. I want indies to survive this pandemic so they are still here, creating community and a literate society, for us and with us, as they’ve always done, when we emerge from our sheltering in place. Please consider opening a book buying account at bookshop.org if you have the means to do so in these uncertain times. . You’ll see when you swipe thru this post [go here, for this post and photos], that my books, as an example (all book shots are from bookshop.org) are not only competitive w Amazon prices (within a dollar or even less in most cases), they are available, and they come to you from business owners in your local communities who will employ your neighbors and serve you personally, culturally, specifically, and joyfully. And again, one day, face-to-face.
. Now is the time to help them help you through this pandemic. We need stories like we need each other, because we *are* stories. We need puzzles and games and laughter and stuffed animals, and togetherness, even as we need to shelter at home and stay informed. Indie bookstores stand ready with all these things. . Follow your bookselling friends on IG, FB, etc, and let them hand sell you visually in their feeds… they are so good at this — and then order directly from them or use bookshop.org. . Every dollar you spend at bookshop is divvied up to help your chosen bookstore as well as all bookstores under the bookshop umbrella (swipe to see snippets about how this works, from the Forbes article about bookshop that I linked to here on Feb 15). . The bottom line is, we all benefit. We all keep reading and telling stories and puzzling with one another and squeezing our chosen comfort softies through hard times. We can do this, together. Love and light and reading, xo Debbie . — click on my IG bio to go to bookshop.org, and thank you. I’m going to tag some of my bookstore friends in the comments [on IG], locally and including those I’d been scheduled to tour with this month, so you can follow them, too, along with some folks who partner w indie bookstores in a myriad of ways. Please add your favorites to this list – you, too, Indies — so I can follow them, too. Here we go.
Hello, friends. What a time. I’ve made some posts on IG and want to put them here, where I will end up posting in more depth about Kent State and other books, and, well, life in the time of corona, I guess. Without belaboring anything, here is post one, which I’ll follow immediately with post 2, and then you’ll be caught up. Stay safe and stay well. There is so much to say, and at some point, there will be a time to say it. Keep reading. Keep telling stories. We’re living quite an amazing story right now. xoxoxo Debbie
Kent State publishes 3 weeks from today, into a very different world than the one we had prepared it for. No in-person anything, including a national bookstore tour, speaking at Kent State, school visits, and book festivals. . Like so many of us who are creating new normals while sheltering in place, flattening the curve, and caring for one another through this pandemic, work matters. Stories matter. And our history matters, too, especially as it echoes, in its heart, what is happening in our country right now. . So I want to talk about Kent State as it comes into being on the 50th anniversary of the May 4, 1970 shootings that killed 4 college students and wounded 9 others as our country was being torn apart by a war that killed over 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians; a war waged within and without in our country, when our government’s response was on the line, just as it is today. . Kent State is a chronicle of those days in May while also a call to action… a call we are witnessing right now, as it happens. I hope you’ll not mind me sharing several posts about the book here over the next weeks as my publisher and I change up our labor in order to midwife and deliver this important book into your hands. It has had quite the intense gestation and is ready to be born. . Thanks so much for coming along. You can read more about Kent State at my website and you can pre-order the book at bookshop.org — the link to that page is in my IG bio. Stay home if you can, stay safe, love one another, and work for peace, peace, peace. xoxoxo Debbie
MFA in Writing, Vermont College, I have taught teachers at Towson University (“Writing Techniques for Teachers,” ECED 422), and have taught in the MFA programs at Lesley University and Vermont College.
Pioneer of the Documentary Novel containing scrapbooks with primary source documents — photographs, song lyrics, newspaper clippings, etc., and opinionated biographies alongside the story/narrative, mixing fiction, non-fiction, and biography in one book/story in a trilogy about the 1960s. COUNTDOWN 1962; REVOLUTION 1964; and ANTHEM 1969 (to be published fall 2019)
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I’m a Southerner born in Mobile, Alabama, where I lived until I was five years old. My parents were Mississippi born and bred, and I spent most of my childhood summers there and grew up in Mississippi and all around the world as an Air Force dependent.
I’ve lived in:
Mobile, Alabama Jasper County, Mississippi Honolulu, Hawaii Washington, D.C. Prince Georges County, Maryland Charleston, South Carolina Clark Air Base, Philippines Northern Virginia Cherry Point, North Carolina Millington, Tennessee Frederick, Maryland Atlanta, Georgia
After living in the Washington, D.C. area (Frederick, MD) for 25 years, where I raised a family, I moved to Atlanta 19 years ago, and now live in a little house with a purple door in a little woods. I am married to musician/composer Jim Pearce. You can hear Jim profiled by Susan Stamberg at NPR right here.
Where to find me online:
I use Pinterest as a visual resource for my books. You’ll find primary source material for my books archived here, including playlists for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION. See the “social” link above for other social media resources.