word craft


Story Behind the Story #43: Crispin: The Cross of Lead

Crispin: The Cross of Lead

The sto­ry of Crispin: the Cross of Lead is complex.

  1. 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.
  2. I did read a lot more—found won­der­ful stuff—and began to shape a sto­ry in my head.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Crispin, at the time titled No Name, was sub­mit­ted to edi­tor C at Pub­lish­er D.
  8. Edi­tor C decid­ed the book, in the draft I had sub­mit­ted, was not what was wanted.
  9. Mean­while, A had resigned from pub­lish­er B.
  10. No Name was offered to pub­lish­er B
  11. Since the edi­tor at Pub­lish­er B, the one who had offered the con­tract, was no longer there, No Name was assigned to Edi­tor E.
  12. The revi­sions were long and ardu­ous, none more so than the open­ing pages.
  13. 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.
  14. ALA Mid­win­ter is when the New­bery Award com­mit­tee gath­ers and announces the award on Mon­day morn­ing. The con­fer­ence is not one at 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.”
  17. In truth, my first thought was, “The next book bet­ter be good.”
  18. I hung up the phone, and burst into tears.
  19. “What’s hap­pened?” asked my wife.
  20. I said, “I won the New­bery award.”
  21. 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.

3 thoughts on “Story Behind the Story #43: Crispin: The Cross of Lead”

  1. So hon­ored to have been on the oth­er end of that New­bery flu-be-gone phone call, Avi. Thanks for shar­ing this Behind-the-Book glimpse into CRISPIN.


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