word craft


Story Behind the Story #48: Poppy’s Return

Poppy's ReturnI recall read­ing a piece by John D. MacDonald—the mys­tery writer—giving advice to any­one who want­ed (as he did) to write a suc­cess­ful series. I believe he said one had to write a num­ber of them before giv­ing it a full com­mit­ment. He may have been cor­rect, but when it came to writ­ing my Pop­py series, it was nev­er intend­ed to be a series, and it took me four­teen years to write.


1998—Pop­py and Rye


2000—Ereth’s Birth­day

2005—Pop­py’s Return

2009—Pop­py and Ereth

And where­as in the series, as it cur­rent­ly stands, Rag­weed is the first in the series, it was the third book written.

I can imag­ine if one did not enjoy the char­ac­ters, writ­ing a series would be painful work. In my case, I have always loved work­ing with these char­ac­ters, and loved to write about them. In part I think of them as fam­i­ly, and they are indeed full of ref­er­ences to my own fam­i­ly, though it might be hard for any­one (out­side) to con­nect the dots.

Pop­py’s Return is no excep­tion. It was writ­ten when my youngest son was a teenag­er, and reflects, in con­tent and sto­ry, the stress of those many moments. But it also reflects (and nar­rates) my con­flicts with my own father when I was a teenag­er and tries to acknowl­edge the continuity—generation by generation—of such domes­tic skirmishes.

All the books in the series were illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Flo­ca. He did them so well, that although I invent­ed these char­ac­ters, I now visu­al­ize them as Bri­an drew them. Indeed, in the whole series per­haps the most extra­or­di­nary illus­tra­tion appears on pages 202–203. It should have been a dou­ble page, full page-spread, but even so it’s quite wonderful.

Now if you know the series, you may have real­ized there is a gap in the full nar­ra­tive. I won’t say what it is, but suf­fice it to say, I am work­ing on fill­ing that gap right now. And Bri­an will come along for the ride—at least with his pen­cil, which is good enough for me.

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