The Long ROI
Summertime here at our resort area in the mountains sees a lot of vacationers. Sometimes they visit the shelter, occasionally adopt and take a dog home. More often, they leave one behind when vacation is over. A sad thing. That seemed to be Walker’s story. A sad and lonely dog who waited every day for his humans to return. He was dying of loneliness, even in an environment that gave him attention, love and basic needs.
Life changed for Walker when he was taken to Stop and Adopt in town. A young brother and sister, who reminded me of Buffy and Jody from the old Family Affair TV show, fell in love with Walker. They were visitors for the summer, and determined to find a home for Walker. They made posters and talked to everyone they met at the grocery store. The staff adored the kids who showed up every day to visit Walker.
At the end of the summer, I decided Walker’s unique story should be told. I wrote it, submitted it, and rewrote it, several times. Some of the reasons for rejection are mind boggling. “Cute story. Cute isn’t selling.” One publisher suggested I change the children. If they were black I could increase my market, she said. But the comment that stopped me in my tracks was an agent who said the children were “wrong” for the story because they were rich. They were too nice to be rich.
I went to the library and looked through piles of children’s books. The rich kids are all snobs, all Me, all entitlement, never kind, never the hero. That’s a different kind of prejudice isn’t it? Why are heroes always underdogs, downtrodden, poor? Are they the only ones who can be compassionate and caring? Enough of the Richy Rich character! Mine is a true story, and I’m not changing the characters. They are who they are. They are a wealthy family who live on Park Avenue, and yes, Walker went to his home in a limo. The children were well-mannered, kind, compassionate. It’s a true story, and that’s how I’m telling it, and that’s how it will live in my file – probably forever – I thought.
I met a publisher at a conference in Texas a couple years ago. We talked about reasons for rejection of submissions. I told her about the rejection of my sweet characters because they were rich, and in children’s literature Sweet and Rich isn’t acceptable. She thought about it and said, “You’re right. We need to change that concept. It’s just as unfair as Poor and Illiterate. Just as unfair as Blonde and Dumb.” We came up with several more traditional injustices in kids’ lit. She asked to see Walker’s manuscript. She suggested it should be a chapter book. I worked on that new angle; I’d never written a chapter book before. She found an illustrator.
I’m mailing the signed contract this morning. She hopes to have Walker Hound of Park Avenue out in time for Christmas. I hope you and all the young readers you know will enjoy Walker’s story, and perhaps set a new standard for snobby rich kids.