Down at the Depot with Children's Author
Karen Kulinski

Fun History (Coming Soon)

The Year of Ivy -- The Journey of a Book from Idea to Printed Page

February 8, 2014

And so, the Year of Ivy has begun…

Last week, the final revision of my middle-grade historical novel, Rescuing Ivy, was passed from my editor to the publisher. My part of the process of turning Ivy into a book has come to an end.

For a month or two.

At this most exciting and longed-for moment, I began to reflect on the journey -- the long, long journey, it turned out – that Ivy and I have been on. And I thought maybe others might find the whole process of a book “becoming a book” an interesting one, as well.

Especially since I think Rescuing Ivy is an example of how fiction-writing encompasses a bit of magic and a lot of hard work, as well as luck, despair and perseverance. Not to mention, a lot of help from critique partners, writing friends, and family.

So on or about the second Saturday of each month, look for a new installment of "Ivy and Karen -- their Long Journey."

Our trek began around 2002 when, doing research for museum displays, I came upon a listing entitled, “Elephant hanged in a Tennessee Railyard.” There was a graphic – a horrific image – accompanying this article telling how, in 1916, an elephant named Mary was executed for killing the man who was beating her with a metal rod.

Having a love of heretofore-unheard-of history, I wanted to write about this event, so I probed deeper into the appalling details surrounding it. There was nothing uplifting about the story, no would-be hero, obviously no happy ending, not even a hopeful one. And everything I wrote about Mary ended up being unrelentingly sad. So, I filed the story away and tried to put the event out of my mind, which I ultimately did.

Until five years later when I experienced, a “What if…?” moment.

Writers talk about having these, they even write about in them books, but I had never experienced it myself until this idea came to me:

What if a young girl sneaks out at night to visit the circus elephant she loves, witnesses the accidental death of the animal’s caretaker, and must fight to save the innocent elephant from being put to death for a killing she didn’t commit?

Now this idea came out of the blue -- I hadn’t thought of the Mary story for years, hadn’t read about any elephants around that time, nor about any hangings either. It was the classic “what if” moment, a gift from the writing gods, a bit of writing “magic,” if you will.

And I was consumed by it.

While I had the main character, I knew nothing about her. I knew her problem, but had no idea of how she would solve it or who would help her along the way. Plus, I knew little about elephants, and even less about circuses, especially those operating at the beginning of the 20th century.

A million thoughts raced through my mind, all pretty much leading to the same question, “Where the heck do I go from here?”

And so, in that year of 2007, I began my journey, not knowing where it would take me, but knowing I had to embark upon it because of that wonderful bit of writing magic that would let go of me.

Plus I had questions to answer. Important questions. Questions that would mean life or death for my elephant. And I wanted to know the answers.

There was one more thing that compelled me, too. In 1916, Mary had no one there to stand up for her, to try to save her. So I was bound and determined that that would not happen with my as-yet-unnamed elephant.

I owed it to the magic. And I owed it to Mary.