A few years ago, my sister in agent-hood Pat Zietlow Miller asked if I would take a peek at her manuscript. That manuscript turned out to be the newly-released WHEREVER YOU GO. I immediately knew it would be a beloved hit because of its lyrical text and universal theme, but once Eliza Wheeler signed on to illustrate, I became certain her art would exponentially elevate WHEREVER YOU GO into the stratosphere. (Don’t you wish we had flying cars to take on that trip?)
Since this blog loves to talk about how ideas originate, I asked Pat and Eliza a few questions about the path to this book’s publication. (Get it? THE PATH???)
Pat, what was the genesis of WHEREVER YOU GO?
This book started when I was at work and a few lines of random poetry popped into my head:
Over a hill, under a bridge, deep in a dale, high on a ridge …
I liked the way the words sounded, so I emailed them to myself at home and started working with them to see where they could go. (Ha! See what I did there?) I realized that the words described places roads could go, which got me thinking about other places roads could go, which led to a first draft of the book.
But, I felt it needed something more. Some heart. So, I set it aside and proceeded to do something I do really well. Worry about my children. This time, it was my oldest daughter. She was growing up so fast! In a few years she wouldn’t even be living with us! Was she ready to be on her own? Would she make good choices?
After some time, I realized that could be the heart my book needed. All the places roads could go also could represent life and its many choices. So I revised my draft keeping all the things I wanted my oldest daughter to know in mind, and that became the book that sold.
And it came out this spring, right before her high school graduation. I could not have planned that, but it was perfect timing.
Eliza, as the illustrator, how were you approached for this project and what attracted you to it?
Connie Hsu, the book’s editor at Little Brown at the time, sent the manuscript to my agent with the loveliest email introducing the project. When I read it, I could see the pictures flowing in my imagination. This is a dream text for an illustrator; no frivolous details or lengthy descriptions—a blank canvas for the art to tell its own part of the story. But I didn’t say ‘yes’ right away, because I could see two directions this story could take: 1) The story of life’s roads, or 2) A cars and trucks book. I wanted to make sure that my vision of it as the first direction was also what the publishing team envisioned, and I was happy to hear that we were all on the same page about staying true to the deeper meaning under Pat’s text. I found out later from Pat that this was a deciding factor for her in choosing Little Brown as the publisher, so it seems it was all meant to be!
Any creature could be the lead character traveling these roads. What made you select a bunny on a bike?
I did try a few different animal choices while doing character development, and it came down to a cat, owl, and bunny. These animals in particular are all pretty cute, but in the end the bunny felt the most age-less and gender neutral. The editor and art director also loved the idea of the bunny’s ears flying behind him/her to help emphasize the motion of the bike. That’s how we landed on the bunny!
Oh, so it really had nothing to do with your last name being WHEELER?
Hahaha! Maybe that was the whole subconscious reason! You can change my answer to that. 😉
Pat, what do you hope the child (and adult) reading this book will take away?
The message I’d like people to take away is this:
Life isn’t a straight line.
It’s good to have goals in life. It’s good to pursue them and to celebrate when you reach them. But, there will be unexpected detours along the way. Those detours may take you somewhere greater than you ever expected, or they may lead you somewhere you never wanted to be. But, either way, you can chose how to react to where you end up and to take a different path if you’re not happy with your current location.
A long time ago, I read that the most mentally healthy people are the people who see the most options in their life because they can get unstuck from the nasty places more easily than people who can’t envision a different future. So I hope readers will internalize the message that they’re in charge of their own lives and that they always have choices about where they want to be.
*SNIFF* *SNIFF* *BLOW*
That’s a beautiful message, Pat. And it’s one that’s true for writing as well as life. No career is a straight line. It’s rather bumpy. But hold on and you will indeed get the ride of your life!
Thank you, Pat and Eliza, for sharing your journey (GET IT AGAIN???) and for offering the book and an art print from Eliza as prizes to our blog readers!
To win a copy of WHEREVER YOU GO, just leave a comment below. One comment per person and a random winner will be chosen at the end of June.
To win Eliza’s print, take a photo of you with WHEREVER YOU GO and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #whereveryougo. A random winner will be selected at the end of June.