Becoming an Author Means Embracing a Life of Crime
Before I became a writer, I had no idea being one also meant embracing a life of crime. I don’t know why. All the signs were there – the saying “every great lie has an element of truth”, T.S. Eliot’s immortal “Good authors borrow, great authors steal”, and the infamous Faulkner adage, “Kill your darlings” (Faulkner actually stole that saying from Arthur Quiller-Couch).
But, as I said, I had no idea the pilfering and plundering I’d be doing to create story. I thought the world of kidlit was all blue skies, green meadows, and cute little bunnies.
Seven books later, and oh, the horror! I’ve done everything imaginable and worse. I’ve stolen real names from real people, friends even. I’ve kidnapped plot lines and bent, resurfaced, and redirected them to serve my own purposes. And I’ve mashed up reality and imagination to create my own mutant hybrids. Bwahahahahaha!
This life of crime isn’t half bad. In fact, in the case of my most recent picture book, Waggers, it’s been downright fun.
Waggers is the story of a newly adopted puppy who tries to be good, but his tail gets in the way.
Its creation is a collection of the most heinous, unspeakable crimes and misdemeanors.
First, there are the children’s names – Moni and Michael. Made up? If only, if only. They are actually the names of neighbors of mine from grad school. The first time I heard the name, Moni, I fell in love with it. It’s so unusual. And Michael just seems to go with it, the way the real Michael went with Moni. Not to mention the two had this amazing, sweet-natured black lab. Their names were the perfect fit for two children who adopt and love a dog, despite its crazy tail and all the trouble it causes. So, I stole them.
Next, there’s the main character, a razortail whippit puppy named Waggers. A fantastical creation of my imagination? If only, if only. Waggers was inspired by our most recent addition, a German Shepherd/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix we adopted from the pound. Desi tries so hard to be good, but her tail is as unpredictable as an Oklahoma tornado. I lifted her personality and tail and slipped them into Waggers.
And the plot line. Surely the plot line is all mine, right? If only, if only. While Desi’s tail and its antics inspired my story, the plot line has also been shaped by the work of giants who have gone before me. Thank you, Clifford, the Big Red Dog. And the ancient Greeks for their three tries and a fail. And Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey for the brilliant idea of the darkest hour before the dawn of the climax. And, of course, Berkeley Breathed for the twist at the end (but I’m guessing Breathed lifted that from the likes of Shakespeare or Victor Hugo).
Maybe it’s inevitable that we writers are also professional nabsters (or worse). After all, there are really only two stories – those about a journey or an unexpected visitor. However, if a writer’s done her work, applied her imagination to the bounty she’s plundered, the story she creates is new every time. That’s the beauty of story.
About the Author
Stacy Nyikos is the author of many mischievous books for kids. She’s not sure how that happened. She never got into trouble as a child. Well, if you don’t count borrowing sandwiches from her dad. He wasn’t eating them anyway. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, which she didn’t borrow. They gave it to her. Really. Ask her kids. Or her dog. Just don’t ask her husband. He’s missing a few sandwiches.
For more information, visit: http://www.stacyanyikos.com
By Stacy Nyikos
Moni and Michael are so excited to adopt Waggers. Waggers is too. His tail goes crazy. He can’t stop it. Moni and Michael don’t mind. Waggers is so sweet, and it’s just a tail. How much harm can it do?
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Sky Pony Press | December 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0-9764199-5-2