If a heart had fingerprints, you would find evidence of Kim Baker’s huge one all over her newest book. (spoiler alert: I’m a huge fan.) While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Newt Gomez on my first read, after reading Kim’s essay below, I plan to go back and re-read The Water Bears (Wendy Lamb Books). Not simply to look for Easter eggs but to be reminded that this crazy world of ours is ultimately lovable.
I’ve had plans to make a career plan on my to-do list for a while, but it keeps getting kicked postponed for other priorities (and, ahem, non-priorities). I started to do it last week after a conversation with writer friends, but I got distracted reading inspirational quotes instead. One of my favorite comes from E.B. White:
“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
That’s my career plan.
It took me a really long time to write my new book. I’m a slow writer in general, and I was trying something different from my last book as a personal challenge. I wanted The Water Bears (Wendy Lamb Books, Random House) to be more serious. More personal. I had some illness and self-doubt. I wanted it to be good enough in case I didn’t get a chance to write another story. And there was the extra stress that has been affecting us all in recent years. It’s not always easy to be creative these days.
I tried to fill the The Water Bears with things that I love about my world, big and little. I made it a personal ode to creativity and wonder, marine biology, and baby goats. It also has vaudeville performers, cryptozoology, kinetic sculptures, and big, shaggy, protective dogs. While none of the story is based on my real life, there are dozens of Easter eggs that most people will never know quietly tucked into the story as love tokens. The box of sweet bread that sits in the kitchen of my protagonist’s abuela was on my Aunt Molly’s table for years. A doctor is named after the doctor who delivered my son, one of over 20,000 babies he successfully ferried into the world before retiring a couple of years ago. I wanted to add a wink to such a marvelous legacy. A flock of escaped parrots occasionally visited our old persimmon tree in California when my husband and I were newlyweds, and they visited my main character’s house too.
I’m a quilter, but I only follow patterns sometimes. I avoid them in part because I worry about making mistakes. But even more, I know down to the soles of my feet that I’ll likely veer off in my own direction. I resist rules and start imagining what else could happen. Occupational hazard.
Writing a novel is piecing scraps of imagination and half-truths together until it makes something substantial and (hopefully) true. Our individual gazes find different threads and patterns. The Water Bears is stitched with bits of family memories, favorite places, and everyday wonders that I want to honor about our world. Maybe-magic monsters and absolutely magic science; celebrating our differences; resilience and summoning the courage to hope for better things.
I wondered if I’d have enough to write about in the next story with everything I squeezed into this one. But I’ll keep writing to find out. I’ll keep moving forward and finding new things to love about the world.
That’s the plan.
Kim Baker’s first middle grade novel, PICKLE, has been selected for many reading lists and was a CBC Children’s Choice Awards Book of the Year finalist, a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist, and an SCBWI Crystal Kite winner. Her next book, THE WATER BEARS (Wendy Lamb Books, Random House), has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. When she was thirteen, she lived above an old theater and drove a rusty VW van to odd jobs. Now she lives in Seattle, near tide pools but usually far from bears. Find more at www.kimbakerbooks.com