1969 was the year of Woodstock. Richard Nixon took office as president. John Lennon married Yoko Ono. Neil Armstrong took a giant step for mankind on the moon. And I took a giant step for me. On October 1 of that year my first book for children, THE BOY WITH A DRUM, was published by Western Publishing and went marching off into my future as a children’s author. I’ve been holding my own private celebration all year and though I meant to wait until October 1 to mark the precise date of my 50th anniversary in this wonderful business, I can’t wait any longer to share.
Half a century in the business. Can this be? I remember so clearly the thrill of holding my first book. We lived in Kansas City. I was either the product manager for children’s cards or had just been promoted to editorial manager for all Hallmark and Ambassador cards by then. I was married to this wondrous woman. We had two beautiful, loving children, Robin and Jeff. We could finally afford two cars. We had great neighbors. And I — after ten years of trying various genres in search of who I was or might become as a writer — was finally holding in my hand the solid evidence of sweet success. I had no idea how lucky I was to have Eloise Wilkin for my illustrator. I had been trained as a scientist. I knew nothing about the world of publishing. All I knew was this book in my hand changed everything.
Our friends Larry and Maryann Wakefield drove up from Springfield. From the $350 I had received (for outright purchase of my story) I treated us to lobster dinners at the Savoy. Sandy presented me with a Steuben Glass brontosaurus in honor of the occasion. She told me that if I needed to quit my job to pursue my dream, we could tighten our belts and live on her salary for a year while I gave it a try. I couldn’t accept, but I’ll never forget what she offered to do for my sake.
The years have passed swiftly. These days I’m often saddened by the losses of old friends and acquaintances even as we welcome strong new voices to the choir. In May of this year I held my 96th book, AND THE BULLFROGS SING. It was a great thrill. But I will never again feel the giddy kind of joy reserved for the first, first book an author sells. With all its oops and downs, writing for young people is the best ride in town. I’m happy to report that I have a fistful of tickets left.