In 2000, I decided to write a middle-grade novel, and I followed the advice of "write what you know." I have two children, one of whom has autism, and RULES explores that family dynamic.
David is based loosely upon my son when he was a young
child. Some incidents in the book came from real experience: I was always
rescuing toys from our fishtank and my son did love Arnold Lobel’s Frog and
Toad books and used to repeat lines from those stories to communicate.
However, most of the events, details, and characters in RULES came from my imagination.
Jason was inspired by a boy I saw one day and have
never forgotten. I was waiting for my son to finish an appointment, and a boy
came into the waiting room. He was in a wheelchair and used a communication
book. I glanced up and made assumptions that were blown apart seconds later,
when he and his mother had the most amazing and witty conversation. She spoke
out loud; he communicated by touching his pictures.
All those threads of experience began weaving themselves
into a story. The first line I ever wrote on the first blank page was: “At
our house, we have a rule,” and the story, the characters, the title, all sprang
from that seed.
I took the story as far as I could, and after many
polishing passes and feedback from my critique partners, I looked through the
Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market to see who might be a good
I paused at Scholastic’s entry. When I was growing
up, my teacher would hand out Scholastic Book Clubs fliers, and my mother let
me order 3 books each time. I remember the excitement I felt: the coins rolling
back and forth in the envelope as I walked up to hand it to the teacher, and
those glassy-smooth covers and the crackling newness of the books when they
came. I still have some of the books I bought as a child through those book
clubs, with my name written in big, loopy handwriting on the inside cover.
But the line “1% of books by first-time authors” in
the market book for Scholastic, was daunting. My husband shrugged when I showed
him and said, “Well, someone has to be that one percent, why not you?”
In November 2001, I got the phone call every writer
dreams of receiving. It was an editor at Scholastic saying she’d like to buy
my book. I was too excited to remember much about that call, but I think I
said mostly intelligent things like, “Oh, um, wow! Yes, uh, OK.”
Getting the call may sound like “The end,” but that
was also a beginning, a corner-turning to a new hallway. The revision process
is a time of refining, of letting go and holding on, of re-imagining characters
and events to bring them into sharper focus.
It’s been a long road from that first “At
our house, we have a rule” to this moment, but it’s also been a glorious discovery,
a journey I am both humbled and amazed to have taken.
The website of Alyssa Buecker of Lawrence, Kansas who has made movies featuring
her guinea pigs for Nickelodeon and HBO www.carrotwars.com/