"Where did you get your inspiration for this book?"
This is a frequent query I get from students when I visit their classrooms. I recognize it as one of the questions the teacher has suggested they ask the visiting author. If the kids got to choose the questions, it would more likely be, "Do you have any pets?" or "Why don't you write horse stories?" or "How old are you, anyway?"
Most often, the inspiration for my stories comes from weeks of free writing, of letting whatever enters my mind pour out onto the page. There's very little I can salvage from these "morning pages," but they help me to keep writing. Besides, I know that one day I'll start to see a connection between all the loose ideas on the page, or a character will begin to emerge, someone with whom I'd like to have an adventure.
But in the case of Growing Up Ivy, I have a definite answer to that question about what inspired me to write it.
Years ago, when I was researching my first book, a work of non-fiction called The Movie Years, I started corresponding with a woman in California. Her husband had been a cameraman on Carry On Sergeant! the biggest movie ever made here in Trenton and about which I was writing. Later, the husband became a cameraman for Universal Studios.
Besides providing me with some useful information for the book, the woman asked me if I could help her write her memoirs. I agreed to do what I could. Subsequently, she sent me several long letters about her life.
When she was a child she used to spend time with her father travelling around the countryside in a horse-drawn covered wagon. He was a peddler. I found her description of how the two of them lived in that wagon fascinating. It seemed such a unique way of life that it stuck in my mind. I loved the idea of those idyllic, barefoot childhood summers.
Twenty years later, I began to write Growing Up Ivy. In my book, when Ivy's father comes into her life in 1931, he arrives in a horse-drawn caravan, "all fitted out inside, so's a body can live in it." And wonder of wonders, he agrees that Ivy can spend the summer with him, wandering down country roads, peddling shoes.
And what do I tell the middle school kids who ask how old I am? "I'm as old as my pinky finger, and a little bit older than my teeth."