Thursday, September 7, 2017

A 31 Year Old Letter about RIDDLE!

I recently finally started sorting through boxes of stuff left behind by my father, who passed away in 2013. I was amazed to find a lot of handwritten letters (remember those?) I had sent to Dad over the years.  One caught my eye.  Here is what I said:


Oct 25, 1986

I'm glad you liked The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. The agent I sent it to rejected it—I made Martha [my sister] come over to open the rejection letter to read it before I did. It's a most painful process. It turned out that the agent did like the historical part but found the modern bits to be "too pale and uninteresting."

I am now in a frenzy of rewriting (14 hours a day!) and am nearly done. I've recast the whole modern story into 1st person, told by Lars. I've kept Aunt Cass alive until after Lars moves to Penncroft, then she dies—adding a nice bit of drama. Aunt Cass is a lot like Gramma Moorehouse—I get to work in all the G.M. Gems like "Tastes like cat pee." (Her assessment of iced tea in her first conversation with David.)[David is now my husband. He wasn't when she said this to him. He couldn't believe that I hadn't forewarned him about Grammy.]

I also have put in a girl character to suck in girl readers at the beginning. I think the Sandy character will interest them later on.

I believe the book is much improved.

I hope to finish the rough draft today and polish it next week.


Well, it took many more rewrites before I was able to find a publisher for this book. It was finally published by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich in late September, 1989, three whole years after I wrote this letter. (I didn't put the cat pee comment in there, although the "Why didn't you pick more peas?" came straight from my Grammy.

The Riddle of Penncroft Farm has been in print ever since, has sold thousands and thousands of copies, and been honored in many ways. It won 1st place in the historical fiction category of the 2014 Purple Dragonfly Children's Book Awards. It was also an International Reading Association Teachers' Choice Selection, a Jeanette Fair Award winner, and a Master List Selection for the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, the Rebecca Caudill Award, the Mark Twain Award, the South Carolina Children’s Book Award, the Hoosier Young Readers Award, and the Sunshine State Young Readers Award. As a manuscript, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm won the Children's Literature Competition at The Loft, a regional literary center in Minnesota.

It is used in schools all around the U.S. as a cross-curriculum enrichment resource for the study of the American Revolution. Hooray!

So I guess the lesson displayed by this old, old letter is that it pays to keep trying even when the process is painful!

Here are some links if you would like a copy.

Barnes and Noble

 Cheers,

Dorothea