Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The whimsical world of author and poet Toby Speed

Many of you are friends with Toby Speed on FaceBook or maybe you follow her wonderful blog, "The Writer's Armchair" the way I do, but if you don't, you'll want to do that as soon as you've read through her post below. You'll feel right at home over there, because your favorite tea, a nice armchair and lots of good conversation are waiting  http://tobyspeed.blogspot.com 

Toby Speed and I have been friends since before her youngest daughter, who is all grown up now, started school. Her three daughters are all wonderful treasures, too. We share a lot of great memories of sitting on the porch of Toby's rented bungalow on summer nights talking about books, writing, and silly things that made us giggle until late in the night with the sounds of frogs and geese, crickets and cicadas in the background at Bunnell's Pond here in PA. Nice memories, Toby! 

A few weeks ago, Toby posted an article on her blog about wrapping up the final scene in her work in progress and saying good-bye to a character who has become like a member of the family. Without further ado, here is what Toby (with Kashi her cat in the photo below) had to say about that moment of separation:

 Goodbye to Emma

After more than a decade of work, I'm writing the last big scene in my novel, Death Over Easy. The last first draft is almost done.

In 1997 I picked out Emma's car, which later changed. Sometime around the turn of the century I came up with a few characters who were in a book club together. I wrote fifty weak pages and dropped the story. Most of the characters didn't survive. The book club didn't even survive. My first first draft was like the Wicked Witch of the West―no substance, only style.

From that mess I rescued Emma, who was called Carly then, and LaRue Fusticola, who was always LaRue. I wrote a few scenes with them and with some new characters who had more personality than the old bunch. Then three pilots, who were Emma's uncles, walked into the dining room, and I took a hiatus from the novel to learn to fly.

Inez, office manager at Able Editing
Somewhere around 2005 or 2006 I tried again, getting farther with this first draft than I had before. It still didn't gel. I had a clear beginning, which I rewrote a gazillion times to make "perfect," and a clear ending, which I thought I'd never reach. And nothing in the middle. But I had Inez Lipschitz and Pete Zahn and Pearl and Egon and Ronk and the Lizard and a whole bunch of others who were wriggling around impatiently, waiting to get on stage.

Still, it took me until this year, 2010, to write it in earnest. I started from the beginning and revised what I had, which was about 50 pages. As I worked my way into the story, I realized that much of it had to be changed, or at least that other scenes had to be introduced within those pages. I wrote them. I started this blog in March and declared to the world that I was writing my novel. It was too late to go back. It was time to push on. I lost some sleep for a couple days, but I started writing, and I felt better.

Little by little I got into the flow, and the scenes went faster and faster. After a month, I found that I was already warmed up when I started the day's work, so I didn't have to stoke the fires and get the steam going and the wheels turning. The train was already chugging along. Another month, and I had to make a running start and leap onto that train. Another month or two, and I was no longer getting off the train at all. I was on it night and day.

I was literally living with Emma and all of them, looking into their refrigerators, their closets, seeing what they kept in the glove compartments of their cars. They talked constantly, nudging me with ideas, trying to upstage one another, intruding on my carefully planned plot path. They all had back stories, some really amazing, and touching, and very real. I worried about them.

I especially worried about Emma as I got toward the end of the last first draft. Life was getting much more dangerous for her. She was taking chances I'd never take in a million years. And I always knew what kind of trouble was around the corner. Sometimes I joked about her to my friends―"Better her than me"―but when it got down to the wire, I was truly anxious. I had to keep telling myself it was fiction. Not only was it fiction, but it was my fiction.

And now I'm on the penultimate scene. The scene just before the wrap-up. I started this scene before I went to Kidlit Con, and then I didn't get back to it. Partly it was because I got sick, and partly because life happened. But a good part of the difficulty of getting back to it is that I know that this is goodbye.

Most of the characters have finished their scenes in the book. They still whisper to me, but they know they can't come back onstage. And when I finish what's left of the story, and I write those words, "The End," the door will close. They will all go away.

Emma will go away.

I'm dreading that goodbye. It's going to be a very sad day."

Thanks, Toby, for sharing the poignancy of saying goodbye to characters we love. Sometimes that happens when we're reading a book, too. There's a sort of ache that begins in the region of the heart and we start to read slower and slower. Oh, we know that we can read the book again, but it's never quite the same as the first time, is it?  We love comments, and we'd love to hear about your reading and writing experiences. For example, when I finished writing Hattie On Her Way and mailed it off to my editor at Candlewick Press, I came home, lay down on the couch and moped. I missed Hattie, the whimsical Horace, Buzzard Rose the cook and Hattie's grandmother.  When I was ten I read the Wind in the Willows and I felt the very same way when I came to the last page and closed the book. I didn't want it to be over, and that's one reason why I'm a writer. I want to live inside the story.  So please share your thoughts with us or just say, "Write on!" 

Learn more about Toby here: www.tobyspeed.com

Sadly, Toby's wonderful books are out-of-print, but Toby has a limited number that she's willing to part with and personalize for you as a perfect gift for a favorite child! To purchase your copies, contact her by e-mail to learn about the one-time special offer for this blog post: toby(at)tobyspeed(dot)com  Read about a couple of her books below and go to her web-site to learn about more of her exceptional books: www.tobyspeed.com

TWO COOL COWS review from Publishers Weekly: Those wanting to know why the cow jumped over the moon will find some tweakingly twisted answers in this nonsensical story. "Two cool, too cool" cows from the Huckabuck farm are looking for fresh grass, and they jump to the moon to find it. The moon is cool, too-with cows aplenty beating bongo drums and doing the bunny hop. But the two cool cows are wearing new "black button-back boots" belonging to the four Huckabuck kids, who call them home for milking time. The kids are pleased: Kate plays the fiddle, little Doug laughs and Daisy runs off with Spoon. Speed (Hattie Baked a Wedding Cake) gleefully and rhythmically subverts the nursery classic. And Root. . . plays along zestily, coloring the Huckabuck farm with quiet, pastel tints and the moon with rich, jazzy tones-some of which "return" with the cows. A rewarding romp. Ages 4-8.   TWO COOL COWS was an ABA Pick of the List and won an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Award.

BRAVE POTATOES (From Kirkus Reviews) Speed and Root (Two Cool Cows, 1995) pit a platoon of feisty prize spuds against grimacing chef Hackemup in this gleeful culinary contretemps. Once the sun sets over the county fair's Bud and Bean Arena, the potatoes open their eyes and rumble out to sample the wild carnival ride called The Zip--until Hackemup, chef at the Chowder Lounge, snatches them up, singing delightedly of Idaho and Juliet . . . Romeo and Julienne. . . .Any way you slice it, this tuberous triumph will have readers rolling in the aisles. (Picture book. 7-9) 
BRAVE POTATOES was on The New York Times and Publishers Weekly Children's Bestseller Lists and was named a Blue Ribbon Winner for 2000 by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. The book was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon and Daniel Pinkwater.

We'd really love to hear from you! Please take a moment now to leave a comment about Toby's post. I'm off to order her books before it's too late!

As a thank you for being such dear friends throughout the year, I'll be back the end of the month for the Season of Giving with lots of presents as giveaways.


  1. Oh, I LOVE those cows! ha!

    I needed inspiration this morning to go back to work on a character that's been haunting me for a couple of years. And I love that you two have been friends for so long! Writers understand other writers. Thanks, Toby and Clara.

  2. Writers do understand other writers! Thanks for stopping by this morning, Kristin. I'd love to hear about your "haunting" character some day.

  3. I agree, Kristin - it's such a joy to be among writers and not have to explain the outbursts of ideas, quiet moments, affinity for words and so forth. Thanks for your comments!

    Clara, thank you for this post! I love sitting here on the grass, blowing dandelion puffs with you and whoever stops by to visit with us.

  4. Toby, You know our dandelion puffs have tiny seeds, and those seeds will grow new stories.

  5. Great story, Clara. I feel the same connection to my characters when I write. After all, they talk to me constantly. Ask my family. When I am knee-deep in a novel, my kids may have to ask me a question three times before I answer, I'm so far gone in my imaginary world. (Of course, that only seems fair since a LOT of times, I have to ask them to do something much more than once.) :)

    Best of luck to Toby, I'm sure she'll find a new "friend" to write about soon.

    Cheers! Jennifer

    P.S. Love the new background Clara. So cheerful!

  6. Thanks, Jennifer. I know that your characters have been having some pretty interesting conversations and confrontations! Write on. Thanks for dropping by my cheerful backyard.

  7. Great post! And yes, we writers all "get" each other and make wonderful, life long friends!! :)

  8. What a fascinating look at your creative process, Toby! Thanks for sharing these glimpses of your journey.

  9. To Jennifer, Becky, and Claudia -- thanks for your comments! Very nice to meet you all.

  10. Brave Potatoes sounds like a book I would love. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I really enjoyed the article. Toby, you are very talented to have picture books published and now a novel finished. You give me encouragement to continue on with my writing. I miss my writing group so much and my writing has suffered from not meeting with my writing friends any more. It does make a difference ...being surrounded by people who understand us and know how important our writing is to us. Congratulations on your accomplishments.

  12. Christie, thanks. I love the name of your blog: Write Wild. Perfect.

    Janet, I appreciate your kind remarks. All we can do is go forth bravely and write! I hope you are able to meet with a group once again.

  13. I really liked reading about how Toby connects with her characters. I'm new to writing and I never really thought that muchabout my characters, until I sit down to write. Know I'm thinking about them at work, when I go to bed. I'm thinking what my characters would do in certain situations. Thanks Toby for getting my thinking juices flowing, as I think it will have a good effect of me and my writing.

    Thanks Clara for having Toby on your blog and thanks for all the help.


  14. Kevin, You are so welcome. Thanks for joining us, and, as always, "Write on!"

  15. Oh, she really captured those mixed feelings of finishing a WIP. Thanks for introducing me to her, Clara!

  16. Karen, Thanks so much for stopping by. Now, we'll have to introduce Toby to the "Pea"! :)

  17. Clara,

    Thanks for introducing us to Toby!! I love those Cows- will have to get that for school. I remember reading reviews of that book!
    Will check out the other one also!

  18. Hi Susan! You'll really love the dedication in the book BRAVE POTATOES. Toby dedicated it "To all the fine and fancy vegetables at the Wayne County Fair, Honesdale, PA. . ."

    I ask you, how cool is that?