Q. How many books have you co-authored?
A. Three. The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear (that’s one), Piggies, and Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear! We have also co-illustrated a book entitled Elbert’s Bad Word.
Q. How do you co-author a book?
A. Audrey — The line between authoring and co-authoring a book is sometimes blurry. Don is always an important influence on every story I write.
He is my first editor, the one I depend upon to give me a trustworthy, critical, opinion. If Don likes a story I’m working on, it inspires me to bring it to completion. If he’s not immediately impressed or intrigued with an idea, I’ll put the story aside, let it marinate, and start on another. Even though I come up with the concept and write every word in one of my stories, Don will be there in the background advising, suggesting, and cheering me on. Writing is a scary, lonely occupation. It helps to have a partner you trust.
Don – When we co-author, I play a larger role and am involved in the actual creation of the book. I also get to lay around in the backyard, and when someone asks me what I’m doing, I say, I’m writing. The best part of the experience is whacking ideas back and forth like a tennis ball with Audrey.
Q. Where did you get the idea for Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear!
A. Audrey — The concept was originally inspired by a strong childhood memory of mine. One winter my parents took me to visit Hog Scald Hollow in the Ozark Mountains. This hollow contained a hot spring hot enough to cook on. During the Civil War, the Confederate and Union soldiers celebrated a temporary Christmas truce there so that they could all cook, and share, their holiday feast. Then they went back to war. I wanted to write a book that captured the power of the holidays to transform enemies into friends.
Don – We were also fascinated by the idea that someone, either a Confederate or Union soldier, had to make the first move, exposing themselves to danger and ridicule. Audrey and I called this concept the courageous Christmas.
I happen to remember the exact breakthrough day that the book took its present form. We had been working in the studio for weeks getting nowhere. Since we were accomplishing nothing, one day we decided to accomplish nothing in pleasant surroundings, so we took off to one of our favorite, hidden beaches north of Santa Barbara. As soon as we began to work, we made progress, and that beach is literally “where we got the idea.”
Q. There’s a BIG present featured in the book. Why didn’t you let the reader know what’s in it?
A. Don and Audrey – We don’t mean to be coy, but we will be. We didn’t let the reader know what’s in the present, because we don’t know what’s in the present. It’s up to each child to fill that box with whatever they think the little mouse (or what they themselves) should receive in those circumstances. And when you see the face of the little mouse as he slumbers on Christmas Eve, you will remember that to give is better than to receive, but to anticipate is better than both.