Idea evolution

I’ve written so little about When the Worst Happens, and I so love the book. Today, I correct this issue. Here’s the Darwinian story of how my survival book came to be.

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Step 1
I have lunch with Colleen MacMillan of Annick Press. She’s a tangential thinker, possibly even more tangential than me, so our lunch conversations tend to bounce around like boomerangs. But at some point, Colleen mentions that she’s been researching and thinking about polar exploration and a phenomenon called “polar madness.” Basically, when people are stuck for months on end without light, friendship, or vegetables, some of them lose it. But Colleen wonders why only some lose it, while others stay sane.

Step 2
I go home and start sniffing out ice-bound survival stories. They tend to be somewhat similar — ice, cold, hunger — so I expand the topic to include stories of survival from an assortment of extreme environments, including the depths of a mine and the centre of the Amazon. I write a proposal in which the stories are organized by geographical location, with sidebars to explore the psychological aspects of survival.

Step 3
Enter editor Alison Kooistra. Alison is certainly creative, but rather the opposite of tangential. She is the most organized person I have ever worked with. When she reads my proposal, she starts to wonder what a book would look like if organized by psychological survival strategy instead of geography. Then she suggests choosing four main stories and telling them in chunks. Readers will be able to flip through the book to read the stories linearly, or read cover-to-cover and find out bits at a time, along with survival techniques and supporting tales.

Alison doesn’t just suggest this. She sends me a spreadsheet.

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That’s right. A spreadsheet. I told you she’s organized. I don’t even know how to create a spreadsheet.

Step 4
I love Alison’s ideas. They remind me of my elementary school Choose Your Own Adventure obsession. Not all my previous ideas work with the new format, so I do some more research, I brainstorm with Alison, and I write a first draft. I attempt to juggle everything into place, and of course am unsuccessful, so Alison re-logics things.

And then we’re done. My daughter chose to read the book straight through, without hopping ahead to different parts of the stories. But I’m excited to see what other readers do. It’s kind of a choose-your-own-survivor book.

Now, let’s hope the project beats its way out of the proverbial Amazon and onto many bookshelves!

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