Happy May,

Spring is my favorite time of year. When I see the butter yellow Marsh Marigolds growing by our turtle pond I have happy thoughts of THE EASTER EGG, the book in which I was able to paint many of our New England wildflowers. I am in the midst of a little traveling, but I'm taking some time to update you on my progress of THE MERMAID AND THE THREE OCTOPUS, my current book, and my other interests in my life as a children’s author illustrator.
I have been in Virginia helping my daughter with her two children for a week. While they were in school I worked hard on my book dummy. We call a "dummy" but it is really sketches in the form of a 32 page picture book. I made and sewed together a little book, about half the size of the final edition. Thirty-two pages is the usually length of a picture book. At my daughter' s house I was excited to see all her books about Okinawa, Okinawan snorkeling and undersea life that they have accumulated after 13 years living on the Japanese island. The first time I visited Okinawa was in about 1999. Even then I thought what a good place it would be to set a children's book. My daughter took me snorkeling then, but I was pretty timid and rather worried when she would swim so far out to sea. It probably didn't help that we had just visited the famous Okinawan aquarium which has one of the largest ocean tanks in the world. To give you an idea of it size, it houses three whale sharks among thousands of other sea creatures. After seeing all those fish, most local to the surrounding waters, it was easy to imagine any one of those sea creatures appearing out of the depths. Many years later, Lia's husband Tom outfitted me with some super snorkeling gear and took me and the whole family to Maeda Flats, a very famous snorkeling site on the west side of the island. I saw a baby lionfish (making sure not to touch its lethal spines), hundreds of large reef fish, like parrotfish, angelfish, and butterfly fish, and best of all a baby octopus, the color of sand. When I saw it I remembered Tom and Lia describing a 6' giant Pacific Octopus meandering over the ocean floor in about 12 feet of water that they saw one day. I was glad I spotted a baby. They said it was the most graceful creature they have ever seen. When I suggested they feed it crabs and check out its lair, they joked that they would not want to be associated with food. It was very formidable, even though Octopus are not known to attack humans.
When I first thought of retelling Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with a mermaid standing in for Goldilocks, I first thought of Walrus taking the place of the three bears. Walrus have amazing whiskery faces and are also formidable as well as fascinating. The trouble was, I had my heart set on depicting the underwater house covered with shells and coral and Walrus live very far North where there is little coral. I especially wanted window boxes with flower-like Anenomies and Clown Fish swimming among them, just like the hummingbirds and butterflies that visit our window boxes at our cottage . I have always been fascinated by Octopus, and have heard the stories about their intelligence. When I heard about my daughter and son in law's encounter with the huge Octopus in the inlet next to their house I was sure I had the perfect creatures to enact the part of the three bears. Of course there would have to be three, and I had really seen a baby Octopus, inches from my mask. I was a little worried that the Octopus looked to alien. Would I be able to have compassion for them? Then, an 8 year old friend, Alma Denève, the daughter of our friend the internationally known symphony conductor, Stéphane Denève suggested I put hats on the Octopus! I had read that one species of Octopus regularly clasps a coconut shell over its head to camouflage itself. That did it! My fascination with Octopus gained momentum from that moment. Then I read Sy Mongomery's book THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS multiple times. I highly recommend this book. My dream is to see an Octopus again. I remember several years ago at the Tampa Bay Aquarium, I stood by the Octopus tank for many minutes. The Octopus was very active, and seemed to be looking at me and following my movements. After reading Sy's book I now know that it could have happened that the Octopus was communicating with me or was at least curious.
I have nearly finished my dummy. It is a series of many problems to solve and imagination trips to tame and make fit into my story. Like my books about Africa, it is frustrating to not be able to show many of the amazing creatures in the undersea world. My book would lose its purpose. I have to rein in my excitement. I am happy to say that I've been able to put in my book many Nudibranchs, small, ornate, colorful sea creatures that are about in Okinawan waters. Doing my research I was lucky to discover the amazing photographs of Sean Miller, a man who documents the nature life of Okinawa. I found his work surfing on the web, and recommend taking a moment to see the fantastic wildlife on Okinawa by googling him.
I will be away on a tour for The Boston Symphony to Europe. I’ll take my dummy, and the first piece of finished art to work on. I'll be able to hear my husband play Mahler and let my thoughts expand during the concerts. I have tickets for every concert. Most of the works are so complex it is very helpful to listen to them multiple times. It helps that there are lots of great Double Bass parts! In my free time I can be transported back to Okinawa and watch my book unfold. We may even have time to sightsee, go to museums and maybe even bring back a cuckoo clock like my young friend Alma did. I have wanted a Cuckoo clock since I saw one at my great grandmother's house when I was five years old.
Happy Creating, Jan