On Tuesday, January 23rd "Yellow Kayak" will be launching here in the USA, and on January 22nd in the UK from Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. It will be my 24th published book, my fourth book as author only, and my second book with wonderful and whimsical illustrator Melissa Castrillon. "Yellow Kayak" is already getting off to a great start with Korean, Russian, Italian and French rights sold.
Every book is an adventure and each journey is unique. I thought I'd share the story behind the story of how "Yellow Kayak" came to life.
The story begins with my yellow kayak. When I first moved to Seattle at the end of 1997 I decided that I wanted to start sea kayaking. I took some classes at the Northwest Outdoor Center and tried out a lot of boats, and in 1999 I bought myself this Current Designs Caribou yellow kayak.
I wanted my husband, Booth to paddle with me, so I tricked him into doing it by buying him a Pygmy Designs marine mahogany Coho kayak kit and after he built his multi-chined beauty, we could paddle together. We started paddling around Seattle, but in 2002 after we bought our Lummi Island cottage, we moved the boats there.
The San Juan Islands are an amazing place to paddle, and we joined neighbors and friends for some great adventures. (Thanks to author/illustrator/neighbor/friend Paul Owen Lewis for these photos, btw.) But the waters in the Salish Sea are fickle. Currents run strong. Reefs lie hidden just below the surface. Tide rips and eddies boil. And winds can come up out of nowhere. So can Orcas, although I was in our skiff, not in my kayak when the Orca whales swam right under us.
The seed for my story, "Yellow Kayak" started when my husband and I went on what was supposed to be a lunch picnic paddle with our island friends, Jeff and Penny. I had checked the tides and currents and I had checked the weather. All was good. All four kayaks took off from our neighborhood beach to paddle about five miles to a rock outcropping in the middle of the channel... Now cue the Gilligan's Island theme.
As we approached the rocks, I could feel the sea swells starting to roll under my kayak. We all made it safely, but then a gale blew up from out of nowhere- in clear, blue skies. The wind was so strong it took my breath away. We were stuck- with no real overnight provisions, and the seas were getting bigger, in fact a 32 foot whale watch boat had to seek shelter at the same time. My husband was making light of the situation, but I was not happy. I felt responsible for our group since I had planned the paddle. I decided to try my cell phone to see if I had a signal.
Normally, I am not happy about cell phones in nature- other than for taking photos, but this time I was praying to the gods of Verizon that someone would answer. I called a neighbor, and luckily their daughter's boyfriend (now husband) was visiting in his Seaswirl Striper fishing boat- and he came to the rescue. It wasn't simple, or easy, but we all made it home, and we had a good story to tell.
Seeds of ideas sit and sometimes lay dormant, and when you aren't even trying to think of them, they can sprout. Quite a few years after our kayak adventure, I was sitting in the ferry line and I started writing "Yellow Kayak" as a poem in my journal.
I wrote it to the rhythm of paddling. Each line was a stroke. This was on July 17, 2007. Then it sat and germinated some more, and finally in 2011 I typed it into a Word doc and called it, "Sea-Story." It was a story about a little girl who goes out for a solo paddle and gets caught in a storm, and she loses her paddle, but gets rescued by Orcas. It was a hero's journey on the sea.
I even did a loose pastel study for it a few years after that.
Then life happened and I had to juggle many things, and I never submitted Sea-Story. Flash forward to 2017: "If I Had A Little Dream," my sweet lullaby book had just come out with debut illustrator Melissa Castrillon, and editor Paula Wiseman wanted another book for Melissa to illustrate. I sent a pile of stories, including "Sea-Story," which I had secretly wanted to illustrate myself, and Paula wanted it. I did some hard thinking and decided that I'd let the story go- we were in the middle of moving out of our Seattle house after twenty years... and I knew Melissa would add different things to the story, which Paula had already decided would be called "Yellow Kayak."
After working as both author and illustrator for twenty-four plus years, I have to admit that this has been a strange experience for me. Not to go into details, but I had to learn to let go of what I thought the story was that I had written. Melissa saw it through her eyes, not mine. I did some soul-searching and realized that my own version of the story, which was with a solo child paddler, was probably not as comforting and perhaps a bit scary. The character that Melissa added obviously made "Yellow Kayak" so much friendlier. And I learned that sometimes there is much to be gained by letting go and seeing where the adventure takes you.
Melissa has brought so much to this story, that now "Yellow Kayak," is not my solo hero's journey, it is ours. I hope it will be yours, too- as once a book comes out- it has a life of its own, and I hope that "Yellow Kayak" paddles into your heart and soul, and you share it with the young adventurers you adore.