Derick Wilder joins us today to share the backstory behind his debut picture book, THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY (Chronicle Books, 2021) with illustrations from Cátia Chien. Read on to learn the real-life inspiration behind this story and learn about his "Always, Always, Never, Ever Rule."
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
This is a circle-of-life tale about an aging dog and his lifelong best friend Little, a little girl. It is a testament to the love between humans and our four-legged family members that lingers long after they pass. And the twist is that it’s told from the dog’s point of view, with his own dog-speak sprinkled throughout the text.
The majority of the story takes place over a single day, beginning with him waiting for Little to come bounding out of her house. When she calls “Letsgoboy!” he is ready for their daily hike through bigwild. But this letsgoboy is different, as he knows it will be his last with her. So he slowsteps, wuffwuffing farewell to the flora and fauna in the forest. Once he knows they will keep Little safe, it’s time for him to close his eyes one last time and rise above the tallsticks, where his oldbones can feel new again.
But his bond with Little remains, for even as spring brings a new surprise, Little smiles up at the sky, letting him know she is still his forever friend.
I have to give so much credit to our book’s illustrator, Cátia Chien. She did such an amazing job of bringing the story to life and drawing the reader into the bigwild with her captivating illustrations. And I had no idea how she would capture the dog’s passing—those spreads are just breathtaking!
Such a beautiful approach to a challenging topic. The relationship between Little and the dog captures the loving bond between owner and pet in the perfect way. I am sure your story will be a valuable tool for so many families dealing with the loss of a pet and the message and tone in it will help children begin the healing process. I agree that Cátia's illustrations complement your words and the mood of this piece so well.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
This book was actually inspired by a real-life event. I write on our back patio quite a bit, and my huskies at the time, Lakota and Kaya, would often sit by my feet. One fall morning (which is why I set the story in the fall), Lakota got up and started slowly walking around the perimeter of our wooded yard. He was an old boy at that point, and I decided to get up and follow him.
My impression was that he was saying his good byes to the trees and squirrels, and that he sensed he would soon be passing. So I substituted my daughter and imagined them walking through the woods, with him knowing it would be his final day on Earth. And I had the idea that, gentle soul that he was, his main concern would be for Little to be taken care of once he was no longer here to look after her.
Your inspiration further exemplifies the bond between owner and pet. And I can only imagine that the love and sincerity that comes through the text are a direct result of your close personal connection to the story.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
I began working on a first draft the morning of that walk. I already had the main storyline, which is actually pretty simple, and the two characters. I also knew I wanted the point of view to be that of the dog, and I had an ending as well. I often have an ending in mind when starting to work on stories I’m most passionate about. And I get a “tingling” sensation when I know a story might be “the one”. Now that certainly doesn’t mean it will ultimately be a saleable manuscript, but that feeling helps me put in the long hours and word-by-word challenges I know will be required to take it from a crappy-drafty to something that someone else might actually want to read.
Yes, I know exactly what you mean by that jolt of enthusiasm that accompanies some ideas more than others. You are right that it is the needed motivation to dive in and make the commitment to see the story through to the end, whether that end be a published book or not.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
An inspirational nugget can alight at any time and any place, so I came up with the “Always, Always, Never, Ever Rule”. That is, I try to always, always be on the lookout for an idea…and then write it down immediately, before the little sprite flits away. For example, my first two books came directly from unexpected personal moments. This one from a walk with my dog and the second, slated for next spring, from a question my young daughter, now in middle school, blurted from her car seat (she wants royalties J). And the second half of the rule is to never, ever think any idea is too dumb or farfetched.
As far as inspirational locations, I am most at peace when in nature, and do some of my most creative thinking during trail runs through our heavily-wooded local Greenway. And I prefer the late afternoon, when the setting sun draws long shadows across the forest floor. None of my manuscripts would have been as complete without two elements: trail runs and my critique partners.
That rule is superb! I especially love the second part, as I think authors, myself included, can talk ourselves out of fantastical or completely original, possibly absurd ideas for fear that they are too much.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember, and my high school counselor recommended I pursue poetry in college. But it took me two careers, as a technology consultant and early childhood educator, to come full circle to writing again. And the catalyst was having a daughter, as I found myself spending endless hours on the carpet of the children’s section of our public library and in the aisles of local bookstores. A few books that stick out from that time were THE GIVING TREE, which made me cry, THE GRUFFALO, which inspired me to want to go back to my rhyming roots, and THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, which I thought was just brilliantly hilarious!
All three amazing books! This circuitous path through a career or two before landing back at writing for children seems fairly common. And like you, I think the impetus for many has been reconnecting with picture books through our children.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
This one is pretty easy, as I prefer a minimalist environment for writing. I need it to be totally quiet, or may play nature sounds in the background. I also love writing outdoors, especially among trees. There’s a small fireplace on our back patio, so I’ll sometimes start a fire on cool mornings—that first whiff is intoxicating. I’ll even go old school at times and print out any manuscripts I'm working on, so it’s just a pen and paper. And if I really have a plot knot to work through or am totally stuck, I’ll hit the trails.
Below is a late-afternoon shot of the entrance to one of my favorite trails on the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill.
What a beautiful place to be inspired! I love the idea of printing out a manuscript and working tech-free and removing the many, many distractions that come with being online. I'm looking at you Twitter.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Sorry this is such a clichéd answer, but write what you are passionate about. Not only because that will allow you to bring out the most beautiful and unique-to-you details in a story, but also because it will help you persevere when tripping on the many roots this industry can place in your path. If you are writing for any other reason, I think it’s too easy to become discouraged by the long odds of getting published. There’s an old baseball joke I try to remember: Where do you end up if you fail 7 of 10 times in the Major Leagues? The Hall of Fame, because you just batted .300.
It is so true! Publishing is a long process with no guarantee of success, so the motivation and joy need to come from the love and passion you have for your topic. The payoff is completing a story you love. The icing on the cake is getting it published.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
My second book, DOES A BULLDOZER HAVE A BUTT, is also from Chronicle Books and is scheduled for release on March 29. It’s at the other end of the spectrum from THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY. My fingers were crossed when my agent, Jenna Pocius of Red Fox Literary, pitched it, as I was thinking, “We made them cry with a book about a dog that dies, so hopefully we can make them laugh with one about butts.”
I love seeing the variety in your work. Congrats on this upcoming book, which sounds like it will be an instant hit!
Where can people connect more with you?
I can be found on Twitter at @Derick_Wilder and on Facebook via @Derick.Wilder.5. And you can read more about me at my author’s web site:www.DerickWilder.com.
Readers be sure to connect with Derick on social media. And mark your calendars for October 26, when Derick's debut, THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY releases from Chronicle Books. If you are interested in preordering you can check out the links on Derick's website.
Derick thank you so much for joining us today. I loved hearing all about the inspiration behind THE LONGEST LETSGOBOY and getting a glimpse into your creative process. Best of luck with your future writing and I can't wait to see what is next from you.
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ABOUT DERICK WILDER
Derick Wilder is an author and educator, and the founder of Reading Giraffe, a literacy initiative that uses the wonder of picture books to help create lifelong readers. Derick lives with his daughter in Fort Mill, SC, where they share their home with Koda, a loveable Siberian husky, Sammy, a huggable ball python, and stacks of books.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.