|My nephew Carter, namesake of my own Carter Franklin|
“Why don’t you write stories about your stuffed animals?” my wife suggested one afternoon.
We’d been brainstorming about ideas for my next project. My stuffed animals had been a huge part of my life yet I’d never once considered using them as the subject of a story. It was a case of ignoring story material from your own life because you see it as mundane. It was an excellent idea, but what kind of story did I want to write?
My first thought was to write a picture or chapter book. My protagonist would be an eight-year-old with a penchant for drawing elaborate stories with crayons. He would use his own family of stuffed animals as the subjects of his Technicolor tales. Sometimes he would even draw the world-traveling adventures of his goldfish, Professor, before the tiny, piscine scholar had retired to live in a fish bowl.
Somehow that eight-year-old (he didn’t have a name at the time) would find a way into his imaginary world and meet real-animal versions of his own stuffed animals, including Professor, who was actually a humpback whale and truly had traveled the world. The story would involve some kind of evil invading their world and the little boy would discover that if he drew a picture of something and mailed it to a special address, he could become that thing whenever he stepped into this other world.
I developed that story for months but was finding that, as interesting as it was, I kept adding more emotional complexity than I thought a children’s book would allow. Eventually, I discovered that the story I actually wanted to write would be about the same little boy, but at the age of eleven. It would start three years after some kind of tragedy caused him to put his imaginary life away and grow up too fast. As the book opens, the boy’s imaginary world would slip back into his life and he would learn that the things he’d been imagining were real and existed in another world.
The story would be about imagination and how important it is in our life; not only to remember the fascination with the world we all had as a child, but to remember that we use our imaginations everyday, in everything we do.
I was finally ready. All I had to do was write it. I named the little boy Carter Franklin--after my youngest nephew--and graduated the story from a children’s book to Middle Grade fiction. But, to my surprise, Carter-the-Imaginary would have something to say about that.