Working with Katherine Paterson
Some months back I got in just before midnight from a meeting in Huntsville. I glanced at my emails before going to bed and saw one from some lady who said she was writing a book about a family of Kosovar refugees and wanted to know if I would advise her. Without even reading the email thoroughly I quickly dashed off a reply saying that I would be happy to help. After replying I glanced back at the email and noticed that its author had included this url in case I wanted to check her out, so I clicked on the link.
Imagine my surprise to find that I was corresponding with the author of Bridge to Terabitha! If my mother, my wife, or any of my sisters had been the recipient of the email, any of them would have recognized the name of Katherine Paterson instantly, but I wasn't very well-versed on children's literature. She is one of the leading children's authors in the nation and a two-time winner of both the Newberry Medal and the National Book Award. In addition to Bridge to Terabithia she is the author of Jacob Have I Loved, The Great Gilly Hopkins, The Master Puppeteer, and many others. Interestingly, I learned that Katherine was born in China to missionary parents. As an adult she served four years as a missionary to Japan before marrying a Presbyterian minister and embarking on her career as an author.
It turned out that Katherine's church had sponsored a family of Kosovar refugees, and she had written a series of fictionalized articles based on that family's story. Her publisher had suggested that she turn the articles into a book. However, she felt that she didn't have enough knowledge of Kosova to attempt to write a book about a Kosovar family. She had located me through my flickr site and decided to contact me to see if I would be willing to serve as a kind of consultant.
As someone who has devoted his life to being a friend to the Albanians, I would have been willing to help anyone who wanted to write a book portraying them in a positive light. But it has been especially thrilling to work with Katherine. All of our contact has been by email. She has been sending me drafts of the chapters of the book, and I have been making suggestions and corrections based on my experience in the Balkans. Also, I sent her several long letters with various bits of information about Kosovar Albanian customs, language, dress, etc. This part of the process is now complete. Just today I received the complete manuscript for a final review-- this time a hard copy by post.
I haven't really begun to dig into it yet, and of course I'm not going to give anything away -- with one small exception. The dedication page reads as follows: "This book is for Muhamet, Saveta, Elez, Yllka, Almedina, and Aridon Haxhiu whose family planted the seed and Mark Orfila without whose help it would not have come to fruition." Can you believe it?
As it now stands, the book is called Country of the Heart. I don't know when it will be published, but I'll be sure to let you know as soon as I find out.
Addendum: The book should be available for sale in September 09. I know, that's a long time.