It is a sheer pleasure to host Dan Richards today, in celebration of a slew of new books. I love that he’s taken time to reflect on what his writing career and accomplishments (and discouragements) have meant to him. To my memory, this isn’t a perspective that’s been shared on Friend Friday before and I appreciate Dan modeling this. Even if you are not a book creator, there is something to be said for taking stock on what your work says about you. And in the case of Dan Richards with three brand new books Stu Truly First Kiss (Yellow Jacket); Once Upon a Goat (Knopf Books for Young Readers); and Penny and Penelope (Imprint) — it seems to say he is one prolific and persistent fellow.

Dan Richards

What does my writing say about me?

This is kind of a crazy year. My second novel Stu Truly First Kiss (Yellow Jacket) came out in May. Three months later my two latest picture books Once Upon A Goat (Knopf Books for Young Readers) and Penny and Penelope (Imprint) were released. Three books published in one year. I’m equal parts excited and proud mixed with dazed and confused. 

Perhaps even more surprising, several firsts happened this spring including: a novel picked up by Follett Book Fairs, a picture book that is now a Junior Library Guild selection, foreign rights for a book sold to Japan, and my first starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Yes, that might sound like I’m bragging but please indulge me just this once because the journey up to now has been mostly a slow slog filled with fear, failure, and the daily double of doubt and despair. 

Which is what makes this year so strange. Who’s going to pat my hand now when I complain about my struggling career? Who’s going to listen to my doubts without continually reminding me of my successes? And who’s going to believe me when I say I still don’t know if it will ever amount to anything more than a few peak moments in a lifelong march into obscurity? There are no answers to those questions, but a couple things are becoming clearer. For the first time in my life I have a body of work large enough to reflect on what it says about me. Here are my takeaways.

First, my sense of humor is an integral part of my storytelling. It’s not that I originally set out to write funny books. It’s more that along the way my sense of humor infused itself into all my best writing. I’ve come to realize it’s at the core of who I am and how I see the world, for better or worse.  

Second, I turn out a lot of crummy work in the process of finding those rare moments when something special happens. As an example, over forty picture book manuscripts have been quietly and unceremoniously buried in my prolific slush pile of crap. They will never see the light of day. They were fun ideas that captured my imagination before leading me down rabbit holes of story death, often funny rabbit holes that needed to be explored before I could let go and move on. I’m thankful for those manuscripts (and the ones that worked, too!). They’ve enriched my journey even if most will never enrich anyone else’s. 

And that leads me to the last takeaway. I’ve discovered three themes that apparently have been entrusted to me to bring into the world: humor lightens heartache, fear illuminates hope, and magic exists in the spaces between our differences. For that I am eternally grateful, eternally humbled and maybe even eternally just a little bit (but don’t tell anyone) proud.

 So much for reflecting, now it’s back to the slog, back to the rabbit holes, back to the joy (well, you know, mostly joy) of living the writer’s life…

Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards

Dan Richards is a beloved children’s author known for his picture books THE PROBLEM WITH NOT BEING SCARED OF MONSTERS and CAN ONE BALLOON MAKE AN ELEPHANT FLY? and his middle school novels STU TRULY and STU TRULY FIRST KISS. His newest picture books include PENNY AND PENELOPE and ONCE UPON A GOAT. Dan lives in Bothell with his wife, two kids, and two mischievous doodles. Visit Dan at his website.