Nancy Furstinger is a very patient person. In January 2019, I invited her to be a Friend Friday guest to celebrate her then-forthcoming picture book. The catch was that I wouldn’t have an opening until November 15! Lucky for us, Nancy agreed to wait and I think you will enjoy her story behind the story of The Duchess and Guy: A Rescue to Royalty Puppy Love Story, (HMH Books for Young Readers).
Rescue is my middle name! I share my home with rescued dogs, rabbits, and a chinchilla. I’ve crawled through sticker bushes and crept through abandoned houses to rescue, and then foster, rehab, and rehome animals, often flunking Fostering 101. And I’ve spent several decades volunteering at animal shelters: walking dogs, socializing rabbits, doing educational outreach, and standing outside stores “begging” for donations.
This rescue work has seeped into my children’s books, most of which feature animals. Two picture books, Maggie’s Second Chance: A Gentle Dog’s Rescue and The Forgotten Rabbit, were based on animals I rescued.
That’s why I was perplexed when my agent emailed me and asked if I was a “royal watcher.” I had zero interest in the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But my agent attached an article about Meghan’s rescued beagle, Guy, and asked, “Think there could be a book here?” I was on the scent trail!
My agent cautioned that I’d need to write about this timely topic ASAP. Even though I started my career as a newspaper reporter, I am NOT a super speedy writer.
But I focused on the Cinderella story of a soon-to-be duchess and her rescue beagle, who had come from a shelter in KY*, and quickly sent Guy, the Regal Beagle to my agent. He loved how I “balanced the sadder aspects of Guy’s live with the happy ending,” but had me add in scenes of Guy meeting the queen and her corgis plus the royal wedding. And then he submitted it, billing me as his agency’s “resident animal expert.” He also revealed that this was the quickest submission he’s ever done (that goes double for me)!
One of the publishers Guy went out to was Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I loved working with HMH on two of my middle-grade nonfiction books—Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA and Friend of Animals and Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals. Guy landed on the desk of a new editor, Emilia, who is equally passionate about pooches. She mentioned that HMH staff was discussing a picture book about Guy, “but don’t have a writer attached.” I happily became attached, and received a pre-empt offer after agreeing to revise (rapidly again).
In a plot reminiscent of the musical comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” I did two complete rewrites. The first was to tug more on the heartstrings. The second was to strengthen the climax and pacing. Emilia’s comments and edits made the story much stronger.
And in an unusual twist, I got to see artist samples and was encouraged to add art suggestions. I only had a few minor ones—Julia’s illustrations are fabulous! Later I was asked to brainstorm more speech bubbles for Guy: fun! And I also helped brainstorm a new title.
The Duchess and Guy: A Rescue-to-Royalty Puppy Love Story burst on the scene eight months after I received an offer. What a whirlwind adventure!
*Both the publisher and I made donations to the KY shelter that had saved Guy.
Nancy Furstinger has been speaking up for animals since she learned to talk, and she hasn’t shut up yet. She’s been a feature writer for a daily newspaper, a managing editor of trade and consumer magazines, and an editor at two children’s book publishing houses. Now she’s a full-time freelance writer. She shares her home with big dogs, house rabbits, and a chinchilla (all rescued), and volunteers with several animal organizations.