Friendships seem even more precious these days, in the face of challenges, large and small. I am grateful each week for the way this feature on my blog brings me new and wonderful friends, like Shelley Johannes who I met this summer at nErDCamp MI. Today, we are celebrating Shelley’s utterly charming new chapter book, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Thinker (Disney-Hyperion) which launches this Tuesday, September 19. And the utterly charming Shelley is offering an autographed copy of her book to one lucky person who retweets this blog post! She’ll select the lucky winner on launch day, September 19.
HUMMING WITH PAUL McCARTNEY
I hadn’t given Paul McCartney much thought before May of 2015, when the manuscript for my debut chapter book, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, was about to go on submission.
My two literary heroes are Anne of Green Gables and Annabelle of Extra Yarn. Their stories are quietly subversive, and the way they face life is my favorite kind of strong. While they have reasons to become jaded, they color their world with optimism and joy instead.
Optimism tends to get a bad rap. People like to label it blind—and accuse it of being naïve. I think the opposite is true. Optimism is often hyper-aware. It knows the weight of heartbreak and sorrow, and things that can’t be fixed. To me, optimism is a beautiful act of rebellion that refuses to let those things win. In happy resistance, it chooses to see the good, and to be the good.
I always wanted to create a character that would mean as much to me as Anne or Annabelle. I hoped their brand of bravery would seep into whatever book I wrote.
When Beatrice showed up in my imagination five years ago, I wanted her to stay forever. She dropped from the library ceiling in a ninja suit—armed with a map, a mask and a manifesto. She was a quirky, upside down thinker with a fondness for spy moves, sock puppets, and secret missions. After a lot of trial and error—a lot of not-quite and a lot of not-yet—her story slowly came together. I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve never had so much fun in my life.
In May of 2015, the manuscript was finally ready to send on submission, and I loved Beatrice more than ever. There’s always a gap, though, between what you hope you write, and what ends up on paper. Under all my giddy exhilaration, I had a teeny, tiny sliver of disappointment that my love of optimism hadn’t infiltrated Beatrice’s story.
While I was driving one evening, my agent sent me a rough draft of the pitch letter he was putting together. I pulled into a parking lot and opened the file. First I laughed, and then I cried my eyes out.
Because it started like this:
Beatrice Zinker is my personal hero.
It used to be Paul McCartney, for years and years, and I had my fair share of reasons beyond the perpetual coolness machine of the Beatles…but McCartney’s essentially an optimistic goofball, and that’s what I admired most. He never stopped writing happy, silly songs, no matter what else was going on in his life, and how often is unflinching positivity actually considered cool?
My new favorite answer to that question is, “once every Beatrice Zinker.”
No words could have made me cry happier tears.
I’d written a silly love song to stubborn optimism, after all. With a secret operation named Operation Upside, it seems ridiculous that I didn’t see it all along. Beatrice was always sunny-side up, just like she was always upside down.
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is for Anne, and for Annabelle. It’s for Paul McCartney, and all the optimistic rebels who color their world and refuse to give in.
Shelley Johannes started her career with ten years in architecture—where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the greatness of black turtlenecks. Her author-illustrator debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, will be published by Disney Hyperion on September 19. She lives in Metropolitan Detroit with her husband and two boys, but you can find her online at shelleyjohannes.com—or on Instagram and Twitter @shelleyjohannes.