BIRTH OF A BOOK: The Klipfish Code

Today it arrived, like a brand new baby. Only good things, I’ve discovered, come from my FedEx and UPS drivers—and my publishers—so I knew this package would be something to make me smile. I peeled off the packaging tape, opened the flaps, and there in the box were ten hardcover copies of my newest novel, The Klipfish Code.

It’s August 1st as I write this, so the book arrived ahead of schedule, my complimentary copies from my publisher, Houghton Mifflin.

Satellite map of Norway

A Google Map showing the location of Godøy Island, Norway. Click on the map to see a close-up view.

The illustrated jacket is beautiful, with blueberry hues and title in ochre script. I ran my hand along the illustrated cover showing my main character, Marit Gundersen, and her brother, Lars, as they battle fierce ocean waves off the rocky coast of Godøy Island in Norway. It’s World War II, and Marit is risking everything to help finish the mission of the injured Resistance soldier who she’s hidden in her grandfather’s barn. The artist, René Milot, captured Marit’s determination, and I can almost feel and taste the salty ocean waves crashing again rowboat’s bow.

I love that writing a book is a collaboration. Not only does the jacket illustrator bring another artistic interpretation to the book, but the editor, in this case Ann Rider, helped me see how to make the story stronger, word by word, and the overall story more compelling and artfully constructed.

Like babies, books are meant to have a life of their own. By mid-August, my book will be available. For this quiet moment, however, before it goes on sale at bookstores, before I start speaking about the writing process to interviewers or at schools and conferences…for now I’m just taking an almost maternal satisfaction in simply holding this amazing thing we call a book. And not unlike giving birth to my own children, now off living their own lives, I’m awestruck by the process. I feel a part of something greater than myself…part of a divine creative force at work in all of us.

Alesund, Norway

From above Alesund you can see out to the coastal islands, including Godøy and Giske

The inspiration, the tiny seed that began The Klipfish Code, came from perusing a Fodor’s Travel Guide to Norway. I was startled to read that Norway had been occupied for five years by Nazi Germany. Five years? I didn’t realize that. I knew Denmark had been occupied. But my great-grandparents were from Norway, and with such heritage, I was surprised that I knew so little. I decided to learn more, especially about Resistance efforts by Norwegians. With my husband, Charlie, and our son, Eric (our daughter was rehearsing for her part in the local “Grease? musical and couldn’t join us), I planned a research trip that took us to Resistance museums in Oslo, Alesund, and on the island of Godoy, where I decided to set my story. Most startling to me: one out of ten teachers in Norway were rounded up and sent to concentration camps for refusing to teach their students Nazi propaganda. I was moved by their courage, their heroism, and knew that this was a piece of history that students everywhere needed to hear. And so I began my story with a 12-year old girl named Marit, who is ready to return to school after a holiday weekend, but instead wakes to her village being bombed in the early morning hours of April 9, l940. It is the point at which everything her life, everything in Norway, changes.

After a very long labor, I’m appreciating this newborn. I look at the book. My name’s on the spine and on the cover. The end page, the ones just at the front and the back of the book, are a deep midnight blue. Soon it will go off into the world to bookstores, libraries, and ultimately in the hands of readers. I fret a little. I hope I’ve done justice to the story that wanted to be told, that needed to be told. I hope readers like it—no, I want them to love it. But I have no control over readers’ reactions. I need to let go. But for this brief and quiet moment, I’m breathing a sigh of relief and genuine satisfaction. To the very best of my research and writing ability, I’ve written a story. I’ve written a story with my heart and soul. And that’s the most any writer can hope to do.

It’s my hope, of course, that before long readers will e-mail me and let me know what they think of The Klipfish Code. Hearing that readers enjoy a book is like someone stopping a new parent on the street exclaiming, “Oh, what a beautiful baby!?

If that’s the case, I’ll be smiling.