Thursday, September 24, 2009


A few weeks ago I sent a proposal for a children's book to Heyday. Last week (my god, it was just last week) I received some happy noises from them, and and was then inspired to work the material into a play, as my friend Su suggested. This has taken over my writing time and led me away from this proposal. It is going very well, so I don't want to let it alone until I get a draft done. But, as this blog is about my writing as a whole, and publishing, obviously, I thought I'd mention it.

Gee, ain't I laconic. In truth I am very, very excited by this news, not the least of which because I am working with artist Hanae Rivera.

Anyway, here is the proposal. It is inspired by more formal proposals but tailored to Heyday Books and the people I know there.

a story for children by William Emery
illustrated by Hanae Rivera
Proposal for Heyday Books

Kodoku is a 32 page picture book about the legendary Japanese Marine Adventurer, Kenichi Horie. He first made history in 1962 when he sailed alone from Osaka to San Francisco, the first man to ever achieve such a feat. The book begins with Kenichi as a child, fascinated with the ocean, in love with the winds, watching the sailboats ride the waters around Osaka. Kenichi's plan takes shape as he grows older, learns to sail and to read the stars as a map, until he leaves Osaka, in secret, to sail alone across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco on his boat, The Mermaid. The rest of the story contains Kenichi's adventures on the ocean until he arrives in San Francisco, 94 days after his departure.
Sales and Marketing Potential
50th Anniversary
Kenichi made his historic journey in 1962. 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary. Kenichi Horie continues to be an important figure in the world of sailing and 'maritime adventuring.' A children's book of his beginnings will be perfectly timed.
Kenichi Horie
Kencihi Horie continues to make history with his solo sailing. In 2008 he became the first man to sail across the Pacific in a wave-powered boat. He celebrated the 40th Anniversary of his first voyage in 2002 by sailing a replica of the original Mermaid made from all recycled materials across the Pacific. It seems very likely that he will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of his voyage in a similarly newsworthy fashion.
I have contacted a few yacht-clubs that he has ties to and a couple reporters who have interviewed him in the hopes of getting in touch with him. It seems likely that he'd be interested in being involved with the book in some capacity.

The Mermaid
The Mermaid, Kenichi Horie's original sailboat, is a part of the San Francisco Maritime Museum's collection. A co-publishing arrangement would be worth pursuing, though I understand that currently the museum is closed for renovations. I have not been able to contact anyone directly involved. Maritime Museums in general will be great nontraditional sellers of the book. There are 648 Maritime Museums alone in the United States.
The simple bravery of the story, a man sailing the ocean alone, will appeal to a wide variety of readers. At the same time, the inherent multicultural message and the Japanese protagonist will appeal to the Asian American community, and anyone interested in diversity in children's literature.

Foreign Rights
Though Kenichi Horie is well-known in sailing circles world-wide, in Japan he is extremely famous. Japanese rights would seem like an easy sell.

The Story of the Project

Joanne first came to me with the idea when we both worked at Heyday. She was just beginning her push for more children's titles and had run across The Mermaid in the SF Maritime Museum. They displayed the boat with a plaque that told the basic story. She told it to me and I ordered a copy of Kodoku: Sailing Alone across the Pacific, Kenichi's Horie's log, out of curiosity. But, as writers and illustrators cannot be ordered out of thin air by the staff of a publishing company, I set the book and the idea aside.

When I encountered the art of Hanae Rivera, a friend and co-worker, the idea came back with great force. Something about the soft, sinuous muscle of her art, and her fascination with things aquatic inspired me to attempt the story in collaboration with her.

I first wrote up a very literal re-telling of his log. The book began when Kenichi left Japan and ended when he arrived in America. The story moved through a series of events, ranging from atomic explosion to eluding rescue, from sharks to man-of-war. I tried to use the simple charm of his prose style and included direct phrasing such as 'like a astronaut on the loose.' I showed this version to Joanne, now at Tricycle, to get her feedback. While still excited by the project, she gave me a tutorial in the rules and formal preferences of the children's book world (information neither of us had when we were at Heyday, incidentally).

Hanae's illustrations and sketches for the project date from this first draft. She is flexible enough to change her style and/or tone as Heyday sees best.

I worked out a new version that followed Joanne's advice. I abandoned the attempt to reproduce his naive language and began the story in his childhood. What eventually emerged was a much more emotionally forceful retelling in a language more my own. I again showed the draft to Joanne who said that it was ready to sell.

Of the ways in which this project could become a book, my first preference is publication by Heyday. It was born there, was shaped by two former-employees, and is a place that I love that produces work that I adore. I think Kodoku might be a good book for Heyday and I hope this project might be another moment in a life-long relationship with the press.

So that's my story and this is my proposal.


William Emery Justice


WordWrestler said...

Congratulations, sir! Excellent, well-thought-out proposal.

Shannon said...

Kodoku sounds great! WTG.

Anonymous said...

The Friends of the Maritime Museum's library publish books:

And the whole place isn't closed, just the Museum building (and its lobby is opened for tours)--their website,

Whim said...

Thanks all for the comments, including Anonymous. I confess I had some difficulty clearly understanding what the situation with the Museum was. I'll certainly be in touch.