Even after publication, some writers fuss and fret protectively about their books as if they were precious newborns.
Not Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo.
"I don't stand over the shoulders of my readers and shake them, saying, no, no, look here," she said recently from her home in Minneapolis. "Once I write it, I let it go to meet whatever imaginations there are. And the same thing goes for adaptations, which are another discipline entirely. I don't stand there saying, no, this is how it should be done."
That ability to separate herself from her output could help explain some of her biggest successes. "The Tale of Despereaux," her 2004 Newbery-winning fantasy about a fearless big-eared mouse, was made into a 2008 animated feature released by Universal Pictures. Sigourney Weaver did the narration, and Matthew Broderick voiced the title character. The film grossed nearly $90 million in worldwide release.
Two other DiCamillo titles have either been translated onto the big screen or are headed there. "Because of Winn-Dixie," her 2000 book about a 10-year-old and the dog that leads her to meet interesting people in the South, was made into a 2005 feature film. And "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," about an egotistical china rabbit that gets lost on a family trip, also is destined for the screen.
There have been attempted stage adaptations of some of her stories in remote parts of Europe, though she can't be sure they happened.
But she will be in attendance at the Children's Theatre Friday, when some of her wacky characters will come to three-dimensional life onstage. Playwright Victoria Stewart's adaptation of DiCamillo's series on the pig, Mercy Watson, is premiering under director Peter Brosius.
"It's been a ball to work on this," said Stewart. "The characters are so rich and funny. I get to pick and choose the most visual, theatrical parts of these stories to put onstage."
The well-intentioned, eager-beaver "porcine wonder" unwittingly causes problems, then sets about trying to solve them in "Mercy Watson to the Rescue!"
Sara Richardson plays Mercy. The production includes Mo Perry and stage veterans Gerald Drake and Wendy Lehr.
'Fun and mayhem'
For DiCamillo, the writing of children's books is like "sorbet -- they're a palate cleanser between writing fiction," she said. "There's no moral, no lesson in 'Mercy.' It's just all fun and mayhem."
That creative streak was present early in DiCamillo's life, as she was growing up with her mother and brother in the central Florida city of Clermont, where the family moved for her health. She attended school and tried her hand at many things before following the call that she had heard much of her life. At 30, she moved to the Twin Cities to pursue writing, partly to test a relationship.
"I had a boyfriend at the time and I wanted to see if he would stop me from moving, singing, 'Please, don't go,'" she said. "He didn't."
Once in the Twin Cities, she took classes, worked at a book warehouse and began to find her voice. Her first book, "Winn-Dixie," was published when DiCamillo was 36. It is set in the South. Being in Minneapolis allowed her to hear those voices clearly, she said.
"I feel like I had to explain myself here, and if I were still living in Florida, I'd have no need to do that, or that book," she said.
Arthur Miller once said that he wrote as a way to stay alive. DiCamillo echoed that sentiment. "Writing allows me to process things and work them out," she said. "It helps me to make sense of the world."
DiCamillo does her thinking on her feet. She said she composes in her head as she strolls her neighborhood and nearby Lake Harriet.
"I tend to mumble to myself as I walk," she laughed. "So, when I'm walking, I have to decide whether I'm going to behave, or go on a side street where I can mumble to my heart's delight."
And if DiCamillo weren't a writer, what would she be?
"Unhappy," she said, "very unhappy. Well, sometimes I'm unhappy with my writing. And I have an edit of a new book that I'm doing now that can change my mood."
What is it called?
"Wouldn't you like to know," she said. "It's being born now and it's a gentle delivery. We don't know yet. But once it comes out, I'll let it go into the world, too. It will find its way."
Just like Mercy Watson.