Not too long ago, someone told Kate DiCamillo that they saw her as a prolific writer. At this, DiCamillo burst out laughing. “I feel like I move so slowly,” she said.
But DiCamillo has two books coming out this fall — “Good Rosie!,” a picture book with artist Harry Bliss, and “Louisiana’s Way Home,” a companion to her novel “Raymie Nightingale” — and a third book early next year. (Featuring a baby Mercy Watson, the buttered-toast-eating pig.)
Three books in eight months. Doesn’t that make her prolific?
You should hear her laugh.
“I do a rough draft of a complete novel,” she said. “It is probably 45 single-spaced pages, a very rough thing. Once I get through that, I put it aside and then I have something smaller to work on in between, and then I come back to the longer thing again. Shorter thing, longer thing.”
So, not prolific. Methodical.
The Methodical Miss DiCamillo, a much-honored writer who lives in Minneapolis, is currently winding up a cross-country book tour for “Good Rosie!” and is about to set out again almost immediately, this time to promote “Louisiana’s Way Home.” (She will be at SteppingStone Theatre in St. Paul on Oct. 6. The event is sold out.)
While she thinks of herself as an introvert, she has come to enjoy these forays out into the world, because she enjoys meeting her readers — most of whom are children.
“Traveling is hard, but I’ve had incredible experiences of connecting with people, so I’ve gotten to the point where I love doing it,” she said. “I am realizing how much I get emotionally from this connection with readers. And so I’m looking forward to taking my heart on the road.”
The lonely dog
DiCamillo’s two new books carry familiar themes of friendship and loneliness — themes that she has visited before many times.
“Good Rosie!” is the story of a smallish brown-and-white dog named Rosie. She lives with a man named George, and the only other dog she ever sees is her own reflection in the bottom of her empty food dish.
“ ‘Hello?’ says Rosie. The other dog never answers.”
One day George takes Rosie to the dog park, where she meets Maurice, a lumbering St. Bernard, and Fifi, a perky dog with a sparkly collar. They become friends, but not right away. True friendship, DiCamillo seems to be saying, takes trust and time.
She had been hoping to write a book with the artist Bliss for years, ever since he illustrated her poem “Snow, Aldo.”
“If I was in charge of making / snow globes, this is what I would put inside,” the poem reads. “The old man in the black overcoat, / the black dog / two friends with their faces turned up to the sky.”
She and Bliss “realized we just have similar sensibility about dogs,” she said. “And Harry said we should do a book of dog poems.” She didn’t feel up to a whole book of poems, but she wrote “Good Rosie!” with poetry in mind.
“I thought, let’s just make this as spare as possible, and then Harry brings it all to warm, glorious, funny life,” she said. “I turned in this very narrow text, which does look kind of like poetry, and he turned in his art, and then slowly we figured out which pieces of my text will be pared away and lost and carried by his art.”
The lonely girl
There are no dogs in “Louisiana’s Way Home” — well, there is a beloved dog who is left behind — but that book, too, resonates with themes of loneliness and healing friendship.
The story is a companion to “Raymie Nightingale,” a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award. “Raymie” is the story of three friends — Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly. All three girls come from fractured homes.
“Part of it is just when you get authority figures out of the way,” a story can open up, she said. “And there is also my own skin in the game — which is me and the missing parent. With every story, I can see how things relate to me out of the corner of my eye, and I think, ‘Don’t look at that, don’t think about that, just think about telling the story.’ I was abandoned by a parent, and I carry that with me. And it ends up in every story.”
“Louisiana’s Way Home” is the first sequel she has written, though children have long begged to find out what happens next with many of her novels.
“There’s been so many demands from various quarters,” she said. “One of the very first letters that I got from a reader, a boy in Illinois, told me in, like, a 10-page letter what was going to happen in ‘Winn-Dixie,’ and at the very end he wrote, ‘P.S., I’ve done all the hard work. Get busy.’ ”
But she did not get busy on a sequel to “Because of Winn-Dixie.” She had other stories to write. “I’ve never, ever felt compelled” to write a sequel, she said. “It’s always been clear to me that those doors are closed.”
Until now, when the voice of Louisiana Elefante — the tiny girl with the gigantic personality who lived with her crazy granny and who almost died at the end of “Raymie Nightingale” — appeared in her brain and would not be silenced.
“Her voice was so strong and insistent,” DiCamillo said. And that voice, she said, demanded to tell the story.
“I really didn’t want to do it in first person because you give up so much control, and if you take a wrong step it stands out so strongly,” she said. “But that was the only way she would have it, Louisiana.”
DiCamillo tried third person, she tried epistolary. “None of those things rang true,” she said. “By the time I gave in to the first person things really clicked into place. The things that came out of her mouth were a constant surprise to me. Nothing felt made up. It just felt like she was there.”
“Louisiana’s Way Home” carries many messages about the meaning of home and family, about loss, about becoming the person you want to be. But DiCamillo said she would never presume to tell a reader what to take away from one of her novels.
“It’s your book once you read it,” she said.
A reader wrote her recently to explain how important “Because of Winn-Dixie” was when they were a child. The reader wrote, “So many people tried to cheer me up, but your book let me know it was OK to be sad. It also let me know that it was OK to be happy, too.”
“So that would be my pie-in-the-sky dream for somebody to know that,” DiCamillo said. “To close the book and think it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to be happy, too.
“It’s me in there with the reader. We’re together, making each other feel better. We’re not alone. You feel less alone. That’s what I want.”