I wish I could recall just how I did conceive of this idea.
Probably the idea came about from having had many playful cats in the house. Cats love to chase and bat things around; the cat and mouse thing with them or more the cat and prey . . .
Anyway, I’d known many class clowns, class bullies, classic braggers while growing up. You run into these types as adults as well. They amuse, intimidate and annoy to no end, don’t they? And there’s much material written about these types and how to deal with them. Too, at the time, I was living with friends who had four children, three of which of school age. Quite likely one of them came home with a sad tale to tell either of an incident they themselves had or that one of their friends experienced. In any case, the story was born.
I remember that I was trying to find some new idea I could use to break into the Highlights for Children magazine. I pitched a couple stories to them, was rejected, wrote some more and was rejected again. But I still persisted.
Dalton’s Last Stand at that time was titled Ralph Henry’s Last Stand. It began as an eight page short story which I cut to fit Highlight’s word count. In it, a large yellow fluffy cat that the Kingsley Twins, Jerrianna and Jeoffrey, and their mom find abandoned in their car. Mom is Northfield’s air hockey wiz and is excited to find that their new pet shows every sign of being a new and worthy opponent. Jerri sees this circumstance as a way of putting the biggest bragger in the Universe in his place.
Using Snowshoe Mal, or Malley as she’s nicknamed. Malley has enormous paws. She can whack that puck almost like a pro! Let’s have an air hockey tournament, and make sure Ralph Henry meets Malley in a decisive face off!
No kid, especially a boy, would like the school to know he’d been bested at air hockey by a cat!
Jeoffrey is a pessimistic sort and thinks his sister is totally off her rocker. The cat doesn’t like boys–or at least, she doesn’t like Jeoffrey much. And she plays when she feels like it. Jerri’s plan is oh so totally doomed to failure!
Once the story was done, I pitched it around with no success. Highlights sent it back with an interesting rejection in a full page. Their opinion of the piece was checked off according to how badly your story failed to meet their very strict guidelines.
I, to this day, don’t know how to take their decision or criticism or–whatever it was. Words to the effect that sometimes even an above average writer’s work doesn’t make it. You must try to write better than an above average writer . . .
Okaaay . . . .
No reason why the story didn’t work for them. But generally rejection slips don’t tell you anything more than your story didn’t make the cut. If you are a good writer, though, occasionally you’ll get a hand penned reason why your story was turned down, and why. They may say rewrite and resubmit. Or, this story isn’t what we’re looking for, but let us look at other stories you write. Or some variation of this theme.
Since, at the time, I was new at sending my stuff out to publishers, and I didn’t really know how to be better than above average, I parked the story in a drawer and forgot about it for many years until my boys were in school. And begging me to come to their classes and read to them. Was a ploy mostly to get out of doing other work, I’m sure, but I took them up on it and brought in Ralph Henry and another story. The kids always liked Ralph Henry best. Which made me again wonder why it kept getting rejected.
Eventually, I took a home study course for short fiction. i submitted another short story as an assignment and was told that the story had the potential of being a novel. It occurred to me then that if that was true for that story, it could also be true for Ralph Henry. And the expansion began.
As I developed the story to its obvious conclusion, I began to see that this was too simple. Too predictable. Although many stories are. And they still work. But here, in a novel, I saw I had to show why the kids were the way they were. The saying, chip off the old block came to mind. And the parents took on a bigger role. And led to my new conclusion for the story. I felt it ranked up there with stories told in some of the Disney movies and other family type movies where a whole family is featured.
So if you decide to delve into the whole story, it is my hope that you will think so too. In any case, it’s the first in a series I’ve decided to create as I can’t say good bye to these characters after just one book. So look for more in the near future!