Sunday, October 16, 2011

First-ever interview with Edward Ormondroyd, author of “David and the Phoenix,” part 2 of 2

Part 1.

What was the second book you published and what was it about?

Next came The Tale of Alain, published by Follett. It was beautifully illustrated by Robert Frankenberg and showed an advance in writing skill, but I no longer care for it. It is too moralistic, a kind of secular Sunday school tract. There is no point in discussing it.

Which of your books was the hardest for you to write?

Castaways on Long Ago. I was some sixty (or was it eighty) pages into it before I realized that I had gotten off to a hopelessly wrong-footed start. I threw away the pages and began again with a little incident that becomes a leitmotif throughout the story. Things went well from then on.

How many picture books did you publish and what are the names/subjects?

Seven. In chronological order:

Jonathan Frederick Aloysius Brown. A small boy gets separated from his mother in a crowd. When she next sees him, he is on an elephant leading the circus parade.

Michael the Upstairs Dog. A confined German Shepherd finds his way to the street. A pack of new canine buddies follows him back to his apartment where chaos ensues.

Theodore. A scruff teddy bear is mistakenly run through the wash, making him so clean that Lucy, his owner, doesn’t recognize him. He takes adroit steps to render himself scruffy and recognizable again.

Broderick. A country mouse teaches himself to surf in a nearby lake, and with a human companion goes on to fame and fortune.

Theodore’s Rival. Thinking that Lucy’s new toy panda is a bear, Theodore is consumed by jealousy. Learning that he is still the bear of the family, he masterminds a thrilling rescue of the lost panda.

Imagination Greene. A Colonial farmboy “invents” the automobile, the telephone, and television while clowning for his younger sister. [MTN: Because of its clever premise, I bought a used copy of this out-of-print book, which was published in 1973; I was surprised to see that the back flap bio of Edward does not mention David and the Phoenix, which seems to be his most well-known book.]

Johnny Castleseed. A boy and his father build a beautiful sandcastle by the drip method. Some spectators begin to imitate them, showing the invisible Johnny Castleseed has passed by, scattering castle seeds.

Are all of your books for young readers?

Yes, but adults can enjoy them too. I used to read a lot of terribly boring picture books to my kids and vowed that if I ever wrote picture books, the read-aloud adults would enjoy them along with their children.

Which book is your most personal and why?

Time at the Top. Absolutely. It was such a pleasure to write, maybe because I put myself in it under my own name as one of the characters. A very close second is the sequel, All in Good Time, where I again do something that advances the plot. But all my books are personal. You can’t write fiction impersonally.

Did you ever consider a sequel to David and the Phoenix?

I not only considered it, I was fool enough to write it. Disaster! I threw away the whole book.

What was the sequel about? When did you write it? Did you save no copy?

Well, the Phoenix was irrevocably gone, so I substituted a gnome-like figure, and he and David set out on a quest, carried by a flying suitcase...but of course without the old Phoenix it was as useless as Gone with the Wind without Scarlett O'Hara. I can't remember when I committed this literary crime. No copy. My wastebasket is a receptacle of no return.

If at one point you stopped trying for publication, when and why?

My writing career ended some time in the early 1970s when I realized that the reason I was so hopelessly bogged down in a new book was because the gift of invention had left me, and it was time to get a day job. Fortunately, one was waiting for me.What was it?

Joan and I had come to Ithaca, NY by then. In 1973 or '74 I applied for and got a job as Head of Technical Services in the Finger Lakes Library System.

Which, if any, of your out-of-print books would you like to see reissued? Is it the one you see as most commercial to a modern readership?

Castaways on Long Ago has been reissued by Green Mansion Press. Purple House Press has reissued Time at the Top in addition to David and the Phoenix. A dramatic reading of the latter is available from Full Cast Audio: I read the narrative and actors read the dialog. The first reissue of Time at the Top has sold out, so Purple House Press plans to reissue it again along with its sequel All in Good Time in one volume this fall. Dial Books for Young Readers reissued Theodore with colorful new illustrations, then abandoned it when the economic meltdown left it dead in the water. I would like to see Theodore, Theodore’s Rival, and Broderick reissued, but don’t have any expectations that it will happen.

Do you read any fantasy novels of today?

I don’t seek them out as such. This question led me to the realization that some of my favorite novels are indeed fantasies: Norman Douglas’s South Wind, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake, Nabakov’s Pale Fire.

Have you ever spoken in schools?

Well, I’ve read two of my picture books to gratify my grandson Connor (and his kindergarten teacher) and once at the instance of my wife who volunteers as a teacher’s assistant in a local grammar school.

Please tell me about your wife and children.

Joan and I met when we were both working for the Contra Costa County Library System in California. She had four children and I had three. They are all grown now and living on the west coast, to our sorrow: Karen, a psychotherapist; Jeff an agroecologist and consultant in carbon sequestration; Evan, an architectural and industrial model maker; Gordie, a construction contractor; Claire, a lawyer working for the county personnel department; Aster, an events coordinator; and Beth, a quilter.

Our grandchildren are Brian, who is in college studying architecture; Connor, who just graduated from high school and wants to be a wilderness educator, and Jade, who is in middle school, plays cello, and has distinct artistic abilities.

Where do you live?

Trumansburg, NY, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region, one of the most beautiful landscapes in America.

Do people in your community know you are an author?

Some do, probably most don’t.

Edward today

When was the last time you were asked to speak or appear as an author at an event?

Approximately forty years ago. I told a group of children’s librarians the story of David and the Phoenix—inception, wandering in the wilderness, publication. I learned a little later that what they had wanted to hear about was Time at the Top. And so it goes (as Kurt Vonnegut was so fond of saying).

Have you saved any articles that have been published about you, and if so, when/where are they from?

I’m not aware of any article having been published about me, but a lovely one was published about David and the Phoenix. It was published in 2009 by Roaring Book Press in a book titled Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. People from all walks of life tell about the children’s book that meant the most to them. The essay on David and the Phoenix was written by Professor Gerald Early of Washington University and contains the most flattering words and author can hear: “After I finished reading it, I immediately reread it.”

What interests/activities occupy you these days?

Gardening, practicing piano, trying to keep up with the too-many periodicals we subscribe to, reading new books and rereading old favorites, birdwatching, walking, concert-going. Joan sees to it that we have a lively social life.

How are you feeling?

My joints creak, my bones ache, my vision and hearing are declining—but I feel great!

Are you still writing, and if so, what about?

I’ve made some stabs at it—a couple of poems, memoir-essays—but my discipline is not what it was.

What was your reaction when you learned why I was contacting you?

I was overawed when you introduced yourself as the author of some 70 books. I was intrigued, too. Although I am computer-illiterate I know about blogs, but never dreamed of actually appearing in one.

How do you want people to remember you?

You know, I hadn’t even thought about this until you asked. On reflection, I’ll take a cue from Marianne Moore. As a writer I’d like to be remembered as a maker of imaginary worlds with real characters in them.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Lots, but I’m tired. Aren’t you?

The surprise that happened next. 

Note: The only authorized publisher for Edward's books, including David and the Phoenix and the newly-released, first-ever combined edition of Time at the Top (1963) and its 1975 sequel All in Good Time, is Purple House Press.


Anonymous said...

One is appreciative that this interview was conducted and posted here, David and the Phoenix being one of the first "chapter books" I ever read and certainly among the most influentially memorable of the lot.

Margo Berendsen said...

Love it: 'a maker of imaginary worlds with real characters in them.'

Liza Martz & Friends said...

This interview is great! Thanks so much for conducting it and posting it! (and thans to Mr. Ormondroyd for participating!)

Connie Rockman said...

This is lovely, Marc - it's always fascinating to hear from earlier writers of children's books. A profile with much of this biographical information appeared in the Third Book of Junior Authors, published in the early 1970s by the H. W. Wilson company.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks everyone!

Connie, fascinating. Even Edward apparently didn't remember (or maybe didn't know) that info on him appeared in that book, but given it came out 40 years ago, I don't blame him!

Could you please scan and email me the page(s) about Edward? (My email is at top right of blog.)

Jennifer said...

I have long wished that Johnny Castleseed would be released - the illustrations need a little updating b/c of the hairstyles and clothes, but I think it would "go" again.

Or maybe that's just me, because I love it so much...

Anonymous said...

As foolish as this may sound I will admit David and the Phoenix affected my adult life. Distrust of technocrats lingers on and little faith or use for technology.
On the positive side I have never entirely lost that sense of wonder.
What a wonderful author! Fred

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to hear that Mr. ormondroyd is still with us... And not that far away from me!

I only JUST completed getting my grandson, age 11, to read the book that I so fondly remembered as a young man. I still have my original Weekly Reader Children's Book Club edition of the book (though the original slipcover has been lost to the sands of time), complete with yellowed pages, original illustrations, and a publishing date of 1958.

I still love this book, and can't begin to tell how many times I've read it. It has been and will be treasured forever. Thanks very much for the interview!


David Graham said...

"David" ranks with "Alice in Wonderland".

jack tilley said...

David and the Phoenix is not only a book I love,to me this book is sacred. I read it several years straight in elementary school. Did book reports. At 61yrs old my wife just bought it for me off Internet. Got it today read it tonight and its just as powerful as it was 50yrs ago.
Jack Tilley originally from Kannapolis, NC

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Jack! I have passed your message to Edward and know he'll appreciate it.

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