Monday, April 5, 2010

FISH: Origins

This is my first novel for children, but I've been telling pirate stories, and setting up kid-friendly treasure hunts, for years. Whenever we celebrate a summer birthday for one of my nieces and nephews, we usually make a treasure hunt part of the events. I'll stash clues and create ancient-looking maps that force the kids to work through puzzles and word games and eventually point them towards the final treasure.

For the first few years, my siblings and I kept it simple, leading the kids towards goodie bags and things like that. Eventually, though, we started adding more and more layers to the story. A replica treasure chest. Fake gold coins. Reports of pirate ships spotted through the telescope.

One year, I designed the map so that the final "X" led them out to a spot in the Long Island Sound. The kids were too young to swim out there, so my brother led the expedition instead. Before he swam out, we secretly loaded his pockets with old swimming medals. He swam out about 20 feet, dove, held himself to the bottom for 20 seconds, then surfaced and yelled back to the kids: "There's a sunken ship down there! I think there's treasure!" They started screaming with excitement: "Go back down! Go back down!" He did, and he held on again, making it seem as though he had to descend to great depths, and then shot out of the water, gasping, holding the old swimming medals. The kids, seeing gold, cheered and called for more.

Most of them are too old now for this sort of game - although my two young daughters are nearing prime treasure-hunting age - but designing those miniature quests really made an impression on me. It was incredible to see how pirates and treasure hunting can capture the imagination of both boys and girls. I was well aware of the fact that there are about 1,000 pirate novels, movies, and stories out there, but I figured I'd try one anyway.

The book went through many revisions over the course of five or six years, but the central idea remained the same. For me, the story has always been about this main character, Fish, a boy who loves to swim and hates to fight. I'm 34, with a lovely wife and two fantastic daughters, and I certainly don't have any experience with piracy, but this 12-year-old treasure hunter is very much me.

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