|Me with Zach (not Mike!)|
Mike's wedding toast touched my heart. But upon reading the copy he gave me afterwards, it struck me that it is also a wonderful tribute to the joys of having a good working partnership and a close collaborator. I know that my fellow INK blogger Jan Greenberg has had one for years as well. I hope others of you have been so lucky, be it with another author, illustrator or editor--and even for a book or two. It's a special experience.
Anyway, indulge me, here is Mike's toast:
I've listened to all these great things about Zach and Susan and it occurred to me that my relationship with them, and particularly Susan, highlights a different side that hasn't been talked about. My name is Michael Doolittle and I have collaborated with Susan since the early 1990's on 14 books. I take the pictures, she does the words. I actually thought about asking her to write this, since that's her thing, but it didn't seem quite fair.
I met Susan around 1991 in Peru at a rainforest workshop where guests paid money to tromp around the forest learning about the plants and animals. Susan was doing a story for National Geographic Traveler and I had just finished the designing and building of a rainforest canopy walkway near the place we were staying. She was supposed to take some pictures for her story, but quickly realized this was a tough place to work. Some of the first words she said to me were something like, "This place is a f**king nightmare for photographing, why don't you take pictures for the story?"
We kept in touch and the next year proposed our first book on middle school students exploring the rainforest, which became Ultimate Field Trip 1, the first of a series on educational field trips for Atheneum. Collaborating is a little like marriage, which is why our lasting collaboration is very unusual.
So why does it work? To me, it's because we quickly realized that by working together, we did a much better job than we could have done on our own. Susan found stuff out, and I remembered it for her. I did any math that was required and ate all her leftover carbs. We bounced ideas off of each other for several days, made the kids comfortable with us by being adults, but not chaperones. Eventually an outline would emerge, ideas for chapters would fall into place, and we would crank out the book in the last couple of days--at least my part of it, the photography, something Susan would frequently complained about, especially after we'd get back home. By the fifth and last field trip book, we didn't even need a well organized program--we'd just take what was there and turn it into the kind of program it should have been.
And Susan knew me well enough to know that when I saw what I wanted, I'd just do it. So when I jumped off of the walkway and strapped my camera onto a tree to take the right picture, clambered around on a ledge to highlight an Anasazi ruin, or moved out onto a steel beam 800 feet above Broadway, she could say to worried kids and onlookers, "Oh, it's fine, he never falls..."
You wouldn't know it to look at her in that beautiful dress, but Susan is a great field person. She's up for anything, and has a sense of curiosity and interest in the lives of others that makes her a great writer and interviewer. We've been dumped on by tropical rains, bitten by raging insects in Peru and the Bay of Fundy, and buffeted by such strong winds at the very top of an unfinished skyscraper, an experience that had me thinking for the first time that maybe I was out of my mind. We've rumbled along in military vehicles repurposed to carry elk feed in the bitter Wyoming cold (although Susan was warmer in the heated cab), explored the inky black rainforest nights with flashlights looking for insects and snakes, and felt what it was like to land in a military cargo plane and slide on runners instead of rolling on wheels until we were dropped off on a mile-thick ice sheet with a cold weather survival bag and told that they'd pick us up in a couple of hours "if the weather held."
To me, this collaboration has been the highlight of my professional career. She's everything a partner should be-- great writer, unique mixture of irreverent and professional, sometimes raunchy, and always ready to laugh at something. I will never look at ostriches the same way, or listen to Tina Turner without thinking of the Amazon.
One great bonus to me for the first 8 or 9 books was that I shot them on slide film. So once we came back and she had actually outlined the thing, I'd head up to Susan's house to edit pictures and mentally layout the book. So I got to know Zach and Jake. It's not as much fun now that we do everything online.
As for the wedding, I can't add much to what's been said already. Normally at a wedding, lots of folks wonder to themselves "What are these kids thinking? Don't they know how hard it is to stay married?" I was married at 26, and, looking back, have no idea what I was thinking. In yet another example of doing things their own way, Susan and Zach have reversed conventions, and only got married after they knew that they live in a relationship that exemplifies what a marriage is supposed to be-- the whole is greater than each part.