As I wrote the first draft of In Mr. Handsome’s Garden, I was determined that no human voice would appear anywhere in the stories. My goal was for all of the pieces to be unmediated dialogues between animals or other creations – sticks, castles, fairies, etc.
However, in the final paragraph of the final piece – about an inchworm and a hummingbird – a human voice drifted into the mix. Watching the inchworm and the hummingbird in his garden, an old guy seemed to clear his throat and speak up. He said to himself, the bird, the worm and anything that might be listening – including me: “God has done a wonderful job with you and your many glorious colors.”
I set the draft down for six months, while Catherine worked on illustrating the stories. And for those six months, like a spirit with something to say, Mr. Handsome hovered around me. The problem with the first draft was that it hadn’t cohered into a “thing.” It was like Aesop’s Fables in that it contained a bunch of stories, a consistent tone and a set of themes. But it was missing a voice … an Aesop. As Mr. Handsome kept whispering to me, I realized he was a voice that could unite the stories.
When Catherine’s work was complete, I set to revising book, and Mr. Handsome began to emerge as a character with a story of his own … a past, a present, experiences, feelings and thoughts about the things he’s seen in his garden, in his travels and in his interactions with people.
Mr. Handsome came to me like The Little Prince, unbidden and with secrets he was willing to share. Writers often speak about listening to their characters. I’m pleased Mr. Handsome spoke so clearly, so patiently and over such a long time. I’m glad he was impossible to ignore.