The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a dynamic community of professionals and aspirings. Read on for Dawne Knobbe’s story, in memory of her friend Mari Lou, celebrating her publishing success and her life well-lived.
Don’t ever give up your book dreams. In the publishing world, anything is possible. Imagine signing your first contract with Scholastic. Impossible, you think? Here’s how it happened for my friend, Mari Lou.
My name is Dawne Knobbe, but to my SCBWI family I am best known as The Mad Hatter and fearless leader of SCBWI LA’s Down the Rabbit Hole field trips where I lead writers and illustrators on creative adventures by boat, train, and even school bus. I’ve met my most treasured friends through SCBWI, so it’s no surprise I met Mari Lou in a critique group at an SCBWI retreat. She was working on a middle grade novel about a spunky tomboy nicknamed Possum.
Mari Lou’s writing was exquisite, but she struggled with pacing and plot. As an editor, she worked with companies like The Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times. Her skills benefited all her writer friends but were detrimental to her own writing. She couldn’t silence her inner critic, which stomped on her creativity. She would work Possum’s story with a debilitating critical eye then, frustrated, avoid it for months. Still, some part of her believed it had potential.
I was so excited when she finally submitted her story to an editor through an SCBWI event. And, unlike Mari Lou, I wasn’t surprised when the editor sent notes and an invitation to submit another draft. Mari Lou was in shock.
She dug in to make changes, but almost seven years of off-and-on editing went by and she still had not completed a draft her inner-critic felt worthy of sending. Finally, Mari Lou rented a quiet cabin in the woods and immersed herself in the story. Then late one night, she realized it was finally done. But would the editor remember her and Possum’s story?
An email awaited her the next morning. Mallory Kass loved Possum’s new story, but she was no longer a junior editor at a small press. She was now a senior editor at Scholastic. Possum, a shoeless, pigtailed girl in patched up overalls, had found herself a grand home.
During the summer of 2015, Mari Lou worked hard to complete the final edits for Scholastic. As the work progressed, her health deteriorated. That August, Mari Lou received terrible news: she needed a new heart valve, but the cardiologists felt there was something else making her ill too.
Determined to complete her book despite her health challenges, Mari Lou would rest and then rally to work. She felt dizzy, could barely eat, but nothing would stop her from finishing the edits. Then in September, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She needed chemo, but her weakened heart meant the treatment was high-risk. Tragically, Mari Lou passed away.
I worried Scholastic might not go forward with the book, but Mallory and Scholastic were determined to launch Possum into the world! It’s with great love and excitement that I announce Otherwise Known as Possum, by Maria D. Laso, will be on bookshelves in Feb. 28th 2017. You did it, Mari Lou! (And so can all of you.)
Dawne Knobbe is an SCBWI-LA Advisory Board Member/Down The Rabbit Hole Field Trip Coordinator. Her books: Runaway Storm, Green Leaf 2010, Turtle Mania, Turning the Tides to Save Sea Turtles, The Nature Kid 2015