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Susan Lowell, Author of The Three Little Javelinas, Shares Her Secrets on Telling Arizona Stories

by Susan Lowell

My name is Susan Lowell, and I’ve written lots of stories, including The Three Little Javelinas. (That one has just been transformed into a fantastic musical show called The Three Javelinas, now playing at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Don’t miss it! All the javelinas of Arizona are very, very proud.)

And I have more stories to tell. Keep reading and you might hear one, or more than one. Not all of them take place here in Arizona.

But Arizona IS my story.

Susan Lowel as Child cropped

I’ve lived here for a long time.

And even longer ago, my grandfather was born in Arizona Territory. Here’s a picture taken near Tucson in 1907. Look carefully and you will see a little boy sitting in a wagon—that’s my Great Uncle Gilbert. Look again and you will see another boy standing in a saguaro cactus. That’s my grandfather, Glenton Sykes.

Grandfather Sykes

It’s an April morning and he’s eleven years old … and he isn’t really standing in the cactus. His father, who took the picture, hid a ladder behind the saguaro, and my grandfather climbed to the top step and posed with his hand not quite touching the cactus spines. I know all this because he told me—along with many other stories.

In fact, I have a story in the back of my mind right now about a boy and a saguaro. A boy with special powers who calls himself the Kactus Kid.

Stories can take many shapes. Over the years I’ve written a number of stories set in Arizona. This is the best-known one:

Javelinas Book Cover

And here’s another:

Josefina Cover

 

Those two books, like children, have gone off on their own and just started a wonderful new career as a Childsplay musical at the Tempe Center for the Arts, called The Three Javelinas. Here they are!

 

If you go to the play you will also see the other characters, who are wonderful too. (Coyote reminds me very much of a young man I know named Josh.)

Stories can also come true. Josefina is a girl javelina who dreams of becoming a star ballerina. And now she really is.

 

Why Arizona? Well, take a look at the view from my desk.

View from Desk

Sometimes I see ideas out there:

Javelina

Here’s another one.

Here's another one

People often ask why I write about Arizona, and my response is, “I don’t always!” And then I say: “But it’s good to write what you know.”

Today I’m working on a new story set in Arizona. This is what I wrote yesterday.

THE KACTUS KID

At home they called him Casey.
But whenever he went into the desert,
stretched out his right hand,
and filled it with sunlight …
Holding Ray of Light
He became the Kactus Kid. And he had power.

***************
Now today I’m going to change it a little. The strikeout words have been cut and the red parts are new.
***************

At home they called him Casey.
But whenever he went into to his secret fort in the desert,
and stretched out his right hand,
and filled it up with sunlight …
he became the Kactus Kid.

And  He had power.
***************
I might change it back or revise it differently as time goes on. I have to look at it and reread it before I am sure, and it also helps me to read it aloud.

But I have a good idea of where the story of the Kactus Kid is headed. In fact I know the ending, I think, though not yet all of the middle part. Here is a little more:

***************
Sometimes Casey brought a playmate along.
Then he was always Casey, not the Kactus Kid.
But even when he went to the secret fort all by himself, he was never alone.
He was surrounded by friends.
Cactus
He knew every cactus,
from the small
Small Cactus
to the tall.
Tall Cactus
And when he was the Kactus Kid he named them all.

***************
Now we will pause.

I need to find some old notes I made on cactus names and ideas for the Kactus Kid before I go on. I think I know where they are. (You see, I’ve had this story in the back of my mind for years, and it’s fun to bring it out and play with it.) But at this point I’m not quite sure what happens next.

However, while I am thinking about this, you are welcome to make up some cactus names of your own, if you like, and also to continue the story if you like.

Or, because storytelling is a very free entertainment at all times and all ages, why not imagine something of your own?

There are almost no rules. You can always start with a well-known story and retell it in your own words. A story can but doesn’t have to have pictures, and it doesn’t even have to be written down because many stories are entirely spoken aloud—and some are completely wordless. You can tell a great story with gestures, or music, or dance, or all of them together. And you can also add costumes, sets, and words. Then you will have made your own musical, like The Three Javelinas!

So for now it’s back to work, everyone. I look forward to all the Arizona—or other—stories we may tell.

Susan LowellSusan Lowell’s family has lived in the American West since Gold Rush days. She is the author of several picture books for children, including a Reading Rainbow Book, The Three Little Javelinas, and a winner of a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, The Bootmaker and the Elves, which is now out of print. She has also written several nonfiction books. She and her husband and their two daughters divide their time between Tucson, AZ, and a ranch near the Mexican border.

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