On May 6th-8th the 32 original illustrations used in I Remember Fishing for Dad (IRFWD) will be displayed at Sunnyshore Studio. We will also have 400 signed copies of the new 4 color press edition of IRFWD for sale.
Little did I know the travail it would be to give birth to this book, the multiple rejections I would face in trying to get it published, and the many family, friends and counselors who would assist me in the journey. Nor could I have imagined the surprising way that IRFWD would be birthed.
If you are interested, here is that long tale.
2003: I Remember Fishing with Dad is conceived
I conceived of IRFWD in 2003, a year after our family had moved far from the salmon fishing waters of the Puget Sound to Indianapolis, IN. I drew a series of thumbnail sketches and jotted down memories of salmon fishing with my dad as a child.
I also sketched out an 12 book series, each beginning with “I Remember…”, each addressing a universal theme (like the father-son relationship), and each teaching some skill or activity (like salmon fishing). I wanted each story to not only instruct but also delight through the watercolor paintings. Together as a whole, a book for each month of the year, they would weave together the life of a boy growing up on an island, touching on many important themes, and each showing the importance of sacred memories in childhood.
By the end of 2003 I had completed a first draft of IRFWD. It was a collage of memories of the regular rhythms of fishing – like splashing cold water on my face to wake up, looking at the trees to see how windy it was, racing to our favorite fishing hole early in the morning, watching dad put a herring on my hooks, rushing to get my line in the water, watching the color of the waves, listening to the cries of the seagulls, and watching drips of water form on dad’s nose.
I also included some of the more dramatic adventures dad and I had: like when dad came in second in the Twin City Fishing Derby and a stormy day when on the water. That day when we returned to the boat ramp we saw that it was covered with driftwood. The waves were so high that dad was afraid that if we pulled up on shore to move the driftwood the boat would fill with water and maybe even capsize. So I volunteered to jump into the freezing water (with a life vest on of course), clear the boat ramp, and back the truck to down the ramp. My plan worked. Dad and I were able to quickly load the boat and pull it out of the reach of the waves.
Here are the illustrations for the stormy day. They didn’t make it into the final version.
I ended my collage of memories in this way: “Now that I’m grown up, Dad and I don’t fish much. I miss it. I live in the Midwest, far from the salmon waters of Puget Sound.
I remember fishing with Dad. And I still think that there’s hardly anything better than a calm morning when you can watch the colors dance on the water, when you can hold a fishing pole in your hands and hear the cry of the gulls, and be with your dad.”
In December 2004, dad and mom visited us in Indianapolis. I persuaded Dad to help me paint the illustrations for IRFWD. We painted side by side for an entire week and, in a way, relived the experience of fishing together.
I later learned – the hard way – that it is best and wisest to do the illustrations after a manuscript has been approved. But I’m glad dad was willing to go along with my dream and gave a week of his life – vacation! – to doing so.
My friend Paul Baumgarten took pictures of the illustrations and helped me create a rough draft of the book that included text on the illustrations. Here are a few pages of that first draft:
On January 28th, 2006 I attended the 16th Annual Butler University Children’s Literature Conference. I submitted IRFWD for professional critique. Harold Underdown challenged me to move from a composite of many different fishing trips to a more coherent story:
“I am always a bit nervous about manuscripts based on childhood memories (publishers see a good deal of them). This does a good job of evoking the experience of fishing with dad in a specific place, but there isn’t a story. It’s a series of memories, personally meaningful, but not as meaningful to the general reader. The illustrations are probably not good enough for a publisher, who would insist on bringing in an illustrator of their choice. The quotation from Dostoyevsky at the beginning is a bit off-putting and needs to be somewhere less prominent.
He ended with some helpful recommendations and advice:
“In its present form, and considering your wish to involve other family members as illustrators, this may be best completed as a self-publishing project. If your family member have professional experience as illustrators, and you can tell a single story about this and other memories, then you will have a better chance with a publisher. Personal stories of this type are a tough sell, however….Get involved in a writer’s group, read lots of recent books for children (the IRA’s Children’s Choices list is a good place to start), and write, write, and rewrite….”
Mr. Underdown’s counsel nudged me towards making my collage of memories a story. Esther Hershenhorn pushed me further down that path.
On March 2, 2006 I had the first of two personal coaching sessions with Esther, who is a children’s picture book author, and a coach for aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators.
Esther was very encouraging, remarking about the book “What a lovely concept!” and noting that Dostoyevsky’s quote says it all:
“…there’s nothing higher, stronger, more wholesome and more useful in life than some good memory, especially when it goes back to the days of your childhood, to the days of your life at home. You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful, sacred memory, preserved since, is perhaps the best education of all. If a man carries many such memories into life with him, he is saved for the rest of his days. And even if only one good memory is left in our hearts, it may be the instrument of our salvation one day.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
In regards to the 12 book series, Esther said that the depth of this projected series was well-served by the family connections and that including a concrete activity (like salmon fishing) with each book was a plus. She encouraged me to tie the books to common activities in those months, to make the activities concrete by incorporating them into the story, and by creating a “parallel structure” in the books through language, format, and content that could serve the story well and unify the series. Along these lines she suggested that the art should contain similar elements, so that the family, the characters are recognizable, not only within each story, but from book to book.
Esther told me that the art for IRFWD was beautiful, but that sometimes it took over, and that the text was hard to read. She said that in IRFWD the characters struck her as non-specific. “Is there Is there a way to make them truly human?” she asked.
Regarding IRFWD, Esther wondered, “Would you be willing to scoop out THAT ONE IMPORTANT UNFORGETTABLE memory and focus on that, giving it the beginning, middle and end of most narratives? Also, no one speaks, other than the narrator. Yet memories are more than visual. We hear words and tones and voices; we smell scents; we touch; we taste. Especially in the scenes you create, could Dad speak. Could we hear the quiet, or the humming? Could we hear the warning? Could we hear the yelling? Could we hear the praise? This story might be more memorably told if you create scenes that move the story along, that build in tension, so we can understand why this Moment in Time was so truly memorable? The pallet is somewhat dark for a picture book. Would you consider lighter tones, skies, etc.? Would you consider making each illustration more narrative in tone, i.e. less static?”
Esther’s coaching was incredibly helpful. I began to make changes to IRFWD based on her input. Slowly, incrementally I was learning about writing and illustrating children’s picture books.
In light of her critique, Dad and I also began to redo some of the illustrations.
Summer of 2006
In the summer of 2006 we worked on the illustrations. You can see in the original of the boy sleeping (which I painted) he is rather stiff.
Dad’s painting of the boy sleeping beautifully captured the softness and simplicity of a child asleep.
To help dad and I capture more realistic, less stiff, images my own kids agreed to serve as models. We did a photo shoot. Mom was in heaven taking pictures.
Here’s Julian as the boy asleep:
Mom took a lot of pictures of the dad and son in the boat.
This helped dad and I create better illustrations. We went from this original painting:
To this softer and more light filled illustration:
But with all our work I still had a long way to go as my first official “rejection letter” showed.
In the winter of 2006 I had submitted a draft of IRFWD to Pelican Publishing Company. On July 10th, 2006 I received this rejection letter.
Thank you for your recent submission to Pelican Publishing. We apologize for the impersonal nature of this letter, but due to the enormous volume of mail we receive, we must rely on this method in order to notify authors of our decisions in a prompt manner.
We regret to inform you that the material does not meet our needs at this time. Our book list has little rooms for additions, and we find we must decline the majority of what is offered to us. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider it. We appreciate your interest in Pelican Publishing Company and wish you the best as you pursue publication.
Sincerely, the Editors
Looking back now, Pelican’s decision makes a lot of sense. I had made some minor changes to IRFWD based on Esther’s advice, but it was still essentially a collage of memories.
Still it’s hard to hear “no.” I’m thankful that I didn’t give up. I needed to have tenacity because there would be three more rejections to follow.
I was becoming clearer on the underlying message of the book: the importance of a dad’s presence in a child’s life and the impact a dad could have spending time with their children. On April 7th, in a cover letter that accompanied the submission of IRFWD to Eerdmans Publishing Co. I emphasized this message.
I met you at the Christian Book Association convention in Indianapolis. My name is Jason Dorsey. I am the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
As I mentioned to you then, I Remember Fishing with Dad is the first of a projected 12 picture-book series. Each book will use memories from my childhood to tell a story that explores a universal theme relevant to both Christians and non-Christians. Each book will have an educational and artistic focus that will both instruct and delight.
I pastor a Presbyterian congregation in downtown Indianapolis. Our children attend Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). The new Superintendent for IPS, Dr. Eugene White, made the first day of school a Dad’s-bring-your-kids-to-school day because he knows that perhaps the greatest crisis we face in urban areas is the absence of fathers from their children’s lives. I Remember Fishing with Dad not only tells a story but challenges Father’s to see the lifelong importance of the time they spend with their children, especially their sons.
I Remember Fishing with Dad is a picture book that explores the Father-Son relationship through a son’s memories of salmon fishing with his father and, in particular, of a dramatic fishing trip on a stormy day. One unique aspect of I Remember Fishing with Dad is that it is written by Jason Dorsey (the son) and illustrated by Jason and Jack Dorsey (the father).
I Remember Fishing with Dad connects to a wide spectrum of people:
- It has a universal theme: it explores the relationship of Fathers and Sons.
- It has educational focus: it teaches the basics of salmon fishing.
- It has an aesthetic quality: it celebrates the beauty of nature through watercolor paintings
I believe I Remember Fishing with Dad fits well with Eerdman’s mission to “explore God’s world.” I would love to partner with Eerdman’s on this project.
Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Jason Dorsey
I do not have a copy of the rejection letter I received from Eerdmans. It was the second rejection of IRFWD, but not the last.
At this juncture the help of two of my friends, Paul Baumgarten, who I already mentioned, and Matt Hale was critical in keeping the project moving forward. Paul photographed the new illustrations.
Matt took the digital images and, using his considerable graphic design skills and passion for font types, took the current draft of IRFWD and created a mock-up in book formal. It was beautiful. I still think it is.
And beautiful too was their help.
With this mock-up of IRFWD in hand I was optimistic that I would now get my book published. But that was not to be. I still had not gotten off the path of my personal memories and onto the path of a story that would interest and move readers.
On January 26th, 2008, I attended the 18th Annual Butler University Children’s Literature Conference.
Arthur Levine, of Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books provided me with the following feedback on IRFWD.
Dear Mr. Dorsey,
Thank you for letting me read your picture book, I REMEMBER FISHING WITH DAD with illustrations by Jack Dorsey (your son?). As a father (and as a son) I very much enjoyed the warmth and obvious affection with which you remembered these special times with your dad, fishing on the water. Just as it is, this could be a wonderful keepsake to read within your own family.
I’m not sure that in its current form it would be successful as a book that would communicate to unrelated children, however. Nostalgia is a difficult place from which to start a children’s trade book as it can lead to a sentimentality that is fine (and even wonderful!) for something that is written directly from one person to another, but is less effective in other venues. The very title, “I Remember Fishing with Dad” announces that this is a book that is narrated from an adult perspective, looking back in time. And this distances the reader (who is presumably a child) from the events that are unfolding. Already they are long ago and far away in someone else’s imagination and hence not as immediate.
I wonder if you’d ever consider focusing on one particular day in the life of this fishing pair – father and son. There are some hints in the narrative of what those days might be; at one point you mention a time when the lines got tangled and father got angry, for instance. Instead of dismissing that by saying, ‘But I didn’t mind’ (which I didn’t believe in the first place, since I can never remember not minding when my father got angry and yelled at me) maybe that would be a way of writing about this relationship that would feel more like a story with a beginning, middle and end (I.e. this is a boy who really wants to have a great time with his father fishing, but then they go out and it gets really bad because he messes up. Everyone feels awful. How do they get through that and have the fishing trip they both always wanted. THAT’S a story).
Another obvious possibility would be to write the story of the time the boat nearly capsizes (though that would have to be adjusted too; I think the boy of that story MUST have been older than typical picture book age – 3 to 6 – or else the story might be too alarming to tell!)
But of course these are just suggestions that make sense if you want to reach a broader audience. If it’s just a family tale it might be perfect as it is.
I haven’t talked about the art at all yet, but let me say briefly that I thought the landscapes were gorgeous. I loved the way the artist captures light on the water, in particular. The characters were less successful I felt; the child varied a lot in age. And the characters often felt stiff or posed. That would be the thing I’d advise the artist to work on.
Again, though I enjoyed reading your work and I hope my comments are helpful. All the best, Arthur. L.
I’m thankful for the great counsel I received from Mr. Levine. It helped me learn – or at least begin to learn – the art of writing and illustrating children’s books. His response gave me courage to submit IRFWD to the publishing house he directed.
On November 24th, 2008, I submitted a new draft of IRFWD to Arthur A. Levine Books with this cover letter attached.
Dear Mr. L.,
I met you in February at the Children’s Literature Conference at Butler University. You read and critiqued a draft of my children’s picture book that I wrote and illustrated with my Father titled, “I Remember Fishing with Dad.” (I’ll include the letter you wrote me.)
In your letter, you wondered if I would consider focusing on one particular day in the life of this fishing pair – father and son. I did. The result is the picture book before you.
I Remember Fishing With Dad now tells the story of a special day – a Derby Day – where a father and son pair win a prize at a local fishing derby. More importantly, it shows the deep impact a Father can have on a son by spending time with him. One unique aspect of I Remember Fishing with Dad, is that it is written by me (the son) and illustrated by me and my dad, Jack Dorsey (the father).
I believe that this story reflects the values of Arthur A. Levine Books in its strong writing, beautiful artwork, and authentic emotion. I also understand that you like to work with debut authors and illustrators. I hope to continue to write and illustrate other children’s picture books and have a couple in the works.
I would be thrilled to partner with Arthur A. Levine Books on this story. Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely, Jason Dorsey
I didn’t hear back till June.
On June 17th, 2009, I got my first rejection letter from Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books.
Dear Mr. Dorsey,
Thank you for sending I Remember Fishing with Dad to Arthur A. Levine Books. It was good to see your revision, and to see the text paired with your father’s beautiful paintings. In Arthur’s letter regarding your first draft, he commented that this needed to be a story about a more specific incident, and you’ve narrowed it down very well to a story with a beginning, middle, and end. But I’m afraid that I don’t feel a clear emotional journey in this story – something that every reader can connect with and feel a part of. And therefore I’m sorry to say that this manuscript doesn’t seem quite right for us. We do appreciate having a chance to read it again, though, and we wish you all the best finding the right home for it.
With this clear “no” I knew that I needed to make some significant changes to IRFWD. I began to ask family and friends for feedback and even help on rewriting.
On July 9th, 2008, my brother Jed Dorsey helped me make a breakthrough to telling the story of just one day – the Derby Day – with a clear beginning, middle and end to the story. Renae, Jed’s wife, also got in on the action, working on a draft.
In August I also got helpful feedback and encouragement from Aunt Sharon, my wife Jenny’s aunt. I’m so thankful for all the family along the way that stood by me.
With a new draft in hand and bolstered with their encouragement, I submitted a second draft to Arthur A. Levine Books.
On December 7th, 2009 I submitted a second draft of I Remember Fishing with Dad to Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books.
Dear Mr. Levine,
I am submitting this reworked children’s story, Fishing With Dad, in response to Emily C.’s critique of an earlier draft in June, 2009.
I’m hoping that this reworked story achieves a clear emotional journey. I also hope that it shows how seriously I am committed to making this an impactful and widely read children’s story. Finally, I’m including the earlier story because it shows examples of watercolor paintings that my father and I collaborated on.
I believe Fishing With Dad reflects the values of Arthur A. Levine Books in its strong writing, beautiful artwork, and authentic emotion. I also understand that you like to work with debut authors and illustrators. I hope to continue to write and illustrate other children’s picture books and have a couple in the works. I would be thrilled to partner with Arthur A. Levine Books on this story. Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely, Jason Dorsey
On April 15, 2011, I received a second rejection letter from Scholastic/Arthur A Levine.
Dear Mr. Dorsey,
Please accept my apologies for the long delay in our response to your resubmission of Fishing with Dad to Arthur A. Levine Books. Unfortunately, your manuscript was misplaced between readers, and it only resurfaced just not. But please be assured that we’ve read and reviewed this revision with care. And while we appreciate the message at the end – the experience of fishing with his father made the boy a good father himself when he grew up – it feels as though this is really speaking to the parent, not the child. And so I’m sorry to say that this project doesn’t seem quite right for our imprint. Thanks again for your patience, and we wish you luck.
All the best, Emily C.
With this rejection letter discouragement set in. I had hoped that my reworking my collage of memories into a story with a clear beginning, middle and end would be compelling. Obviously, it had not been. Nor had the art tipped the scales. And although I did not yet give up, I did feel a little bit stuck. I needed another push; a push to create more dramatic tension in the story. That push would come from my friend David Lichty.
In September 2011, I sat with David Lichty on my front porch and picked his brain.
David’s expertise is in storytelling and, specifically, in telling stories through movies. I hoped David might help me tell my story in a more dynamic way. He did. David challenged me to go beyond my memories of what really happened and to introduce greater dramatic tension in the story, even if it met creating parts of the story that had not really happened. It was a real stretch for me to go beyond what really happened to adding a fictional element to add dramatic tension. But I listened to David’s counsel, probably because I trusted his advice and also because I knew I was stuck. I’m glad I did.
I made some changes to the draft. I added tension early on the Derby Day by the boy seeing their neighbor, Mr. Anderson, jet off while their boat engine had stalled. And then, later in the story, after the Dad had caught the big fish, in the engine stalling again. Dramatic tension heightened. Then having Mr. Anderson come by and rescue them by towing them into shore brought resolution, and challenged the boys early jealousy with their neighbor’s helpfulness.
But I had run out of steam. After all of those years and after all of those rejections I had lost heart and energy to push the project forward. The new draft sat on the shelf collecting dust for three years.
Then I got an e-mail from an old friend out of the blue.
On October 23rd, 2014, Shelley Houston wrote me the following note:
I don’t know if you remember me but “I knew you when” you were in Eugene, Oregon at Cascade. I purchased one of the beautiful little watercolors you did as a fund raiser for a pregnancy center at the time and have always cherished your work. Tonight I was trolling the Shopgoodwill.com site and found a large watercolor of yours – A Lone Goose. It is so beautiful, and I was so happy to purchase it. A friend of mine, Gwen P., had also purchased some of your paintings in the days and she will be delighted to see this one as well. We both value them highly. Mark, my husband and I have moved to McMinnville, Oregon – a tourist town for wine country, the space museum and central location for touring Oregon. He’s retired and I’m running a small publishing company. We have a vacation rental house and a 100 year old craftsman that we use for retreats for people in ministry. We would love to host you and others you would care to bring (We’re on AirBnB in McMinnville, but don’t book through there as there will be no charge for you! I know you are from the NW so if you want to have your extended family come with you we would be happy to oblige…Hope you are the family are well, your position is challenging and fulfilling, and your paintings and sermons are filled with His light!
Sincerely, Shelley H.
The following week I talked with Shelly on the phone and I shared with her my IRFWD project. She said that she would love to take a look at it and see if it was something that Just Dust Publishers would be interested in publishing.
On June 13th, 2015 Shelley/Just Dust Publisher agreed to publish IRFWD. They sent me a contract, I signed it. What followed that was a flurry of activity.
Shelley brought her expertise as an editor to the table. She suggested significant edits to the story, including starting out the book with a boy named Ethan going salmon fishing with his dad Jason. Ethan is nervous. It’s his first fishing trip in the beautiful and rugged waters of Puget Sound.
We decided to have IRFWD start in black and white and become color when the father, Jason, begins to tell the story of the Derby day fishing with his dad.
Shelley also had quite a few changes that she wanted to the art. She also asked for a number of new illustrations. Dad stepped up in big way, making changes to nine paintings and painting five new paintings! Here are a few of the new paintings dad did.
Once again, Paul Baumgarten graciously took photographs of the paintings and posted them on dropbox.
So it was that in October of 2015, one year after Shelley’s out-of-the-blue e-mail, that all the manuscript edits and digital photographs of paintings were completed and turned into Just Dust Publisher.
My book was finally being published, but I realized that I had no plan to promote it. So on October 29th, 2015, I sent out a blog post over facebook asking for friends to help me by purchasing 100 copies of IRFWD by November 15th. In that post I shared this video I had made to promote IRFWD December 1 “release.”
To my amazement 100 books are sold by November 2nd.
I saw my first hard copy of IRFWD on November 25th, 2015. In December there was a flurry of four book signings: in McMinnville, OR, Stanwood, WA, Redmond, WA and Indianapolis, IN. It was super fun to see so many friends and family come out to support dad and I!
On December 1st, 2015 IRFWD was officially released. The Stanwood Camano News published a nice article on IRFWD. http://www.scnews.com/camano_scene/article_f7d5cb50-9850-11e5-bf53-c3aa0d436475.html. That same day 9 boxes of books arrive at our apartment in Redmond. Dad and mom helped Jenny and I prep almost 200 books to be mailed the following day.
January – April 2016
After the Christmas season rush of book signings, I slowed down and began to work on a long term plan for promoting and selling IRFWD, motivated by wanting to help my dad out financially: I’m giving him 50% of all profits on IRFWD!
Shelley and I began to make plans for a second printing of IRFWD. This time it would be on a four color press. On March 28th, 2016 I met Shelley meet at Your Town Press in Salem, OR to sign off on 4 color proofs of IRFWD. That night I met with my friend Kyle Liedtke of Media Talk Communications. Kyle coached me on focusing on the message of the book and helped me develop a promotion plan.
Shelley and I entered into a conversation with Costco about having IRFWD at their stores. I was humbled and thrilled when on April 24th, 2016 I received this letter from Shelley:
Below follows the final emails from a long and arduous exchange between Readerlink, Costco, and myself. “Wow”, is all I have to say….the GOOD NEWS is that we now know the number of books they want–250-300– and the delivery date of 5/18/16! Hallelujah!
I also heard from D. at the print shop. He was apologizing that the book covers were drying and could not be ready to box up until Tuesday. To be honest, I was delighted to have confirmation that they would be ready then. Thank God! So, I will either be driving up on Wednesday to deliver your 400 books, or I am even toying driving to Camano Island Thursday night to deliver the books and see the studio on Friday morning, and your mom’s paintings….
Sincerely, Shelley H.
Thus it is with deep gratitude to God for his surprising grace, and with great thankfulness to the many family and friends that have persevered along this journey, that Dad and I will display the illustrations from IRFWD on Mother’s Day Weekend, May 6-8th, as part of the Camano Island Mother’s Day Studio Tour.
And through it all, dad has been at my side, believing in me and our little project against all odds. Even now, as I write, he’s working hard at framing the last of the 32 illustrations.
In abject failure and the in the beginning trickle of success, Dad has stood at my side. And I still think there’s hardly anything better than being with your dad.