I’ve always been a reader of children’s literature – that’s where much of the best fantasy writing appears. But the children’s books I read in the late 1970s and early ’80s seemed deficient in strong female protagonists. So I decided to write a feminist fairy tale with lots of dragons, the favored creatures in my personal zodiac.
The notion of a princess with an extraordinarily long name who is called by an unrelated nickname tickled my whimsy. And the choice of “Ingeborg” as that nickname fulfilled one of the deepest desires of my 4½-year-old self.
In the early1950s – though only about 10 percent of American households owned a television set; though my dad worked three jobs to make ends meet – a diminutive TV set occupied our cramped Chicago apartment. My favorite program was “Mama,” a heartwarming series about a family of Norwegian immigrants circa 1900. Cousin Ingeborg, played by Patty McCormack, entranced me with her beautiful long, blond braids – something I had never seen on my Italian cousins or my playmates in our predominantly Jewish neighborhood.
When my parents told me that we’d soon have a new baby I begged them, if it were a girl, to name her Ingeborg. I somehow thought that bestowing that name would give the baby long blond hair. When my father phoned me at Uncle Geno’s to tell me I had a new sister, I remember eagerly asking, “Did you name her Ingeborg?” – and the crushing disappointment when he said no.
I still think the name Ingeborg Zomparelli would have been utterly cool – and if my parents had agreed, I’m certain my sister never would have forgiven us. So I conjured up an Ingeborg of my own, a caring and courageous little girl – with brown hair.
Ingeborg lived for many years in my filing cabinet, waiting for someone to illustrate her story. I found that illustrator in Andrea Strongwater, whom I initially had met as a neighbor on my dorm corridor at Cornell University. I was taking poetry and English classes, and she was majoring in fine arts. We reconnected at various events a few times over the years.
At a holiday party thrown by a mutual friend, I casually asked Andrea what she was working on. “I’m illustrating children’s books,” she said.
“That’s interesting,” I replied. “I have a children’s book I’d like to get illustrated . . . . ”
We agreed that night to explore a partnership, and within weeks I was looking at wonderful sketches for my story. Andrea immediately grasped my intentions for the story, came up with just the right style, and brought a magical sense of color to the artwork.
We’re planning to collaborate on future adventures for Ingeborg and Esmeralda.