How Kazaak! came to be written

I believe that most authors build their stories around events that actually happened. The idea for Kazaak! came from two events.

A few years ago, a porcupine and her porcupette (baby porcupine) were living in the woods behind my house where they enjoyed feeding on pine trees. One day, my daughter and I decided to have a closer look at them. When we set out to find them, we didn’t know exactly where they were, but we expected that they would be feeding high up a tree.  It’s difficult and dangerous to walk through the woods while looking up in the trees. When porcupines feed on pine trees, they drop lots of twigs and needles. I thought we could find their tree by searching for freshly cut twigs on the ground. And that is exactly what happened. I spotted lots of small thin pine branches that looked as if they had just been dropped.

            I turned and called to my daughter, “Maggie, I think I’ve found the right tree.”

            “Uh, Dad,” she quietly said, “Don’t move closer to the tree. Just walk toward me very slowly.” I obeyed my daughter. I reached her and looked back. A porcupine, on a branch that had been right beside my head, stared back at us. I had nearly walked right into her. If she had wanted, she could have hit me with her tail. I learned that porcupines don’t always use their quills; they use their quills only if they feel threatened. I also learned that it is dangerous to walk through the woods looking only at the ground. I started thinking about writing a story featuring porcupines.

The following winter, I saw a young porcupine fall out of another tree. He landed heavily in the snow and waddled off. I discovered that young porcupines must learn how to do many things. They must learn to climb trees safely. They must learn to groom themselves without getting hurt by one of their own quills. That’s when I got the idea for Kazaak, a porcupette who is a little worried about the sharpness of his quills.