New Bern, NC – I have helped to edit and produced commentaries by Joan Carris for more years than either of us would care to admit so if there's anything I can safely say about Joan, it's this she doesn't like chickens.
"I've really known a lot of chickens, o-k? Most of them are so stupid that you get very frustrated trying to deal with them. They'll also peck they'll gang up on a fellow chicken and pull out its feathers and peck at it until they kill it. I don't know any other species that behaves that way. Wolves will exclude a fellow wolf they don't like they'll shun him but they won't bite him to death. But chickens will do that."
So it's not too surprising that when needing an antagonist for her new children's book "Magic at the Bed & Biscuit" Joan found it in the guise of a chicken. And not just any chicken
"This is an evil chicken."
Just how evil? Joan illustrates with a passage from "Magic at the Bed & Biscuit" involving three cows, Ernest the mini-pig, and Malicia the evil chicken.
Reads from page 28
"Magic at the Bed & Biscuit" is the third in a series of "Bed & Biscuit" books highlighting the adventures of characters including Ernest the mini-pig at Grandpa Bender's animal boardinghouse. The first two books centered around events entirely within nature the introduction of Sir Walter the Scottie puppy into the Bed & Biscuit household or fox kits attempting to teach Sir Walter to be wild so the introduction of a magic, evil chicken steps away a bit from the first two books in the series but its all toward a goal Joan set out for the first two books as well as every children's book she's written.
"This is a magic chicken because magic is fun. And I write to create fun. I want kids to enjoy the books they're reading because if they enjoy them a lot they'll read more. If I teach anything, it's just a by-the-way. It's just a message I slip under the door. I don't want to be didactic in children's books. I don't mind passing along a little information now and then that's fine but what I really want to pass along is the joy of reading, the fun you can have. Well, a magic chicken is a whole lot more fun than a normal chicken."
And, again, not just a magic chicken, but an EVIL magic chicken, who despite her inclinations in earlier drafts of the book Joan tried to reform.
"I kept wanting to reform the evil chicken and my editor finally pointed out we couldn't reform her because she was a really bad chicken and had to stay that way and then I immediately thought of Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Moriarity. Moriarity was never reformed. We learned to hate Moriarity in every book and enjoyed it, so that's essentially what we were doing with Malicia. She was bad and there are bad people out there. This is a bad chicken, and she stayed bad pretty much."
The editing process is all part of the painstaking effort Joan takes with her books. "Magic at the Bed & Biscuit" took between 12-18 months for her to write and there's one book, still incomplete, she says she's been working on on-and-off since 1996.
"It's a picky process, and you have to love the process or you shouldn't do this. My favorite quote about writing is Oscar Wilde's one of my favorites he wrote that he spent the morning on one of the proof of one his poems and took out a comma. In the afternoon he says, I put it back. That's very accurate."
It's a process she loves because Joan loves to read and in turn she writes so that others will one day feel the same way.
"I think the only thing I would like to say to parents is its more important for your children to have books or access to books only behind love and food and shelter. So we've got love, food, shelter and number four is books. If you want to assure someone's future you make them highly literate. As soon as they can read really well they can learn anything. These are people who will be directing and running our old folks homes so we want them to be very smart."
Beaufort resident Joan Carris' latest children's book is "Magic at the Bed & Biscuit." It's published by Candlewick Press. I'm George Olsen.