In 1973 I was vice president of a small leasing company, but a closeted writer all the same. I made a great living leasing trucks, cars, heavy equipment and even once a herd of cows, but I was longing for creative expression in my life. A year or so earlier I had begun to dabble in children’s literature, with a variety of limited successes. All of those creative endeavors were heavily dependent on the efforts or lack thereof of publishers. With Robin James as my primary illustrator I had sent samplings of my work to a few New York, mainstream publishers.
While I impatiently waited for responses to my works, I continued my daily chores of meeting with clients regarding their equipment needs.
I had over the years developed a working relationship as a copywriter with a major Northwest advertising company, Cole and Weber as a secondary release for the creative energies that chaotically tugged at my imagination. In late 1973 Cole and Weber had the Space Needle as one of their clients, and with the downturn of Seattle’s economy due to Boeing’s financial suffering, the Space Needle was suffering a sag in folks willing to spend money to ride an elevator to look at the views. Late one Thursday afternoon I received a call from Nadine Pasnik, the Cole and Weber account executive in charge of the Space Needle account. She had scheduled a gathering of local business and civic leaders to discuss ways to improve the Space Needle’s local appeal, but several of her invitees had bailed at the last minute. She asked, as a favor, if I could attend in their stead, to help fill the conference table, so to speak.
And so it was that late Friday afternoon I drove down to the offices of Cole and Weber and sat in on the casual conference. During the discussions I stayed fairly mute as a variety of ideas were bantered about. As was my custom from grade school into adult life when confronted with bits of boredom, I let my mind wander and daydreamed about a bevy of ideas, concoctions, and other inventions. Ever since grade school I have always compulsively raised my hand, in the fear of not being included, and as the meeting began to break up with final thoughts from the participants I leaped into the breach.
“Well, coincidently,” I muttered from my end of the long conference table, “I have just written a children’s book about the Space Needle.” And there it was! I had my foot stuck firmly in my mouth. I had NOT written a story about the Space Needle and, if the truth be known, hadn’t even considered the possibility.
“Fantastic,” Nadine said, “what’s it called?”
I paused, my mind racing but the only word I could think of was wheedle. “The book is called, uh, Wheedle on the Needle.” Relieved that I had survived I began to pull the foot from my mouth, but oh no, it was not to be.
“Wheedle on the Needle,” she mused brightly, “what’s it about?”
“Uh, well, uh it’s a story about an uh…” My eyes frantically searched the conference room for a clue. The only glimmer of hope was laying on a coffee table – a magazine whose cover story was about a recent Sasquatch sighting in the Cascade foothills. “…a bigfoot creature called the Wheedle that lives on the Space Needle!”
You would think that would have been enough to get me off the hook… but oh, no!
She pressed on wanting to know more about the story.
Heart pounding in my throat, I muttered, “better than telling you the story why don’t I bring you a copy of it to read.”
“Great idea! Can’t wait to read it and see some of the illustrations,” she beamed. “How about Monday morning over coffee?”
Trapped in a rusty cage of my own construction, I slammed the gate closed and firmly locked it. “That will work fine.” I muttered. “That will work just fine!”
Dead man walking, I got back into my car and sat there for a twenty minutes or so, my heart pounding trying to figure out how I was going to get out of this mess. I sighed, wanting nothing more than to take the foot that had been ensconced in my mouth and place a large boot on it and put it to good and painful personal use.
In agonizingly slow traffic I drove north through Seattle and just before the University Bridge looked off to my left at the Space Needle, it’s red light blinking in the dusk of a dying November day. What ever was I going to do? I had but two days to write a story and somehow get illustrations from Robin for a story that had nothing more than a title. As I drove on I began to daydream, to mind-munch on what little I had given myself to craft a story: a furry, big-footed creature that lives on the Space Needle.
That evening I didn’t discuss my situation with my family, simply muddled my way through the night. Early the next morning, 3:00 or so, I got up and padded barefoot out to the dining room table. I carefully unlatched my Smith Corona, removed the stash of typing paper and plugged it in, the gentle electric buzz a familiar and soothing sound. I rolled in a piece of paper and took a deep breath. I sat there for a moment and then placed my fingertips on the cool plastic keys, exhaled, and then watched as letter-by-letter, word-by-word the story began to flow.
All the while during the next few hours the blinking red light of the Space Needle matched pulse with my heart as I told a story filled with the essence of then Seattle; where problems were solved with cooperation and invention.
What I wrote that morning was literally what you see today – a simple story about a misunderstood creature that just wanted to get some sleep. As I was wrapping the primary part of the story my daughter, Jennifer, toddled out of bed, nearly scaring me out of wits and back to the reality of life.
She looked up at me brown eyes open wide. “Are you writing a new story?”
“Yup,” I said picking her up and plopping her onto my lap.
“What’s it about?” she asked.
Before a scary question now one I was well prepared to answer. “It’s about a furry creature with a big red nose called the Wheedle that lives on the top of the Space Needle.”
“He really lives there?” she asked.
And with her trapped between my arms I recited as I wrote:
There’s a Wheedle on Needle
I know just what you’re thinking.
But if you look up late at night
You’ll see his red nose blinking!
Robin, ever the best of best, met with me Sunday morning. I read her the finished story and ever the trooper she was and is illustrated the very first drawing of the Wheedle. Almost the same as he looks today – except in this first picture his fur wasn’t orange, it was green.
AND… On Monday as promised I went back to Cole and Weber and read the story to Nadine and the rest simply melts into yet another Story Behind the Stories.
The original Wheedle on the Needle was wrapped in the back-story of a wonderful place called Seattle. The Wheedle’s nose blinking from high atop this marvelous icon is a reminder that Seattle is a place where good things happen to good people as they work together.