I wrote my first book when I was 12. It was terrible, but I was 12. I spent the next six years writing horrible poetry. When I was 18, someone politely suggested I might try a different genre. So I wrote stories. Weirdo stories that made people laugh and left them confused. But I kept writing because that’s what one does.

When I was 30, I felt ready to write a book, a big fat novel full of importance and truth. So I applied to six of the finest MFA programs in fiction—and got rejected by seven of them (I received rejection letters from the University of Minnesota on consecutive Mondays).

As plan B, Robbi and I decided to create our own books with my words and her pictures. I’d never had so much fun. We did this for a decade, constructing them by hand on our dining room table, learning and inventing and making connections that led to opportunities.

Today, at 42, I’m getting the chance to publish my big fat novel. It isn’t the book I dreamed of writing twelve years ago. It’s so much better than that one would have been. It’s about an impetuous ten-year old girl in search of a new best friend and a missing owl, and it is full of truth. It is important. This book, illustrated by Robbi, is exactly what I’m supposed to be writing. And it is a perfect example of a success that could not have been built without a foundation of failure.

Thank you, University of Minnesota, for sending me on this path less traveled. And thanks to the people who have been my teachers and guides: Jim Shepard, Erin Stein, Robbi Behr, Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Robin Rice, Clifford Lull, Bernice Thieblot, Matthew Westbrook—and so many others along the way. Because one learns writing by living each day in the company of good books and interesting people.

Happy book birthday, The Real McCoys. Thanks for all the adventures you’ve shown me so far. I can’t wait to watch you grow.