Now that they live in Suttons Bay, the family can take care of many of their affairs on foot. One day before Christmas, Perkins and Bill pulled on their boots, headed downtown for shopping and a couple glasses of wine, then strolled home in the snow — the perfect afternoon, she says.
Living in town will be even more perfect when they can get their things out of storage and into their new house, Perkins says. The work will go faster now with a bigger budget at their disposal; they also might make some upgrades. Before the Newbery, they had resigned themselves to vinyl flooring instead of the expensive, old-style linoleum. "Now we’re going with the linoleum," she laughs.
No one could deserve that floor more, say friends, who agree that Lynne and Bill Perkins have surely paid their dues. When they first moved to the Leelanau County acreage that Bill bought as a Christmas tree farm, the couple lived in a cabin with no electricity or running water. Bill worked on their hilltop house while also building the birch-bark and willow-twig furniture that he sells nationwide. Perkins helped him for a while, but, by keeping their expenses low, she was able to focus on her own creative projects, including her long-held dream of illustrating children’s books.
"She could have become a commercial artist and made a lot of money," says Carolyn Faught, who has known the couple for years. "But they chose this very frugal, simple lifestyle, and she has been true to her art all this time."
Perkins got her break when a childhood friend used her connections to get her into a portfolio review. New York City editor Ava Weiss liked her drawings and asked for a story to go with them. She liked the story, too. The result: Home Lovely, published in 1995, a picture book about a girl who plants vegetables around her mobile home, and her friend, the mailman, who looks just like Perkins’s late father.
After the first book, Perkins made a modest living from royalties, which, along with enthusiastic reviews, convinced her to keep trying. She also established a relationship with the folks at Greenwillow, who became her biggest fans.
"We all adore working with her," say Duncan, who replaced Weiss as her editor. "Lynne is lovely and easygoing and just fun to work with. And her books are excellent and surprising, and I think we all respond to that. She’s the real thing, you know."
That support made Perkins comfortable enough to attempt a children’s novel, even though she had no training as a writer and certainly didn’t think of herself as a novelist. It happened almost by chance when she met a woman who looked like her best friend from childhood, a girl who found a new friend in junior high, putting Perkins into a friendship triangle. Perkins began writing anecdotes about the experience, which became the seeds of All Alone in the Universe and the inception of the immensely likable Debbie, a smart, thoughtful, funny and responsible character, who seems a little shy but is ultimately self-assured. She is, friends say, a lot like Perkins.