Debbie does not rest on oral tradition alone. Research is an important aspect to the beginnings of her family-friendly sagas. Duvall studies the animals she wants to write about until she knows their idiosyncratic behavior. When she researched the wolf she discovered the daughter wolf is the caregiver of pups, not the mother. And these unique characteristics end up in the book. Rabbit Plants the Forest, she contends, is particularly that way. The plot is conspicuously "a story about a monster and getting away from the monster." But Debbie explains the pourquoi story is so much more: "What it really does is teaches you how the hardwood forest has been planted by the squirrels over the centuries." The unintentional "sowing" of a tree is more than folklore; animals are an integral part to nature's survival. She continues, "I've actually seen the squirrels do this. They rub the nut on their face to put a scent there. And they can smell that same scent under two feet of snow. They crack the seed a little bit, and that's what causes the seed to germinate. It would not germinate otherwise....And that's all in the story."
Her goal as a writer is to use her gift of grammar to teach others, regardless of their age. With the Rabbit sagas, Debbie contends: "We're really aiming at families more than children." Murv supports the notion: "She's aiming more at intellect than she is simplicity. She'll put words in there that a parent [or grandparent] may have to explain to that kid....That's the beginnings of literacy, not just reading." Debbie and Murv want the children to pull something from their stories. Learning is a trying process, but guardians need to stay the course. Duvall says, "I don't think that you need to coddle little kids. Challenge them a little bit so that they've learned something, at least some new words. We always try to put a few Cherokee words in there too."
Publishing Native American myths are not a novel idea; writers have knowingly (and unknowingly) written about them for ages. Murv agrees with what some scholars are saying about slave legends:
The first time these Creek and Cherokee stories were introduced to the white populace was through the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris....Now, he maintained to the end of his life that he didn't think that they were Indian stories. But I maintain, in one sense, if they were African stories they would have had zebras and lions and monkeys in them....[When slaves told] African stories they ha[d] crocodiles in them and hyenas and stuff. And these stories are all about bears and rabbits and wolves and foxes.
Debbie says of the Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Babies story, "That definitely is one." Murv agrees, "They all are. There's 780 pages of Uncle Remus stories and just about every page of it is directly adapted from old Creek and Cherokee stories that were told to [Harris] by the slaves on the plantation."
And the stories carry on. Murv and Debbie produce a new book about every six months. Says Duvall, "And that includes the time [the printers spend] publishing it." Murv declares, "In our spare time." And formatting a children's story is a structured ordeal. Debbie says, "The main thing about a 32 page book, you've got 13 pages that you can use for text. Basically. I know I have to tell an entire story, [in] 13 pages. Each page has to be different enough from the other page so that it can have a different illustration. It takes a lot of thought." Murv adds, "Plus we're tweaking the thing. We wanna try to make the thing energetic....And we work together on it." Out of this relationship, a rapport is built. Murv makes writing suggestions and Debbie makes illustration suggestions. Jacob says, "Our pictures and our text jog together. That page is about that picture. And that picture is about that page. The kids'll tie the two things together real well in their minds." The process is just that: a process. The couple agrees working together is the most difficult and most fun.
Murv Jacob sips his mango flavored smoothie and insists settling for mediocrity is not his style: "Why make something simple that you can make elaborate?" Murv starts by knowing the constraints of the project, like the size of the book. He breaks down the illustrating/storyboard progression: "[We] put the pages up pretty much actual size with sketches of what the pictures are gonna be...because you don't want it to look the same on every page." This technique forecasts the variations needed to break up monotony. Jacob continues, "If everything changes every page, nobody notices that it changes because it's changing all the time. It's just more fun that way. And it's a little more complicated."
Working with someone else is a delicate process. The people involved have to come to an understanding. They must know how to interact professionally for the greater good of the project. Murv says, "[Debbie and I have] worked on twelve books together. And [we]'ve learned that you have to make your comments gentle and as straightforward and pertinent as possible if you're gonna collaborate with somebody or the goddamned collaboration is over instantly. I mean, we're both pretty easygoing, too. You can't try to collaborate with somebody who's anal retentive." The boisterous artist knows tactfulness. He sees "collaboration as a human experience."