Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So, I'm Not Alone?!

by Esther Hershenhorn

Happy Children’s Book Week, to readers and writers!

Like children’s author Andrew Clements, I’ve yet to meet a writer who wasn’t a reader first.

I know from experience: every published book is a Teacher-in-Waiting.

For instance, I learned and honed my craft reading as a writer, deconstructing children’s books – first picture books, then easy-to-reads, next chapter books, then middle grade novels. A story’s architecture, its movement, its elements, suddenly made sense once I rebuilt the text.

Reading children’s books also helped me understand My Writer’s Story, a Quest Tale fraught with obstacles and woes. William Steig’s Brave Irene still fortifies my Spirit; M.B. Goffstein’s A Writer still comforts my Soul. And Leonard Marcus’ children’s books, his conversations with children’s authors about their writers’ lives and process? These books shout, “You are not alone!”

Marcus’ first book, Author Talk (Simon & Schuster), offers a steady supply of non-stop Ah Ha! Moments. As my young writers and I turn the book’s pages, I join in their Ohs! at the marked-up manuscripts of Judy Blume, Karen Cushman and James Howe, at editor Jean Karl’s typed acceptance letter of E. L. Konigsburg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, at the childhood photos of Lois Lowry and Jon Scieszka. The fifteen interviewed authors’ honest answers allow each of us peeks at how writers work their magic.

Marcus’ next compilation of author interviews, The Wand in the Word (Candlewick), elicits oohs and ahs too. Marcus’ conversations with a Baker’s Dozen of awarding-winning writers of fantasy, including Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Nancy Farmer, Ursula K. Le Guin and Madeline L’Engle, is a must read for fantasy fans and future writers alike.

Tee-hees will likely join the Ohs! and Ah hahs! when September brings Marcus’ newest title, Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy (Candlewick). Utilizing the same question-and-answer format of his previous conversation-based titles, Marcus lets readers listen in as funny writers, including Norton Juster, Daniel Handler, Daniel Pinkwater and Christopher Paul Curtis, share their stories and writer’s lives.

This week, Children’s Book Week, May 11- 17, celebrate books, celebrate reading, and celebrate your Writer Self reading Marcus’ books.

Writing Work-out: Author Talk

Readers always want to know all about the author.

And, if you’re writing for children, young readers especially want to know about your childhood, your life (including age and income!) and how and when you write.

So, try your hand at answering several of the questions Leonard Marcus asked celebrated and acclaimed children’s authors in his “conversational” books.

Save your answers in a computer file or notebook marked “Bio.”

Don’t be surprised if your answers reveal hidden Truths. In fact, treasure those Truths; they’ll keep you writing!

(1) What kind of child were you?

(2) When did you decide to become a writer?

(3) What is a typical workday for you?

(4) Where do you get your ideas for books?

(5) What is the best thing about being a writer?

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