Tag Archive for One Question Five Authors

One Question, Five Authors #12: “Do You Have Any Heroes in Children’s Publishing?”

 

If I were English, I might say that I was dead chuffed by this edition of “One Question,” the internet’s laziest interview series. Thankfully, that expression won’t be expressed here. Not on my watch! Let’s just say I really like how this turned out. I was glad to see the various directions our contributors took in response to my open-ended question. Speaking of contributors: Lois Lowry’s in the house! I have enormous respect for Everything Lois and it is a true honor to have her visit my little blog, pull up a milk crate (note to self: buy chairs!), and hang out with the rest of us. Speaking of heroes, the answers here are provided by Heather Alexander, Lois Lowry, Elaine Magliano, R.W. Alley, and Kurtis Scaletta. Thanks, one and all! You did good.

 

Heather Alexander

My mother asks the same question about each book I’ve edited since I started in children’s publishing: “But where is your name?” The message came across loud and clear — all my hours of work didn’t count because my name wasn’t printed on the cover (or, really, anywhere). Throughout my reading-under-the-covers childhood, I’d naively believed that words flowed from an author’s imagination directly onto the page and then were bound seamlessly into the book in my hands. The important person’s name was displayed prominently on the cover, and those authors became my heroes. It wasn’t until I got behind-the-scenes did I realize how many talented people toil to make a book — and elevate a so-so author to a great author and a great author to an amazing author. Editors, copyeditors, fact checkers, designers, production managers — the list goes on. I was lucky to have been taught by some of the best editors in the business — true magicians able to conjure greatness from the clumsiest of sentences. I’ve also been fortunate, as an author, to have awesome editors and fact checkers carefully watching my back. So as far as children’s publishing heroes go, I’m giving my shout out to all the uncelebrated people behind each and every book. (And, now, if every author reading this writes the name of his or her trusted editor or designer in the comments section, I suspect you’ll make their moms so, so happy!)

 

Lois Lowry

It won’t come as a surprise to hear me mention Walter Lorraine, who become my editor after the editor who had acquired my first book in 1977 moved on to another company. Walter was/is deservedly renowned as an editor of picture books — Chris Van Allsburg, David Macaulay, James Marshall, and Allen Say were among his superstars. I don’t think he felt that the editing of prose was his forté. But when I landed (figuratively) in his lap, it was a fine pairing because I had a background as a photographer and had brought, I think, a heightened visual sense to my own writing. Walter perceived that, appreciated it, nurtured it. He was also a purist, as I am, and hated — as I do still — the commercialization of children’s books. He loathed the spin-offs: the toys and games and money-making gee-gaws vaguely related to literature. As he moved (grumbling) toward retirement, after fifty-five years in the field, he saw himself as something of a dinosaur in a publishing world that was moving away from the patient and painstaking encouragement of ideas and true art. I was fortunate to have been his colleague during those magical years.

 

Elaine Magliaro

My hero is Grace Lin. Grace is a dear friend. We met nearly twenty years ago when she was just starting out in children’s publishing. At that time, she was illustrating other authors’ books and writing and illustrating her own picture books. Since then she has truly blossomed as a master in the field of children’s literature. In addition to picture books, she has written early readers, realistic fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She’s won a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, Josette Frank Award, a Theodor Geisel Honor — and been a National Book Award Finalist. Grace has definitely found success in her chosen profession.

I admire Grace for more than the awards that she has won, though. She is a hero to me because she has remained true to herself and to her heritage. Grace has provided young readers with a heart-warming look into her culture and her own personal experiences when she was growing up as a minority in upstate New York. She has been an advocate for the We Need Diverse Books movement and for gender equality in children’s publishing. She is a strong individual who has dealt with difficult situations in her life with great resolve and grace. I know her to be a true and loyal friend who NEVER forgets a kindness done for her. She is one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. The great success she has been met with has not changed the sweet young woman that I met years ago.

 

R.W. Alley

My hero in children’s publishing? I’m taking the question to mean, not authors and illustrators, but rather editors and publishers, which makes it more interesting. Editors and publishers shape the tone of an imprint.
 At the start of my career, there was a clear distinction between “trade” and “mass market” publishers. This played out in content (trade = literature, mass market = entertainment) as well as in production values (trade = dust-jackets over cloth covers, mass market = paperback and uncoated paper). Of course there was overlap, but generally that was the idea. Sendak was literature. Scarry was mass market.

I dropped into that world as a long-haired, clean-shaven, John Lennon glasses high school grad with a very heavy (by weight) portfolio and a NYC map marked up with publisher locales and switchboard phone numbers. Art directors had portfolio viewing days. Some met in person. 
My publishing hero was a meet-in-person art director, Grace Clarke. I came to know lots (but not enough) about Grace later. She was kind, but straight-forward. At our first meeting, she made it clear that my sketchbook was more interesting than my carefully curated (and matted) portfolio. She gave me a copy of the “new” series she was publishing (Tintin) from her then-desk at Western Publishing (Golden Books) and told me I should think about that format. (I did and I continue to.)
 But what elevated Grace to hero status in my small world was something I found out years later. My parents (respectable college professor and protective mother of an only child) wrote to Grace (my mom dictated the letter to my dad, as per usual) and asked her not to encourage my art. In fact, they asked that she please actively discourage it. Their son had college to attend and an academic path ahead. Art was at best a sideline. At its worst, a dead-end ending in a flophouse.

Instead, this is what Grace did. She filed away the letter, kept in touch and, right after I graduated from college, offered me my first book. It took her over fifteen years, but she finally revealed my parents letter. She said she’d waited to make sure she’d made the right call. In the meantime, I’d gotten more books, gotten married and gotten my parents kinda on board with the artist thing. For that waiting, for the care she exercised in tending the psyche of a young man in his relationship with his art and his parents, Grace Clarke is my publishing hero.
 Thanks for asking, Jimmy.

 

Kurtis Scaletta

My heroes are the school librarians, booksellers, preschool teachers, and so forth who create and cultivate readers, find the money to book authors, and make those authors feel appreciated. Yeah, they’re paid to do it, but not much. OK, I actually work at a literary organization so maybe this is a little self-serving! But seriously, I really do love all the people who help us do what we do.

Another of my heroes is a local author. Her writing is lovely and has won major awards but I admire her because of her kindness. She’s supportive of everyone who writes. She rallies behind anyone who needs it. She remembers everyone’s kids’ names and asks about them. She doesn’t just ask to be polite, she really cares.
The Greek origin of the word “hero” is a person who is both god and human. I’ve had enough of the heroes who are all about the god half, and appreciate more the ones who live up to the human half.

One Question, Five Authors #11: “How has your childhood informed your books?”

Coming up with questions is hard work. Frankly, I’m exhausted. You can’t imagine the hours I while away, sipping fruity cocktails, conferring with the flowers, daydreaming possible queries. Now I’m going to take a long, hot, restorative soak in the tub. Hopefully you’ll hang around to read the answers provided by today’s five guest authors: Todd Strasser, Aaron Becker, Florence Minor, David A. Kelly, and Jerdine Nolen.

 

Todd Strasser

For most of my writing life I’ve focused on contemporary realistic novels, but as I passed the age of 60, I decided to look back at the early years of my life. What immediately came to mind was the day in 1962 when I was twelve years old and came from school to discover several men digging a very large hole in our backyard. I was thrilled. My parents must have been building a swimming pool! I ran into the house for confirmation, only to learn that hole was the first step in building a fallout shelter. It was the height of the Cold War and my parents were taking no chances. From that incident grew Fallout, my novel about living through the Cuban Missile Crisis, when this country came as close as it ever had to a nuclear war.

The next inspiration that came from my “childhood” concerned the summer of the Woodstock music festival, which I attended. That became my new my novel, Summer of ’69. For me the summer began with a draft notice ordering me to prepare to fight in a war I didn’t believe in. But that was just the beginning of the angst I would face. My parents on the verge of divorce. My brother, who is mentally and emotionally handicapped and who had never spent a night away from home, was suddenly sent away to a YMCA camp. And, because of all the stress and fear I was feeling, I was taking far too many drugs. I feel that this novel is a landmark in my writing career because it became an opportunity to take a close look at, and try to make sense of, a collection of events that I’d been aware of all my life, but had never pieced together into an understandable whole. For me it was as close to therapy as any novel I’ve ever written.

Aaron Becker

Most of my books have stemmed from the feelings of boredom I had as a kid; my imagination was the one thing I could count on to take me away. But my latest, You Are Light, is a departure from that. This book is all about my mother and her influence on me as a science teacher. She taught college level astronomy and physics and would often bring home gadgets from her lab work. I always loved anything that had to do with color and light. So the idea of making a book that played with illumination came quite naturally to me. There was no room for a dedication on the copyright page, but if there was, it’d be to her!

Florence Minor

I grew up in a family of animal lovers, and my first bestie was my dog Jigsy, who arrived on the scene the year before I did. My uncle loved to tell stories about my dad stopping to pet every dog or cat he happened to meet on the street, and I have to admit that this apple did not fall far from the tree.

My love of all animals is an integral part of who I am, and when Jigsy passed over the rainbow bridge at age 14 I was bereft. Thankfully Boo the dachshund came into our lives shortly thereafter and her sweet and funny ways (like rolling over a grape but never eating it), helped to heal my broken heart.

Animals, mine as well as those of friends, have always been a joyous part of my life, in person as well as in books, and it feels natural for me to share my love of animals through the books I write for children. A shy child, I spent many hours reading, especially books about animals: Babar, Lassie, The Black Stallion, etc. In How to be a Bigger Bunny, the main character, Tickles, is often left behind by her older siblings (as I was by my older sister) but is able to save them when they get into trouble because of things she’s learned in her favorite book. So there you have it! I hope my books about penguins, bears, bunnies, and, stay tuned for kittens, inspire children to read, read, read!

David A. Kelly

A number of things from my childhood have informed my Ballpark Mysteries series of chapter books. Perhaps the first is a sense of fun and play. I grew up in Central New York playing one backyard game after another. Baseball was a huge favorite; in the winter it was hockey on the flooded, frozen baseball field, and nights were filled with capture the flag. While my main characters, Mike and Kate, don’t play backyard games in my books, I try to bring that feeling of fun and comradery to my stories.

Mystery stories were also a large influence. I grew up loving mysteries, from Encyclopedia Brown and Two Minute Mysteries to the Hardy Boys and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I often recall specific ones when I’m mulling over possible plot points or searching for inspiration.

My childhood fear of writing has also played a part. As a child, I loved to read but hated to write. I could never figure out how to get started or what to write about. My spelling was bad and I was lazy. But as an adult, the very fact that I never considered myself a writer is what allowed me to become an author. I had nothing to lose by trying to write the Ballpark Mysteries. Luckily, with persistence, hard work, and lots of assistance it’s worked out.

And of course, some specific things from my childhood have shown up in my books. All that crab soccer I played in elementary school gym class made its way into The Baltimore Bandit scene in which my main characters, Mike and Kate, play crab soccer at Camden Yards to investigate a missing baseball glove. And the time that my father snuck me into a nearby hotel to meet Hank Aaron, who was staying there before a Hall of Fame Day Game in Cooperstown. After initially rebuffing me because he was eating his breakfast, he signed my baseball after finishing. I created  a similar incident in The All-Star Joker when Mike is trying to get his baseball signed by a big star.

Jerdine Nolen

When I was a child, my parents told stories to me. They were both natural storytellers. The stories they told were big and wide and wonderful and beautiful and awful and scary and seemed to live along the lines of magic.

The stories moved in my head and heart which moved me to feel and see the world in a particular way. The stories were packed with intrigue, fear, and hope. And always there was something to be gained by hearing the story. I sometimes wonder if the message my parents wanted me to glean was what I actually took away.

For my father, he often read or retold Bible stories to us. For my mother, her stories would always start, “…did I ever tell you about the time…” I think that coupled with my imagination, I was able to tell my own entertaining stories.

Often the reprimands given me included some (symbolic) story from my parent’s own childhood or something from the Bible.

So, yes. My childhood informs my stories.

10 Questions, 50 Authors: The First Ten Installments in One Easy Format

It’s encouraging to see the response to my “One Question” series, the internet’s laziest interview series. We all need that, by the way: encouragement. At least I do. So much shouting into the void, wondering if you’ve been heard, if it’s worth the effort. More readers seem to be finding the series — and clicking “like” — as it becomes better known. Thanks, authors, for your contributions and for sharing the posts. At the same time, some of the older editions have been under-viewed. Maybe you’ve missed a few? So here in one place I’ve brought together the first 10 questions with convenient links. Or you can click here and just scroll through one big bloggy document. Thank you for stopping by. Please note that there are more on the way, featuring Lois Lowry, Todd Strasser, Aaron Becker, Jerdine Nolan, R.W. Alley, David Kelly, Elaine Magliaro, Kurtis Scaletta, Florence Minor, Heather Alexander, and more.

 

#1: “How do you celebrate when the first book finally arrives?” GUESTSLizzy Rockwell, Matthew Cordell, S.A. Bodeen, Laurie Calkhoven, London Ladd.

               

#2: “Tell us about a book that impacted you.” GUESTS: Julie Fortenberry, Don Tate, Rachel Vail, Paul Acompora, Audrey Vernick.

                    

#3: “How did comics influence your work?” GUESTS: Charise Harper, Matthew McElligott, Bruce Coville, Eric Velasquez, Alan Silverberg.

                    

#4: “How does music fit into your work?” GUESTS: Mikki Knudson, Matt Phelan, Charles Smith, Yvonne Printz, Chris Tebbetts.

                    

#5: “How is your work affected by the current political climate?” GUESTSBarbara Dee, Tonya Lee Stone, Jen Sattler, Lesa Ransome, Travis Jonker.

                  

#6: “Tell us about a favorite moment in a recent book.” GUESTS: Erin Dionne, Eugene Yelchin, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Alan Katz, Nick Bruel.

                    

#7: “How does a book begin for you?” GUESTS: Tony Abbott, Matt Tavares, Aimee Reid, Keely Hutton, Greg Neri.

                    

#8: “Let’s talk about rejection.” GUESTS: Jennifer Arena, Kevin Lewis, Donna Gephart, Parker Peevyhouse, Aimee-Joan Paquette.

                    

#9: “How do you cultivate creativity?” GUESTS: Laurie Keller, Nikki Grimes, Jordan Sonnenblick, Liza Walsh Gardner, Steven Sheinkin.

                    

#10: “Can you say something nice about procrastination?” GUESTS: Jo Knowles, Barbara O’Connor, Charles Waters, Jay Cooper, Susan Hood.

                    

One Question, Five Authors #10: “Can you say something nice about procrastination?”

Procrastination. I guess everybody does it (or doesn’t do it) regardless of career choice. But it’s suffered most acutely by creative types. Full of despair and self-loathing, we beat ourselves up over our perceived lack of productivity.

In my calmer moments, when I’m more generous-hearted to myself, I understand the word “procrastination” is often a misnomer, part of a false narrative we tell ourselves about the nature of the creative process.

For today’s “One Question,” I asked five talented friends to share their thoughts on procrastination. Thank you: Jo Knowles, Barbara O’Connor, Charles Waters, Jay Cooper, and Susan Hood. 

 

Jo Knowles

Procrastination from my writing has provided me with a reorganized office, getting my taxes done, laundry folded, dishes put away, a snow fort built, countless levels of Candy Crush passed (don’t judge!), long walks with my dog, an epic closet clean out, and… NEW IDEAS. All of these somewhat mindless tasks allowed my brain and heart the necessary time out to realize why I was resisting the writing in the first place. When I let go, stop struggling and allow myself to do ANYTHING else, eventually my brain begins to solve whatever writing problems I’m struggling with. When I yearn to walk away and procrastinate, I’ve learned that there’s usually a good reason and let myself do it. I know that if the project is meant to be, it will call me back.

 

Barbara O’Connor

Ah, my old friend, Procrastination. I know her well. I procrastinate because I’m human. But I also procrastinate when I’m struggling with a manuscript. Much to my dismay, I’m a pantser. Although I would dearly love to outline, I don’t –- or more accurately, I can’t. My process is having a clear idea of character and setting but a very hazy idea of plot. (The other P word I sometimes hate.)

Writing the first draft is usually like groping in the dark with a dim vision of where I’m headed. This process is extremely frustrating to me. As a result, I’d often rather do laundry, walk the dog or organize my sock drawer than face that dreaded blank page. The good news is that eventually the story comes to life and I find myself racing to my computer, anxious to dive back in.

Another reason I sometimes procrastinate is because I’m stuck, unable to move the action forward. In such cases, time away from the manuscript is often just what the book doctor ordered. Usually, while walking the dog or doing laundry, I noodle things around in my head and eventually have a breakthrough. Other times, I get back to my manuscript after time away and see it with fresh eyes and the clarity I need to move forward.

Now pardon me while I go organize my sock drawer.

 

Jay Cooper

Oh, procrastination. It’s hounded me all my life, kneeling on my chest like that imp in that Fuseli painting. I have nothing good to say about it, aside from the fact that it can be used to gauge how important a thing is in your life, because in my experience procrastination has two polar causes: on one end, apathy (like when I procrastinate doing my taxes, or laundry) on the other, such fervent love of a thing that you’re petrified you’ll be terrible at it (like professional illustration, or that book you’ve always wanted to have a real go at writing). If you’re procrastinating because of the first part, I say, “do the work when it becomes unavoidable.” As to the second, you need to wrestle that fear to the ground, stake its heart, wrap it in chains and drop it into the Gowanus Canal.

How? I think it’s just jumping in and doing the work no matter how much fear it causes in you. My sketches are dreck. My early written drafts are barely legible . .  total trash. But I also could barely run a whole mile until I did it for five months straight, and then I ran a half marathon. I pushed down the fear of failure (I still do, every time I sit at the drawing table) and told friends I couldn’t attend parties, or go to movies, or spend a week at the beach. I got up weekend mornings and showered and shaved, and even put on a dab of cologne like it was a regular workday, but instead of walking to the train, I took a cup of coffee to my drawing table. I worked every day for months until I was sure my book was in shape. And by then, procrastination was no longer even an issue for me, because the habit of digging in and creating became part of my everyday routine. And I understood with time and diligence that a crappy sketch will ultimately become a decent illustration if I just keep plugging away at it. Once I had faith in myself, and some discipline, I slaughtered the imp.

That being said, I still haven’t turned in my taxes this year.

 

Charles Waters

This is something that, from what I’ve heard and read and has happened to me more than once, most writers go through. It’s important, at least to me, not to beat oneself up over it too much and get back to it when you can, hopefully sooner rather than later.

One way to help with the procrastination is to read a lot — reading is as vital as writing, so look at it getting half the job done when you’re going through a writing drought. Ultimately, to quote the great (and prolific) Jane Yolen, it’s all about BIC (Butt in Chair). There’s no replacement for it.

Another way to get out of the procrastination funk is jotting down things you see in your everyday life.

How a rain drop might hit a plant,

which ways the lines zig and zag in the chipped concrete,

checking out the different cloud formations in the sky.

I’ve typed up thoughts like those above, and many others, on my notebook phone app, and when I accumulate a healthy amount, I transfer it to my writing notebook, so when the time comes to write, I have something to at least get the writing motor started.

 

Susan Hood

Can I say anything nice about procrastination? It gets the laundry done. But seriously, procrastination for me means that my ideas aren’t fully formed and I need time and space to mull them over. Taking my dog for a walk, gardening, or kayaking frees my mind to wander where it will. It’s the equivalent of putting a manuscript in a drawer and letting it rest for a day or a week or a month. More often than not, I see what wasn’t working when I pull it out again. Right now, I’m procrastinating big time! I recently finished a mammoth research project and a writing marathon for a story that grabbed me the moment I saw a tiny paragraph about it in the back of The New York Times. Titan and the Wild Boars, the story of 12 boys who brought a divisive world together, comes out in May— a collaboration with Thai journalist Pathana Sornhiran and illustrator Dow Phumiruk. So in this case, procrastination is a way to rest and recharge. And I’m mulling over what my next book will be. I have several ideas in different genres: a picture book bio, a nonfiction book and a middle grade historical novel. But not one has gelled for me yet. I need to do more reading and more thinking . . . my favorite kind of procrastination!

 

One Question, Five Authors #9: “How do you cultivate creativity?”

It lives! We’ve eased into a monthly schedule for the “One Question” series. It takes me that long to come up with a question. Then I rest for three weeks, exhausted. Today comes with an embarrassment of riches, thanks for thoughtful replies from Laurie Keller, Nikki Grimes, Jordan Sonnenblick, Liza Gardner Walsh, and Steve Sheinkin. 

Today’s area of inquiry is difficult for me to summarize. I basically asked about fallow periods, that quiet time between inspirations, and how our artists dealt with that “between ideas” phase. Did they do anything special to cultivate creativity?

In other words, how does one invite ideas into an empty room?

 

Laurie Keller

UGGGH!!! Okay, that being said, it’s a tricky thing sometimes, getting those creative juices flowing. I’m inspired by absurd, silly (but clever!) things so when I’m starting a new project or am stuck in writers’ mud, there are favorite movies or songs or books I go to that will sometimes help me out. But the really elusive thing for me, it seems, is finding the right “voice” to get things rolling.

When I get an idea I’m excited about (which usually pops in my head or unexpectedly crosses my path; I don’t often use the ideas I write down and save), I’ll sometimes write for weeks or months and not get anything I like. It drives me BONKERS! But then, out of the blue, I’ll hear or see some ridiculous, zany, completely STOOPID thing that catches me so off-guard, it somehow turns everything around. I love when that happens! I had hoped after all these years of writing that I could summon that “voice” to show up just when I need it. But it’s all right. I’ve found that there are plenty of Gummi Bears and peanut M&M’s in this world to get me through the long, rough patches.

Nikki Grimes

I rarely experience truly fallow periods in my writing life, these days. I generally move from one contracted project to the next, working on multiple manuscripts over the course of a year. However, I do hit a creative wall, now and again, either because I’m burnt out from the previous project, as I was following completion of my forthcoming memoir, Ordinary Hazards, or because, uncharacteristically, I have no follow-up project. In either case, the solution to the problem is always the same for me: I read.

Reading always stirs my creative embers. I have to be selective about what genre I reach for, though. If I wish to work on a collection of poetry next, I had better not dive into a luscious anthology of personal essays, for example. If I do, in short order, I’ll find myself drafting personal essays. If, on the other hand, my intention is to work on a piece of prose, non-fiction or otherwise, I’d better beware novels in verse or volumes of poetry or that’s precisely what I’ll end up writing. I’d blame this literary misdirection on my muse, if I could, but it’s my own fault.   Whatever genre I feed on is invariably the genre that comes out of me. It happens every time! I suppose that’s the risk of writing across genres, as I am inclined to do. Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect!

 

Jordan Sonnenblick

I am an all-or-nothing writer.  I have published eleven middle-grade and YA novels since 2005, which sounds like the track record of someone who plugs away consistently.  In reality, though, I spend three-quarters of my time trying to think of something to write, and then when the idea finally hits, I crank out a book with blazing speed.  The longest it has ever taken me to write a first draft is four months, and I once wrote two complete novels and a short story in just eighteen feverish weeks.  (Then I got bronchitis and the flu in quick succession.  Don’t try this writing schedule at home.)

As you might imagine, I have put a whole lot of thought and effort into the battle against writer’s block — or, more specifically, initial-idea block.  I have never come up with a foolproof, one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some strategies that seem to make getting an idea more likely.  Anything that engages either my artistic faculties or the language center of my brain, but in a different way, is particularly useful.  As an example, this summer, I started taking Spanish refresher courses at night, reading the Harry Potter books in Spanish, and watching Spanish movies during my daily exercise routine.  Somehow, this freed up my thinking in a whole new way, and I started getting picture book ideas for the first time ever.  I also got a great idea for a memoir aimed toward adults.  This triggered a creative outburst, and I wrote the memoir, followed by two picture book manuscripts.  Right now, I am co-writing a play with an old friend from high school.  I don’t know which, if any, of these projects will sell.  However, I do know that spending a couple of hours a day immersed in another language got me out of a rut, and for that, I am grateful.

Next year: Russian!  Thanks for reading, comrades.

 

Liza Gardner Walsh 

I am currently in one of those fallow periods post deadline and past the chaotic aftermath. I’m dancing around a few projects but I’m also on the hunt. Luckily, I have a day job that provides me with endless daily inspiration. As a school librarian, I’m surrounded by books and children. I also have the good fortune to have recess duty everyday because I happen to believe that the best place to invite creativity is during recess.

So as I find myself on this current “writing recess,” I am noticing everything. I’m trying to follow the Mary Oliver method of living a life, “pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” This recess also allows me to stretch and to play. Challenges like Story Storm and a self-directed one hundred days of writing poetry prime the well. I also snuck away to a kidlit retreat in Vermont that oozed inspiration.

But perhaps the most fail-safe method of cultivating inspiration is walking my 10 month old puppy. We walk all over our small town. She doesn’t miss a thing. She makes me slow down, notice, and process all those ideas that percolate on the playground.

So my inspiration recipe is this; pay attention, play, challenge yourself, escape if you can, and walk. I think when all this combines, things start to happen. The light turns on again.

 

 

Steve Sheinkin

To me, the time in between ideas is all about trial and error, trying out different potential stories, just mentally at first, when I’m walking, cooking, shaving, whatever. I’ll take an idea and just play with it, just start somewhere and see how far I can take it. If it seems promising, I’ll write out really rough sketches of how the plot might be structured. With nonfiction, I obviously can’t make stuff up, but I find there’s still a lot of creativity, a lot of questions to be answered before I know if a book will work. So I’ll a pick a possible opening scene and watch it. And then I try to get from there to a logical next scene, and to another one, and so on. I’ve thrown out some of my best ideas for opening sequences (or my editor has forced me to) just because they didn’t lead smoothly into the heart of the story. It’s a good system for me, if not an efficient one, and I’d say the only drawback is that I’ll find myself “watching” my scenes when I’m supposed to be listening to people who are talking to me.

 

JP: I’M SORRY, STEVE, DID YOU SAY SOMETHING?