What's Your Favorite...

I'm always getting ``favorite`` questions, no matter how many times I tell students, ``No favorite questions! I love everything.``

But especially for you, I shall answer some of your favorite questions below...even though I really don't have favorites.

Yellow. It’s the happiest color, don’t you think?

My favorite wild animal is a cheetah. They can run like the wind.

No, wait, it’s the lion.

I mean the zebra. So friendly, giving that oxpecker a ride.

But I really like the leopard. Very regal.

It has to be elephants! They are so kind.

Sea lions are fun.

Hyenas! Who wouldn’t love these faces?

No, no! The giraffe.

…truly, I think it’s the genet, who once shared a table with me in Africa…I feel a story coming.

Oh, sorry.

I told you I couldn’t do it. I can’t choose just one!

I truly love each of my books. If I didn’t love a story, I wouldn’t have written it! But, my first book Heart of a Tiger, is most dear to me. I love how Little Four found a mentor in the beautiful Bengal Tiger and how he took action to achieve his dream.

When I was young, I loved books about animals. I enjoyed Black Gold by Marguerite Henry and Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight. When I was a teen I enjoyed J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and adored the language of Charles Dickens and the unique characters he brought to life. When my children were young, my daughter and I liked reading Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and my son and I laughed at Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. (My son’s name is Calvin too.) Now, some of my favorites are by Deborah Wiles. Check out her Each Little Bird That Sings. I also adore the style of Eva Ibbotson.

I loved to play all over my grandmother’s farm – in the barn, barnyard, under the trees, with the animals. And of course, I loved to read and I loved to imagine.

Jane Goodall is one. She has worked her entire life studying and becoming friends with chimpanzees. She has learned so much about them and has worked tirelessly trying to protect them.

Real Questions from Real Kids

A question from Madison.

Absolutely! I encourage children to write stories of all kinds and make them into books, if they wish. But the most important thing for youngsters is exploring and becoming passionate about learning and doing, with no concern for physical reward. You might want to start an album to keep all the stories you write. This will be a treasure for you and your family. If you decide to become a writer when you’re grown, you can share your early work with others! What fun!

If you really want to see your work in print, look at the magazine Stone Soup or the website www.stonesoup.com. This is a magazine that’s written by young writers and artists.

Here’s what to do while you’re learning to write:

  1. Read the best books you can find. Read lots of them!
  2. Read your writing out loud. Read your favorite books out loud. This will help you feel the rhythm of words. The best writing has a flow to it, a rhythm, just like music.
  3. Stop what you are doing every so often and observe things around you. Usually, writers are very good observers. They pay attention to the details of life.
  4. Remember, when you write you learn about your subject and you learn about yourself. Learning about yourself and how unique you are is very important.

A question from Mary.

Actually, I was never sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m still not sure! I studied in college to be a teacher. I’ve never taught full time, but I have worked in a variety of ways in schools. When I was younger, I had dreams of working with animals. I think I would have been very happy studying and photographing animals in the wild. Perhaps I’d be a documentary filmmaker or wildlife photographer. As a young woman, I volunteered at animal care centers that cared for injured wildlife. I helped feed sick elephant seals, owls, hawks, and mice.

This great question was asked by a young boy at one of my school visits. (I’m sorry I don’t know your name!)

The answer to your question is, “Boy! I wish I knew!” There is so much that goes into getting a book well known. First, it helps a lot if your publisher tells bookstores and libraries and newspapers and other people about your book. It also helps for the author to visit libraries, bookstores, teacher and librarian conferences, and schools. Of course, it’s important that the book is a good book—that it makes you laugh or cry or want to learn more about something. A little bit of luck is always nice too!

I’m most proud of my two children. They are honorable, talented, and good. I was a stay-at-home mom and I like to think I had something to do with what wonderful people they’ve become. Of course, I suspect their very honorable dad had something to do with it too!

I love my garden. I spend hours finding new heirloom roses and sweet peas and fruit trees to plant. I also love line dancing and yoga, walking and running, but I don’t do any of them regularly enough. Travel is my passion. As a being on this planet, I feel it’s my responsibility to see and appreciate as much of it as possible.

From Aspiring Writers of All Ages

I do. My agent is the wonderful Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. Karen and I just started working together in 2011. We look forward to a long and successful relationship. I did sell all 11 of my current picture books by myself. But in today’s publishing world, I feel it’s important to have an agent who supports you and cheers you on. Karen is a fabulous cheerleader.

I fear not. The truth is I’m not that disciplined and I am so easily distracted. There is so very much in life to explore.

But when I do start writing a story, I try to write some every day. It may be an hour or five hours, but it’s important to write something daily. If you don’t connect with your characters each day, how will you ever get to know them?

I love getting to know my characters. And I love those magical moments when the writing flows from me. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s grand when it does.

The Plot….. Hmmm. I can’t think of anything more to say.

When I lived in California, my husband gave me the gift of a second window in my office. From there I could see the trees in my orchard, birds dipping in the birdbath, deer walking past, hummingbirds flitting, and many more magical things. Now I’m in Florida and I wander when I write – sometimes I’m in my office, sometimes at the kitchen counter, sometimes on the lanai, where I can see our pond, stately oaks, and birds enjoying the bird feeders. Still magical. Go find your magical spot. It can be anywhere!

It seems like such a good idea, doesn’t it? But I don’t. I get distracted by the music and end up singing or dancing rather than writing. Instead, I listen to “the sound of silence.”

If I did listen to music, it would be something like Mozart or the soundtrack of The King’s Speech.

If I listened to music with words, it would most likely be James Taylor or something from musical theatre. I love songs like “There’s A Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q, “For Good” from The Wiz, “Hold On” from The Secret Garden, or “Morning Glow” from Pippin. My daughter has loved performing in musical theatre since she was a child, so I’ve enjoyed lots of shows. Musical theatre music almost always inspires me and touches my heart.

This question is usually asked by adults. Remember, the idea is the easy part. Taking that idea and developing it into a wonderful story that many will enjoy is the difficult part.

Here are some thoughts about how to get started:

Professional writing is a mixture of art and business. Just as in any other profession, one must study and work hard in order to succeed. The three things I did at the beginning of my career that I think helped were:

  1. I read almost every book I found in the library about writing in general and writing for children, specifically. I visited bookstores to see what was currently being published for children. This research work is vital. It always amazes me the number of people who hope to publish a children’s story, but have never done this homework. Go to a bookstore and find the Children’s Book Section. Bookstores are good because they’ll have the most current and the most popular books out. Most writers visit bookstores, but if you’re like me you usually don’t read the books CLOSELY, you just scan them. We can learn by scanning, but we can learn more by reading closely. Take an afternoon or an evening and settle yourself in. As you read a story ask yourself questions. Why is this part so funny? Why don’t I like this character? Why did the author begin with one particular scene and not another? In this way we’re teaching ourselves.
  2. I joined SCBWI. Anyone who tells me they have a wonderful idea for a children’s book and asks how they can get it published, I direct to SCBWI and their website, www.scbwi.org. SCBWI has most of the answers, including lists of publishers and insights on how not to submit a manuscript as well as how to do it the right way.
  3. I started, with another writer, a writer’s support group. You can read one another’s stories and help each other make them better.
  4. There is a great deal of information online about publishers, editors, and writing. Just start googling.

Remember, patience and perseverance are key.

Good luck, future authors!