Online Chat, Part I

BULLETIN: We’ve just been joined by three more student poets posted by Linda Kulp. Check out the poems by Maisha, Cara, and Priya!

rubberman

The following online chat took place at 417 Magazine from 2:00 – 3:10 on December 9, 2009.

Comment From Matt Lemmon
Hello David. What’s more important to coming up with a good children’s book? Is it character or lesson?

Hi, Matt,
I usually begin with an idea of what I want to do. Characters and/or scene seem to be there when I need them.

Hello Everyone,
Thanks for joining me today as I sit in the offices of 417 Magazine in Springfield, Missouri. This is a nice opportunity to visit a bit so send me your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

[Comment From Guest]
Hi David! Does writing poetry come easier now that you’ve been doing it for so long?

I think the longer we do anything helps us become comfortable with the tools we use. Thinking poetry takes a different thought process than we use for fiction or nonfiction.

As for the quality of what we write, I’m not sure that gets easier. I tend to be more critical of myself than I was when I began. And that’s a good thing!

[Comment From Guest]
What’s your favorite character that you’ve created?

I liked Detective Bob in the book, Detective Bob and the Great Escape. That was written for the TV generation, meaning I used more sight gags than in my previous works. I liked “The Boy” in The Boy with a Drum and “The Boy” in The Book of Giant Stories.

[Comment From Kevin]
So what would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring writer, that you wish you would have known in the beginning?

Good question! In the beginning I rushed too much. I tried to follow every idea that came to mind and therefore focused very little on any one thing. My feeling is that it is better to slow down and do one thing well than to hurry along doing ten things poorly.

The first part of selling a story is to have something worth selling. At first I thought I was working hard if I revised a piece two or three times. Now I return again and again to the writing, making changes each time until I finally read it without seeing anything left to change. If I put the writing away for a day or two, I usually find more changes to make.

Much of the satisfaction in writing well comes during those last reviews when the writer discovers more subtle ways to improve his or her work. It’s worth the time and effort.

[Comment From Logan]
Hi David! How do you come up with ideas for books that will interest young people?

One of the real challenges for writers of children’s literature is to know and appreciate one’s audience. When I visit schools, questions and responses from students energize me and remind me what’s important to kids at various stages. Fan letters are nice because I often pick up on levels of maturity and insight.

The trick is to remember that young readers know a lot and have had plenty of experiences that we share in common. Good stories make the most of those experiences and add something new that helps the reader stretch and grow.

[Comment From A reader]
Do you only write children’s books and poetry, or do you write novels?

I don’t write novels although I have a few ideas for chapter books I’d like to do. My work is usually contained in 48 – 64 pages and most picture books are 32.

I’m usually at work on one or more professional books meant to assist classroom teachers. At the moment I’m co-writing a book about phonemic awareness with a professor from Ohio State and am discussing a new book about Greek and Latin root words with a professor at Kent State. In such cases, I write poetry to support the subject.

[Comment From Guest]
Hi David. Where do you draw most of your inspiration from? Also, do you have a favorite book you’ve written?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. My recent book about pirates was written by request from an editor who introduced me to the artist, and off we went. He (Dan Burr) and I brainstormed and agreed on scenes that he could paint and I could compose.

Wild Country summed up several trips over the course of a few years to Alaska, Colorado, California, Florida, and Wyoming. Sounds of Rain resulted from a trip up the Amazon.

The more we write, the more receptive our senses become to the possibilities of what we see around us.

Among my favorites are Connecting Dots, Wild Country, Pirates, The Book of Giant Stories, and Somebody Catch My Homework.

[Comment From Boyd Elementary]
Hello Mr. Harrison. Boyd Elementary is here to visit. We have third and fourth graders present.

Hi Boyd Elementary!

I’m glad you are here today!

David

[Comment From Savannah]
Hello David. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I was wondering, How does it feel to have a school named after you?

Every time I think about David Harrison Elementary School, I smile. Nothing I’ve done prepared me for the warm feeling and pleasure of this honor. I visited students at Harrison last week and loved every minute!

[Comment From Guest]
Do you have any trusted friends or colleagues who get a sneak peek at the things your working on? Maybe someone who offers criticism or ideas?

Only my wife. Sandy has patiently read my work all these years and has saved me from error on many occasions. However, I never show her anything until I’ve gone through draft after draft to make it as smooth and finished as I can. Before that I don’t want anyone to see my mess-in-process. But after that I can’t wait to show it to my wife to get that vital first response.

Only after that do I occasionally e-mail something to a good friend or two who are also writers.

Tomorrow I’ll post the second half of the online chat. Given more time I might have done a better job with some of my responses but time is at a premium under chat circumstances and I didn’t say anything I don’t believe to be true for me.

David