Today’s post was prescheduled.
My turn again with Part 3 of this month’s WRITERS AT WORK series, Rule 1: Show Up. Thanks, Sandy, for your Part 2 last week. I look forward to your concluding essay next Tuesday, the 27th.
Writers at Work
Rule 1: Show Up
Part 3: David
Of course nothing beats talent and we can all think of geniuses who famously stayed home and made fate come to them. But alas, Dickinsons and Salingers are rare. Most of us fall into the mere mortal range and must find our breaks by showing up where they tend to hang out.
In my own case an example is the time I showed up in Ronne Peltzman Randall’s office at Ladybird Books in Loughborough, England. Sandy and I were in London and I decided to buy a train ticket and go see my editor friend who was publishing a story of mine called LITTLE BOY SOUP. It was great fun to see Ronne and we have remained lifetime friends. She honors me by dropping by my blog now and then. Ronne took me down the hall to meet her editor-in-chief and that’s where I met Christine San Jose, also a visitor there that day. Christine was born twelve miles away in Leicester and was home for a visit. She had lived in America for a long time and worked for Kent Brown at Highlights.
For the previous three years I had been learning how to write poetry for children and didn’t know what to do with the one hundred poems I’d accumulated. When I mentioned this to Christine, she invited me to send my poems to her at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Kent was creating a book division which included Wordsong, an imprint for children’s poetry. Editor-in-chief of Wordsong was Bernice (Bee) Cullinan, a professor at NYU and former president of International Reading Association.
When Christine received my poems, she handed them over to Bee. Bee got in touch to say how much she liked my work and wanted to publish me. Shortly after that, Kent called and invited me to Honesdale to talk. I flew to New York, hooked up with Bee, who lived there, and together we were driven to Honesdale where I sat down with Kent in his office.
When I left, Kent and I had a handshake agreement. I was free to continue publishing my other work anywhere I chose, but he wanted an exclusive on my poetry until such a time that either of us felt otherwise.
Bee went to work arranging my poems into categories: school, family, etc. We agreed to go with school first. SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK was illustrated by Betsy Lewin and published in 1993 with a starred Kirkus review and went into its third printing within months. After that came thirty or so books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction with Boyds Mills. I currently have two more in process.
Sandy, this may fall in the “too much information” category, but my point is that my showing up in Loughborough, England to see Ronne started a chain reaction of fortunate circumstances that eventually led to my career as a poet, as well as the publication of numerous other books. Would I have become a poet anyway? I like to think that sooner or later I might have figured it all out and discovered the right editor, but who knows. I was green and didn’t know if my poetry was any good. I might have grown discouraged and quit without the encouragement of Christine San Jose, the enthusiasm of Bee Cullinan, and the handshake with Kent Brown.
Dear Sandy, it’s back to you next week to finish up.