Pennsylvania Reads

Hi everyone,

I’m grateful to Hollie D’Agata and Tammy Brown for interviewing me for this new issue of PENNSYLVANIA READS, Journal of the Keystone State Literary Association. Last December they called from Marywood University and we talked more than an hour.

Yesterday I received a copy of the just-out journal, Volume 19, Number 1, Fall 2020, and am delighted to see the 6+ page interview included. My thanks to Hollie, Tammy, and the whole editorial staff for hosting me in their journal.

Charles Waters today

BULLETIN #1: Be sure to come by on Monday. I’m issuing a new challenge that I hope you will enjoy.
BULLETIN #2: This just in from our talented friend Steven Withrow. It’s fantastic news so check it out. “Publishers Weekly ran a great online article about the Library of the Early Mind documentary today”:

Charles Waters from Florida,

Today I bring you my interview featuring Charles Waters. After you read his account of his dedication to becoming a writer, I know you will be impressed and reminded that what we do is not easy and is not for those who give up before they realize their dreams. Here’s Charles.

Interview with Charles Waters, July 9, 2010
You find outlets to express your creative side in a variety of ways. Describe your journey of self discovery and your hopes for the future.
For me it’s always been about finding something that gives you joy, challenges you in a great way and sticking to that no matter what obstacles arise. I started acting professionally in 1997. I’ve worked many survival jobs in the interim (a market researcher, car collector, waiter, shuttle driver, valet, warehouse employee, security guard) and a few others. All those jobs were what I needed to go through in order to get to where I needed to be, which was an employed actor. If I had to describe everything that I’ve learned along the way in one word I would say humbleness.
I feel I haven’t scratched the surface in what I can do as an actor, children’s poet and person. I’m grateful to be alive every day because if you think about what’s going on in the world any problems you may have are maybe infinitesimal in comparison. What I hope for the future is continue to grow in all facets of my life. I feel by staying humble, working hard and being a good person, great things will happen.
How did you know you were a poet? Describe your decision and how you went about getting published.
I guess I was always a poet because since I was a child I felt I might have looked at the world different from my classmates, at least I verbalized it which made people look at me like I was a bit off-kilter.I didn’t knowingly realize I was a poet until I started performing for Poetry Alive in the fall of 2003. I was with them for 3 years and I really have to thank them for turning me on to poetry because it was never taught to me in school. Because you have to learn at least 70 new poems a year for them, you couldn’t help but fall in love with the best writers in the world.

In terms of getting published, I realized after about 4 years of writing children’s poems that I MAY have something to share so I started submitting and started piling up the rejection letters. I will say that being an actor and having been rejected thousands of times in my career gave me some preparation for it, but it still stinks.

There’s no way around getting rejected, it’s a way of life, the good news is that when you finally do get an acceptance, it feels like all the work you put in was worth it. I’ve been published in the newspaper The Evening Sun, a wellness magazine called Spotlight on Recovery, the 30 Poets/30 Days blog by Greg Pincus and now your blog and the key for me to have that happen was to get my name out there, find all my favorite children’s poets on Facebook, ask them advice and hopefully they may ask to see my work. I’ve had the incredible good fortune of having Rebecca Kai Dotlich take interest in me not only as a poet but as a person and she’s been instrumental in passing my name to her fellow friends/poets and that’s been a huge boost for me.

I’m still working hard towards getting a book of mine published, be it my own children’s poems, an anthology or both. The fact that you, David, were rejected something like 80 times and now you have 80 books published gives me hope!
Why are some people afraid of writing poetry? How can a beginning poet get past the fear factor?
It all starts in the schools. I believe it’s a vicious cycle where teachers back when they were students had to learn poems by rote instead of by heart and they resented that so when they became teachers they would make sure that didn’t happen again. I can tell you that not having poetry taught to me in school was a shame because it really does make you feel less alone in the world, especially at a young age. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m disparaging teachers, especially since my mother was one and my high school teacher, Becky Vandenberg, was one of the most influential people in my life. It’s just that it’s such an important tool to a better understanding of our world.

For me getting past the fear factor is all about reading and writing. The works of Jack Prelutsky, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Sara Holbrook, and many others will help you write poems because the more you read the better understanding you have of metaphors, similes, imagery and other forms that will make you not only appreciate words but savor them like dark chocolate out of the fridge.

Which is easier to write, verse or free verse?
I’m here to tell you that writing verse is hard work. Because so many words rhyme together one is in danger of their writing coming off as a cliché. Having said that, free verse takes a huge amount of perseverance as well because putting words together slapdash really isn’t poetry. I guess a master on the subject, Jane Yolen, said it best when she stated “make every word count.”
Why poetry? Why not stick with fiction or nonfiction? What attracts some writers to poetry?
In my opinion, distilling life’s essence down to a line or 20 lines is more a gut punch to me than something that’s served out over 300 pages. I’ve been reading consistently since the 6th grade when I started devouring the sports pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I love a good novel like The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (at 588 pages), but I’ve never been as gob-smacked as when I started getting into the children’s poems of, let’s say, Barbara Juster Esbensen who, in Cold Stars and Fireflies, goes through the 4 seasons in less than 70 pages!
How much does a children’s poet need to know about poetry to become a poet?
You don’t have to know a lot in the beginning but you should keep learning over time because in order to write, not just children’s poetry, but in general, is to read a lot. It’s vital. Read, write, repeat!
While waiting for the big break from an editor, how should budding poets work to perfect their craft?
What’s helped me is sharing my writing with people who I trust. I have a select group of people who read what I have and give me an honest critique. It’s important to listen to what they have to say, it’s also important to remember that you have the final decision. It’s all up to you!

Charles Waters tomorrow

I haven’t had a Friday Featured Guest in a while so I’m very pleased to bring you a good one tomorrow. I became familiar with Charles Waters and his work when Greg Pincus included him among his poets during April. Since then Charles and I have exchanged e-mails and I featured his picture and a poem as my second Summer Guest Reader.

Now I’ve invited Charles to become a Friday Featured Guest and he has provided stimulating responses to my questions, which will appear tomorrow. Be sure you stop by for more about Charles. For now, here is what he provided about himself.

Charles Waters has performed professionally in theatres all across the country since 1998. He’s also dedicated 3 years of service to Poetry Alive! a performance and teaching theatre troupe where he performed in 38 of the 50 states. His poems have appeared in The Evening Sun, Spotlight on Recovery, 30 Poets/30 days and now in Connecting the Dots. He currently acts at Walt Disney World in the roles of Judge in the American Idol Experience, Director in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Sports Host at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Charles currently lives in Orlando, FL where he hopes someday the hair will grow back on his head.



Rob Shepperson today

Greetings all,

Today it’s a pleasure to feature Rob Shepperson, the talented illustrator of several popular books. You’ll enjoy meeting the witty voice behind the pen.

Q/A with Rob Shepperson
1- How does on artist prepare for becoming a book illustrator?
Someone once said that the difference between an artist and an illustrator is that an illustrator makes art for publication. In other words, art with a story. An artist planning to become an illustrator might want to look into that—does the art have something to say? And who’s listening?
2- How closely do you usually work with the author?
In the case of BUGS and VACATION, David e-mailed poems that looked pretty darn finished. I e-mailed back sketches that looked pretty darn finished. How close was that? We inspired each other, but didn’t tell each other what to do. Have you seen David’s drawings?
3- How long do you usually need to do a complete book project?
Sometimes the editor is having lunch, or is reading the wrong manuscript, and boy, things grind to a halt. But generally, it takes six to eight weeks to draw a book, if you don’t count naps.
4- What steps do you take from idea to finished work?
I think I’m finished as soon as the idea occurs. No-one else does, so I have to put the idea on paper. First, pencil sketches. Once the sketches are approved, or disapproved and redrawn, I use pen and ink to make the same drawings in a printable style. At this point, I’m finished again. Oh, and the artwork has to fit the page. For instance, if I’m drawing a snake on a “vertical” page, the snake has to stand on its back tail to fit in the book. Sometimes, I forget, and terrible things happen, like to that giraffe in BUGS.
5-How much do you revise your work?
With David, revisions are few, and painless. He writes clearly, and knows his subject. On the other hand, I just finished a job for someone else. Oh, there were many many revisions because new characters were introduced every time I sent in finished artwork. Sort of like if this question were changed after I answered it. What?
6- How do you use the computer as a tool for your art?
I use the computer to scan and send my inky drawings. Once they are scanned, they can be e-mailed anywhere, even to the White House. Or Antarctica. Or Mr. Harrison’s.
7- What advise would you give authors that would help an artist make a better book?

As an illustrator, I believe authors should write stories without clobbering the narrative with descriptions that can be shown more efficiently visually. Unless the illustrator is dim-witted. It happens.
8- Which usually comes first, the words or the art?
The WORDS come first! Did I say that?
9. How did you get into this business?
I got into the business by pestering editors, back in the day when editors could be pestered in person. That means I took drawing samples to publishing houses, and received jobs. It wasn’t as easy as that, ’cause I’ve forgotten all the jobs I didn’t receive.
10. Describe your work as a political cartoonist.
Political, or editorial art, is done on a short deadline. In fact, the art must be finished before the manuscript is read, and often before it is written. It’s no wonder that grownups are confused.

Didn’t I tell you? Please leave your questions and comments for Rob.


JonArno Lawson today

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my guest, JonArno Lawson. Yesterday I posted our Q/A bio of JonArno but here’s another site where you can see some of his selected work. Thanks again to our friend Tricia Stohr-Hunt for making me aware of JonArno and his work.


By JonArno Lawson

Lately, under the influence of Michael Heyman’s brilliant introduction to his collection of Indian nonsense THE TENTH RASA, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of nonsense in life and literature.Tom Bombadil, in Tolkien’s THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, is a nonsense poet. He’s much else besides of course, but clearly he loves singing and making up silly verses. For instance – “Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!/ Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow! /Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!” I think it’s noteworthy that he’s also the only character in THE LORD OF THE RING over whom the Ring of Power has no power.

In Beatrix Potter’s GINGER AND PICKLES, the Dormouse family sells bad candles to customers who become very disgruntled. How does Mr. Dormouse deal with his customers?:

”. . . when Mr. John Dormouse was complained to, he stayed in bed, and would say nothing but “very snug;” which is not the way to carry on a retail business.”
See also Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s WIND IN THE WILLOWS:

“Hold up!’ said an elderly rabbit at the gap. `Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!’ He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. “Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!” he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. “How stupid you are! Why didn’t you tell him — — “ “Well, why didn’t you say — — “ “You might have reminded him — — “ and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

“Very Snug” and “Onion Sauce” in the face of reprimand and confrontation seem like very clever ways of muddling the issue in what might otherwise have become more difficult (even dangerous) situations. . .is it also a way of putting things back in their proper perspective?

Nonsense for the purpose of creating confusion (for socially beneficial reasons, or simply out of wiliness) seems like a very English strategy, but I’m wondering if these kinds of scenes appear in children’s books in other traditions?

In Robert Chenciner’s book DAGHESTAN: TRADITION AND SURVIVAL, he writes about what almost became a violent confrontation between groups of Kumyks and Laks back in the 1990s. A policemen, who was trying to keep the groups apart, finally said “If you’re going to beat somebody, why don’t you beat me?”.

This is nonsensical, of course, and it put an instant end to the tension – the two sides stopped, thought again, and finally decided to resolve things by negotiating.

This reminds me too of a psychologist my mother told me about, who advised parents with children who wouldn’t listen to them to behave in a bizarre manner – for instance, let’s say Michael’s Mom has come to pick him up and says over and over “Come on Michael, we have to go” but Michael never listens. Michael’s mother, instead of shouting, should start to tap-dance and sing loudly. Michael, baffled, and possibly embarrassed, now wants to leave as quickly as he can.

To me, writing nonsense poetry has always been very much about playing with (or being played with by) words. For instance, two sets of words with a similar sound start to repeat over and over in my mind, like “bare knuckles” and “barnacles”. Any sensible person might notice this for a moment, and then forget all about it. But my mind, for whatever reason, refuses to let it go. It has to be more than just a coincidence! Why are they suggesting themselves to me, over and over again? There must be a reason. They refuse to see it as a chance meeting, and my task is to find out what their relationship is – what do they mean to each other? A character emerges, a woman who swims to the bottom of the sea in search of treasure, who “barks her bare knuckles on bevies of barnacles” – now they’re satisfied, and I can forget about them. They end up in a book (which could also be seen as a set of formulas to neutralize my word obsessions), and now my mind can move on to other things.

This kind of work renders me harmless, in general, and I suppose that’s one of the valuable aspects of it. While I might be doing some sort of large scale world-damaging work, instead I’m playing about with (or being played about with by) words.My thanks to JonArno for today’s guest appearance. Please post your comments below. Everyone appreciates a little feedback.