Sandy Asher poses outside her Lancaster City Home. Photo:Shahan
and I haven’t done anything together lately but you never know when something new will crop up and we’ll be off and running again. Over the years Sandy and I have worked on numerous projects ranging from programs to plays to books. I’m not the playwright; she is. But one of her plays, SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK, was inspired by my poems. And we wrote an unpublished book in verse together called JESSE AND GRACE that Sandy turned into a prize winning play. We co-edited a book for Dutton for boys 8-12 called DUDE, which was inspired by her own book for girls, ON HER WAY, GROWING UP GIRL. We’ve done TV together in a program designed to introduce good books to kids and more recently a series here on my blog called WRITERS AT WORK, and that’s what made me think of Sandy this morning.
We’re all writers at work. We have the same questions, worries, frustrations, uncertainties. It was Sandy’s idea some years ago to create a series of short essays about the nuts and bolts of writing. Nothing fancy. Just a way to connect with one another about those topics we share in common. If you’re lately come to this party and find the idea interesting, you can go to my categories list and find sixteen months of past episodes of WRITERS AT WORK. We haven’t done a new one lately but that doesn’t mean we won’t. You can also go to our blog site, http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com , and see the entire collection where Sandy has collected it for anyone who’s interested.
There is much more to know about my friend. Play writing is hardly her only talent. She has a long list of successful books ranging from delightful picture books to YA novels and books about writing. You can start learning more about her here: http://sandyasher.com . She is one of our country’s most published and recognized authors of children’s plays but also works in adult theater with a long list of accolades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandra_Fenichel_Asher
It has been quite a while since Sandy Asher and I posted a new WRITERS AT WORK series (meaning alternating essays each Tuesday for a month). We’ve been doing them now and then since September 2010 as a casual dialogue about various aspects of being a writer. This time we’ll be talking about the symbiotic relationship between authors and libraries (= librarians!). Sandy has already written her two pieces, which will be posted on November 1st and 15th. I’ll chime in on the 8th and 22nd. We haven’t talked yet about the 29th, but we’ll come up with something. If you are new to the idea or want a refresher, here’s the link to our collected series. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com
While we’re discussing the questions inherent in Jane Yolen’s suggestion about how we can maximize a poetry audience, here’s another part to chew on: How do I increase my own fan base?
Here’s a quote from Sandy Asher in our WRITERS AT WORK series about The Joys and Perils of Writing in Many Genres (January 2011): “David, you’ve heard me say this before, but I think you’ll agree it bears repeating. The road to riches and fame is a direct one: Do one thing, do it well, and do it over and over. This applies to almost any field. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but when you think about the rich and famous, do you have doubts about what you expect of each of them? I think not. Oprah is Oprah every day. Her fans count on it; her sponsors bank on it. Riches and fame depend on building a huge fan base, and that’s done by delivering the goods so consistently that folks can and do keep coming back for more, bringing their friends and relations with them.”
Sandy wasn’t talking about poetry then but poetry would be included in her statement. One of her telling points is to remind us of how long it may take to build a fan base for our work. Another is to pick a genre and live it, be it, stick with it, become branded by it. I might add that a lot of famous people are multitalented and do more than one thing well, but generally speaking they’re famous first for one specific thing. Paul Newman drove race cars. Red Skelton painted. But Newman as an actor who happened to like fast cars and Skelton was a comedian who happened to paint. To see all the episodes in the WRITERS AT WORK series, here’s the link. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com
Sticking with one thing can be the hardest part. Jane has written so many books in so many voices that she’s the exception to the rule but it’s probably sound advice for most writers to choose one genre and keep at it until success (and fans) grow over time.
The floor is open. I hope someone is going to talk about the need to self promote these days and some of the ways to approach it. Whether we like it or not, today’s writers are required to thump their chests and yell through a bullhorn from the back of every wagon. The old adage, write a better book and the world will beat a path to your door (okay, something like that) may still be true, but kids there are a lot of books out there and many good ones are never discovered.
Sandy Asher and I are still gathering anecdotes from published writers and artists about the lengths they’ve gone to in their search for authenticity in their work. We’ll include as many as we can in the 4th installment of “The Search for Authenticity,” an upcoming series of WRITERS AT WORK. To accommodate our own workloads we’ve tentatively set April as the month to post the four segments on successive Tuesdays (7, 14, 21, 28), beginning with Debbie Dadey and followed by me, then Sandy, and finally the conclusion with stories shared by our readers.
Please send your thoughts directly to me so we don’t spoil the surprise before the post goes up on Tuesday, April 28. You can use my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve heard from Bill Anderson, Jane Yolen, Veda Boyd Jones, and others but still have plenty of room for more.
These don’t need to be long, just enough to set up the situation and explain how you researched to prepare for what you were going to write. Most of the entrees will probably range from a few words to 200 or so. Thank you in advance.
Sandy Asher and I are planning a new episode in the series of nuts and bolts writers’ chats we call WRITERS AT WORK. This time we want to talk about research, or, more specifically, the things writers do to prepare for their work. Granted, some writing takes less preparation than others but most of us at one time or another have gone to considerable trouble to gain the experience we feel we need in order to convey a sense of time and place to our readers.
Sandy, who always has her antennae up, spotted a charming paragraph in a recent interview with Debbie Dadey. Here’s her response to a question about how she has prepared for some of her wildly successful stories among her 160 published books.http://www.debbiedadey.com
“For Mrs. Jeepers in Outer Space I went to Space Camp and for Wolfmen Don’t Hula Dance I went to Hawaii. For Hercules Doesn’t Pull Teeth I went to the dentist and for Mummies Don’t Coach Softball I got to go to Egypt. For Whistler’s Hollow, I drove eight hours so I could sit on a coal train. I took notes so I could write one paragraph about what it felt like. It must have worked because when that book came out, the publisher of Bloomsbury USA said, “It felt like I was really on that train.” I also slid into a shark tank for Danger in the Deep Blue Sea. Probably the craziest thing I have done for writing was to fall out of a plane! I wrote a story, that I’ve never sold, where a grandmother wanted to go sky-diving. So, I figured to be able to write about it I should experience it. Big mistake!!”
It is our pleasure to tell you that Debbie is joining us in the new episode, tentatively named, “In Pursuit of Authenticity.” She has already filed her essay so now it’s up to Sandy and me to get ourselves in gear to do our sections. I’ll take one, Sandy will take one, and we hope to use the fourth installment to relate stories from you.
So this is an invitation to all you published children’s authors to tell us about the lengths you’ve gone to for the sake of making your own work more authentic.
Please send your anecdotes to me personally via e-mail so we don’t spoil your stories before it’s time to include them in WRITERS AT WORK. My e-mail address is DavidLHarrison1@att.net. Thanks!