Writers at Work: Wait for It, Part 2

Hi everyone,

It’s my turn today with Part 2 of WRITERS AT WORK: WAIT FOR IT! Please remember to share with either of us via e-mail any similar experiences you’ve had with resuscitating an oldie in your files and finding a home for it after all. We’ll share as many as we can on the final Tuesday of this Month. Here’s the link again for the collected series of WRITERS AT WORK. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com

October 10, 2017
Writers at Work: Wait for It
Part 2: David

Well, Sandy, you’re younger than I so I hope you’ll forgive me for having a story that tops your 18 years by three. But my tale is slightly different from yours so we may both claim the title in separate divisions.

I made my first trip to New York City for an editorial visit in 1969, the same year my first children’s book was published. Forty-eight years later I can look back on many such trips, but that first one led me to write THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES.

From March through April, 1969 I wrote three stories in forty-seven days for the collection: The Secret, Little Boy Soup, and The Giant Who Threw Tantrums. When the stories were sent to the artist, Philippe Fix, he had an idea for his own story to add. I said no to that but agreed to write the story he wanted to illustrate, which I called, The Giant Who was Afraid of Butterflies. I didn’t realize until it was too late that Little Boy Soup had been pulled from the group and replaced by the butterfly story.

I couldn’t complain. I loved my editor, the book was gorgeous, it won a Christopher Medal, and contracts for translations started pouring in – from Denmark, Japan, Italy, Africa, Finland, Germany, and half a dozen others. But what was I to do with the single story, Little Boy Soup? I guess I didn’t know. According to my records, I never sent it anywhere else to see about placing it as a picture book on its own. Maybe my contract prevented me from publishing another giant story at the time. That was long ago and I don’t remember.

In 1988 I finally sent Little Boy Soup to my friend Ronne Peltzman, who had become the children’s editor for Ladybird Press in Loughbourough, England. The picture book was published in 1990, twenty-one years after I wrote it.

As we all know, Sandy, these late bloomers sometimes come with additional rewards. In 1989 my Sandy and I took a trip to England and while we were there I caught a train to Loughbourough to see Ronne. Another U.S. visitor was at Ladybird that day and we were introduced. Christine San Jose explained that she worked with Kent Brown at Highlights. When I told her I’d been focusing on poetry the past three years, she urged me to send my work to Kent because he was starting a book publishing division called Boyds Mills Press and one of the imprints, given entirely to poetry, was Wordsong.

The story of my growth as a poet as Wordsong grew is a tale for another time. The point here is that a story that lingered in my files for nearly as long as it takes an infant to be born, grow up, and graduate from college finally made it into print. Between 1969 and 1990, I left my position as editorial manager at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City to become president of Glenstone Block Company in Springfield, Missouri. In 1969 I had published two books. By 1990 I’d published thirty-nine. In 1969 I had a nine-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. In 1990 my children were college graduates. Sandy and I had our first grandson. Sandy had left her teaching job in Kansas City, earned her master’s degree in guidance and counseling, and become a high school counselor in Springfield.

Could I have written Little Boy Soup in 1990 the same way I did twenty-one years earlier? Impossible. I don’t know if a later version would have been better or worse, but it would certainly have been different as a reflection of all the changes in my life during those years. What I can say for sure is that I’m glad I hung onto the story that got squeezed out of THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES!


Writers at Work: Wait for It

Hi everyone,

Sandy Asher and I are bringing you another series of WRITERS AT WORK this month, on Tuesdays as always. We’re calling this one “Wait for It,” as we reflect on those times in our own careers when unsold work from the past has eventually found its way into print. We know that many of you have had the same experiences and hope you’ll send them to Sandy or me by e-mail so we can include them in the last (fifth) Tuesday in October. Thanks and welcome! For anyone interested in reviewing our previous fifteen series of WRITER AT WORK, here’s the link. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com

Topic 16: Wait for It
October 3, 2017
Part 1 — Sandy


David, you’ve inspired this exchange of thoughts with your recent comment about finding an old manuscript in your files that seemed to be asking you to come back and work on it. Thank you!

That reunion with an old manuscript really struck a chord. It’s something that’s happened to me many times over the years. I’ll bet it happens to most writers, at least now and then. And yet we hardly ever hear it mentioned in advice articles or courses or workshops. Sure, we’re told to put a new manuscript away for a few days or weeks so we can revise it with fresh eyes and renewed energy. But what about manuscripts that have been lying around for years?

They don’t get enough respect!

In fact, they’re kind of a secret, aren’t they? Maybe we’re not comfortable admitting there are incomplete or unsuccessful manuscripts languishing on the back burner — or off the stove altogether?

Well, let’s shout it out here: I don’t throw anything away! Not even if it seems hopeless and I think I never want to look at the useless thing again, let alone spend another minute of my precious writing time wrestling with it. I hang onto it, anyway.

One just never knows when that idea’s time may come. Circumstances change. Markets change. Editors change. But perhaps most importantly, WE change. Sometimes we just have to live a little bit more, learn a little bit more, grow a little bit older and wiser — or do a whole lot of that stuff — to solve the puzzle certain pieces present.

Some ideas simply knock on our door too soon, but they’ll wait until we’re ready to answer. The very first of my successful file-digging finds is probably something of a record holder. It was a story I wrote for a college creative writing course. It earned a respectable grade at that time, but it wasn’t until 18 years later that I hauled it out, revised it, and sold it. Yes, you read that right: 18 years!

Fresh out of college, I tried sending it off to what I thought were appropriate publications, but it never found a home. No doubt, that’s because I was aiming at literary journals. I just didn’t know enough to understand what I’d actually written, or even what kind of writer I was meant to be — a children’s author. After the story collected a depressing number of rejections, it went into my file cabinet and there it stayed, abandoned and, eventually, forgotten.

Some years later, I enrolled in elementary education classes at Drury College (now Drury University) where my husband was teaching. (I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, I just didn’t know I was supposed to be writing for them!) One required class changed everything: Methods of Teaching Children’s Literature. It was there that I first read young adult novels. Suddenly, I felt as if I’d been wandering all my life and had finally found home. My whole approach to my work — and its marketing potential — shifted.

Not long after that epiphany, I read about an educational publisher looking for stories about teenaged protagonists for a graded reading series. I found my old college story, reread it with new perspective, and sent off the requested query. There was interest. BUT. There were also a few requirements for this series: I had to count not only word length, but average number of syllables, and I had to work in six new vocabulary words twice each. Considerable revision was in order!

The ensuing labor only made the story better. After it was accepted, I enjoyed a long, productive, and profitable relationship with that publisher. Plus, with each story needing to comply with stringent length, reading difficulty, and vocabulary requirements, I honed my revision skills. Big bonus!

So, in 18 years, my focus changed, and my writing improved. I also learned something about patience. Sometimes an idea just has to wait for its time to come.

And, now, David, your time has come!

Writers at Work

Hi everyone,

Sandy Asher poses outside her Lancaster City Home. Photo:Shahan

Sandy Asher 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

WRITERS AT WORK: Loving Libraries, Part 4

Hi everyone,

Here we are on the fourth Tuesday of the month so it’s my turn to add my concluding thoughts to this WRITERS AT WORK series: Loving Libraries. Thanks to Sandy Asher for her contribution last week. Please don’t forget that we have one remaining Tuesday and we want to include as many of your own stories as we can in the final post. If you plan to get in touch, now would be a good time.
Loving Libraries
November 22, 2016
Part 4: David

Sandy, I love your celebration of libraries event and its potential to be duplicated and spun off in other towns and cities. You’re a shining example of how authors and libraries are a perfect fit. I hope your idea catches on and is picked up by authors and illustrators elsewhere!

In this segment I want to touch on the mutual benefit of presentations and programs that bring kids to the library. Libraries already have all sorts of excellent programs on their regular menus to do just that, but adding an author to the mix can be fun for everyone concerned. These days I take advantage of our district’s beautiful facilities every chance I get. The meeting rooms are available for speakers so when a new book, NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T, came out earlier this year I chose to introduce it first with a program at The Library Center on South Campbell here in Springfield.

Kathleen O’Dell, the district’s Community Relations Director, worked with me at each step of the planning. We contacted Melinda Arnold, then Public Relations/Marketing Director for Dickerson Park Zoo and arranged to have several animals represented in my book to be brought to the library. We contacted Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing at Charlesbridge Publishing and asked for black and white pictures from the book that the young set could use for coloring. Donna contacted the artist Giles Laroche and asked him to take some of his glorious full color paintings and render them in black and white outline for my event – no easy matter. We sent copies of poems to neighboring schools with a challenge for students to write poems of their own. We encouraged students to be prepared to read poems aloud with me. The library set up panels to display the kids’ poems and coloring sheets for a week after the event. We featured a musical group that plays arrangements of my poems. The newspaper published a notice about the event. Barnes & Noble provided books for those who wanted to purchase copies. The evening was publicized in the library’s Bookends program of coming events. I must say a fine time was had by all.

I’ve done a number of programs like that over the years. In one variation, students bring poems and are prepared to perform them individually or in groups. Sometimes the fun is having them stand beside me and read with me. We’ve invited singers to perform and actors to read. There are many ways to celebrate books and libraries and kids and their families. When librarians and authors put their heads together and combine their resources, the result can produce memorable events.

We have talked about school libraries and the vital role they also play in the lives of children. In homes where there are no books or few and getting to a public library is a challenge, the school library may provide a child’s only chance to hold a book. Many districts across the country recognize the value of bringing authors to their auditoriums and libraries to inspire students to read more as well as to write. But last year I sat in a school library and didn’t have to say one word. I was there as a guest. The entertainment was presented by student actors at Missouri State University, coached by actor/teacher Michael Frizell, as part of a program that traveled from school to school (eighteen of them) throughout the year to perform readings. They had selected poems and stories from my work to feature so I got to lean back and hear my words brought to animated life by a group of talented and energetic actors. Michael and a group of his peer equity actors performed my work at two of our public libraries too.

So, Sandy, do I love libraries? Oh, I do!

WRITERS AT WORK: Loving Libraries, Part 3

Hi everyone,

Last Tuesday I added my thoughts to this month’s WRITERS AT WORK conversation: Loving Libraries. Now it’s back to Sandy Asher. Hi Sandy!
Sandy Asher
Loving Libraries
November 15, 2016
Part 3: Sandy

Recently, I spearheaded a gala that brought county-wide librarians and patrons together in the beautiful atrium of Millersville University’s Ware Center in downtown Lancaster City. This was my culminating event as the county’s first Children’s Laureate, a two-year appointment by the Lancaster Literary Guild. My goal, and the name of the gala, was “Celebrate Libraries!”

While this event was specific to Lancaster, I wanted to design something that could be duplicated elsewhere. Maybe where you live? With high hopes, I’ll share the details here.

It all began with a poem about using the library that I’d written for the Poetry Friday anthology CELEBRATIONS. And then there was my soon-to-be released picture book, CHICKEN STORY TIME, inspired by story time visits with my grandchildren and set in a library. Also, I’d discovered Jerry Spinelli’s short story collection, THE LIBRARY CARD. And I’d come across a Facebook post showing a meticulously decorated cake depicting a reading room, complete with shelves and shelves of tiny books.

So . . . you could write, draw, and bake libraries. How many other ways could they be celebrated?

I was invited to put the question to our county librarians at one of their meetings. It generated an enthusiastic response. The game was on! Here’s part of the follow-up letter I wrote to clarify our plan:

This is meant to be a “celebrate libraries in any creative way you like” project. My poem may be used as inspiration, a jumping-off point, but poetry is not the only possibility. The challenge is to see how many unique and wonderfully creative ways we can come up with.

My hope is that each of you will respond to this challenge in a manner that is comfortable for you and fits your community. Perhaps a group of young people will want to get together and create a short play or video or collection of photographs or a dance, musical number, or puppet show, or maybe a scroll with all their reasons to love the library written on it. Perhaps families will want to put together their own books of writing and/or illustration or create a poster or a performance piece of their own. Perhaps individuals will want to write a story or song or take photos or draw pictures or build dioramas or sculptures or – yes – even write poems.

The only “rule” I’d offer is that folks take into consideration that whatever they create will need to be brought to the Ware Center on April 1 to share with others. We can certainly arrange wall space, tables, a stage, computers to show DVDs, and so on, once we know what that creative outpouring will include. Perhaps we can set March 10 as the deadline for declaring project entries, so we’ll have time to plan how best to share them? They wouldn’t need to be finished then – unless that would fit YOUR needs. A list from each library with brief descriptions would do for planning.

Please note: It’s important that this NOT be a competition in any way, but one, big, inclusive and joyous celebration of libraries. Everyone’s enthusiasm is welcome!

Finally, I am happy to visit each library for an hour in January or February to inspire and brainstorm responses to the challenge. If your patrons particularly want a writing workshop, I can do that, but not everyone will want to celebrate with writing – and that’s fine! Also, if you want to do a local culminating event to display projects before the Ware gala and you’d like me to participate, I would be delighted to do as many visits of that sort as I can fit in.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Library System of Lancaster Youth Services office if you have any questions and they will pass any needing my attention on to me.

The results were delightful, and so was the gala evening of viewing and visiting. We had displays of artwork, black-out poetry, a hedgehog fashioned out of book pages, puppets, and more. My favorites included a multigenerational project in which teens interviewed and recorded the stories of older neighbors about historical photographs donated to their library and an animated video created by a first grade class depicting their brilliant group story about a librarian’s unusual day of chaos and pizza.

Sound like fun? It was! Let me know if I can help you and your community celebrate libraries!