Archives for category: Quotations

Are You a Good Date?

Edward Lear

One of my favorite quotes about writing refers to two elements we rarely associate with picture books, but I believe they are vital to our writing. #1 Kurt Vonnegut. #2 Dating.  The quote comes via John Casey who reports,

“Kurt Vonnegut used to say to his class at Iowa, ‘You’ve got to be a good date for the reader.”

What’s a good date? An equal. Someone engaged in the moment and conversational. Someone who fosters a give and take. Sparks interest. Someone who is open and able to reveal what they have in common. Honest. Gently flirtatious.

Are you a good date for your reader? Are you making sure to work toward keeping his interest and attention?  Are you being honest, or pretending to be something you’re not?

Like fish in the sea, there are plenty of books. If we want to make sure our reader wants to see us again we’re wise to capture both their head and heart.

Interview

Dawn Simon interviews George Shannon

23 October 2011

I recently had the pleasure of answering questions from Dawn Simon for her blog, PLOTTING AND SCHEMING, at

dawnvandermeer.blogspot.com

Dawn had great questions, and I hope you’ll visit her blog soon. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy writing and rewriting…

Go!

“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.”

Jack London

 As in childhood most of us tend to approach games and new endeavors with “Get ready. Get set. Go!”  But when it comes to writing “getting ready” and “getting set” can easily become a quagmire of avoidance that brings us to a stop.

 Just Go!

“One never knows what one is going to do. One starts a painting and then it becomes something quite different.” Picasso

Write. Doodle with words and ideas. Write without clinging to previous ideas. Write to discover what the writing reveals. Write without fearing a finish line. Write with the playful flow of Bidemmi in Vera Williams’ CHERRIES AND CHERRY PITS. How many stories can grow from a single cherry pit? More and more and more and more.

 

 And Keep Going…

At the “Go!” stage of writing picture books there are no mistakes. Surprises and frustrations, yes. But these offer more opportunities. REGINA’S BIG MISTAKE by Marissa Moss shares this truth as a picture book. The class assignment is to draw a picture of the jungle. As she draws the sun Regina’s crayon slips. It’s ruined! Not true. Her ability to keep going, to keep imagining allows her to created something unique. Everyone else draws the jungle in daylight. Regina’s ruined sun becomes the perfect moon for her distinctive picture of the jungle at night.

Illus. by Marissa Moss

Just like Aesop’s tortoise wins the race through ongoing action, picture books are created in the “Go!” of writing.

 Books Discussed

CHERRIES AND CHERRY PITS by Vera Williams. Greenwillow, 1986.

REGINA’S BIG MISTAKE by Marissa Moss. Houghton, 1990.

Celebrating Tomi Ungerer

Today most children know Tomi Ungerer through two of his earliest books: CRICTOR and as the illustrator of FLAT STANLEY by Jeff Brown (1964). If, however, you were lucky enough to grow up during the 1950s and 1960s you likely have memories of many more books that feature Ungerer’s playful illustrations, unique sense of story, and rich language.

As a child my favorite book was THE MELLOPS GO SPELUNKING, one of the five books featuring a family of pigs. I loved the story and illustrations, but most of all I loved the word “spelunking”! By the time I became librarian in 1973 I had a list of Ungerer’s books that I was eager to share with children including the wonderfully subversive (or simply honest?) NO KISS FOR MOTHER.

This year not only marks Tomi Ungerer’s 80th birthday, but also an exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the republication of many of his picture books. For more on Tomi Ungerer and his books visit:

http://www.tomiungerer.com [his official website]

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by…/47564-q–a-with-tomi-ungerer-.html

            Q & A with Tomi Ungerer by Antonia Saxon. June 09, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/…/the-child-in-tomi-ungerer-remains-undimmed.html

The Child in Tomi Ungerer Remains Undimmed – NYTimes.com

June 28, 2011

May you enjoy these interviews and sampling his books as much as I do.

 A Sampling of Picture Books

THE BEAST OF MONSIEUR RACINE. Farrar, 1971.

CRICTOR. Harper, 1958.

THE MELLOPS GO FLYING. Harper, 1957.

MOON MAN. Harper, 1967.

NO KISS FOR MOTHER. Harper, 1973.

THE THREE ROBBERS. Atheneum, 1962.

P.S. I feel the need to take issue with one comment made by Mr. Ungerer in the  New York Times interview. In discussing the different aspects of writing versus illustrating he said, “Look, it’s a fact that the children’s books that withstand the grinding of time all come from authors who do both.” The writing of such non-illustrating authors as Margaret Wise Brown, Charlotte Zolotow, Gene Zion, and Ruth Kraus continue to thrive despite the “grinding of time.” Plus a good many more recent titles by Julia Donaldson, Martin Waddell, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal appear quite prepared for the long race.

IN THIS MOMENT

THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED illus. by Marc Simont.

“…a good essay…must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in, not out.”   Virginia Woolf

Ultimately, concept picture books are essays. They invite children to explore new perspectives, new realities, and experience their world in a different way. Concept books may be deal with ideas as seemingly simple as counting, colors or opposites. Such books help the child find order in the world. Yet, other concept books can go far beyond order, and celebrate the complexity and wonder of the world. These books have a great deal to offer the child in her journey from egocentric toddler to an understanding of being part of a much wider world

Three outstanding, yet very different picture books, invite the child to explore the realities of time, self and simultaneity.

AT THE SAME TIME by Tom Tirabosco shares a brief text based in the truth of “and at the same time” a multitude of things are occurring near by and around the world. Gentle evidence that one’s private world is not the only world.

Silvio Freytes’ IN JUST A SECOND also takes an expanding look a moment, but does so with a more intimate and interactive view. A specific geographical moment is a weave of all the experiences of those reacting to one another. Some directly. Others with a silent glance. But everyone is affected by what he notices as are the people that notice the man reacting to something else they hadn’t noticed.

If you subscribe to the “butterfly effect” every action or moment eventually effects all other actions and moments.

Karla Kuskin’s wonderful THE PHILHARMOIC GETS DRESSED not only explores simultaneity, but also the eventual confluence of those separate realities within a moment. In this case it is the reality of one hundred and five people getting dressed for work. One hundred and five lives coming together in the same moment and “turning the black notes on white pages into a symphony.”

THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED Illus. by Marc Simont

The seemingly mundane subject that brings you sighs of wonder just might be your next picture book. And, in turn, make your readers’ world more interesting.

Picture Books Discussed

AT THE SAME TIME by Tom Tirabosco. Kane/Miller, 2001 (1997).

IN JUST ONE SECOND by Silvio Freytes. Illus. by Flavio Morais. WilkinsFarago, 2009 (2007).

THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED by Karla Kuskin. Illus. by Marc Simont. HarperCollins, 1982.

 

Leo Lionni

FREDERICK

As picture book writers, we have a braid of dreams. First, to write a book that expresses something we want to share. Second, a book that connects with our audience, engages the child. Third, a book that will last. If there was a workshop for achieving these goals, we’d all be signed up and sitting in the front row. Alas, no such workshop exists.

What we can do is study picture books that have lasted andremain fresh. Several such books are by Leo Lionni. His seemingly simple texts that speak to the human condition continue to captivate children. Lionni’s best-known picture books are now over 40 years old, and still in print. Students in all the arts begin by studying the masters. So should we.

INCH BY INCH

 In his own words:

“You may have asked yourselves, when you saw my books: birds, worms, fish, flowers, pebbles…what about people? Of course my books, like all fables, are about people…My characters are humans in disguise and their little problems and situations are human problems, human situations. The game of identifying, of finding ourselves in the things around us is as old as history. We understand things only in terms of ourselves and in references to ourselves.”

 “And then there is another aspect of the allegory as a storytelling technique. It is easier to isolate situations, to bring them to a clean, uncluttered, symbolic pitch outside of ourselves. What a ponderous, complex story SWIMMY would have been if some cruel dictator has slaughtered a whole village and only a little boy had been able to escape.”

A Sampling

FREDERICK by Leo Lionni. (Pantheon, 1967).

INCH BY INCH by Leo Lionni. (Harper, 1960).

LITTLE BLUE AND LITTLE YELLOW by Leo Lionni. (Harper, 1959).

“My Books for Children” by Leo Lionni in AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS OF CHILDRLEN’S BOOKS: WRITINGS ON THEIR LIVES AND WORKS edited by Miriam Hoffman and Eva Samuels. (Bowker, 1972).

SWIMMY by Leo Lionni. (Pantheon, 1963).

How Listening Can Improve Your Manuscript

 “What one has written is not to be defended or valued, but abandoned: others must decide significance and value.”        William Stafford

Illus. by Feodor Rojankovsky. THE BIG ELEPHANT by Kathryn & Byron Jackson (1949)

One of the most beneficial aspects of participating in my writing group the last twelve years has been learning to share new manuscripts without being defensive. Do I hope they tell me I’m a genius? Absolutely. Do I always like what my writing group has to say? No. Do I always agree with what my writing group has to say? No. But I’ve also learned that by quietly listening to their comments I might well discover the key to making my story even better that I thought I could. If their comments do not feel helpful I can simply let them go. There is no need to prove my view is right and theirs is wrong. History also has proven that I might even end up agreeing with their assessment as I revise.

As a teacher and periodic critique-reader at conferences I am bewildered at how many people request (even pay) for an evaluation of their manuscript. Yet, they spend their allotted time telling me what I don’t understand rather than listening to what thoughts I have that might improve their manuscript. I’ve seen this cycle occur in many situations and many genres.

Who doesn’t want to have our first reader clutch the table in ecstasy and proclaim our manuscript is the best thing since the wheel? But as the emperor in his new clothes came to understand, “yes” men are of little value.

When we enter a critique situation in a defensive mode we are literally too busy planning how we will explain our manuscript to even hear the comments we have requested. Jumping to defend and explain our manuscript to a critique group or editor is ultimately about our ego, not our manuscript. Each of us must continue to choose which is most important.

Are critique groups and editors always right? Of course not. Even if their comments don’t feel appropriate, their suggestions might spark new ideas of our own. We have nothing to lose and much to gain by quietly listening without defense while our manuscript is being critiqued.

Story is Story is Story

Kukla, Fran and Ollie

I have never understood writers who proclaim, “I write for myself not the reader.” If they only write for themselves, why do they bother jumping through knotholes and hoops to get published? If they only write for themselves, why don’t they burn what they write as soon as it’s written? Sharing stories is part and parcel of being human. It is one of the vital ways we connect with others through time and space.

Studying picture books and the many wonderful books about creating picture books is always wise and beneficial. But it is also valuable to look beyond our particular genre. Traditional storytelling and the theater focus on sharing stories (journeys of action, emotion and change), but because they deal with an immediate, breathing audience there is no way they can proclaim they only write for themselves.

As David Mamet states in THEATER, “If the audience members didn’t laugh, it wasn’t funny. If they didn’t gasp, it wasn’t surprising. If they did not sit forward in their seats, it wasn’t suspenseful.” As picture book writers we have much to learn through the immediacy of theater.

Let yourself roam through the library and grab any book that relates to story in one form or another: theater, acting, film, art, or graphic novels. You’ve got nothing to lose, and much to gain from learning how others not only connect with their audience, but keep them engaged.

Here’s a brief list of books that have recently given my brain and writing a welcome buzz.

THE ACTOR AND THE TARGET by Declan Donnellan. Theater Communications Group, 2002.

ARTISTOTLE’S POETICS FOR SCREENWRITERS by Michael Tierno. Hyperion, 2002.

THEATER by David Mamet. Faber and Faber, 2010.

Is it Worth It?

"Pierre Writing" Renoir

“Remember, that writing is translation and the opus to be translated is yourself.”      E.B. White

A former writing student feeling very weary of rejections recently asked me the classic question: “Is it worth it?” The question is a big one, and one I’ve wrestled with it at least once each year for over 30 years. Most writers I know are in the same boat. The vital thing is deciding what “worth it” means for you. Each writer is likely to have a slightly different answer. And, that answer may change over a period of time.

If one defines “worth it” as getting rich or even being able to support one’s self with writing, then the answer is probably no. Like most people in the arts, very few writers are able to make a solid living by their writing alone. I can’t.

If one defines “worth it” as enjoy the brainstorming, the writing, the revising–the process of creating, then one is far more likely to find the time and effort worth it. The value and satisfaction are in the effort, in the doing. Damn right, that getting published and earning a bit of money would make it even better. We writers cannot control reviews or sales.  But we can control (or attempt to control) our definition of “worth it” and our pleasure in the process.

Writing to explore our lives and passions is the dual gift of our efforts, indeed all the arts. We experience “the worth it” as we create. We experience “the worth it” as we translate our selves as a way to connect with others. And, whenever someone connects with our writing, we experience “the worth it ” in yet another way even though we rarely meet our readers.

So, “Is it worth it?” Only you can decide.

Picture Book Biographies:

98 Years in 32 Pages?

II of III

 

biography |bīˈägrəfē|

noun ( pl. -phies)

an account of someone’s life written by someone else.

• writing of such a type as a branch of literature.

• a human life in its course : although their individual biographies are different, both are motivated by a similar ambition.


By definition a biography is not required to stretch from cradle to grave. A biographer might elect to focus on only a portion of “a human life in its course.” Such is the case with our third and fourth picture biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe.

In GEORGIA’S BONES Jen Bryant focuses on her subject’s early years: childhood through her initial experiences and paintings in New York and New Mexico. Kathryn Lasky’s GEORGIA RISES: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GEORGIA O’KEEFFE describes a typical day in O’Keeffe’s life at an advanced age in New Mexico. While they focus on opposite ends of a life, both texts are reflective in tone. They also both attempt to slip inside O’Keeffe’s mind and thoughts, a style that is as much historical fiction as biography.

Lasky’s “Author’s Note” actually identifies her manuscript as “historical fiction” because it blends events and chronology. Bryant’s narrative voice blends comments by O’Keeffe herself with her own ponderings as to what O’Keeffe might have thought.

GEORGIA’S BONES

“She didn’t know why they [bones] pleased her so.

Perhaps it was the quiet way

they did their work – the years of being invisible,

and then, when everything fell away,

they appeared, pure and beautiful.”

 GEORGIA RISES

“The sky is purple now, and a slice of silver moon still sails over the desert. She looks down at the path. A bone gleaming white sits as pretty as angle wings just ahead. Georgia likes bones. She picks up the bone and holds it high and closes one eye. The moon skins its top. She tilts the bone and captures the moon for one brief instant.”

Each of these four picture books is as interested in how O’Keeffe lived her life as much or more than the chronology of her life. A chronology is merely a list of facts. The “who we are” and “how we live” creates the story.

“People read biography for the same reason they read fiction; not to find out, simply, what happens next, but to figure out how people live their lives, how they solve their problems,”

Marnie Jones. THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR. Winter 1984-85

Next: Finding the primary chords in a life stretching 98 years.

Picture Book Biographies Discussed

GEORGIA RISES: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GEORGIA O’KEEFFE by Kathryn Lasky. Illus. by Ora Eitan. Farrar, 2009.

GEORGIA’S BONES by Jen Bryant. Illus. by Bethanne Andersen. Eerdmans, 2005.

MY NAME IS GEORGIA by Jeannette Winter. Harcourt, 1998.

THROUGH GEORGIA’S EYES by Rachel Rodriguez. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. Holt, 2006.