Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
We collaborated on a whaling story set in Hawaii and submitted a dummy to Rosemary Brosnan at Lodestar Books. I worked with Rosemary in my first publishing job at Dutton and she had been pestering me since to show her my portfolio. The whaling story was not acquired, but Rosemary saw something she liked in my work and offered me my first picture book to illustrate, Juan Bobo and the Pig retold by Felix Pitre. At tax time the whaling story covered the Hawaii part of our honeymoon. My husband and I also came up with stories set in New Zealand. Perhaps some day I'll dust off my Maori story, A Paddle for Mokopuna, and I should definitely polish my dummy for my husband's funny kiwi story, Lester's Bug Hunt Goes Bad.
Whenever I travel, even within the U.S., I make sure there is some way I can make the experience meaningful for my work life (nudge, nudge, wink, wink—write it off!) When I moved to California after living eighteen years in NYC, I was thrilled to have research that took me back "home." Sky Dancers is about Mohawk high steel workers building the Empire State Building. I spent extensive time researching in the NY Public library as well as the ESB, and as a bonus got to reunite with dear friends, too. I enjoyed traveling to many Noguchi exhibits in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles when I researched The East-West House, and recently gave a presentation at a Noguchi exhibition in Laguna Beach. All of these trips combined business and pleasure.
When I leave home to speak at conferences, give presentations, meet with publishers or editors, I save all my correspondence documenting our plans, a calendar of my appointments, and any pertinent receipts. If I travel for recreation I make sure to come up with new story ideas set in that location. There is nothing really shady about this. I'm a storyteller—visually and verbally. I approach life finding the narrative around me.
Traveling is in my blood. My father's entire career was spent as a flight engineer with Pan American Airways. I began traveling as an infant, and throughout my childhood I had the good fortune to travel around the United States, to Europe, and to the Caribbean Islands, sometimes with my father as the crew member. I still have the journal I kept on a 6-week vacation through Europe when I was 14 years old. (See the photo above at Stonehenge, long before it was fenced off from tourists!) Since that time, I have made it a practice to keep a journal whenever I travel--jotting down detailed descriptions of the setting, including not only the scenery, but also the people, the food, the language, the way of life as I view it. I cannot imagine trying to write a story about a setting I have not actually visited.
In my career as an author, I have not made exotic trips to other countries, but I have made road trips to a handful of states: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Rhode Island, Maine, and, of course, my home state of Maryland. I always view these trips as an exciting adventure and love to visit schools in these various places--to look for the similarities and the differences in rural, urban, and suburban students. As David mentioned in his post, it's a thrill to walk into a school and see a sign welcoming me and a student waiting to escort me to a class!
Happy Travels to all my fellow spuds!
THIS IS LA MALAGUETA IN MALAGA, SPAIN
WHERE YOUNG PABLO PICASSO WENT TO WATCH THE BULLFIGHTS
As you know, I research as much as I can from home. Then I write the first and second draft of my book. By now I know where I have gaps. After I make as many appointments as I can from home, I travel with my questions.
WHO and WHERE:
César:¡Sí, se puede! Yes, We Can
Fresno, California and Independence, Oregon
I met farm workers and Dolores Huerta
Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life
Mexico City, Mexico
*I took advantage and studied Diego Rivera during this trip
Diego: Bigger Than Life
I met his daughter Guadalupe Rivera
Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Bronx, New York, and Washington DC
I met her cousin, Tito Baéz
Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina
I met Alicia Alonso, her first husband, Fernando Alonso, and her husband, Pedro Simón
Pablo Picasso:Yo, el rey I, The King
Southern and Central France, Málaga and Barcelona
I met his grandson, Bernard Picasso
*I took advantage and studied Salvador Dali during this trip
To have the smells, the sounds, and the sights of the places, and eat the food so that I can write about them
To meet the experts in order to be able to contact them for questions and to check the manuscript.
To take photographs for possible illustrations and power-point presentations
To be able to speak about the places with some authority
Asking for bigger book advances
Writing grants: I've got a work-in-progress from the Society of Children's Book Writers and illustrators and a fellowship from Oregon Literary Arts
I keep every single receipt from the trip for tax purposes.
Good informational travels to you!
I like getting away from home, even for a few days. It's a treat to stay at a hotel where someone else makes my bed and I don't have to worry about doing dishes, taking out the garbage, or other household chores. Some authors get a lot of writing done on the road, but I don't. Instead, staying at a hotel allows me the luxury of an hour or two of reading in the evening, which I don't often take at home. I'll sometimes even turn on the television to see what the rest of the world is talking about as I don't have a working television in my apartment (so that's what "Dancing with the Stars" is all about!).
Visiting rural schools is especially rewarding, as those students don't have the opportunities kids from larger cities have, and they - and their teachers - are usually very appreciative. When I visited the small town of Sebeka last week, there was a student waiting for me at the school door to escort me to the office, the hallways were lined with bulletin board displays of my books, and I was given the honor of being celebrity judge for the fifth graders' pumpkin decorating contest. In the mail yesterday I received a thick packet of letters from the Sebeka students thanking me for my visit. These sorts of things make the long hours of driving well worthwhile.
Other highlights for me about traveling: visiting the local diner AND the bakery (don't miss the Moon Pies in Little Falls), listening to books on CD (which makes driving time fly by), and being able to soak in a hotel's whirlpool at the end of the day. And one of the most important things to pack to ensure happy travels: earplugs, just in case the hotel's walls are thinner than you'd wish.
I love autumn. I love the word autumn. It conjures a crispy excitement and colors I want to wrap myself up in as if I were jumping into a pile of leaves. This autumn has offered me an opportunity to teach creative writing at a New Orleans charter school. I am humbled by the trust and talent the young people have invested in our workshops and classes. This mix of trust and vulnerability, and deep creative work is a pure gift.
In that same spirit of trust, I’ve put some finishing touches on my own picture book and have fine-tuned a middle-grade novel, releasing both to the world. (Persistence beads on my forehead.)
I’ve also begun writing for The Times Picayune, the greater New Orleans newspaper. I write a column that runs each Sunday, and I write feature stories. Another delight that autumn has delivered is the premier publication of Citizen’s Together Magazine. I wrote the cover story, and was asked to speak at the launch celebration. It was held in an old neighborhood in New Orleans, at a corner church. The Zion Harmonizers, a well-known, gospel-singing group, sang and clapped and alleluiaed. My autumn has been rich.