Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Needing to Write by John Coy

When I was in my twenties and trying to figure out who I was and what I was going to do, I remember someone saying, "You shouldn't be a writer unless you can't live without writing every day." Maybe I take things too literally, but I knew I could live without writing every day. I had lots of interests and without that burning need to put pen to paper every day, I decided I wasn't cut out for a writing life. (And the rejection didn't sound much fun either.)

But I continued to read and to have agreements and arguments with the writers I read. When I became a dad, I returned to the world of picture books and was amazed how much the words and pictures had changed since I was a kid. What was being done with art was amazing and I was surprised by some of the text. Baseball Saved Us, a Lee and Low book, was set in the world of Japanese internment camps. There was no way this topic would have been a picture book in my youth.

As I was reading picture books, I was also surprised by a number of books. Surprised at how bad they were. How had this book been published? Could I write something better? So I took a class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis taught by the excellent writer, Lisa Westberg Peters. She told us we were each going to write a story. I had not written a story since I was boy and didn't know what to write about.

But there is nothing like a deadline, and the week before I was to present, I wrote a story about my favorite memory of being a kid: long drives west at night in August. This was my story, Night Driving--the one I had been waiting to tell. When I read it in class, people liked it and Lisa told me, "This is something you need to take seriously."

I took her advice. I took writing seriously and still do. I write to express myself, to make sense of the world, and to provide the books I would have liked to read as a boy. I write because books provide me a ticket to places I would never go and people I would never meet. I write because I love the feeling of having written.

Now I also use a much broader definition of writing. Writing includes thinking about a story, letting my unconscious mind go to work on a character or situation. Some of this writing I do swimming  in the pool, walking by the river, or shooting hoops on the court.

Do I need to write everyday? Now I do.


Why Write? The Word. by Betsy Woods

Writers Ellie Bryant and Betsy Woods at a Writer's Conference in New Orleans

#1. I write because of the word.

#2. I write because the word is the beginning of story.

#3. I write because story tells the tale of being.

#4. I write because I breathe.

#5. I write because I am learning my own tale of being.

#6. I write because it feels fully authentic in me.

#7. I write because I believe that the Creative expresses through metaphor.

#8. Wisteria Drive is where I first learned why I write. My childhood home was on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. There was space to daydream story, buoyed by waves, applauded by cattails. I was one of seven children and always shared a room. But, at the end of the hallway there was a coat closet. I wrote inside with the help of a flashlight.

#9. Here in this remembering I found a poem: it was waiting for me to share.

#10. Water Bodies

Time floats; lilybuds lick the sway and bloom, are crucified: Humming, I
didn’t know then
the lake
that laps the shore
that nourishes
Soil; was a Breast : who whispered: you, me and You, the suckling
that lifted my home
was a book
I was invited to read.
And web: in linen, scorched my light: word.
That is all I have to say.
. . . body – that water body spoke.
said, waves roll, bring growth: you are my bride.
I said yes. And scribbled story.


Carmen Bernier-Grand and Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso
who at a very young age got nearly blind but kept on dancing.

I'm going to call my blogs Papas Caliente (Hot Potatoes).

I write because writing is a learning experience:

Papa caliente #1. I learn to write each book. As Eloise Jarvis McGraw used to say after she finished each book: "I know how to write that book. Now I need to learn how to write the next book."

Papa cailente #2. I learn to write in English my second language. Yes, I write my books in English. If my publisher decides to have a Spanish edition, as it did with Cesar: Si, se puede! Yes, We Can!, I translate the book.

Papa caliente #3. When I am writing a biography, I immerse myself in my subject's culture. I am writing a book on nearly blind Prima Ballerina Alicia Alonso, so I went to Cuba to meet her. I interviewed her, her first husband Fernando Alonso, her second husband Pedro Simon, and her historian Miguel Cabrera. I talked to many dancers--from little dancers to principal dancers. I went to rehearsals and to the ballet every night. I talked to coreographers, costume designers,orchestra players, and danseurs who had danced with Alicia. I visited the Museum and saw Alicia's bloody slippers. Now I can write with the certantity that I know what I am saying.

Papa caliente #4. I learn to revise and revise and revise from my editor, Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish who has the patience of angels.

Papa caliente #5. I learn from my writing group who are always generous with their time and smartness.

Papa caliente #6. I learn that if I'm not writing I get grouchy because I have something to say and I am not saying it.

Papa caliente #7. I learn to be funny from my writer friends on this blog.

Papa caliente #8. I learn to be young. When I'm writing I am ten!

Papa caliente #9. I learn from the books I read. They inspire me. When I can't start writing, I read poetry.

Papa caliente #10. I learn that this life is about learning. We even have to learn to die.

I write because I enjoy every learning moment.

Collage created for my editor for her farewell party!

I have had the great fortune of working with the same editor for fourteen years. Recently there was a huge upheaval at my publisher when it was bought out by a larger company. My editor, known as the "Heart and Soul" of Children's Books was laid off in the downsizing. Needless to say it was an incredibly emotional time for all involved. She was picked up by S&S within a week and given her own imprint, but after 24 years with one publisher, the good news of a new imprint was both something to celebrate and something to dread. Change is hard.

If not for my editor and her belief in me as well as her courage to take a risk with the complete unknown that I was, I would not be a children's book illustrator, nor an author. 14 years ago she saw some slides of my sculptures and sent me a manuscript titled "Mud". I loved it! It was a poem/story about the earth and seasons changing that I could love long enough to make pictures for. My editor's faith held strong through thousands of tiny sketches and color studies. When the author asked if she could see how the pictures were coming along, my editor asked for her patience. She admitted she was too confused, but was certain all would come round. And it did! There have been many, many circumstances along the way of working together where she had every reason to throw up her arms and say "Enough!" As an artist, I can be a very needy-- especially time. I need a lot of time to make a book. But my editor has always been there, listening, understanding, encouraging, and ready for the next book! Truly, if not for her, I would not be a Potato.


What Keeps an Unpublished Novelist Writing?

In no particular order:

*Wondering what will happen each day when I walk down to my writing shack, turn on the computer, and pick up the story where I left off last night.

*The desire to fulfill a dream I have held since childhood.

*As someone else on this blog has already mentioned, the thrill of creating something new, something that did not exist in the world until I typed it.

*Knowing I have picked a “job” (if it hasn’t in fact “picked” me) that will challenge and frustrate me for my entire life, but that also offers rewards beyond measure.

*My son asking, “What’s your story about, Dad?”

*My wife saying, “Don’t worry, honey, you’ll do it. I believe in you.”

*My friends saying, “Dude, you ever going to get a book published?”

*I’m too old to start a new rock-n-roll band.

*What else would I do with all the voices in my head?

*The acceptance letters for stories/essays that have come just often enough to keep me walking back down to my writing shack each evening.


Why I Write

Right now my agent is sending me rejection after rejection on my latest story and I am wondering why it is I keep writing. It is a tough business and I am not a tough person. Yet I keep writing, because...
1. I love being a part of something that's so great for kids.
2. Writing helps me understand myself a little better.
3. It feels good when ideas and words pop into place, like a puzzle.
4. It is something that I'm good at sometimes.
5. I like being in the trenches with other writers.
6 - 10 - I'll have to get back to you on those once I've had a good walk and a hershey bar or two!