WRITERS AT WORK

WRITERS AT WORK
Sandy Asher and David Harrison

Friday, March 16, 2018

Topic 17: Rule 1 -- Show Up

February 6, 2018

Part 1: David


Talent -- being capable of producing a publishable manuscript -- is the basic ingredient for writing and illustrating success. Sandy Asher and I have talked about numerous other topics in past series of WRITERS AT WORK. But in this set, which we’ll post each Tuesday this month, we want to talk about “Rule 1: Show Up.” Another title for this topic might be, “Help Make Your Own Breaks.” Either way, we’re talking about the merits of taking positive action. We never know what might happen when we place ourselves in “fate’s way,” but odds of something good happening in our careers improve when we do.

My first picture book, THE BOY WITH A DRUM, was published in 1969 by Western Publishing in Racine, Wisconsin. My editor was Betty Ren Wright. Not long after that I decided I wanted to meet my editor so I flew from Kansas City (our home at the time) to Racine for a visit with Betty Ren and other Golden Book and Wee Wisdom editors, one of whom was Dorothy (Dee) Haas.

When Dee moved to Chicago to become a Childcraft editor at Rand McNally, she stayed in touch. I flew to Chicago on Hallmark business but made a date with Dee while I was in town and left with an assignment to write the first 95 pages of the annual issue called ABOUT ME, which led to CHILDREN EVERYWHERE (1973), a 62-page nonfiction book about children growing up in twelve countries; which led to writing two stories for THE WITCH BOOK anthology (1976), which led to WHAT DO YOU KNOW? (1981) a 255-page book of questions and answers about questions asked by upper elementary students.

Another editor I met in Racine was Kathleen Daly, who subsequently moved to American Heritage Press in New York City. Within a few months of my trip to Chicago I was in NYC to negotiate a contract and interview writers for Hallmark so I made an appointment with Kathleen. I left her office with an agreement that I would send her some ideas for stories about giants. I did. She liked them. THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES (1972) won a Christopher Award.

Sandy, these books all came about the same way. I had previous publishing experiences with each of the editors. And in each instance I took advantage of a trip already planned for other reasons to “show up.” But there are other ways of applying Rule 1.

On a vacation trip up the Amazon River in Peru, I took hundreds of notes. Not because I meant to write a book but because writers take notes and fill journals. We never know when something might develop. Three years after that trip, sure enough I began thinking about a book of poetry. I fished out my notes, which ran 86 pages when typed, and eventually SOUNDS OF RAIN was published. Seventeen years after the trip the same thorough notes produced material for another story, a middle-grade novel. Who knew that showing up on a river in the rain forest would result in two new projects?

Sandy, at times there may be a fine line between “showing up” and “finding ideas,” but to me, Rule 1 involves some sort of action on the part of the writer or illustrator that goes beyond the norm. It means an act we do on purpose that may lead serendipitously to something positive we don’t anticipate. Whether we “show up” metaphorically or with suitcase in hand, it pays to place ourselves in fate’s way. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about Rule 1.

February 13, 2018

Part 2: Sandy


All kinds of ways to show up, David, and, yes, I've managed more than a few: I attend, present at, and often develop workshops and conferences. I do programs at bookstores, libraries, and festivals. I submit work to contests and publishers. I visit schools occasionally as a guest author and weekly as the nearly invisible human being at the other end of Gracie the Reading Dog's leash. I adjudicate contests. I started and maintained for years the American Alliance for Theatre and Education's Directory of Award-winning Plays and its New Plays by Members List. I speak up at professional meetings and in discussions even when I'm not on the panel. And, on March 1 of this year, I helped launch American Theatre for the Very Young: A Digital Festival as founder and co-chair, showcasing children's plays coast-to-coast, including my own. Oh, yeah, and you and I have done reading-focused TV spots, David, and we ran the America Writes for Kids and USA Plays for Kids websites together. Oh, and we co-write this blog.

Though it doesn't always lead to publication, all of this showing up is related to career development, even being the largely ignored observer as first graders regale Gracie with their favorite books. Some of it is hard work; much of it is undeniably great fun. And every once in a while, it does lead to new ideas, a flurry of writing, and publication.

More often than not, such opportunities happen in ways that are totally unexpected, ways I could never even have imagined. "Life," John Lennon is said to have observed, "is what happens while we're busy making other plans." Indeed.

One example: While serving on the faculty of an SCBWI workshop some years ago, I was sitting in the audience with the other participants listening to editors talk about what they were looking for. It's always a good idea to show up at SCBWI workshops and listen to editors, agents, authors, and illustrators, but in this case, what one of the editors had to say really ticked me off. She raved on about how picture books used to run 1000-1500 words in length, but how nowadays 500 words is really the preferred limit, and 250 words would be even better.

That triggered a concern of mine: I think we are systematically depriving children of language at the very age -- 0-5 or so -- when they are programmed to soak up as much language as possible. They need it to think! They need it to speak! They need it to understand! They need it to read and write and reason! I could go on. I have gone on, in presentations and posts elsewhere. But for now, I'll just say that there was steam coming out of my ears as I listened. I decided to use my fury as fuel. Okay, fine, I thought, you want books with very few words? I'll write a book with as few words as I can. With that impetus -- can I call it inspiration? -- CHICKEN STORY TIME happened, a process of elimination almost as much as it was a process of creation. The manuscript sold quickly, the book got published, and, since then, I've written a stage adaptation that's being performed around the country. Go figure!

Showing up is important, but it can be a bit of a challenge. Rising to the challenge -- ah, that makes all the difference.

February 20, 2018

Part 3: David


Of course nothing beats talent and we can all think of geniuses who famously stayed home and made fate come to them. But alas, Dickinsons and Salingers are rare. Most of us fall into the mere mortal range and must find our breaks by showing up where they tend to hang out.

In my own case an example is the time I showed up in Ronne Peltzman Randall’s office at Ladybird Books in Loughborough, England. Sandy and I were in London and I decided to buy a train ticket and go see my editor friend who was publishing a story of mine called LITTLE BOY SOUP. It was great fun to see Ronne and we have remained lifetime friends. She honors me by dropping by my blog now and then. Ronne took me down the hall to meet her editor-in-chief and that’s where I met Christine San Jose, also a visitor there that day. Christine was born twelve miles away in Leicester and was home for a visit. She had lived in America for a long time and worked for Kent Brown at Highlights.

For the previous three years I had been learning how to write poetry for children and didn’t know what to do with the one hundred poems I’d accumulated. When I mentioned this to Christine, she invited me to send my poems to her at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Kent was creating a book division which included Wordsong, an imprint for children’s poetry. Editor-in-chief of Wordsong was Bernice (Bee) Cullinan, a professor at NYU and former president of International Reading Association.

When Christine received my poems, she handed them over to Bee. Bee got in touch to say how much she liked my work and wanted to publish me. Shortly after that, Kent called and invited me to Honesdale to talk. I flew to New York, hooked up with Bee, who lived there, and together we were driven to Honesdale where I sat down with Kent in his office. When I left, Kent and I had a handshake agreement. I was free to continue publishing my other work anywhere I chose, but he wanted an exclusive on my poetry until such a time that either of us felt otherwise.

Bee went to work arranging my poems into categories: school, family, etc. We agreed to go with school first. SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK was illustrated by Betsy Lewin and published in 1993 with a starred Kirkus review and went into its third printing within months. After that came thirty or so books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction with Boyds Mills. I currently have two more in process.

Sandy, this may fall in the “too much information” category, but my point is that my showing up in Loughborough, England to see Ronne started a chain reaction of fortunate circumstances that eventually led to my career as a poet, as well as the publication of numerous other books. Would I have become a poet anyway? I like to think that sooner or later I might have figured it all out and discovered the right editor, but who knows. I was green and didn’t know if my poetry was any good. I might have grown discouraged and quit without the encouragement of Christine San Jose, the enthusiasm of Bee Cullinan, and the handshake with Kent Brown.

Your turn, Sandy.

February 27, 2018

Part 4: Sandy


I can't tell you, David, how many times I've tried to make "showing up" work for me without reaching my intended goal. I network. I meet editors and directors. We talk about projects we might take on together. We may even assure one another that these projects are exciting and have enormous potential. Yes! Yes? No. We part company. Time passes. Aaaaand . . . nothing. Sometimes it feels like being the kid who can't get anyone to dance with her at a party. Everybody else is dancing (or so it seems from my forlorn perspective). What am I doing wrong? Am I trying too hard? Am I not trying hard enough?

Invitations to dance often seem to come out of the blue, out of left field, out of who-knows-where? Someplace I am simply not looking. Still, I have to show up to receive them.

Case #1: I served on a panel at an American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) conference. I also attended other presentations and spoke up during the discussion periods afterward. No agenda, just voicing opinions, sharing what I'd learned that seemed applicable to the topic at hand. Then a director I'd never met approached me and asked me to join her for coffee. Of course, I accepted. "I think you're someone I'd like to work with," she said, basing her conclusion on my comments in the sessions she'd attended earlier in the day. I never knew she was in those rooms or listening to me, but coffee led to a commission to adapt "Little Women" for her youth theater, and that led to a visit to Lancaster, PA, which soon became my home. Who knew? Who could possibly have known? But I was there, actively there, and the future found me.

Case #2: I attended the opening reception of a new art gallery in town and was stunned by the images on the walls and the journal entries that accompanied them. I approached the gallery owner, who was an acquaintance, and suggested the story conveyed by the exhibit deserved a wider audience. Might I read the journals and think about writing a play? Permission was granted, and the result became both a stage and film version of "Death Valley: A Love Story." I did not walk into the gallery intending any of that. It was waiting there for me to show up.

Case #3: My interest in TVY (Theatre for the Very Young) led me to the first meeting of AATE's special interest group dedicated to that topic. Which led to a conference call among members, during which someone bemoaned the fact that American TVY practitioners almost never get to see one another's work. In Scotland and Denmark, we'd heard, practitioners are able to visit one another's theatres and learn and grow together. We're separated by too much geography and too little affordable transportation. That casual phone comment gave me an idea: What about a digital festival? Fast forward: I gathered a steering committee, wrote a grant proposal, got the grant, and American Theatre for the Very Young: A Digital Festival debuted on Vimeo on March 1, 2018, with a first offering of 11 performances from around the country, including Pollyanna Theatre's production of my play based on my own picture book, CHICKEN STORY TIME, and more to come.

Case #4: The Dramatists Guild announced the formation of an Institute that would offer various courses for playwrights. I sent the director (whom I'd never met) an email stating my hope that courses for playwrights working in theatre for young audiences would be included and pointing out that our field is not often given the attention it deserves. The director assured me such a course was under consideration and invited me to come in and talk about it. I did. And guess what? I'll be teaching a "Weekend Warrior" course in writing plays for young audiences at the Guild offices in New York City on April 4-6, 2018.

A panel, a reception, a conference call, an email -- all ways to show up. And sometimes to join in the dance.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

TOPIC 16: Wait for It!


October 3, 2017
Part 1:  Sandy


AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS FINALLY COME


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!


***
October 10, 2017
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!


***
October 17, 2017
Part 3:  Sandy


WAIT AND SEE


My story "Who's Ready to Ride?" appeared in the September, 2016, issue of the Highlights magazine for 2 - 5 year olds, HIGH FIVE.   Who's ready to ride, indeed!  This story took its good old time getting ready to appear in print.


It all began at a child's birthday party in the DC area.  My great-nephew, then about six years old, was invited to attend.  I happened to be in town, so I accompanied him to the park where the party was being held.  As a point of reference, I should mention that this same great-nephew will begin college this fall.  So at least a decade passed between inspiration and publication.  Not quite the record-setting 18 years I wrote about in my last go-round, but a considerable delay none-the-less.


Back to the party:  Much to my great-nephew's delight, pony rides were included in the festivities.  A cheerful young woman with a notably patient pony did the honors, and my great-nephew, one of the first to hop on, immediately dashed to the back of the line to wait for another turn.  Again and again and again.  He was fascinated and fearless.


But what if he hadn't been?  What if there were a guest who was not quite ready to mount that pony?  Someone just a little bit nervous about the whole situation?  A character took over for my great-nephew, far more shy than he, and the hesitant, gently humorous steps toward self-confidence began to take shape in my imagination.  


I liked the story a lot.  I still do!  It's fun, and it has something important to say about new experiences.  I thought the children, the park, the party, and the pony would provide ample opportunities for illustration.  I sent it off to my agent.


She was not interested.  I put the story away.


Time passed, and I found myself temporarily between agents.  I sent the story out to book publishers on my own.  


They were not interested.  I put the story away.


More time passed, and I signed on with a new agent.  I sent her the story.  She --


Oh, never mind, you know what comes next.


Things you can count on: (1) Time will continue to pass, and (2) I do not give up easily!  Faced with a dry patch and a drop in confidence of my own, I signed myself up for a number of on-line writing challenges just to keep writing.  My own version of "get back on the horse." (You can read all about this in the July, 2013, WRITERS AT WORK posts called "Making On-Line Challenges Work for You.")  


As a response to one of the on-line challenges, the pony story was among those I pulled out of my files to revisit.  By that time, I'd discovered a new market for the kind of stories I enjoy writing -- quiet ones, often not "edgy" enough for book publication.  No zombies, few dragons.  In this case, just a pony and a little boy with "a tickly, tumbly feeling" in his tummy.  HIGH FIVE suited me just fine, and in short order, I placed 9 stories and a poem with them, including "Who's Ready to Ride?" One more revision to bring it into compliance with their length preferences, and it finally WAS ready.


Do I wish it had become a picture book?  Oh, maybe a little.  But I love Robert Dunn's illustrations, and the HIGH FIVE readership is huge.  I found a copy in my local library just the other day!  So I'm pleased, without complaint or apology, that the story finally found its proper home.


"Time will tell," in writing as in life.  You'd think things would cloud over as they fade into the past, but often they snap into focus with astounding clarity.  Sometimes when we wait, we truly see.


***
October 24, 2017
Part 4: David


Today I thought I’d share a couple of experiences in which filed ideas came back to life, one as a book and one as a magazine article. I’ll begin with the book.


In 1979 I wrote a story about a little boy who keeps hearing and seeing things in his bedroom one night when he is trying to go to sleep. His patient father comes in each time he yelps for help and explains that sometimes furnace pipes can make noises and limbs in the wind can scratch against the window and toys left on carpets can indeed resemble a face. I called the story THE SNORING MONSTER and confidently fired it off to an editor right away.


In due course the editor confidently fired it back. My records don’t show why I neglected to send it anywhere else that year or during the entire year that followed. For some reason I didn’t send the story out to a second editor for eighteen months. Not that it made the outcome any different. It was “no” again the second time as well as another five times after that.


The last time I submitted THE SNORING MONSTER was to an editor at Western Publishing on August 15, 1981. She passed on it. I gave up and filed it away. Sixteen months later the same editor sent me a query. She was planning a series of spooky books and wondered if I might want to submit something. Without comment I sent her the story she’d rejected the year before. She loved it. I loved that. The book was published in 1986, almost seven years after I wrote it.


Sandy, this second example may not fit the mold exactly, but I’m going to talk about it anyway because goodness knows when or whether another opportunity will come along! This one started with a phone call. At the time I was the editor for children’s cards at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. The caller identified himself as a psychiatrist whose specialty was working with children. Someone had recommended me to him. He wanted to meet to discuss the potential for publishing some of his experiences in magazines. He wondered if I would be interested in ghost writing the articles.
We met over lunch while he outlined his plan. He would provide me all the information I needed after first deleting or changing names and removing all other clues about true identities. My articles would focus on examples, not on individuals involved. I explained that anything I wrote would include my byline and we would divide the money 50/50. He agreed.

Weeks passed without further word. Eventually we visited a second time and he spoke about the difficulties of treating two or more siblings in the same family alike. No matter how hard parents might try to deal with each child fairly and equally, changing conditions always make it impossible for their children to have the same experiences. Income changes. Health changes. Jobs change. And so on. I jotted some notes and told him that as soon as he provided the specific examples, I could start writing. He wondered how much money we were going to make from this project. When I told him the going rates, he was clearly disappointed.

He also stopped corresponding with me. By now I had invested quite a bit of time and thought in this doctor’s brainchild. His silence became a roadblock. I moved on to other work. Most obsolete materials in my files are stories and proposals I haven’t sold. This was the first time an undeveloped idea for an article had found its way into the never-never file.
Then one night some time later I pulled out my notes and asked myself a pertinent question: How much did it matter if I didn’t have specific case histories to prove the point of the article? After all, the names and other key information would be changed anyway if the doctor ever got around to sending them. Rather than give up on the idea, I would write a draft and send it to him for a response.
Based on common sense, a little research, and a few key points in my notes, I wrote the article and called it, “Are We Treating Our Children Fairly?” I mailed it to the psychiatrist to see if he liked the approach and asked again for some case histories. I figured he would be unhappy that I had gone ahead without him. Low and behold, he liked my effort. He tweaked it a bit and mailed it back within two weeks, still without the promised examples. I submitted the piece to Parents Magazine and it was rejected. I was in too deep to quit now. I sent it to five magazines at once: Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Redbook, and Woman’s Day. Family Circle published it. That was in 1971. We divided $150 and called it quits.

So this isn’t really about a story that was resuscitated and found a market after all. It’s about a basic idea that almost didn’t get written. And that, friends, is why sometimes we simply have to WAIT FOR IT.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Topic 15: Loving Libraries

November 1, 2016
Part 1 -- Sandy

You'd think it would be a natural partnership:  local authors and neighborhood libraries.  But it's not.  Many libraries don't reach out to local authors.  Why not?  

Certainly, librarians are busy people.  In addition to everyday services, they organize numerous special events of other kinds.  Perhaps authors slip their minds?

Or maybe they're hesitant to approach authors, figuring they, too, are busy?  

Oh, and there's the money thing.  Librarians don't have massive discretionary funds at their disposal, and authors do prefer to be paid for presentations.  They don't earn salaries, after all, and time at the library means time away from the computer.

Still, there's the gratitude thing.  Hard to imagine an author who doesn't feel it.  There is a debt to be paid.

When I think of the library, I get a feeling that's close to worshipful.  A source of books?  Sure.  A research center?  Absolutely.  A fount pouring forth surprise, delight, inspiration, and encouragement?  Always.  But also a sanctuary, a safe place to think, wonder, dream, be still . . . and just be.  

I've felt that way since childhood, when I spent hours in the Children's Reading Room of the Free Library of Philadelphia at Logan Square, deposited there by parents needing an afternoon with adult relatives or friends.  Left alone, I was not lonely.  The library was my shelter, companion, nanny, teacher, and mentor.  Sitting on the floor between stacks, I'd breathe in my favorites:  well-worn editions of fairy and folktales of every kind, all dog and horse stories, any book written by Louisa May Alcott or L. Frank Baum.  Peter and Wendy.  Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  A host of friends as near and dear as any of the flesh-and-blood variety.  

I dreamed of returning to that children's reading room as a grown-up and seeing my own books on those same shelves, nestled among my favorites.  I've lived that dream.  And I remain ever grateful.  

So how do I love the library?  Let me count the ways:  

Most recently, I've set my latest picture book, CHICKEN STORY TIME, and its stage adaptation, in the Children's Reading Room of a library.  Granted, I all but bury a librarian in chickens, but she prevails, and the love shines through.

Back in Springfield, MO, where I lived for 36 years, and now in Lancaster, PA, I've been involved in creating many programs for the library.  David, I'm not sure how many years you and I ran MISSOURI WRITES FOR KIDS and AMERICA WRITES FOR KIDS together, but we certainly shared a lot of happy visits to the TV studio to spotlight our colleagues' books and invite viewers to "Check it out at the library!"  

Then there have been on-site writing workshops and story-hour readings, plus visits to schools to encourage first graders to sign up for library cards, and events that have brought other authors and illustrators in for workshops, book signings, and presentations.  

Also, Springfield libraries provided free space for performances of my plays, "Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy" and "In the Garden of the Selfish Giant."  Another script, "Walking Toward America" packed the community room and served as a fundraiser for the system.

Talk about win-win situations!  Libraries, patrons, colleagues, and I have all benefitted.

So I encourage reaching out -- in both directions.  Local authors are available for writing workshops, presentations, readings, signings, fund raisers, special events, and to help create unique programs.  Neighborhood libraries are ideal locations.  For libraries looking for authors, a Google search will lead to their websites, and many are listed on the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators site at http://scbwi.org, which links to regional SCBWI websites as well.  For authors looking for libraries, the Public Libraries site provides contact information state-by-state at http://www.publiclibraries.com.

If ever two groups should be on the same page, it's authors and their libraries!  And if ever an author has served his library system well, it's David L. Harrison.  Tell us all about it, David!

November 8, 2016
Part 2 – David

Thanks, Sandy. When I was in elementary school we didn’t live close to a public library and my school didn’t have a library except for a modest collection of books that my mother and other volunteers placed on shelves in a converted storage closet. A bookmobile came on certain days of the month and I remember waiting in line for my turn to mount the steps and enter between floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books. Then as now I loved anything about wild animals, from the smallest insects to exotic forms found a continent or two away. I had books at home to feed my need for fiction and adventure. The Hardy Boys were a particular favorite. But my link to learning about snakes and birds and butterflies – interests that would lead me one day to college degrees in biology -- was that bookmobile.

Writing came later for me so as a kid I had no dreams about becoming an author. Public libraries were my trusted source of knowledge. During my astronomy phase I checked out books on the solar system and marveled at the complexities of the universe. Later on I haunted library shelves to identify the latest addition to my collections. To a 12-year-old entomologist it’s important to know if the swallowtail he just captured is a large blue swallowtail or a variation of a female giant swallowtail.

Flash forward to my mid-thirties. Sandy and I returned to Springfield to live. By then I had published a number of books for children. I ran for the school board and won. And right away I learned that libraries in Springfield public elementary schools were in dreadful shape. The board and the superintendent worked shoulder to shoulder convincing the community to pass an enormous bond issue to pay for new school libraries throughout the district. Later on, when construction was completed, it was a great pleasure to walk into an elementary school to visit students in their brand new libraries and know that an author had something to do with making that happen. I’m sometimes credited for leading the charge but of course it took the whole board, the superintendent, and key people throughout the district to get it done. If to some extent I became a spokesman for the cause, I have to think that the kid who used to get his books from a bookmobile had a sense that it was time for the community to do better.

And of course one thing leads to another, Sandy. In 1996 you and I teamed up to create MISSOURI WRITES FOR KIDS with sponsorship support from Drury University and library support from Springfield-Greene County Library District. We featured a lot of books by good writers and always ended our programs with the tag, “Check it out at the Library.” Six years after that I found myself co-chairing a successful campaign to pass a 5-cent tax levy increase for Springfield-Greene County Library District, its first increase in 22 years.

Sandy, you mention how busy librarians are with their responsibilities and I want to second that. Children’s librarians put in busy days and not all of them think to initiate contact or generate programs with authors. And not all of them understand the dynamics (financial and otherwise) of inviting an author to come in and present a program. I’ve received e-mail invitations from a state or more away asking if I would consider driving to their location to talk to a group of children for story hour. But it’s really a two-way street and the author can certainly be more active in reaching out to his/her libraries within a working distance. More about that in my next segment on November 15.  I’ve never met a children’s librarian who wasn’t extremely helpful. I’m with you, Sandy. We do love our libraries.

November 15, 2016
Part 3:  Sandy

Recently, I spearheaded a gala that brought Lancaster County 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, an appointment by the Lancaster Literary Guild.  My goal was to celebrate libraries -- and also to create an event that could be duplicated elsewhere.  

Maybe where you live?  With high hopes for that, I'll share the details:

Each displaying projects their patrons created in response to my challenge to show appreciation in some unique way -- poetry, stories, posters, photos, whatever.  My favorites included one library's first steps toward interviewing area elders about donated historical photographs and a video created by first graders about a librarian's most unusual day.


Thank you for your interest in participating in the Celebrate Libraries project culminating in a gala event at the Ware Center on April 1, 2016.  I look forward to working with all of you in any way I can to make this a success.

This is meant to be a “celebrate libraries in any creative way you like” project.  My poems may be used as inspiration, a jumping-off point to show one way to celebrate, but poetry is definitely not the only way.  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 constituency.  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 puppets, 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 individual young people 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 constituency particularly wants 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 those needing my attention on to me.

Happy celebrating!

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!

November 29, 2016
Part 5
David and friends
Hi everyone,
As Sandy Asher and I have discussed, there being five Tuesdays this month gives us a chance to add a 5th post to the November WRITERS AT WORK series, “Loving Libraries.” We’ve invited blog visitors to pitch in some of their own experiences and we’re delighted to feature them today. With thanks to our contributors, here we go.

Although my first real job (not counting babysitting) as a teen was working Saturdays at the county library, my big library experience started when I was a mother and took my boys to story hour on Wednesday mornings. Of course, the other mothers were readers or they wouldn’t have corralled their kids and hauled them to story hour. Through three moves to three different towns, I took the boys to story hour. In each library, I met women who became lifelong friends.
Veda Boyd Jones
http://vedaboydjones.com/
New ebooks:
The Ranger’s Christmas Treasure
That Sunday Afternoon
***
Hey, David and Sandy — here’s my library story:
Back in my days as a children’s librarian, a girl about 12 asked me if the library had a copy of The Jellyfish Season. As I led her to the shelf, I wondered if I should tell her I wrote it. I handed it to her, took a deep breath, and asked her if she knew it was my book. Looking me in the eye, she said, “I thought it was the library’s book.” Already sensing I’d made a mistake, I told her I meant I’d written it. She stared at my library name tag and said, “Your name is Mary Jacob. The writer’s name is Mary Downing Hahn.” She held up the book and pointed to my name on the cover. “Well, yes,” I said, “but I remarried and my last name changed to Jacob.” Giving me a look that clearly said she wasn’t born yesterday, the girl walked away, leaving me to wonder why I felt compelled to tell a 12 year old stranger my marital history. After that, I never told any kids I was the writer of a book they’d chosen. This turned out to be good decision the day a boy asked about Wait Till Helen Comes. When I started to tell him the plot, he said, “Oh, yeah, I read this book, but you’ve got it all wrong.” As I stood there listening to him tell me about my own book, I was very glad my name tag said Mary Jacob.
Mary Downing Hahn
***

I have been involved with the Baxter County Library (1999-2016), then continued when the new Donald W. Reynolds Library was built in Mountain Home, Arkansas. I was a member of the Friends of the Library (FOL), hostess, and served as a board member. I have helped for several years with the FOL yearly auction, book sales, as a volunteer elsewhere when needed, helped bring authors and illustrators in the children’s library, and sometimes performed as photographer. The library supported my different writers groups and the yearly “Holiday Authors Book Sale.” I have spent a lot of time at this library and if I had my way I would live at it and be one happy camper.
Mary Nida Smith
marynida@suddenlink.net
http://marynidasmith.blogspot.com
***

I was visiting a school in Evansville, IN and a little boy was crying outside the library. When I asked the librarian what was wrong she told me he was upset because Eddie, Melody, Liza, and Howie were not visiting. He had been expecting the characters from the Bailey School Kids series-not one of the authors. It really brought home to me how beloved story characters can be and how important our stories can be to children.

Debbie Dadey
Debbie Dadey is the author and co-author of 162 books, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series and Mermaid Tales
http://www.debbiedadey.com/