Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writing Wisdom from the pen of Deborah Heiligman

To learn more about Deb's latest picture book, click on this very long link! Don't you love that Cool Dog? I do!http://http://www.amazon.com/Cool-Dog-School-Deborah-Heiligman/dp/0761455612/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1259080743&sr=1-1

PART TWO -- Interview with National Book Award Finalist Deborah Heiligman

Thanks for joining us this busy week of Thanksgiving, Deb. Can you share a little with readers about your writing process?

Deb: I want to share a writing story with you. When I speak about researching and writing CHARLES AND EMMA, I explain that because I ended up having to do it quickly, to get the book out in time for the Darwin year, it was the “all CHARLES AND EMMA channel all the time.” That is almost completely true. Except that one day….
I had been wanting to write a sequel or companion to Fun Dog, Sun Dog, my picture book illustrated by the great Tim Bowers, for the longest time. My first idea was to do a book about “sibling” rivalry. It involved a cat, and was called Mad Cat, Bad Cat. I wrote some drafts, but they never quite worked, and my editor agreed. Then one day, when I was in the thick of C & E, I took a shower. (I let myself do that sometimes.) And there it was: the idea for Cool Dog, School Dog. “loves to hear a book dog…” I keep a waterproof notebook in my shower for moments just like this. I often write book dedications in the shower; I wrote the first draft of my acknowledgements for C & E in the shower. So on that day, I wrote the first draft of a picture book in the shower.
Moral of the story: As I read long ago in, I think, On Becoming a Writer by Dorthea Brande, KEEP THE INVITATION OPEN. Keep a notebook with you at all times: in your pocket, in your car, in your purse, by your bed, in your shower. You never know when inspiration will strike. My friend Pamela Jane keeps a mini tape recorder with her.

Me: What is the most important thing to you as you write?

Deb: It’s a toss-up between coffee and chocolate. Also taking breaks with good friends. Oh and exercise. Is this the kind of thing you meant? Or did you mean something like making myself do a crummy first draft, leaving the critical editor behind, and then going back to edit?

Me: Do you do a lot of revising before you submit?
Deb: Yes. Oh yes. But I also love the editing process so I look forward to that. And I always hit a point where I know I can’t do it by myself any more. I call it the point of diminishing returns. I am noodling so much, or I am staring at the page too long, confused. So I surrender the manuscript and ask/plead for help. I learn so much from my editors. I know some people don’t like to be edited, but I really love it. As long as my editors/friends are nice. Which they are.

Me: What are you working on now?
Deb: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. No, O.K., I’m working on a YA novel. I’ve been working on this off and on for years. It’s something that just grabbed hold of me and won’t let go. And I’m also looking for two new projects—a long nonfiction book, and a shorter nonfiction book. I want to do another long narrative nonfiction biography, ala CHARLES AND EMMA. I have a contender. It’s also a kind of double biography of two women who lived at the same time but were very different. I’m not ready to say more yet.
I have a picture book biography of a mathematician coming out from Roaring Brook in probably 2012 (it’s being illustrated right now). I would like to write another one of those--a picture book biography about someone kids don’t know about. I love a challenge!

Me: What writing advice would you like to share with readers?
Deb: There’s much advice I could give, but for me it boils down to this: write from your heart. People spend a lot of time thinking about what’s hot, or what’s going to be hot, or what will fit into the curriculum, or what will get you on Oprah (or the next big show when she retires). Basically what will sell. I think all of those things are legitimate to think about (especially, probably, the curriculum piece) but… But… this is a tough business. And completely unpredictable. You could write the perfect book on the perfect topic and then someone else could beat you to it, or a big hurricane could hit on pub day or your book could get one bad review and then…
So you have to do this for love. And the way to do that is to write about something you really care about—whether it’s fiction or non-fiction—and then pour your heart into it. Because then, no matter what happens when you are finished, you will have had a great ride, a meaningful experience, and you will have stretched yourself. Because in the end of the day, we do this for ourselves, don’t we? And if readers like our books, that’s gravy. The best gravy in the world, but still, we have to write for ourselves. Because we’re the only ones who are predictable.
For me it comes down to this moment in writing: you’re working on something, and it’s just not quite right. A sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book. It’s not right, it’s not right, and you keep at it, and then CLICK! it pops into place, and you’ve got it. You could take that moment and wrap it up and give it to me as a present any day.
Learn more about Deborah Heiligman at:
Please take time to read this insightful article by Deborah Heiligman! I'd love to hear your thoughts about it or the interview!
I've drawn a name from my Thanksgiving cornucopia and the WINNER IS: Carriann Schultz
Carriann, please send your mailing address to: claragillowclark@gmail.com
Deb will autograph a copy of Charles and Emma and mail it to you direct!
In December, first time picture book author, Jeannine Norris will talk about her Christmas book, Tonight You Are My Baby and her writing process.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Writer's Beginnings. . .

Part One -- Interview with author Deborah Heiligman

Q. When did you first decide to become a writer? What was the catalyst?

A. When I was growing up, I didn't know that real, ordinary people became writers. I thought that writers were either old men with really long, grey beards or people who were rich and lived in mansions, like movie stars. So I didn't think that I, a little girl from Allentown, Pennsylvania, could ever grow up to be a real author. I always loved writing, though, and from an early age my teachers told me I was a good writer. (Except for my first grade teacher who humiliated me in front of the class day after day saying I was the worst writer in the room. But she meant penmanship.) So I kept writing and enjoying it. In junior high school, I was editor of the newspaper, and then in high school I was co-editor with a friend. (That newspaper was called The Canary after our school's mascot.) I thought maybe I would be a journalist, one who saved the world like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (whom I knew about from the Watergate scandal, but mostly from the movie, All the President's Men). Still, I didn't think that I would be an author. When I went off to college (Brown University) all the people there who said they were going to be writers seemed so much cooler than I was--so much more writer-like. They wore all black and smoked cigarettes (something I would NEVER do), drank endless cups of coffee, and used really big words. I didn't get that being a real writer didn't have to do with what you looked like, but how you spent your time. It meant you read a lot and wrote a lot and rewrote--and rewrote and rewrote. It meant you had to sit with a paper and pen or typewriter (yes, this was a long time ago, before personal computers) and work on your craft. My first job out of college was working at a magazine, and even though I had to fight to write even a little bit (my job mostly was to fetch coffee and reject manuscripts), I knew I was happiest when I was writing. So my second job, working at Scholastic News, was all about writing. And as it turned our (kind of by the way), writing for children.

Q. What or whom were your influences?

A. My teachers were huge influences, and my mother, who wanted to be a writer. But I didn't know that until after she died. She encouraged me in ways that I wasn't even aware of at the time. Mom taught me so much about people, and connecting with people, which for me is a huge part of being a writer. And she taught me to people watch, and to be nosy. O.K., maybe that was in the genes, but it came from her. I am so grateful she was around to see my first book published.

Q. Did you have a favorite book as a child? Were you a voracious reader?

A. I loved to read and to be read to. Some of my favorite childhood memories have to do with books, even though I did other things, too. Here are some of the books that meant a lot to me: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton; Debbie and Her Nap by Miss Frances and the Ding Dong School (don't ask); a book whose name I forget but it might have been called something like The Doll about a little girl who had dolls her dad brought her from around the world, but her favorite one was one that he got her--that looked just like her!; a book about twins who wanted to look different (how I wanted a twin sister!); What is a Butterfly, What is a Tree, What is a Frog, and that whole series; Charlotte's Web by E.B.White; From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L.Konigsburg; The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (who just died); The Diary of Anne Frank. . .

Q. How long were you writing and submitting before you made your first sale?

I was working in that first job, writing very short articles, but it was writing. I had a freelance article published while I was in college, but I don't think I got paid, so maybe that doesn't quite count. But during the first few months after college, a teacher of mine encouraged me to try to get a paper I'd written for school published. She thought it was good enough and gave me the names of a couple of journals to send it to. It was a paper about the writer Cynthia Ozik. So I sent it to one place and I got a phone call from the editor of the journal. He was calling to reject it, but he felt so badly about rejecting it that he wanted to call me and tell me that! I had no idea how unusual that was. He told me they did themed issues and this would not fit in any time soon. He was so encouraging, though, and so I sent it off to another journal. The editor sent me a letter in which he more or less accepted the article, but harshly criticized my writing style. He said that my style of short sentences was too much like Hemingway, and while that might be fine for a college paper, it was not right for an academic journal. So if I would rewrite it to have longer sentences (and he may have even said, "bigger words") he would publish it. I was at once terribly insulted and extremely gratified. He insulted me by comparing me to Hemingway! I was just angry enough, though, that I considered not "fixing" it. My then boyfriend, now husband convinced me to do what needed to be done. So I mulled it over, although it went against what I believed in (clarity, for one thing), and revised it. Guess how I revised it? I took out many of the periods and replaced them with semicolons. He published my article! Little did I know that my Hemmingwayesque style would suit me well as a children's writer.

Years later, I sold my first picture book called, Into The Night. I will never forget the phone call from my husband's then agent who had kindly submitted it for me even though she didn't represent children's books. The phone rang late one afternoon and Tory said, "How would you like to be published by Harper & Row?" I can still feel how hard my heart pounded when I heard those words! We celebrated with ice cream instead of champagne because I was pregnant with our second son.

Q. Are you part of a writer's group?

I have been part of the same wonderful writers' group for many years. We meet in Pennsylvania, where I used to live, and although it is difficult for me to get there every month, I try to go as often as possible. I adore these women, feel very safe with them (which is essential) and value their critiques. I am also in two writers' groups in New York City. I am very fortunate to have many writer friends, but this this may be too many groups! I'm actually rethinking this right now.

Thank you, Deb, for taking all this time for us! I know you just returned from a trip to Japan and are set for an exciting week in New York! We're all cheering for you! Fingers crossed.

Deborah and I both welcome your thoughts. Please share something from your own writing life with us, share the title of a favorite book, or let us know what you enjoyed the most in the interview. Thanks in advance. Leave a comment here, on FaceBook or e-mail me: claragillowclark@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Charles and Emma named a National Book Award Finalist

In Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith http://www.indiebound.com/ author Deborah Heilgiman offers a view of how science and spiritual belief can be reconciled: Charles Darwin's own perspective developed through life with his deeply religious, intelligent, and beloved wife, Emma.
Deborah tells the story of their marriage and how it became the context in which Darwin revealed his world-altering theory in The Origin of the Species. Rather than publishing a broadside that could have sparked backlash, Darwin presented his research with respect and care for the beliefs of others--an approach formed in conversations about faith and fact with his wife. The wide reaction to its publication was civilized discourse and, eventually, acceptance of the breakthrough that underlies modern biological science.
Based on letter, diaries, and notebooks of the couple, as well as writings by their family, friends and critics, Charles and Emma http://www.amazon.com/ provides a vivid portrait of domestic life in Victorian England. Heiligman humanizes Darwin, showing readers a man as devoted to his children as he was to his work. Two hundred years after Darwin's birth, Charles and Emma can be read as a history of science, a biography, and a romance--as well as proof and a promise that faith and science can co-exist.
"The marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin proves that science and religion not only can exist side by side but can benefit from each other. Emma was Charles's first editor and best reader; her skepticism pushed him to make his argument stronger," says Deborah Heiligman.
At the end of the book at the very end of the acknowledgment page (not to be missed!) Deb wrote this, "And, finally, thank you to Charles and Emma. You two are just the best. I am going to miss you."
After you read this book, dear reader, you, too, will miss this wonderful couple. Charles and Emma will capture your heart. You will laugh and you will weep many times. You'll laugh in the beginning as Charles sets down his list of reasons to marry or not. There are funny moments with the children. You'll laugh at how Charles reacts when he catches one of his sons jumping up and down on a new couch (sturdily made for child wear). You'll be moved by the poignancy of the love between Charles and Emma that never waned. Perhaps you will shed tears over page 100 as I did, and grieve with them over the terminal illness of their good and beloved daughter, Annie.
For me, this book was reminiscent in its good heart and loving spirit of the beloved March family--Jo, Beth, Amy, and Meg and their Marmee in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. If you love the March girls, you will love Charles and Emma.
Deborah Heiligman's book Charles and Emma received starred reviews from: Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, and Booklist
Charles and Emma is a National Book Award Finalist
A New York Times Editors' Choice
A Book Links top 10 Biographies for Youth
A Booklist Top 10 Romances for Youth
More awards will surely be added to this list!
Thank you all for joining me, and thanks for leaving comments here!
You can also comment by e-mailing me: claragillowclark@gmail.com
Joan sent this comment:
"Thanks, Clara. I love biographies and this sounds fascinating! Gotta get it. Besides, religion is my favorite subject for discussion. I'm somewhere between Charles and Emma. What about you?"
Carriann wrote this in an e-mail:
"I will read this month's interview with great interest. I saw what I call a blurb on this book somewhere and thought about reading it myself. Thanks for all your hard work to enlighten and enrich us."
Barbaranne wrote this:
"How very interesting. I will be certain to tune in weekly to read. I look forward to gleaning wisdom as well as being privy to stories of royal adventure."
Next week Debeorah will share her thoughts on the writing of the book along with writing advice and much more.
The lucky winner of the drawing will receive an autographed copy of Charles and Emma directly from Deb!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome National Book Award Finalist . . .

This month, my featured author is Deborah Heiligman whose biography, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith was recently named a National Book Award Finalist. The book along with thoughts on writing from Deb will be the focus of my November blogs, but this week's post is all about Deborah.

The first time I met Deborah was at the home of a mutual friend and author, Pat Brisson. There must have been close to twenty authors squashed together around Pat's dining room table. We were there to talk about writing and manuscripts, publishing and marketing. At the time, Deb was working on a new biography about JFK and mentioned that she had attended Brown University with his son, John John. I went into silent shock and awe. Could I, a farm girl from Lookout, touch elbows with someone who went to school with royalty? Apparently!

Over time, I've shared many wonderful moments with this amazing author and friend. Deb is brilliant and witty, but also self-deprecating in a way that puts other people at ease. She can even turn a series of trips to the dentist for root canal into something like a comedy, stand-up routine. It is such an honor to share my friend, Deborah Heiligman, with all of you.

Deborah Heiligman majored in religious studies in college. Then she married a science writer and fell in love with science, too. She has written twenty-five books for young people, many of them about science and religion. In Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, Deborah combines her interests in science, religion, and her belief in the importance of human connection. Deborah was born and raised in Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Jonathan Weiner, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for The Beak of the Finch, now live in New York City.

Learn more about Deb's thoughts on writing, the environment, and more by visiting:

Also, Deb is donating an autographed copy of her new book: Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith http://www.amazon.com to one of you lucky readers. Simply by leaving a comment, your name will be placed in my Thanksgiving cornucopia. The drawing will be just before Thanksgiving.

I'll be back next week to share my thoughts about Charles and Emma followed by an interview with Deborah about the writing of the book along with her Writing Wisdom and Tips just for all of you!

Please join me in welcoming this gifted author: Deborah Heiligman