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.

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