February 28, 2019

The "Consuming Art" Part of the Writing Life

Artifact Panel, by William Morris, Portland Art Museum
Thanks to fellow author, Tara Lazar and her online Storystorm event, January (both this year and last) brimmed with brainstorming activities. Thanks to Portland being home to a rich art and music scene, the month of February has been filled with art and music-related activities.

Here is a quick recap:

In early February, my family took my mom and mother-in-law (collectively known as "the grandmas") to a variety show that benefitted Clowns Without Borders, an organization that brings "laughter and humor to children and persons in areas of crisis." I encourage you to familiarize yourself with and support this organization. The photo below is the cast of performers that volunteered their time and talent for this event, including Louis Pearl, the Amazing Bubble Man; Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein, the internationally acclaimed lasso-spinning wonder; Rhys Thomas, the jaw-dropping juggler, and the awe inspiring Circus Luminescence. I'm sorry to say that this picture doesn't even hint at the fun that was had. The sound of children's laughter (and my mother's laughter!) throughout the event was joyful and priceless.

Clowns Without Borders Benefit Show, Portland, 2019
Later in the month, our family went to the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. The main purpose of our visits to these museums was to see the Memory Unearthed and Last Journey of the Jews of Lodz exhibits of the photos taken by Holocaust survivor Henryk Ross while he was imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto during World War II. The exhibits were a harsh and powerful reminder of the horrors my beloved father-in-law, Henry Prochovnic, endured because of bigotry and hatred. These exhibits are no longer running in the Portland area, but if you can find a similar exhibit in your area, I encourage you to go. If you can't get to an exhibit, there are a few libraries that have Henryk Ross's book of photographs in their collection, including the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon.

After seeing such stark evidence of horror and pain, I found some refuge in the art in nature. Here is a photo of a small portion of a stunning 55,000 square foot mural that can be seen from a trail in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge:

Mural by ArtFX Design Studios 
If the story behind how this mural came to be doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will! The tenacity of Mike Houck, Director of  the Urban Green Spaces Institute and the artistic vision of Mark Bennett, the late Shane Bennett, and Dan Cohen, the folks behind ArtFX Design Studios, is food for the creative soul.

Which brings me to music, another art form that feeds my creative soul. I'm not one of those authors that must have music on while I write (in fact, I much prefer to write in complete silence), but music is a big part of what fuels my creativity. As my kids have gotten older and spend more and more time socializing and attending activities with their friends, my husband and I have been spending more and more time listening to live music.

We recently discovered that Al's Den, in downtown Portland, hosts live music most (every?) night of the week. The venue typically hosts a particular artist for a full week. We've made a point to catch several Saturday night shows, which is typically the final week of the "residency." So far, my favorite experience there was hearing Israel Nebeker (Blind Pilot) sing an acoustic set. I'm not sure how I'd missed Nebeker's/Blind Pilot's story or music before...but wow. Just wow.

We've also discovered that the Muddy Rudder in the Sellwood area (not far from the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Preserve mentioned above!) has a regular schedule of live music. My husband and I ate dinner before we caught the Sunday evening performance of "Dan and Fran," but the Muddy Rudder pizza looked pretty tasty. We will arrive hungry next time!

Dan and Fran Playing at the Muddy Rudder

We discovered the Muddy Rudder because it's one of the regular spots The June Bugs (one of our favorite local bands), play at regularly (though we haven't seen them there, yet). However, last weekend, we did get to see The June Bugs at the Alberta Street Pub:

The June Bugs at The Alberta Street Pub

They were amazing, as usual....as was Maiah Wynne, the opening act. This was our first introduction to her beautiful and compelling music. We will definitely be following her work going forward.

Maiah Wynne at The Alberta Street Pub

So, what does all of this have to do with the writing life? First, it's a way I can pay it forward and support the work of other local artists. I know first-hand that all artists, authors included, need a steady supply of folks supporting their work. For me, that's book salesauthor visits, and other paid appearances. I suspect for musicians it's direct music sales, tip jars/Patreon accounts, and paid concert appearances, and for fine artists, it's direct art sales and commissioned works, etc. So, consuming (and paying for) the work of other artists is important to me. It's a way I can help maintain a vibrant art and music culture in my community.

But also, it's more self-serving than that. When I listen to live music, I bubble over with ideas and inspiration. When I take a walk in the woods, and happen upon a beautiful mural that leads me down a figurative path of discovery about how it came to be, I'm filled with new energy and inspiration for my own creative projects. And, when I sit in a performance hall filled with children and their grown-ups laughing at silly antics on stage, I'm filled with joy and a better headspace for writing.

In the words of Thomas Merton:

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

And now, dear readers, I must find and lose myself in my own art.

(But Stay Tuned: Tomorrow's post, already queued up, will continue with another installment of the Birth Stories for Books series).

February 15, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: HECK, WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO, by Dale E. Basye

First Title in Series
When I started the Birth Stories for Books series, I had no idea how much I would learn in the process, or how many different versions of paths to publication there could possibly be to share. What a treat it has been to read so many different and varied paths to publication.

I also never anticipated that a guest contributor would frame their Birth Story in quite the clever and hilarious way that author Dale E. Basye has done with this post. How I wish I had thought of this framework myself ... and yet, I don't think anyone could have pulled it off as well as Dale has. So, before this baby is overdue, let's turn it over to Dale and allow him to share how his first book, HECK, WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO was conceived, carried, labored and then birthed.

When an Idea and the Incessant Need to Prove Yourself Fall In Love…
by Dale E. Basye


It started innocently enough. I was reading a lot to my new son. Mostly snarky classics by Roald Dahl, but also new stuff like A Series of Unfortunate Events (which was new then, as were we all…). And at some point, I was thinking “Wow…you can get away with a lot in children’s books! It would be really fun to write one!” Meanwhile, I had been working in advertising for nearly ten years and the cracks in my creativity were beginning to show. I needed an outlet: beyond my ever-growing desktop folder of rejected advertising campaigns deemed too edgy and bizarre. 

About this time, I—like most new fathers—was thinking a lot about hell. And, perhaps Pat Benatar’s “Hell is For Children” was on the radio, but that’s when the idea of an under-aged underworld popped into my head. Not quite Hell—that would be a little bit much—but maybe something more kid-friendly, something like…Heck. And then one thing led to another…

Testing Positive

I had a regular lunch with a friend: a fellow writer who was stifled by her advertising agency job and wanted to stretch out by developing ideas for potential books or screenplays. As was typical with our lunches—after gossiping and dishing dirt on our mutual acquaintances—we got to the work of sharing our accumulated ideas. So, when it was my turn, I read my list of ideas along with a pithy synopsis of each. One of these was “Where do the souls of the darned toil for all eternity, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first? Well, Heck, course. ‘Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go’.” She loved it! So that was all that I needed: just a little direction on what idea to pour my energy into for the next few months.


I initially envisioned Heck as a TV show (which may very well be the case someday soon…full circle and all), as I “saw” it in my head. So my first draft was in screenplay format. I entered it into a Bravo TV contest where the winning entry would result in a pilot and possible series! I’d like to think that it came in second…along with all of the other entries that lost. But at least the contest got me off my butt (or got me sitting on my butt, more to the point) to “finish” the story (as if any story is ever finished…).


I have always needed some sort of deadline…some tape at the finish line to break, even if the finish line itself was self-imposed. So to me this was the Willamette Writers Conference. I picked an editor to pitch to, Diane Landolf of Random House Children’s books, and thus I had my goal. So I busied myself adding flesh to the skeleton that I had created for the Heck script to make it more bookish. And so the date of the conference arrived all too soon, and I valiantly pitched Heck (along with another story about a robot on Mars) and—while expecting polite refusal and perhaps some useful feedback—I surprisingly, received an invitation to send her the finished manuscript. Leaving the conference table, slick with flop sweat, I assumed that this was standard procedure. She didn’t want to make a “scene,” so she allowed casual solicitation. It wasn’t until a month had passed when I received an email from Diane asking where the manuscript was that it hit me: she really did want to read Heck. In fact, she also relayed that my pitch was the best that she had heard, and that she had checked out my website and knew that I could, in fact, write, so…


…I had to hustle to bring this baby to term! I finished my manuscript and sent it off to Diane, trembling all the way. She got back to me fairly quickly saying, while she loved the story (uh-oh, I thought: looking for “while”s and “but”s like landmines in her letter), she couldn’t offer me a publishing deal as the story didn’t really have an ending (it still had a sort of “tune in next week…” kind of pseudo-ending). But, she went on, she was confident that—if I followed her extensive notes (more words than the manuscript itself, it often seemed)—that she could offer me that wonderful of most wonderful things: a publishing deal! 


Isn’t. Can’t. Don’t. Shouldn’t… yeah, the contractions were coming fast and furious at this point. Here is a glimpse into my typical response to feedback: “What?! There’s no way I could do that. Absolutely no freakin’…well, I suppose I could do this. But, then…no…well, wait: sure. Actually, yes! If I did that, then I could do THIS! Oh…yeah! Great!” 


And so it went. Back and forth. Back and forth. Push. Push. Breathe. Breathe. And, after a couple of months, the manuscript was “finished.” 

I use quotations for “finished” because, well, then there’s the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) to edit…a process where I learned that you can not change major things at this point (I have an irritatingly George Lucas-ish habit to want to drastically change things I’ve already done rather than just move on).

There is also the artwork. Before publishing my first book, I always assumed that the author and illustrator would meet-up, maybe go camping together, and come up with a whimsical marriage of story and art. But it’s not like that. At all. It is more of an arranged marriage. The first cover art for Heck wasn’t right. The illustrator—who was excellent—created a heroic visual blend of adventure and fantasy that, while beautiful, totally missed the tone of “creepy and funny.” So then my editor told me of an illustrator that Random House wanted to try—Bob Dob—and that Heck seemed like the perfect prospect. And it was: his style was goofy yet dark, scary and hilarious (scarilarious?). At this point, with the art giving Heck its weirdly beautiful face, the book was starting to crown…


And so the day arrived. The day of birth. Publication day! Frankly, there is nothing cooler than seeing your book in a store. Seriously. The pride in reading your name on a spine, right between J. M. Barrie and L. Frank Baum (in my case), is, ironically, hard to put into words. To this day, if I see my book in a store (usually a bookstore, not so much a Bed Bath and Beyond), I will tidy it up on the shelf so that it puts its best face forward (truth be told, I will sometimes do so at the detriment of Mr. Barrie and Baum).

With birth also comes parties: events to announce your book to the world! Parties filled with strangers: publicists, bookstore owners, librarians, etc. These are all great fun and are a way to get everyone excited for your book (fun fact: librarians really like free liquor…maybe they think they are merely borrowing it for 2-3 weeks before returning it). It makes you feel like you are the toast of the town. But that feeling can’t last forever, sadly…

Post-partum Depression

The attention of a publisher is like a lighthouse. It slowly rotates, in order to illuminate a landscape (in the case of the publishing industry, the works of other authors). And, like a lover’s gaze, you are warm and special…but then that gaze (or the beam of a lighthouse…sorry for the assault of metaphors) moves on, and you feel cold, alone, unloved, and stuck in the dark. 

So there’s that. But, still: there is that afterglow a new author experiences that makes them think that anything is possible. There is a bit of a publicity budget which either affords cool tchotkes (in Heck’s case, cool die-cut brochures and silly giveaway items like measuring tape that gauges “how bad you are”), or helps fund a number of scheduled appearances. And those are great. But then…it’s over. And—if, in an extreme display of idiocy, you promised a series—it’s time to get back to work. At home. Alone. In the dark…

Second Child

The second book is easier. It’s also harder. Easier because you know you can write a book this time out. A whole book. From beginning to end. And live to tell the tale (or write it, more specifically). But it’s also harder (or at least it was for me) since I took the second book a little more seriously. I was a real author now, writing a real book that a real editor and a real publishing house were waiting for. For real. 

Book Eight
And the process continued for books three, four, five, six, seven… Each book selling fewer and fewer copies, with the publicity budget and overall publishing interest dwindling in kind. 

But, like a child, a book takes on a life of its own (even books about death). You have to sort of let it go. Let it be its own entity. People will have their own unique experiences with your book. In the case of Heck, some children who didn’t like reading due to their frustration with personal learning disabilities embraced the book and vowed that it provided an entry into a world of literature: something that actually changed their lives. Conversely, there are also the “one-star reviewers” who viewed Heck as an abomination. And, at least in terms of adjective overuse and pointless asides (like this one), they very well may be right. 

So while the experience has left me with numerous emotional stretch-marks, birthing books is indeed the hardest job you’ll ever love. In many ways, my life has gone to Heck ever since. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dear readers (and labor and delivery nurses), I hope you have enjoyed this story as much as I have. I've read it over and over again, and laughed out loud. Every. Single. Time. (Sometimes in new places that I had overlooked in a previous reading). Thank you so much, Dale, for sharing your story with us, but mostly, thank you for taking my invitation to share your birth story so fantastically literally. May your books always be fruitful and multiply!

Dale E. Basye is a writer, author, and bon vivant (a fancy French word that means “someone who misuses fancy French words”) who lives in Portland, Oregon, where he must—on a daily basis—wage life-or-death struggles with grizzly bears, nettled beavers, and inconsistent Wi-Fi signals.

Dale E. Basye has written stories, screenplays, essays, reviews, and lies for many publications and organizations. He was a film critic, winning several national journalism awards, and published an arts and entertainment newspaper called Tonic.  

When he isn’t writing books, which is the great majority of the time—time spent either not writing or putting off writing or planning on putting off writing—Dale enjoys riding his bicycle (or anyone’s bicycle, actually), eating tiramisu, and converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. Find out more at http://wherethebadkidsgo.com/.  

February 11, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: THE BEAR WHO COULDN'T SLEEP, by Caroline Nastro

Not too long ago, Birth Stories for Books featured a story about Wind, who is tired and needs a place to rest and another about One Snowy Day. Keeping with the themes of winter and rest, today's post features an interview with author Caroline Nastro about her book THE BEAR WHO COULDN'T SLEEP, illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva (NorthSouth Books, 2016).

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us about your picture book THE BEAR WHO COULDN’T SLEEP, Caroline. 

It’s my understanding that the birth story for this book is a bit unique in that you met your editor at a writing conference and then contracted together with illustrator, Vanya Nastanlieva, for publication of the book. Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience? 

Caroline Nastro: I was used to collaborating with artists as a theater director, and I thought it would be interesting to collaborate in a similar way with a picture book illustrator. I read a great book called Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury who is a professor in the Children’s Book Illustration program at Cambridge School of the Arts in the UK. So I looked online and saw that the school posted the websites of their recent graduates, and I discovered an illustrator named Anca Sandu, a Romanian-born illustrator living in Portland, Oregon. Anca and I started working together and presenting our projects to publishers. Anca’s work is beautiful; she has written and illustrated several books, and her artwork for one of my manuscripts, Emmeline, was a finalist for the Katherine Patterson Prize.  So when I wrote The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep, I showed it to Anca, and she thought that another friend of hers from Cambridge who was really good at drawing adorable animals would be a great illustrator for that book. So she put me in touch with Vanya, and that is how Vanya and I began working together! Vanya is a Bulgarian illustrator based in Cambridge, UK so it’s been a really interesting, international journey of sorts, all thanks to the internet.

A year later I was accepted to the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, and I saw that Beth Terrill from North South would be attending.  I really love the books that North South publishes, so I was keeping an eye out for Beth at the conference. And then while walking in the hall during a break at the conference, I overheard someone introduce herself as Beth Terrill from North South and there she was!  I showed her the Bear story and a few of Vanya’s pencil character sketches and that is how the process started.

Here is one of the first Bear sketches that I showed to Beth at the conference:

Early Sketch by Vanya Nastanlieva

Before the project was acquired, North South asked us for a few color samples and a few more sketches. Here are some of those:

Color Art Samples: Vanya Nastanlieva

DP: Those are lovely. I can certainly see why Beth was interested! Pitching a story alongside a collaborator's illustrations is definitely a less typical approach. With that in mind, can you share with us a little bit about the process of working together with Vanya?  

CN: In terms of how Vanya and I worked together, we did a lot of experimenting and exploring of ideas between the time that I first showed Beth the project at Rutgers and when we started working with the team at North South, which I think was really helpful to the process. When we began working with North South, we continued working in this way, with Vanya and I working together behind the scenes and then presenting sketches and storyboards to Beth and the art team at North South for their input. In a way, I acted as a kind of informal art director—Vanya would send me sketches and ideas before we presented them to North South, and I’d give my input. Since Vanya had never been to New York City, I also did photo research for her—taking pictures of Central Park in the snow and the Dinosaur Hall in the Museum of Natural History, or finding images to capture that old-school, timeless feeling of New York City that we were trying to create, such as the storefronts in the Times Square spread.

DP: It's great to hear the back story. Speaking of which, I’ve read in earlier interviews that you grew up in New York City and the idea for THE BEAR WHO COULDN’T SLEEP came to you when you were walking through Central Park on a snowy day. Can you tell us a little more about how the story idea came to you and how it developed over time? 

CN: At the time I had been reading some nineteenth century journals written by pioneer women for another project.  And it was interesting to see how closely aligned their lives were to the cycle of the seasons.  In winter, they wrote about chores such as sewing and fixing tools or making candles, but it was generally a quiet time, a hibernation of sorts. I also had just returned from spending a weekend in a cabin in the woods in northwest Connecticut where there was no electricity. It was really peaceful and quiet in the snow. And so when I was back in New York City and walking home through Central Park in the snow, it really struck me—this dichotomy between the natural world, where the plants and animals were “sleeping,” so to speak, and the world outside the park that was always in motion no matter the time of day or the season.  And then I started thinking about an animal character, a bear, who has this same feeling of urgency to always be moving, to get things done—a bear who can’t slow down or tune out the distractions, even when nature demands it. And then this bear learns that having a nice, quiet place to sleep in the winter is not all that bad; in fact, it’s perfect.  At heart, I think The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep is really about that: the importance of stepping back, taking a breath, and seeing that the quality of what you do is often more important than the quantity; or in other words, trying to be “as present” as possible and in tune with your surroundings, something that animals naturally do.

DP: Oh, that's beautiful, Caroline. That really puts it all in perspective. Now that we're feeling all cozy, let's shift gears a bit to talk some more about process. What was the process and timeframe between that initial idea and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor? And, when you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

CN: I brought the first version of the story to my children’s writers’ group at the New York Society Library, which is a wonderful resource for any NYC-based writers! This is how the story started in that version:

“Once upon a time there was a bear who could not sleep in the winter. 
While his mother and brothers slept, he lay awake. 
He counted sheep.  He drank some hot milk.
He even tried yoga.
But try as he might, he simply could not hibernate!
The leaves fell, the snow came, but still Bear could not sleep.”

In general, I included a lot more detail in the first versions of the story. I like to do that: write as many details as I can at first, “overwrite” the story, so to speak, so I can picture the world and the character’s behavior and then I pare it down, bit by bit. Oftentimes, I find that I can still feel the traces of the original story even though the words are no longer there, if that makes sense. It was about one or two drafts later that the story took on a shape that was very similar to the version that I showed Beth at Rutgers.

And then after the story was acquired by North South, Vanya and I made other changes. That was what was especially great about collaborating directly with Vanya; we could tweak the story in response to each other’s ideas. One example is the scene at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t in the text at all. But Vanya drew a sketch of Bear falling asleep at a bus stop, and then waking up amidst all of the people waiting for the bus.

Sketches by Vanya Nastanlieva

So I wrote that scene in. In another instance, Vanya and I were exploring different possibilities for the moment when Bear first arrives in the city. We wanted to show that there were a lot of exciting things going on in the city, but we also didn’t want the city to feel too overwhelming. Beth, who is an amazing editor, came up with the Thanksgiving Day Parade idea, which was perfect. And Vanya really outdid herself with that illustration.

Illustrator: Vanya Nastanlieva

I’m not sure any of these changes would have happened if not for the fact that Beth, Vanya, and I were all working so closely together. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback since about how well the illustrations and text work together, and I think our close collaboration had a lot to do with that.

DP: I would agree! (I especially love the scenes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art...Folks will just have to get the book to see that spread!) 

As you reflect on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

CN: I think the one tangible thing that really opened up the door to publication of The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep was that meeting with Beth Terrill, North South’s editor, at the Rutgers Conference. But what’s also interesting is that before that meeting occurred, I had had a couple of life-changing experiences, including a serious car accident, that had led me to reevaluate my life and look at my world in a completely different light. I think that is a big part of why I started writing picture books in the first place. And I wonder if that “coincidence” with Beth would have happened without those life-changing experiences, i.e. that they went hand in hand; like static electricity, they kind of “attracted” each other. For me, it’s a reassuring thought to think that no matter what is happening on a professional level, we can still be creating opportunities, moments of growth, on a personal level, which may lead to other doors opening….

DP: That's a really important reminder, Caroline. Thank you for that. Speaking of your professional life, I understand that in addition to being a picture book author, you are an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director (congratulations!). What advice would you give those of us who do not share your background in theatre/film that might be helpful?

CN: I think my experience in theater really helped me focus on the visual elements of the story while I was writing it. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be illustrating the story myself, I was always thinking about what the scenes might look like. As I was writing the story, I would picture Bear, imagining what he might do next or how he might react to a situation as if he were an actor in a film or a play.  And then I would write the text to accompany that picture. I thought of it as a kind of balancing act between what could be said better with words and what could be said better visually. That’s something you do in theater all the time, and I think it’s really helpful to use that same kind of approach when writing a picture book. You start to see places where the text isn’t really needed, where you can let the pictures tell the story.  Conversely, it also helps you to see which text is really needed, to see what words the pictures really cannot do without.  I actually think that’s what I love most about writing picture books—finding this balance between the illustrations and the words. 

So to sum up, I would say to other picture book writers who may not have this kind of theater background: Imagine a world. Think about what you see in that world, and then write text that complements (and doesn’t overshadow) that world.  Because when you give great illustrators a text that has room to breathe, they will fill that space with wonderfully inventive visuals.

DP: Yes! That is so very true. Well, before we close, is there something you wish someone would ask you about THE BEAR WHO COULDN’T SLEEP and/or your path to publication that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

CN: I would like to say how wonderful it is to be writing books for children.  I’ve been reading the great Mo Willems’ Let’s Go for A Drive lately with my toddler. And I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is that I am part of a profession where there are characters like Piggie and Gerald who want to go on a drive, and when they realize that they need a car which they don’t have, they invent a pirate ship! It’s a world without limits, where anything can happen—a place filled with hope, imagination, enthusiasm and joy.  And I think anyone who works with children or for children, who tries to look at the world through their eyes, can’t help but feel that joy and enthusiasm. It’s infectious. And it’s such a gift. No cynics allowed….

DP: I could not agree more, and I could not have said this better myself. We are so lucky to be working in this hopeful and joyful field. 

One more question before we wrap up: Do you have anything you’d like to add about what you’re currently working on?

CN: Yes, Anca and I have some interesting projects we’re working on. I’ve written a manuscript for one of Anca’s story ideas about an invisible monster, and Anca has done some beautiful sketches and watercolors for that project. Here’s one:

Artwork by Anca Sandu

And lately I’ve been re-working the text for a story called Outside Amelia’s Window about a girl in a wheelchair who is inspired to “soar” by the migrating birds outside her window.  I’ve been working on this manuscript at the Bank Street Writer’s Lab, a critique group that I joined this past year. It’s been wonderful receiving feedback from the talented and experienced writers who are members of that group.

Here is one of Anca’s illustrations for Outside Amelia’s Window:

Artwork by Anca Sandu

DP: Oh, wow, Caroline. These images are full of energy and inspiration! (I'll look forward to crossing paths with Anca someday--we live in the same town, after all!) And, speaking of inspiration, thank you for sharing your inspiring birth story for THE BEAR WHO COULDN’T SLEEP, available everywhere books are borrowed or sold. I've learned so much from you, Caroline, and I know our readers have, too. 

Caroline Nastro is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and theater director. Her first picture book, The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep, was published by North South Books in October 2016.  The Spanish edition, El osito que no se podía dormir, (translated by Mercedes Herrero) was recently named one of the Best Children's Picture Books of the Year in Spanish by the Bank Street Children’s Book Committee. Caroline currently lives in New York City. 

February 7, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: GOOD NIGHT, WIND, by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Welcome back to Birth Stories for Books, a series of guest blog posts about paths to publication from published authors and illustrators. Today's guest is Linda Elovitz Marshall, author of several books for children, including GOOD NIGHT, WIND: A YIDDISH FOLK TALE,  illustrated by Maëlle Doliveux, scheduled for release on February 26, 2019 (Holiday House). 
by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Maëlle Doliveux

Upon reading Linda's post, I immediately said to her, "How lucky are we that we have found a way to investigate our many and varied interests and fascinations while creating books for children!" 

Linda agreed. And now, let's hear directly from her:

I Find Stories Everywhere

I’m interested in – and like writing about – many things. I was working on my Ph.D. in Anthropology when my advisor told me to focus on one tiny detail of the subject matter I was investigating (it was attitudes of Americans toward the teaching of foreign languages in elementary schools). Oh, no! I wanted to study many things – language acquisition, bilingual programs, cultural attitudes, etc. I felt like I was in a toy store and had to choose only one toy to play with, forever. I couldn’t – didn’t want to – make that choice. I left the Ph.D. program. I didn’t get my Ph.D. But the doctoral-level work helped me become a good researcher. And I do love research! 

Back then, I had no idea I would eventually write for children. I’ve also taught early childhood education, studied language acquisition, written magazine articles and college-testing exam essays, raised sheep, and had my own bookstore. Writing for children happened kind of by accident. Talk about happy accidents! For a logophile like me (look it up, it’s not dirty…I promise you), it was a proverbial marriage made in heaven.

For me, there are stories everywhere in trees, clouds, cracks on the sidewalk, even in, say, the lint in my pockets. Some of my doctoral work has found its way into stories, too. One example is Rainbow Weaver (Lee & Low, 2016). It’s a bilingual story about a Mayan girl who wants to weave like her mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers and who ultimately learns to weave with discarded plastic bags.

Some stories require much research. Some require little. Mommy, Baby, and Me (Peter Pauper Press, 2017), was born from observing one more-than-a-bit neurotic dog (name omitted to protect the innocent). The arrival of a baby in the family was, from the dog’s perspective, not a happy event. Eventually, the dog figured out that the baby was useful. Phew! Happy Ending.

The forthcoming Good Night, WIND (Holiday House, 2019) began when I took a course in Yiddish Children’s Literature held at YIVO in New York City. Through stories translated from Yiddish into English by Professor Udel, I was introduced to the breadth of Yiddish children’s literature. One story, The Wind Who Got Angry by Moyshe Kulbak (1921), was about an old, tired wind that wanted to sleep but could not find shelter. With Professor Udel’s permission, I re-worked Moyshe Kulbak’s story into a picture book, modernizing it for today’s children. It took a long time but it was enjoyable work and I felt pleased to be the story’s midwife, bringing it to a contemporary audience. I sent drafts to Professor Udel to insure that my re-telling was accurate. I had just sent my final draft to my agent when, during a weekend retreat at the Highlights Foundation, I stumbled upon a similar story, entitled The Wind that Wanted to Rest by Sheldon Oberman and published posthumously by his wife.

OMG! What to do? The book had an Afterword by Peninnah Schram, a wonderful storyteller whom I’m fortunate to know. I contacted Peninnah. I asked if she had other information about the story. She didn’t. I returned to Professor Udel. She, too, had no idea that other versions of the story existed. Was it, I pondered, a story afloat in the Russian wind? A tale picked up, told, and re-told by people, each with their own interpretation? Was it, perhaps, not so much a story but a folktale, a tale of the people?

I changed my telling even more. I made Wind gender-neutral. No longer is Wind masculine, now it’s simply Wind - slightly male, slightly female, with attributes of both. I changed the story so that a mother no longer shames the wind into behaving. Now, a small boy recognizes that the wind is tired and that Wind, like a tired baby, needs to nap. The boy and his sister lead Wind to an ice cave (inspired by one near me, in the Berkshires) to rest. I also retold the story so it’s cyclical and poetic. Now, when summer ends and fall has worked its magic, a much-refreshed Winter Wind will return to blast “snow across fields and towns, sculpting drifts for children to play in.”

A product of scholarship and artistry, hard work, and attention to detail, coupled with Maëlle Doliveaux’s spectacular cut paper renderings, and nurtured under the wonderful guidance from editor Kelly Loughran at Holiday House, Good Night, Wind (Holiday House, 2019), subtitled “A Yiddish Folktale,” is ready to launch. May it fly high. May its message of caring for the natural world reach the far corners of the earth. And when Winter Wind blows in our faces, may we have the courage, kindness, and fortitude to realize that it, too, needs a place to call home.

Dear Linda, what a spectacularly beautiful and timely birth story. Thank you for sharing it with us. I can't wait to read your new book. 

Dear readers, GOOD NIGHT, WIND is available for pre-order now, wherever books are sold. Let's help this book fly high, indeed! 

Swimmer. Hiker. Dreamer. Writer. Linda Elovitz Marshall took a circuitous route to writing for children. Trained as a cultural anthropologist and with a lifelong interest in the magic of words, Linda’s first jobs were in early childhood education. Teaching, she fell in love with picture books. She also pursued a doctorate in anthropology (not finished), opened her own indie bookstore, raised four children and a small flock of sheep. Always interested in education, Linda wrote reading comprehension blurbs for college entrance exams. When a cousin suggested Linda put some of her ideas onto paper, Linda took a writing course with Lore Segal. During that course, a story was born…and another … and another. Linda now has almost 20 picture books, fiction and non-fiction. She is also working on a novel for middle-grade readers. For more information, visit her website: www.lindamarshall.com.