Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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Archive for the tag “picture book”

Matt Forrest, Dream-Killer

Sweet, loveable me…destroying dreams?

Alas, it appears so.

I am often asked how one starts a career doing voiceovers or writing children’s books. As someone who has been doing voice work and audio editing for 25+ years, I’m happy to share advice, tips, and some guidance.

As someone who has yet to accomplish the feat of getting a children’s book published, I can only offer a few suggestions – like practice, networking, and critiquing. I have had numerous adult poems published in collections over the years and will soon have about 6 or 7 children’s poems published in various anthologies within the next year or two…but that’s a far cry from getting a book deal.

Be that as it may, much of the advice I give can be applied to either industry – and many more.  The reaction I get after giving the advice is often the same, as well.

Notice I called it an industry

Voiceover work and writing children’s books and poetry are similar in that they are both creative pursuits; however, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that they are, in fact, industries. Businesses. Professional careers that require all the time, effort, and skill that most other professional careers require.

ID-100232154 (water pipe)

Other than turning off the water, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do next.

You wouldn’t decide to become an astronaut on a whim. You wouldn’t think that by buying a socket wrench you can pass yourself off as a car mechanic.

You wouldn’t decide to open a plumbing business simply because you once unclogged a drain in the upstairs bathroom and it seemed like easy money.

Unfortunately, there is something about creative media that makes people think anyone can do it. And to be honest, many people can do it – but don’t really want to.

Or rather, they don’t want to hear about the reality of it.

This is where the dream-killing begins…

The first thing I tell folks who ask me how to get into voiceovers or break into children’s publishing is this: learn about the industry. Read blog posts, seek out professional web pages, and get a feel for what is truly involved. There is more to voiceovers than speaking into a microphone, and there’s more to writing children’s stories than “See Spot Run.”

When I tell these well-meaning people that the industry (either one!) is difficult to break into, they first look at me as if I’m trying to keep them out of a secret club or something. Then when I tell them a few of the things they are actually going to need to do, I get the feeling they think I’m trying to scare them away.

I have to implore them not to misunderstand me – that I’m just trying to be honest and blunt with them.

Blunt honesty, it appears, is not popular.

The frightening facts

Some of the nuggets of advice I offer – while not particularly unique or even insightful – are certainly solid for either industry:

- It may be fun, but it’s work, and you need to treat it as such.
– It’s also enormously competitive. The good news is that most of the other folks in the industry are surprisingly supportive!

- If you want to be a professional, understand what that means and what is expected of you.
- It doesn’t matter if you have a “great voice”; what matters is if you can read well and bring a script to life.
- It doesn’t matter if you love kids; what matters is your ability to write and your willingness to revise, over and over.
- Understand that not everyone can do what you are attempting to do. If it was so easy anyone could do it, everyone would.
- Understand that this is a skill requiring training, perseverance, and talent (not necessarily in that order).
- Understand that rejection is a way of life. There is a very, very high likelihood that you will fail multiple times before you even begin to succeed. You might get passed over dozens of auditions before getting that first gig, and you might send out a hundred manuscripts before an agent or editor thinks you’ve got what it takes.
- Tenacity, perseverance, skill, communication abilities, a thick skin, and a sense of humor are your best friends.
- Egos will get you nowhere.

There are plenty of other industry-specific things I might share when chatting with folks about voiceovers or children’s publishing, but I usually lose them at “enormously competitive.”

I’m really not trying to kill dreams…it just sort of happens

Honestly, I’m not sure how many dreams I’ve killed. I know that many of the folks who have emailed me or spoken to me in person over the last few years are not currently pursuing the vocation they had asked me about in the first place.

SCBWII can only make some broad assumptions.

Either they a) got scared and decided to stick with what they were doing; b) thought I was trying to scare them and decided to do it their own way and failed; or c) are still trying to find the time to be able to engage in an industry as competitive as voiceovers (or children’s writing).

These days, I refer voiceover questions to fellow voice artists like Paul Strikwerda, whose book, Making Money in Your PJs, provides as much insight, advice, and blunt honesty as one can handle, or Dave Courvoisier, author of More Than Just a Voice, a book that details the nuts-and-bolts of the industry like marketing, coaching, and equipment. The professional organization World Voices is good place to learn what being a professional voice talent is all about.

For questions about children’s book publishing, writers like Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund, Tara Lazar, Dr. Patricia Stohr-Hunt, and many, many more are all willing to help teach, guide, and inspire. And of course, there’s always the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), which is a great resource.

So if you happen to be wondering what it takes to get into these industries – or any of the creative arts – don’t let hard work and the fear of rejection stop you from realizing your dreams. Just do the work necessary and plan to stick with it for the long haul.

I’m not really a “Dream-Killer,” after all…just more of a reality-checker.

But hey, if Abe Lincoln can be a Vampire Hunter, why can’t I have an ominous-sounding moniker, as well?


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “In the Glen”

Now that I’m finally able to see my computer screen again, I’ve been spending my week furiously trying to get caught up on my voiceover business. I have auditions I need to record, scripts I need to write, and commercials I need to produce – and deadlines that are staring me down. So today, I’m reposting something I originally shared exactly one year ago, on July 19, 2013.

It’s a poem that will always be dear to my heart, not only because it was published but because it is both an adult AND a children’s poem – and since I’ve gained many new followers in the past year, I wanted to give them an opportunity to read it, if they wanted to.  For all of today’s Poetry Friday links and info, Tabatha Yeats is hosting the roundup at The Opposite of Indifference!


I don’t think I’ve ever posted a previously-published poem here, since I started this little blog nearly a year ago. Today, I am!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThis was written at least 3 years ago, possibly longer – I wish I could find my original copy that had the completion date on it. But like most poems, it went through several revisions before I was finally happy with it, so it is the most recent revision I’m sharing now.

As I mentioned, this was previously published in the Tall Grass Writer’s Guild’s anthology, Seasons of Change (Outrider p|Press, 2010).  Although it’s a poem more geared to adults, younger folks may very well understand what I’m describing. (And I’m eager to see if you know what the poem is about, too!)


“In the Glen”

Old stump
rotting, torn by time, shredded with age
browned and blackened through fires and storms,
impassioned hooves and finely-honed axes.

Long ago, abandoned even by ants and mites and worms
who took what they could, consumed their fill
and, satiated and exhausted,
to scavenge elsewhere.
Rings once worn proudly
perfect, circumscribe –
nearly inscrutable
like the history they keep.

In younger years
its boughs bore fruit;
lush canopy,
a vessel.

years after boy,
as old stump dies
bark and pith and fiber
fall away
to compost
and one lone leaf –
green, young,
hopeful –
sprouts forth
from the remains…

old stump
once again

- © 2010, Matt Forrest Esenwine


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Book review: “S is for Sea Glass”

I write poetry in a variety of styles and forms – some rhyming, some free verse. Some structured, some not quite so.

You can therefore imagine how refreshing it was for me to see a children’s poetry collection that offered this same sort of variety – not the cut-and-paste sing-song of simple rhyming verse, nor the page-after-page of non-rhyming, uneven line-length free verse (which can sometimes get heavy for children’s poetry). In the case of Richard Michelson’s S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press, 2014), we’re talking about a smart, well-structured book that carries one theme – poems about the beach – but presents that theme in 26 different ways.

Sea Glass cover

Because a trip to the beach or ocean carries with it so many different moods, sights, and feelings for a child, this book makes good use of poetic forms to highlight those differences. One minute the reader is contemplating the ebb and flow of tides, and the next he or she is chuckling over the author’s query of what, precisely, a mosquito is good for.

H is for Horizon

Where does the sea stop and the sky begin?
Where does the sun rise when the dawn slips in?
Where does the ship sail when its sails disappear?
Is it under the ocean? Is it up in the air?

If I travel the world or stay here on this beach,
The horizon will always be just beyond reach.
But its real as my dreams and it’s always nearby -
That magical line where the sea meets the sky.

- Richard Michelson, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved


Doris Ettlinger’s illustrations perfectly match the poems, as they are neither trite nor bold nor ornate…but are simultaneously happy and calm, fun and reflective, cool and warm. The fact that it’s an alphabet book is almost superfluous.

Which, I suppose, is a good thing, as I feel many of the poems – most, in fact, read above the level of a child who would need to learn the alphabet. As a collection of poetry, as a book about the beach, as a book that reflects the wonders, mysteries, and joy of being ocean side…S is for Sea Glass is beautiful. The fact that it’s an alphabet book seems unnecessary.

Here’s another one of my favourites:

R is for Rain

Nobody’s  at the beach today. ‘Most everyone’s complaining.
…..The sky is dark. The clouds are thick. And I, the Rain, am raining.

…..…...Folks let waves splash them head to toe. Do you hear any whining?
…..…..…..They think it’s fun to get wet when their friend, the sun, is shining.

…..…..…..…..I cool the breeze. And fill the seas. Who’s not a rainbow lover?
…..…..…..…..…..So why, when I come out to play, do they all run for cover?

- Richard Michelson, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved

Like I said, smart, beautiful, relatable  poetry. And it’s poetry that makes children think as much as smile. Hopefully, the next time they go to the beach, some of the images will be fresh in their heads. I know many of the images are fresh in my head – but then again, I’ve been spending all week here by the ocean.

And I think it’s time I did some more refreshing. I hear the surf calling my name…

York beach


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!


The Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine blogger logoA couple of weeks ago, Heidi Mordhorst nominated this blog for a Sunshine Blogger Award. I immediately thanked her…then went to her blog to find out what that meant! According to Heidi, the folks she nominated “are people whose blogs, whose work, and whose simple existence bring sunshine to my juicy little universe.” (In case you’re wondering, My Juicy Little Universe is the name of her blog)

Following the Rules

Far be it for me to break tradition here. This is what she said I needed to do:

• Acknowledge the nominating bloggers
• Share 11 random facts about yourself
• Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger creates for you
• List 11 bloggers
• Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the  bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger  who nominated you.)


Good stuff!

Well, I’ve thanked Heidi for nominating me, so I can check the first one off the list. Now then…eleven random facts? Listing eleven facts are easy enough, but these need to be random. Let’s see how random I can get:

1) If I wasn’t a voiceover talent and writer, I’d either be teaching English or cooking professionally.
2) I wrote my first Elizabethan sonnet in 9th grade; it wasn’t very good, but it scanned!
3) I make a vegan chili that’s so flippin’ good, even carnivores have been fooled.
4) My favourite author is Isaac Asimov.
5) I fell in love with voice acting at a very young age, after my father let me listen to some old-time radio shows. (I talk more about this HERE)
6) I share the same birthday (June 24) as rockers Jeff Beck and Mick Fleetwood. Not really anything significant about that – but it IS a random fact.
7) Even though I used to work in radio and hosted several morning shows, I hate noise in the morning! Please keep it quiet for a few hours while I wake up…
8) Def Leppard’s drummer, Rick Allen, once gave me his cellphone number. (I should call and see if it still works)
9) I gave my 5-year-old daughter, Katie, a metal plate that had been removed from my left arm, following surgery. Why? She wanted it!
10) I had never eaten avocado or tofu until I met my wife, Jen, 7 years ago.
My favourite band is Crowded House, yet the only time I’ve ever seen them live was two years ago in Boston (thanks to my wife!). In fact, anything that Neil Finn or his brother, Tim, have done – from Split Enz to their various collaborations – is ok by me.

Eleven questions, eleven answers

I now need to answer the 11 questions Heidi asked on her blog post, when she nominated this blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Keep in mind, I have not read any of the questions until this very moment- so the answers I’m giving here are my immediate responses. Something tells me this is going to be fun:

1) What’s the first poem you remember knowing?  (You get to define “knowing”.)
The first poem I recall reading and trying to memorize was from a book whose title I don’t recall, unfortunately! (I’ve tried tracking down the book, to no avail) The poem was about how much fun it would be if we could eat clouds, it was from a small, paperback collection of poetry, and most of the pen & ink illustrations were accented in blue and pink. If you have ANY idea what book this is, please let me know!

2) What’s the first poem you remember writing? (You get to define “writing”.)
When I was 6 or 7 I think, I “wrote” some horribly rhyming lines about a goat swallowing a boat down his throat – and asked my uncle, a musician, if he could write the music for it. (Sorry, Uncle Ron, I still feel bad for that) Now, I considered it a song rather than a poem – but looking back on it, it wasn’t much of either, so I guess it’ll have to do.

3) Can you summarize your typical composition process in three easy steps? Okay, then, do it!
(Technically, this is 4 steps!)
Step 1: Come up with an idea.
Step 2: Write it down.
Step 3: Send it out to a bunch of editors and agents who don’t like it.
Step 4: Repeat .

4) What classic or famous poem have you used as a model, on purpose?  Share if you care to.
Wow, what a great question I don’t think I can answer! I’ve used numerous poems to write parodies over the years (like this one), but as far as serious poems, I don’t think I have ever done this. I’ve borrowed styles and forms and themes and such – but I’m not sure I’ve ever used a particular poem as a model.

5) With whom would you like to write a collection of poems?  (Living candidates only, please.)
Charles Ghigna. While I love Douglas Florian’s wit, David L. Harrison’s insight, and Steven Withrow’s lyricism, Charles has a knack for taking little observances and making them big and beautiful while maintaining a simple language and style. A close runner-up would be David Elliott, who has a great sense of humour and an ability to distill his observations into their most important facets. (That’s not too high-brow a comment, is it?)

6) What’s the weirdest place or moment you’ve ever found yourself composing?
You know, I don’t think I ever pay attention to that sort of thing. I write about varied subjects, and my focus, as far as I can tell, is usually on that particular subject. Whatever else is going on around me is secondary – which I suppose is probably not always a good thing!

7) What’s the weirdest place or moment you’ve ever been in, period?
A few years ago, a female friend and I went to a birthday party for a friend of hers…at a gay bar. Now, it wasn’t the fact that I was one of only two straight guys in the building – neither of us had any problem with that. But watching a scantily-clad “shot-boy” dancing on a table and having my butt grabbed on more than one occasion was definitely an experience I’ll never forget!

8) Say you have an unexpected couple of hours to yourself at home.  What do you do?  Include details of food, drink, tools, rules, etc.
First, I’ll try to get a load of dishes and laundry going – those things ain’t gonna wash themselves. Then I’ll pour some Moxie, maybe grad some Doritos, and head upstairs to my studio to do some writing. Taking care of two young kids, I don’t have the time I used to – so I fit writing in whenever I can.

9)  Say you suddenly find yourself in my kindergarten classroom with an opportunity to relive the 5-year-old you.  What do you enjoy most?
Probably playing on the playground, kicking balls, and riding the see-saw. If it was raining, I’d be happy colouring and drawing inside. The 5-year-old me never went to kindergarten, so formal academics weren’t a part of my life!

10) Say Dr. Who shows up in his Tardis and invites you on a three-hour tour.  Where do you go?  Whom do you visit?  Do you bring anything back?
Where I go: I’d like to zip around the world and visit some of the places I doubt I’ll ever see: Scotland, Paris, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Machu Pichu.
Whom I visit: I’d like to get Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and Vishnu together and see if we can come to an understanding.
What I bring back: Leela. I’ve had a thing for her ever since middle school, and I’m now old enough to be able to do something about it.

11) When’s your birthday?
Oh, that’s easy! Like I said above, it’s June 24.

Who I’m nominating

The following list of fellow bloggers is by no means a complete list of all the folks I am proud to call friends, peers, and mentors; it is, however, a good sampling of the types of folks with whom I like to hang around. They are, in no particular order:

Renee LaTulippe at No Water River
Steven Withrow at Poetry At Play and Crackles of Speech
Joy Acey at Poetry for Kids Joy
Josh Funk at Papa J. Funk
Laura Shovan at Author Amok
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Paul Czajak at Ramblings of a Writer
Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids
David L. Harrison at his blog
Jama Kim Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at the Poem Farm

And finally, questions for my nominees:

I think it took me longer to come up with these questions than it did answering Heidi’s. Here are the questions I am asking of the 11 bloggers whom I’ve nominated.

1) How would you describe/define your particular writing niche? In other words, what makes you so special?
2) If you had to suddenly change careers, what would you do?
3) I had to answer this, so now I’d like to hear from you: Can you describe your writing process in 3 simple steps?
4) If you were given $1000 with the instructions that it all had to be given away, how would you do it?
5) What story, book, or poem do you recall being the first thing you ever read that really made an impression?
6) You’re going to appear on a reality show – real or imagined. What’s it called?
7) Who would you love to collaborate with, and why?
8) What is one of your favourite things that you’ve written?
9) What type of writing project scares you to death, and when do you plan to start working on it?
10) You’ve been sentenced to death; what will be your final meal?
11) And with whom would you share it?

And with that, I shall take my leave and get back to work. I hope some of my blogger friends will take this challenge because I’d love to read some of their answers! And if you haven’t visited their blogs before, check them out and see what you think…you just might learn something new!


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Interview with children’s poet David L. Harrison

Last October, I had the opportunity to spend a week with David Harrison and 14 other children’s writers at the Highlights Foundation’s children’s poetry workshop, “Poetry: For the Delight of It.” Although it’s taken several months to post, it’s my pleasure to finally be able to bring you this online conversation David and I had, following the workshop!

David headshotDavid Harrison’s first book for children, The Boy With a Drum, was released in 1969 and eventually sold over two million copies. In 1972, David won national recognition when he received the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories.

Since then, David has published over 90 books that have sold more than 15 million copies and earned numerous honors!

He has been anthologized in more than 100 books and appeared in dozens of magazines and professional journals, and his work has been translated into twelve languages and presented on television, radio, cassette, and CD-ROM.

David’s SKY HIGH ON READING program was the International Reading Association’s nationwide winner in 2001. The Missouri Librarian Association presented him with its 2007 Literacy Award for the body of his work.

In the last 25 years, David has been a speaker, featured author, or presenter at nearly 300 state, regional, and national conferences in 30 states, and maintains a blog to let readers know what he’s up to and encourage them to write their own poetry.  David holds science degrees from Drury and Emory universities and honorary doctorate of letters degrees from Missouri State University and Drury University. He has an elementary school named for him and is poet laureate of Drury. He lives in Springfield, Missouri with his wife Sandy, a retired guidance counselor.

Learning through Poetry

Perfect home

First of all, I’d like to thank you, David, for finding the time to do this interview; you’re a busy man! Tell me about some of the highlights (no pun intended!) of what you’ve been up to this past year.

Pun accepted, Matt. It’s kind of you to interview me for your blog. Thanks for asking. In the spring, Shell Publication introduced a set of five books that I co-wrote with Mary Jo Fresch, a professor at OhioState. Collectively the books are called Learning through Poetry. I wrote 96 poems for the series and Mary Jo created classroom activities based on them.

A picture book called A Perfect Home for a Family came out with Holiday House and a kit called Let’s Write this Week with David Harrison was introduced by Phoenix Learning Resources. The kit contains twenty 5-minute DVD lessons, a teacher’s guide co-written with Drury University’s Laurie Edmondson, twenty copies of a student writing journal, and three of my books that were used as examples in the text. PiratesI was in Texas, Boston, and other places to present at conferences and enjoyed conducting another poetry workshop at the Highlights location in Pennsylvania.

A definite highlight was when my book of poems, Pirates, was selected by MissouriCenter for the Book to represent Missouri at The National Book Fair in Washington, D.C. this past fall. I didn’t make the trip but am told that about 200,000 others did.

Speaking of the Highlights workshop, it was a pleasure to finally meet you in person, after having spent so much time chatting on your blog and via Facebook.  What do you feel your role is, as a writer, mentor, blogger?

Mostly I’m a writer. On days without other obligations I work at being a writer from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. This involves numerous activities besides working on a manuscript. My blog takes some time. So does keeping up with correspondence, preparing for workshops, keynotes, and presentations. I also work with various literacy groups and my wife and I travel quite a bit. My rule of thumb is that I will respond to general queries from writers who ask for how-to information but stop short of reading their work. I do critiques as part of a workshop environment, and this year I agreed to be the Missouri mentor for SCBWI.

With so many people trying to break into the world of children’s publishing, and with so many posting their work online via Facebook, personal blogs, or other outlets (Yours Truly included!), do you think it’s difficult for the average reader to differentiate between ‘good’ material and just ‘average’ material? It seems like the less that poetry is being published traditionally, the more it’s popping non-traditionally, and it’s getting hard to keep track of it all!

It’s a good news bad news situation. Thanks to the Internet, many more books and poems are now available to a reading public. Some of the material is wonderful, some is horrid, and the vast majority – as usual – falls somewhere on the slope between the peak and valley. The freedom to publish one’s own work can bring enormous satisfaction. Finding readers is difficult without the traditional support of print publishers, but that’s the tradeoff.

Long term? More poets publishing more poetry for more readers seems like a good thing to me. My assumption is that the good stuff will eventually be recognized for its quality and most of the rest will remain fairly anonymous except for the happy poet and his/her immediate circle of family and friends. Not a bad thing!

Cows (David L)Dog (David L)Grubb (David L)Glaciers (David L)

What advice can you offer aspiring authors and poets? And what do you think aspiring writers need to do, that perhaps they may not be doing?

Beware of advice from duffers and codgers. Back in my day, we had to write our stories in the dirt with our fingers. We had to carry our manuscripts all the way to New York because we couldn’t afford stamps. Editors breathed fire and their breath smelled of coal. I’ve never had much useful advice to offer, Matt. Getting good at anything requires approximately the same approach be it volleyball or be it making it to Carnegie Hall: practice.

If Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed, it takes 10,000 hours of it. I think what makes the craft of writing more difficult than many realize is that it’s a highly competitive profession in which practitioners are often self-taught. It’s like completing a four-year college major on your own. So set up realistic goals. Celebrate small successes of any kind. And write! Write every chance you have. Try different genres. Experiment. But write. Practice, practice, practice.

And of course, read, read, read – it’s one of the best ways to learn! Which leads me to my next question. We all have favourite authors who somehow exert their influence on us, even if we don’t want them to; who are your favourite poets or authors, and how has their writing affected yours?

I like E. B. White’s beautifully written essays, his book on the elements of style and, of course, his books for children. He’s the master of the language. I love Frost’s musings and Elliot’s cats and Collins’s approachable eloquence. I began writing short stories back in the day so I read a lot of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Updike, Bruce Friedman, Kurt Vonnegut, and Terry Southern. I have loved the novels and stories of Joan Didion, Barbara Kingsolver, and Annie Proulx. Among the writers of children’s literature who inspire me, the list would be long and I would fear leaving out someone by oversight.

So who or what inspires you?  And who do you trust for feedback on your writing?

By training and by nature I love nature. I’m happy watching geese take off from the lake behind our house, as I did during this interview. Wild creatures inspire me. I love children but am rarely moved to write something that has been inspired by them. I find my ideas in unexpected places and believe it’s because some part of a writer’s brain is always receptive to the possibility of turning nothing into something. I work alone and don’t want anyone to see my manuscript until it’s ready. Then I take it to my wife Sandy. She has always been my first reader. She’s honest and I need her to be.


By the way, you are the only person I know to have a school named after them! How did that come to be? 

The Superintendent of our school district called one day to tell me that 40+ names had been submitted by the public for an under-construction elementary school and I was among the final three candidates. He called back sometime later to congratulate me and invite me to a school board meeting to make it official. When the school opened, I was asked to give the opening talk to the student body (K-4), its teachers and staff, and various officials of the district. My family came as well as Kent and Jody Brown (of Highlights Foundation) who flew in from Pennsylvania to honor me with their presence. My speech was put into a time capsule. In the front hall on either side of the library entrance a collection of my work was placed on display for three years in two sixteen-foot long glassed cases.

David Harrison Elementary School cost $10 million to build in 2009 and rests on seventy-two acres. Click HERE to visit their website!

You are also the only one I know who has provided inspiration for a playwright; your poetry inspired Sandy Asher’s school plays, Somebody Catch My Homework and Jesse and Grace: A Best Friend’s Story.  How did these works compare with your originals – and is it even fair to compare them?

Somebody Catch My HomeworkSandy and I have been close friends and writing partners for a long time. For the play, Somebody Catch My Homework, she went through my published poetry and folders of poems-in-waiting and fished out a group of fourth grade characters to form the basis of a play. I love it, of course, and sit up straighter each time an actor in the play steps forward, as though to sing but, instead, recites one of my poems. The play has been a success both here and elsewhere.

Jesse and Grace was also Sandy’s brainstorm. In this case she and I became fourth graders, lifetime friends, who take turns presenting our thoughts in a series of poems. Jesse and Grace have a serious spat and we had to work through it all by expressing our feelings as if we had no idea what the other might be thinking. When it came time to turn the book manuscript into a play, I turned down Sandy’s kind offer to co-write it with her. She’s a wonderful playwright and I’m not. That was her department.

Jesse and Grace went on to receive one of the most prestigious awards in the world of children’s plays, the Distinguished Play of the Year presented by Alliance of American Theatre and Education.

I think it’s important for all of us to be willing to try new things, and that’s what you did two years ago when you published Goose Lake: A Year in the Life of a Lake, an eBook of poetry for adults.  What spurred you to publish this book, and what did you learn from the process?

Goose LakeGoose Lake was something I needed to write. I spend time every day I’m home gazing through the windows or sitting outside watching the comings and goings of an endless parade of birds and creatures. I showed the manuscript to a couple of editors and got some of the most enthusiastic replies about my work that I’ve ever received. But their answers were no. Too local. Too mature. Too eclectic.

I decided to try this e-book thing to see what it was all about. Thus, a collection that appeals to me greatly now lives its lonely life on Amazon and B&N. For a mere 99 cents you can be a proud owner! Is there anything about “lonely” that you need me to explain?

Ha, no…as a poet, we’re all supposed to be lonely and sullen, with dark, tortured souls, right??  Hey, before we wrap up, I need to ask you: what are you working on now?

I just finished the poetry for a new series of three grade level books. What remains are the final revisions to call it a wrap. I’m well into a new collection of poetry for a trade publisher. A recently completed collection of poems is now scheduled for publication although it won’t be until 2016. With Mary Jo Fresch I’m at work on a new proposal for another educational publisher. I have other ideas in various stages and expect this to be a busy year.

Boy w-Drum (David L)Well, thank you again, David, for sharing your time and thoughts…and best wishes for a wonderful 2014!

And thank you again, Matt. I’ve enjoyed it.

To learn more about David, log on to his website here or visit his blog!


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

The blog is back! Sort of…

Let me just say, this recovery thing is certainly taking longer than I’d anticipated.

ID-10056952 (soccer ball)In case you’re unaware, I tore every ligament in my right knee that I possibly could while playing indoor soccer the Tuesday before Thanksgiving – which is why I’ve been on hiatus for awhile. Between taking care of a 4-year-old and a 5-month-old, running my voiceover business, and trying to keep the house from looking like something worthy of a reality-TV makeover…I just had no time at all to maintain the blog.

I still have no time – but since I can at least walk a little better and finally bend my knee at an almost 90-degree angle, I’m going to see what happens!

Truth is, I don’t know what I’ll do in March, when I hope to have surgery, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, I’m planning on posting something new at least once per week and possibly twice per week; however, the schedule will not be the same. I used to post every Tuesday and Friday, but for now, I’ll post when my schedule allows me to. Being a parent and hubby and fully recovering from the injury are my priorities – followed closely by running my business as a voice talent. As my time opens up, hopefully I’ll be able to do more.

RhyPiBoMo bannerI’m going to have to recover quickly, actually!  I have an interview with children’s poet/author David L. Harrison planned for next week, I have Poetry Friday posts I’m looking forward to, I’m in the middle of judging the CYBILS Award for Poetry along with some other fine folks, I’ll be posting an advance review of Laura Purdie Salas’ new book, Water Can Be (Millbrook) due out April 1, I’ll be taking part in Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo (Rhyming Picture Book Month) celebration, AND I’ll be again teaming up with Gerald So at the The 5-2 : Crime Poetry Weekly when April rolls around  for National Poetry Month. On top of all this, I hope to once again be able to compete in Ed DeCaria’s #MMPoetry Challenge 2014 at his blog, Think, Kid, Think!

A sucker for punishment, I am. ;)

In the meantime, please visit my friend and fellow writer Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s blog, Today’s Little Ditty , as she is spotlighting a haiku by Yours Truly today! Thanks for visiting, and I hope to talk to you more in the weeks ahead.


PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Interview with Children’s Poet/Author David Elliott

photo courtesy of Michael Seamens

I have had the opportunity to interview some incredible folks over the years. Just from the children’s literature universe, I’ve chatted with folks like Lee Bennett Hopkins, Charles Ghigna, J. Patrick Lewis, Douglas Florian, and newcomer Vikram Madan.

While working in radio, I interviewed rock stars like Alice Cooper, the guys from Def Leppard, Rik Emmett of Triumph, and others.

I’ve also interviewed lots of country music artists from Charlie Daniels to Jason Aldean, from Ricky Skaggs to Jeff Foxworthy.

But until now, I had never interviewed someone who lived in the same town I do!

The bottle-washing, English-teaching, popsicle-stick-maker-next-door

I just completed an interview with children’s author and poet David Elliott, who already has an impressive catalogue of titles and is currently under contract for 6 more to come out over the next couple years. He’s also currently working on a number of other projects, including a middle grade book and a YA novel. Yes, he’s a busy fellow.

I invite you to read more about David at the Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults blog, Poetry at Play. It was for PACYA that I did this interview, and being able to visit David at his home just a couple miles away from me and chat about writing and living and our surprising connections was a wonderful experience. Who knew that both he and I formerly lived in the same part of VT before moving to our current homes?

Who knew we both shared the same “writer’s worry” of not being able to execute our ideas the way they deserve?

And what are the odds that he had been inside my home – visiting the former owner – before I had even been inside my home?

Inspiration, research, and the importance of getting out of the way

I hope you enjoy the interview!  We talk about why inspiration is overrated, the vast amount of research that is sometimes necessary to write a two-stanza poem, and one of the most important things a writer – any writer – can do.

Again, here’s that link: Poetry at Play

And thank you, as always, for stopping by!


PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, and Pinterest!

“Love means swallowing your heart” – and eleven other things you would have learned at the 2013 NE-SCBWI Conference

This past weekend was a long one. I spent Friday through Sunday at the New England chapter of the SCBWI’s (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) 2013 conference in Springfield, Mass, catching up with friends and fellow writers and filling my cranium with knowledge and inspiration. It was a fun time, but very educational, as always; unfortunately, three days of picture books, chapter books, and YA novels goes by extremely quickly.

Against this backdrop of serious discussions and goofy conversations, slick PowerPoints and old-fashioned pens & papers, door prizes, open mics, and wine & cheese socials…all of us who attended learned a great deal about the industry, our craft, and ourselves. Listing everything I gleaned from the conference would be impossible; however, I thought I would share a few choice tidbits that stuck in my mind.

Here, then, are one dozen of the many things I either learned – or was reminded of – at the 2013 NESCBWI Conference, “Word by Word: The Art of Craft:”

nescbwi13-logo-H1) It’s OK if your first draft sucks. Yes, we all know that first drafts will go through innumerable changes before they ever become final drafts…but this is good to remember. Just because you don’t like your first draft doesn’t mean it’s destined for the circular file; revise, revise, revise!

2) Having an intimate knowledge of the rules is important if you want to break them. Author Chris Eboch (The Eyes of the Pharaoh, The Ghost on the Stairs) taught a workshop titled, “The Elusive Voice” and outlined some ideas and methods for giving your characters their own unique voices.  During the course of this 2-hour intensive, she reminded us  that once one learns the rules, understands the rules, and masters the rules…one can break the rules. Good advice for poets, too!

3) Every story has a voice. Chris said that it doesn’t matter who the narrator is.  It might be a strong voice, a poetic voice, or an awkward or clunky voice – so remember that just because your story has a ‘voice,’ doesn’t mean it’s a good one!

4) If you realize you forgot to bring your business cards 20 minutes after you leave for a conference that is 2 1/2 hours away…take the time and turn around and get them! Still kicking myself over that one.

5) Becoming an overnight success takes a lot longer than you might think. So many published authors had such similar stories: it took five years to land the first contract, took 10 years to write the first manuscript that was sold, it took over 50 rejections before getting an acceptance.  Knowing this doesn’t really make things any easier for people like me, but it is a little reassuring to know I’m not the only one beating my head against the wall, trying to find an agent or publisher.

6) Bacon is like sex. Even if the bacon isn’t all that good…it’s still bacon! (This came from one of those “goofy conversations” to which I alluded earlier. And no, we weren’t drinking.)


7) Love means swallowing your heart. This was perhaps the coolest thing I learned all weekend, thanks to author/illustrator Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Ling & Ting).  She explained that the Chinese language – which, of course, consists of characters representing complete words – is actually made up of multiple words or concepts. For example, the Chinese character for “peaceful” is a combination of the characters for “house” and “woman,” and literally means “woman in the house.”  Similarly, the Chinese character for “love” is made up of characters representing three separate concepts: “to swallow,” “heart,” and “person walking.” Literally, love means swallowing (or taking in) one’s heart. Very poetic, yes?


8) It’s OK to sell your soul to corporate America to pay the bills. Well, Grace didn’t exactly say that – I’m paraphrasing – but that was the takeaway. She admitted that, while she was struggling to make her path as an illustrator, she designed kitschy products like coffee mugs and T-shirts that declared, “World’s Greatest Dad!” and that sort of thing. She said she was simply doing her part to help keep America’s landfills full!

9) It’s also OK to not write poetry in syllabic verse. Aspiring writers like Yours Truly are constantly being told to write poetry in perfect meter and rhyme, but that’s not necessarily true. Children’s poet/author Leslie Bulion (The Universe of Fair, At the Seafloor Café) shed light on this during her 2-hour intensive workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetic Form.” Perfect rhyme…yes. Unless you have a really good reason for a slant rhyme, it better be perfect. (See Rule #2, above!)

Universe_of_Fair-front_(1)-330Meter, however, is something else. Leslie writes in accentual verse, meaning she concerns herself with the stressed beats per each line, but not the specific meter. This means that, for example, a line she writes in trochaic tetrameter may or may not have four precise metrical feet of two beats (stressed/unstressed) each. I’ve always tried to be very tight with my metrical syllabic verse…but thanks to Leslie, I feel I can lighten up a little!

10) Just because hotel beds are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you won’t oversleep. I tossed and turned all Friday night, yet I still woke up with barely 15 minutes left before breakfast ended. I made it there with 5 minutes to spare, not because I was wide awake and full of energy – but because no one messes with my breakfast.

11) Verse novelists are not mentally unstable. If you are a verse novelist, this may or may not come as a surprise to you.  Padma Venkatraman (Island’s End, Climbing the Stairs) had one of the best lines of the conference when, during a panel discussion on historical fiction, she announced that verse novelists, like many writers, hear multiple voices in their heads. The only reason they are not clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia, she said, is because they only listen to the voices and don’t start up conversations with them.

12) If a hotel is going to serve lunch to hundreds of people all packed into one large ballroom, serving black bean soup is probably not the best choice for an appetizer. Good thing they opened the doors. Just sayin.’

My thanks to everyone at NESCBWI for their hard work and success with pulling off another terrific conference, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s! I had a chance to chat with old friends and meet new ones, and am eager to get working on a couple of new projects…which I’m predicting will be written in accentual verse. Thanks, Leslie!

Interview with Father Goose, Charles Ghigna

 As part of a month-long celebration of national Poetry Month, I am very pleased to bring you an interview with one of this country’s leading children’s poets!

Ghigna -Homewood Life pic - 4_13 Brigid Galloway

Photo courtesy of Brigid Galloway

Charles Ghigna (pron. GEEN-yuh), a.k.a. Father Goose,  is the author of more than 5000 poems and 60 books of poetry for children and adults from Random House, Disney, Hyperion, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Abrams and other publishers.  His books have been featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” PBS, and NPR.  His poems appear in hundreds of textbooks, anthologies, and magazines from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Cricket and Highlights His poems also appear in the national SAT and ACT tests.  He serves as editorial advisor for the U.S. Kids magazines and is a former poetry editor of The English Journal for the National Council of Teachers of English, and nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.

He is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation.  He has presented poetry readings at the Library of Congress, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Library in Paris, the International Schools of South America, and at hundreds of schools, conferences, libraries, and literary events throughout the U.S. and overseas.
Ghigna lives in Homewood, Alabama, with his author wife, Debra, and their artist son, Chip.  Ghigna’s writing studio is in the attic of their home, a 1927 red brick English Tudor.  He calls his writing space his “treehouse.”

  Ghigna -christmascomingGhigna - FuryGhigna -Litle PlanetGhigna -BARN_STORM

It’s a pleasure to be able to chat with you, Charles. I mean, Father Goose! Or is it Mr. Goose? OK, so how exactly did you get that moniker…was it after your book, Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose (Disney-Hyperion Books for Children, 1994) came out, or had you already been using the name before that?

Kids and teachers began calling me Father Goose sometime during my early days of making school visits.  My editor at Disney and I decided to use that moniker in TICKLE DAY: POEMS FROM FATHER GOOSE.  Artist Cyd Moore created the first image of Father Goose for that book.  Other illustrators began playing off the original image with their own interpretations, often including their new images of Father Goose in some of my newer books.

Sometimes my illustrators show Father Goose peeking out from behind a tree or hiding among the scene.  Readers tell me it’s fun for them to search for Father Goose in my books. The scary part for me is I’m starting to look more and more like my moniker every day!

You were born in Bayside, Queens, New York, but your folks moved to Fort Myers, Florida, when you were quite young, correct?  Looking back on things now, how did your childhood shape your interest in writing and career path?

Growing up in Florida in the 1950s and 1960s provided me with an abundance of outdoor activities, as well as an appreciation for Nature and animals; subjects I still write about today.  My early interest in writing came from a a couple of different sources.  My mother was one of the most creative people I’ve ever known.  She would make up stories and we would often act them out with homemade costumes and props.  Later she gave me my very own hand-me-down typewriter, an old 1923 Underwood.

I used to love watching the words magically appear on the paper and hearing the rhythmical clicking of the keys and the sound of the ‘bing’ at the end of each line.  It was fun getting lost in my own little world, making up my own stories and poems.  It still is.  I still have that old typewriter.  It sits here in my treehouse reminding me of that boyhood magic that got me started so many years ago.

Ghigna - 5152yTwM3-L._SS500_

I was recently asked why I wanted to write for children; I replied, because I feel like I still am one, in many ways! How important do you think it is, to keep that connection to our childhood? Or is it more important to try to connect to today’s children and their wants, needs, and interests? Have the basics even changed at all? 

Great questions!  No, I don’t think the basics have changed at all.  The trappings and contraptions that fill a child’s world today may be a little different from those of previous generations, but the human need for adventure, curiosity, and wonder are still the same.

When I speak to writers groups, I like to remind them to look at today’s world through the eyes of their inner child, as well as their own past experiences as a child.  It is the voice of the inner child that other children want to hear.  Children know that voice.  They trust that voice.  All other voices are inauthentic to children.

I tell them they can find their writer’s voice by simply listening to that little muse inside that says in a low, soft whisper, “Listen to this…”    I tell them that when you write for children, don’t write FOR children. Write FROM the child in you.  I tell them that the act of writing brings with it a sense of discovery, of discovering on the page something you didn’t know you knew until you wrote it.  I invite them to enter the writing process with that sense of wonder and discovery, and let it surprise you.  If it does, it will surprise your readers as well.

Ghigna -Halloween_NightYour recent My Little Planet series (Picture Window Books, 2012) is geared toward younger readers, while other books, like Halloween Night: Twenty-One Spooktacular Poems (Scholastic, 2003) for example, are geared for older kids.  As someone who writes for such different age groups, how do you keep your audience, vocabulary, and subject matter focused?

Writers are actors!  The only difference is, we get to make up our own lines.  We try to get inside the minds and imaginations of the age group for whom we are writing.  We become them, then we act out on the page what we are feeling, seeing, hearing, and saying.  When I write for toddlers, I am four years old.  When I write picture books, I’m five or six or eight.  When I write for YA, I become a teen again.  When I write for adults, I am myself.

I try not to think too much about “audience, vocabulary, and subject.”  Many years ago when I first began writing early readers for Random House and other publishers, I was given charts of vocabulary appropriate for each age group and lists with the number of words appropriate for each age group.  I was encouraged to read the latest books to see what subjects were popular.  I put all of that nonsense in a drawer and forgot about it.  I didn’t want all those facts and figures getting in the way of what little confidence and inspiration I could muster.  I began writing from the only way I know how, from the inside-out, rather than from the outside-in.  I knew I could go back and edit AFTER the creative process cooled off.

More than sixty-some books later, I think my contrary techniques seem to be working out just fine.  Now having said that, I do hope my editors are not reading this.  ;-)

As writers, we can find inspiration anywhere: our families, nature, the kitchen sink, you name it. Is there a well you go to for inspiration, like your wife, son, daughter, or back porch…or do you follow the B.I.C. rule of Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis (“Butt In Chair”) and eschew inspiration for good old-fashioned hard work?


Simple enough!  Now, you have said, “Style is not how you write. It is how you do not write like anyone else.” So how does one keep themselves from writing like all the folks who inspired them in the first place?

Enter your own world.  Listen to your own voice.

Ghigna - 31KJBMN2FTL__SY320_As much as I enjoy writing for children, I also write for adults, as well – it’s sort of a spontaneous release of maturity I need to do to clear my mind and sharpen my skills.  Why do you write for adults, and how is the process similar or dissimilar to writing for children? Are fans of Father Goose surprised when Charles Ghigna publishes a book of adult-oriented poetry, like Returning to Earth (Livingston Press (AL), 1989)?

I like to think of writing in different genres as cross-training.  Each genre exercises a different set of imagination’s muscles.  Those reinvigorated muscles bring new strength and flexibility to each new genre, from one to the other.  By staying open to writing for different age groups and in different genres, we are able to write about any and all ideas that come our way.

We never have to discard a good idea just because it might not be right for a certain age group or for a certain genre.  I enjoy writing poetry and prose.  I enjoy writing rhymed verse and free verse. I enjoy writing light verse and serious verse.   I enjoy writing for children and adults … and pets when they sit still to listen.  I get excited whenever any new idea pops into my head.  Then I try to write it out as best I can.  If I like it and it surprises me, I submit it.  If it falls short, I delete it and move on to the next idea.  Like you, I’m lucky.  I have more ideas than I have time to write!

You’re currently in the process of melding those two styles with the creation of a Young Adult novel in verse – a new genre for you. How’s it coming along, and what inspired you to do it?

I have two YA novels in verse in the works, both with different voices.  One grew out of a series of prose poems and the other grew out of a series of short poems.  In the second one,  I imagined two young people texting messages back and forth to each other via their phones.

Ghigna -Numbers_in_the_Park (new)Ghigna -The_Alphabet_Parade (new)Will that be your next published project, or will something else be coming out sooner?

My next project is a series of four books for toddlers that will be published this fall by Capstone.

The series is titled MY LITTLE SCHOOL HOUSE.  The individual titles are THE WONDERS OF THE COLOR WHEEL, SHAPES ARE EVERYWHERE, NUMBERS IN THE PARK, and THE ALPHABET PARADE.  The trade edition of the series is titled THE LEARNING PARADE.  The illustrator is the wonderful artist Ag Jatkowska.

(Matt’s note: for a sneak peek at some of the illustrations, click HERE!)

Ghigna -The_Wonders_of_the_Color_Wheel (new)Ghigna -Shapes_are_Everywhere! (new)I’ve also written two series of books for a new independent publisher, and working on a third series for them, as well as a picture book for another publisher.


By the way…not many women can say their husbands wrote them a poem – much less an entire BOOK of poems. What was your wife’s reaction to Love Poems (Crane Hill Publishers, 1999)? 

It’s funny how that book came to be.  I had been writing little love notes to Debra since we first met.  After we married, I began leaving them on her breakfast plate in the morning and on her pillow at night.  Most of them were personal hand-written notes never intended for publication.  Unbeknownst to me, Debra kept them in a folder and after a year or two she began typing them up and submitting them to magazines.  They began appearing in Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, The Ladies’ Home Journal.  Later a book of them was published by Crane Hill.  I think she likes them.

Ghigna - Love poems 41JZDH4SRNL__SY320_Ha, well I’m glad she didn’t run into any copyright issues with the person who wrote them!   So tell me, how have life changes like fatherhood – and now grandfatherhood – altered your writing. if at all?  Have they changed your perspective of how you approach your projects, and what you want to write about?

Oh yes!  My grandchildren provide much of the inspiration for my books. Their names are proudly displayed on the dedication page of a dozen or so of my latest titles.  It is from their young perspectives of the world that I learn to re-see my own.  Their joy, innocence, enthusiasm, and curiosity are contagious and endless.  How could I not find new, inspiring things to write about each day?

One last question I have to ask: how has writing – and publishing – for children changed since you began? OK, make that two questions. What advice would you offer to those poor unpublished souls who continue to write and write, with nothing to show for it but folders upon folders of revised manuscripts and rejection slips?

These are exciting and scary times for writers of all stripes.  The business model is changing fast.  Only those with crystal balls dare predict the future. I think it is probably more difficult to get published these days without an agent.  Self-publishing is an option, though one I do not recommend unless you work hard to build what is known in the business as a “platform.”  I’ve been reading a lot lately about how important it is for writers to build a “platform” to make it in today’s market.  I think that means spending time developing social media with websites, blogs, videos, and other items and outlets, along with a good email list.

I probably wouldn’t make it if I were starting out right now. I do not have an agent and I tend to spend most of my time writing, very little time on social media.  I have a Facebook page because I like to keep up with pictures of my grandchildren, and I have a couple of blogs where I post poems for teachers and kids each week. That’s about it.

All I know is, when I started out in this business years ago, I discovered right away that I had to be as creative in getting my work published as I tried to be in creating it.  Ghigna -ONE_HUNDRED_SHOESI think that’s the trick.  First try to find out how everyone else is doing it, then create your own new way of doing it.  I guess that’s true for creating the work itself, as well as trying to get it published.  The most important thing, of course, is following your heart, doing what you love enough to totally immerse yourself in that pursuit.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I get up every morning, climb the steps here to my treehouse, turn on my computer, look out the window, and write.  I still can’t believe I’m allowed to do this.  I provide for my family and myself by doing what I love.

And that’s something one can certainly not put a price on.  I appreciate your time, Charles…many thanks so much, and best wishes with your new books from Capstone, your YA novels, and all of your upcoming projects!


Prog poem 2013 graphicDon’t forget, Irene Latham’ 2013 Progressive Poem wraps up this week!  This poem started with one blogger April 1 and has been travelling from blog to blog, with a different blogger adding a new line to the poem every day. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!)  Yours Truly added his line back on April 3, but here’s a complete list of all the participating bloggers, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

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Little books = Big impact

When was the last time you thought about the books you read as a child?

Were the kids tiny or were the animals huge? It didn’t matter. To me, the pictures were cool – and that’s all that mattered!

It occurred to me the other day just how big a role picture books and other books for children play in developing not just reading ability and comprehension, but developing personality.  Of course, it’s not breaking news that children who read develop language and communication skills, bigger vocabularies, and better attention spans and memory retention. But I’m talking about how those books shape who we are today.

I’ve previously talked a little bit about the impact our experiences as children have on our adult lives.  In one of my very first posts, I wrote about how my love of old-time radio drama lead me into the world of radio and voiceovers, and asked readers to think about that one ‘defining moment’ they may have had as a child that is probably responsible for where they are today.

This time around, I’d like to ask you to think about your most memorable children’s books. Not necessarily your favourite books – although you certainly can – but those books you remember reading as a child that, for some reason, you still remember today. And I’ll bet that if you look at them as a collective, you’ll see yourself in a new light.

(Imagination + compassion + attention to detail) ÷ sense of humour = Matt

mr snitzelLooking back at the books I remember most fondly, I can definitely see why I am the person I am.  One of my favourites when I was very young was Mr. Snitzel’s Cookies, by the wonderful Jane Flory. The story is simple, but teaches a classic message of giving:

Mr. Snitzel, a baker, has only a handful of flour and a couple of raisins left in his otherwise bare cupboard – so he closes his shop for the night, wondering what he’ll do. That evening, a poor beggar comes along and asks if Mr. Snitzel could spare any food. Mr. Snitzel kindly explains the situation and says if he had anything, he’d be more than happy to help. The beggar suggests that Mr. Snitzel look in the cupboard again. To his amazement, there is, indeed, enough food to make something, which he does.

When the beggar asks if he can sleep there, Mr. Snitzel obliges, although he doesn’t have much room. (My memory is foggy, but Mr. Snitzal may actually give up his bed for the beggar) When morning comes, the beggar is gone. Mr. Snitzel goes to his shop and opens his cupboards, expecting barely nothing – and what do you know, they’re full of flour and raisins and candy and all the things that a good baker needs to make wonderful treats and be happy!

A familiar tale, told in a different way, with a golden message.

As for the bizarre iamgination…

Land of NoomLook no further than this absolutely mind-blowing book written by Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann & Andy. The Magical Land of Noom is part Wizard of Oz, part Alice in Wonderland, part magic mushroom ride. A large hardcover, this was a hefty book, filled with beautiful yet eerie illustrations of horses dressed like grandmothers, odd toadstool-like trees, and Mad Hatter-ish characters.

Noom page aIt was both intensely intriguing yet also freakishly unsettling – almost scary – in a way. Not scary as in Please-stop-the-nightmares scary, but scary in an Aliens-just-landed-and-although-I-should-run-I-just-have-to-see-what they’re-going-to-do-next! sort of way.

As for the story, I don’t recall. But I’ll never be able to get the picture of that grandma horse out of my head.

Speaking of imagination…

dinosaur bookWhat better way to spark a young child’s imagination than with fantastic, strange, and ominous creatures that actually EXISTED here on earth, millions of years ago? Dinosaurs: A Little Golden Book by Jane Watson was another one of my favourite books.

I would stare at the pages over and over again, paying close attention to the colourful scales of brachiosaur, the armor of ankylosaurus, and long, sharp teeth and claws of Tyrannosaurus Rex. I probably learned how to pronounce – and spell – words like archaeopteryx and pteradactyl long before I learned the names of other animals that are actually still in existence.

I’ll tell you something else: I can’t guarantee that all these dinosaur names are correctly spelled because I didn’t bother looking them up – but I’ll bet you good money I got ‘em all right.  Tell me picture books don’t help develop attention to detail.

SnoopyWho doesn’t love Snoopy?

My folks, who gave me all of the books I’ve spotlighted here, knew I liked Peanuts. I still have the Snoopy coffee mug they gave me nearly 40 years ago, and both of my daughters (nearly 18 and 21) AND my 3-year-old son have all used my original red-and-white Charlie Brown knitted winter hat. Yes, it’s at least 40 years old. No, it doesn’t look like it. They made things to last, back in the good ol’ days.

Whoops, sorry.  Started to sound like a grumpy old man there. I guess it’s my genes.

Anyway…this was a collection of comic strips put together in picture-book format, so it didn’t look or feel like a collection of strips. I just loved reading about Snoopy pretending to battle the Red Baron, crash landing across enemy lines and making his way back through barbed wire, stopping at a little French cottage for some vichyssoise (potato soup) with a pretty maiden, then becoming emotionally torn when he has to say goodbye…

It’s classic Snoopy. Fun stuff, and something I can definitely point to as helping to shape my appreciation for humour.

That, and the fact that my dad and I would watch Monty Python, The Goodies, and Fawlty Towers for hours on end. I’m thinking that had something to do with it, as well…but that’s another post.

What about you?

Can you think of those childhood books you loved so much? Or even the ones that might not have been favourites…but which for some reason stick in your memory? Make a list of four or five books, and spend some time looking them over and thinking about what impact they may have had on you. These books I’ve mentioned were not the only ones I loved or remember – I enjoyed Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak and others – but these are the ones that immediately come to mind as having shaped who I am today.

These are the books that spurred me to start reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and all the other books I fell in love with through high school and college. I see now that I am a product of not just my genetics and my environment, but of my experiences reading.

How about you? Want to learn more about your literary geneology? All it takes is a little trip down memory lane to that library in your head!


QUESTION: My first book of children’s poems contained this poem: “Little green inchworm, inchworm, inch./ You don’t bite and you don’t pinch./ Never did anybody any harm./ So take your little green walk up my arm.” Does anyone have ANY idea what this book was, who wrote it, or who published it? I used to love it – and it obviously set me on my current poetry path – but I can’t find it anywhere!  >sigh<

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