Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview: Author David Greenberg

Sorry for the late posting this weekend, everyone! Apparently I've got a bit of the flu. : ) But fear not. Here is the good stuff! 

Our “Each One Teach One Interview” this week features PB and MG author David Greenberg, from my childhood home-state of Oregon.

David has written 9 picture books and one middle grade novel, and he has another picture book on the way  - The worst smell of all – a collection of poems about school, from Scholastic in early 2014. His MG novel A TuggingString won the Oregon Spirit award and was a finalist for the 2009 Oregon Book Award. His picture book The Great School Lunch Rebellion was the 1990 recipient of the Children's Choice award.  David does many school visits to classes of various ages throughout the year, and throughout the country, to talk about writing, books, and poetry.  He is the founder of the Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop, an annual week-long workshop for serious children’s book/YA writers that I had the opportunity to attend a few years back. The OCCBWW brings together editors, authors and an agent, for a week of training in the craft, writing, revising, and camaraderie in beautiful Oceanside Oregon.  David also teaches an online picture bookwriting course. 

So David, tell us, who was the more established author who “reached back” or “reached out” to teach you something about the craft or the profession, or to support you, when you were just starting out?

At the very start of my career I contacted about two dozen established children’s book writers seeking advice from them on how to proceed.  None bothered to get back to me except for Maurice Sendak who wrote me a gracious letter than advised me to persevere.  I’ve always appreciated this immensely. It made a great different that such a mighty one took an interest in one so puny.

That’s a great story, David. Go Mauric Sendak! And what truly wonderful advice he gave you!  That’s a great example by Maurice of how to reach back to encourage new authors, and how important that is in the life of the new authors.  I know if I got a letter from Maurice Sendak I'd probably frame it and post it in my writing room! 
Can you give an example of how that advice from Maurice Sendak has helped you in your writing career since that letter arrived at your door?

Yes. Most of my early books were rejected innumerable times by different publishers. Sendak’s admonition to persevere helped me to keep my bow pointed forward.
That's great, David.  We all get turned down and it’s such a crushing feeling – especially the first few times it happens. But it’s such a good reminder to all of us that you were turned down multiple times early on as well, but now you’re on your 10th published book! That's wonderful!
I know that you’ve done a lot to help new writers over the years.  Tell us, why you have intentionally “reached back” or “reached out” to other new authors to help them learn new skills and give tips.  Why do you think doing this is important?

I always give aspiring authors (even children) as much of my lights (however dim they may be) as possible. I think it is a moral obligation not only for writers, but for all of us who are somewhat further ahead on life’s journey.

That point about “moral obligation” is so true, David.  I quite agree, and I’m so glad you look at it that way! If we were all just independent little ships floating around, where would we be as a profession?

 I know one way in which you’ve definitely helped a lot of new writers is through starting the “Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writer’s Workshop (OCCBWW)” which I highly recommend to any aspiring authors. (The OCCBWW is helpful to authors at various levels of the craft because of the daily opportunity to have 1:1 critiques and to get daily 1:1 advice from editors, an agent, and a bunch of well-published experienced author-presenters from Nonfiction PBs to Fiction YAs.)  So David, give us a bit of background on why you decided to start the OCCBWW.
I started OCCBWW because I felt that I floundered needlessly for years when I began writing. If only I could have met with and learned from caring, accomplished authors and editors I could have figured out this biz far sooner. I presumed that other aspiring writers must feel as I did, and so was inspired to start the course.  For those who attend they can meet with a working children’s book editor who will kindly, yet frankly, tell them what’s right with their writing and where they’re off track. Likewise, they can meet with a children’s book agent, and all the writers to whom they listen and with whom they meet, can give them the considerable benefit of their lights.

That does sound exactly like my own experience at the OCCBWW, David.  I felt that the 1:1 interaction with so many industry professionals who willingly read and critiqued and then re-read and re-critiqued my writing after I’d edited it there by the ocean, was extremely helpful. It was something that you just can’t get at a lot of conferences or workshops.  I’m sure all participants will have a wonderful experience there in Oceanside again this July!  Thanks for starting such a great workshop for children’s and YA writers!

Here's a photo from a prior year's class at the OCCBWW, taken on the porch of the classroom building! Wow. What a beautiful setting for a wonderful writing experience!

I know that in addition to hosting and leading the OCCBWW, David, you’re still working hard on your own writing too.  Tell us about one of your favorite current projects.

Scholastic asked me to write poems about school. This was my first chance to write a collection within the realm inhabited by writers such as Shel Sylverstein and Jack Prelutsky, viz short, pithy poems with twists. A lot of fun! (This is the book “The Worst Smell of All”coming out in 2014.)
That sounds like fun, David! I’ll look forward to reading it!  And for those who have any interest in Martin Luther King Jr, I’d definitely recommend reading David’s MG novel
A Tugging String, about he and his father’s up close and personal experiences with the day to day life of the civil rights leader.

Here’s are just a couple of quick, fun questions, David, to finish us off.  First, if you could have written any book that's already been written by someone else, what book would it be, and why do you wish you had written it? 
I'd say any poetry by Rudyard Kipling. He's a genius and extracts more of the potential energy of language than any poet I've ever known. 

Yes. Kipling is brilliant! Good choice. : )

And what is it that you personally like most about being a writer?

I love doing something for a living that’s amazingly fun, cool, gratifying. Can’t think of anything better. You sit down, you think, you write down your thoughts, someone draws pictures to go with them, children read your writing, they smile!

Well put, David!  We definitely are lucky to be working in such a wonderful, though certainly not easy, profession!

So what advice would you give to all the struggling new writers out there?

Even though things may look bleak today, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, they may be much brighter tomorrow.

That's great advice, David, and goes right along with the "perseverance" wisdom that Maurice Sendak shared with you.  Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us today!
I hope to be back in oceanside sometime soon myself!

Our guest author next weekend will be Nonfiction Children's Book, nonfiction magazine, and fiction MG writer Kathleen Reilly. She'll be sharing tips from the varired experience she's in multiple arenas of children's writing and publishing. See you all then!


Liz Hollar said...

Great advice to just keep moving (and hopefully forward).
Thanks for the great interview!

Janelle said...

It's so true, Liz. Sometimes forward motion and determination are the most important parts of the writing career, it seems.

Jenny said...

Great interview! David is always wonderfully giving with encouragement and wisdom. I highly recommend OCCBWW!

Linda A. said...

Keep these great interviews coming. Thanks so much for providing these. I am so impressed that you do two a week. Wow!