Let Me Set the Record Straight

Since publishing my recent post, titled “On Writing”, it has come to my attention that perhaps, while making fun of myself, I inadvertently made fun of the very difficult, and noble, art of children’s book writing.

That was obviously not my intention…..Far from it…..so, Let Me Set the Record Straight.

I love children’s books.‎…as much as you do.

In fact, I love them SO much, I wrote one.
And it took me years! And I got lots of help, and it cost me a lot of money.
It was very very hard….so, I now have a greater appreciation for children’s book authors.
‎I’m sorry my “On Writing” entry fell so far short of conveying that admiration.
If stupid wasn’t a bad word I’d use it on myself!

How much joy did I get from Pooh, the Berenstein Bears‎, Peter Rabbit? I bet I have read Mike Mulligan 500 times.
Imagine that ! If I could be any type of writer, if I could be a “best selling” author in any genre, it would be as a children’s book writer.
I hold A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl, and Beatrix Potter on a very high pedestal.

Raise your hand if you had a palpable fear for Peter Rabbit’s safety as he ran from Mr McGregor.
I spent thousands of dollars on my big roofed garden cage so that I wouldn’t ever have an impulse to “strangle” a rabbit with a rake.
I attribute my benevolent tolerance of rabbits to two books:
Watership Down, (by Richard Adams) and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Miss Potter.

How about Winnie the Pooh’s love for honey? I have jars of honey in almost every room in my house. ‎I consider those characters to be genuine childhood friends of mine…..my daughter shares her bed with a giant stuffed Winnie the Pooh.

Eyeore and Piglet and Owl calmed me down at night; they tucked me in.

I could go on and on….I don’t want to overstay my welcome.
Go read the wiki page that talks about the husband and wife team who wrote Curious George.
Margret’s name was not put on the book because Houghton Mifflin felt that‎ children’s literature was too dominated by women….so they went with her husband’s name only. (H.A. Rey)
I’m going to go home and add Margret’s name to all my Curious George books.

I’ll call it penance.

On Writing

All an aspiring author need do, to find inspiration, (or in my case, induce perspiration) is to read Poe, Tracy Kidder, or my current torturer: James Joyce……‎(my High School English teacher introduced me to Edgar, my sister introduced me to Tracy, and my mother inspired me to attempt Joyce)…..ten minutes into Joyce and I am once again reminded why I wrote a children’s book: “The Boy, The Farmer”….currently number 381,455 on Amazon’s Lest Seller List.

If these three artists don’t make an aspiring writer run screaming straight to the children’s section, you are either delusional, or a really good writer…..
‎(or, as is often the case, both).

‎After a boat ride down the Mississippi with Tom and Huck , I typically head to the couch for a session with Doctor Suess…….Twain tweaks all my hopes and dreams of becoming an author, and I always find comfort inside the pages of Cat in The Hat, or if I’m really red with writer envy, Go Dog Go and black raspberry ice cream makes me feel better

I dare you: go read the opening sentences to “The Black Cat” or Kidder’s “Strength in What Remains” and you’ll see why I shredded my book “Ebenezer Mudgett and the Pine Tree Riot”. ‎….better to keep your mouth shut and let people assume you’re an idiot than to open it and remove all doubt. (Twain)

So I muzzled Mudgett.

Poe’s prose is what all other prose should be measured against; although not fair, it would save so much time and paper if more budding authors were to test themselves against Poe’s pen:

“For the most wild yet homely narrative for which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed were I to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence…..My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events”.

Huh? Are you kidding me? Reading Poe’s words make me imagine his head as a dimly lit attic filled with cobweb-covered rockers and gradmother’s fox shawl. I can smell the depressed hope chests and hear the creaking floorboards as Poe’s words swirl through my head. He is the best arranger of words, and spinner of yarns, the world has ever known.

His Black Cat story is scary….not only because he savagely kills his wife and buries the cat alive, but because he scares the already frightened little author in me right under the blankets.

And of course there’s Mark Twain. He used words like Dali used a brush …..Twain once remarked: “the difference between the right word, and the almost right word, is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug”.

Twain inspired me to read more…..but, he confirmed my mediocrity that had been stirred up by Poe.

And , alas, there’s Emily Dickinson.
We holed up in her Amherst attic for years; me begging her to let me name her poems, she telling me to not stop reading.
“Because I could not stop for death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality”

Yes, I’m grateful for all the dreamy moments Emily gave me…..but I am also mad at her for waxing SO majestically that my dozen poems were given grades no greater than C+ ‎, and were typically accompanied by words like: “getting better Jeffrey! Next time don’t forget to count your syllables!”

That Damn Emily Dickinson!

And then, I found Tracy Kidder, as Lesley announced that his “Mountains Beyond Mountains” would be required reading for anyone expecting to sleep over at the farm.

‎Tracy is a master researcher and story reporter.

He makes sure you leave the Mountains loving Dr Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl. (real life characters who lived the tale in obscurity, until Tracy brings them, and their tales, to life)

His subject matter is deep and powerful to begin with, but his perspectives are, his picture painting is, profound.

Ultimately, my final nudge to the childrens’ book section was the reading (and weeping) of ‎Kidder’s tutorial on writing: “Good Prose”‎…..wow! there’s SO much i’ll never be good at, thanks for add ing to the list Tracy!

But then I said to myself: “Jeff! Snap out of it. You’re a darn good writer, and somewhere out there is an audience waiting to read what you have to say!”

So I decided to hold a retreat, a writers’ workshop, to explore my dream of writing a book. I decided to consult my childhood friends because, afterall, who would better understand you than the characters you grew up with.

‎We all gathered around a campfire in 100 Acre Wood and I asked each of my friends what type of book I should write.

Who was there?

Mike Mulligan, and Mary Ann
George and his friend, The Man with the Yellow Hat.
Sal
The Cat
The Onceler (he spoke for the trees as well)
Peter Rabbit
Tigger
Piglet
Some of the Berenstein Bears even showed up‎.

But….the icing on the cake, the honey in the pot, was the unexpected visit by my old friend Winnie.
He asked the Main Branch of the New York Public Library if he could skip across the pond to attend my writers’ workshop‎; they got in touch with the late Christopher Robin Milne, who said it was ok.

‎Surprise surprise, they all inspired me to write a children’s book. I decided there isn’t any shame in writing for an audience who might drool, vomit or chew on your book….just make the pages more durable!

Think about it. Kids’ books are easier to write, funner to read, and when people see you after reading yours they say things like “what a sweet story” and “I loved your book, I read it on the elevator the other day”.

Low bar. No pressure.

One last bit, before I have to get out of bed and make breakfast for the kids (it’s almost noon?!)

Let me relay a ‎conversation I had at the mallish bookstore last month, in an effort to show you what type of reader I have become…..

I approach the round INFORMATION island and address the bookarian: “Excuse me ma’am? Can you point me to the coffee table book section?”

Not making eye contact, smirk locked in place, she replies: “What type of pictures are you looking for?”

I suffer her disdain, having grown accustomed to it since my 7th concussion sent me to the magazine rack…..”Oh, I typically know it when I see it.

Barn books, World War Two books….perhaps something about Kings, or maybe the Medici’s?

“Ok, I understand sir. You’re what we call a KISS reader here at Scribble Booksellers. Keep it simple and stupid”
I smirk back at her.

I get in line behind the snooty little school marm with her cool employee badge hanging around her neck like some kiddy-pool lifeguard’s whistle and we make the long walk….down through the school grades….
It feels like the proverbial “walk of shame” as the smart people with attention abundance ‎disorder step back and make a path for me. I can hear the whispers….”he’s a picture book reader”, and “I bet he has a coffee table in every room”…..

So , we finally arrive at the “simple and stupid” books …stacked high next to the umbrellas and reading lamps.

‎I am what I am. My coffee table books are stacked so high we use them as chairs when guests come over.
And I love kids’ books, kids’ movies, and kids’ menus.

And,

That’s why I am now, officially, a published children’s book author. Thanks to Edgar, Emily, and Tracy. …..and to all my wrinkled , dog eared, torn and tattered friends in the 100 Acre Wood.