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Local Author Profiles: Judy Schachner and David Wiesner

David WiesnerDavid WiesnerDavid Wiesner

When did you decide to become a children’s book author?
I grew up in suburban New Jersey drawing and painting. I realized pretty early on that I liked to tell stories with pictures. I found the narrative aspect of it very appealing. As a kid, I read countless comic books and watched old movies, and it came into focus when I went to art school. I began to feel books were the form in which I wanted to do my art. I knew I didn’t want to do comic books -- that world at the time seemed to stop at 14-year-old boys – and picture books felt like the right place.

How is telling stories with pictures different than with words?
It’s mostly in the reading — the reader is telling the story rather than the author. It’s a different kind of experience. The story has more ambiguity to it, and I like that each reader can bring new things to it.

Where do your ideas come from?
Everything starts in a sketchbook. I draw out all the pages and sketch it out. It’s fun to rough out the story, and I can tell pretty quickly whether text will be one of the tools I use. I almost always begin with a visual image, a recurring thematic idea, something strange and magical that can be around the corner. I do lots of doodles, and try and find out the story behind them. I come up with visual stories: who is the character? They reveal themselves to me. There always comes a point where suddenly I realize, ‘oh, that’s what this is all about.’

With your love of comic books as a child, have you ever thought of getting into the graphic novel market?
I am seriously exploring the possibility. It would be fun to work in a collaborative way with another artist on this. It’s a totally involving thing; but I don’t want to spend seven or eight years on it. It’s hard enough doing a picture book; it was five years between my last two books.

Do you have any advice to others wanting to pursue a career in the highly competitive children’s book market?

Do the work that is really personal, that interests you — not what you think others want, or what the market wants. The truly personal work is what will probably resonate most.

 Judy SchachnerJudy SchachnerJudy Schachner

When did you decide to become a children’s book author?
I decided when I was in college and aware of all kinds of illustrations. At the time, it was only about the art. I never considered myself a writer and didn’t do well in it in high school.
After college, I went to Houghton Mifflin because it was mainstream illustration, and then took a job in a greeting card factory until I met my husband. It wasn’t until I met him that I could take the time to develop a portfolio, which I started in 1979 – and didn’t finish until 1990.
After reading so many children’s books, I knew I needed to pursue it. I gave myself a year to put the portfolio together, then I called publishing houses. For those that would take an interview, I made a date and visited in one day. I found a publisher, Crown, who encouraged me to write, and I taught myself how to write quickly.
I went to the library, took out a book I liked and listened to the rhythm. I read it fifty times out loud until I had the same kind of rhythm.

How is writing a picture book different than one using all text?
You don’t need a lot of describing words; you have pictures and images. I usually overwrite, and you have to slice and dice and remove so much of it. You have to put your ego away and read it out loud. You see what is necessary. Picture books are much like constructing a poem, trying to be spare and go to the heart of the action. Reading well-constructed children’s books is the best teacher — and having the mind of a child, which I think do.

Skippyjon Jones seems to have really resonated with kids. Why do you think he’s so popular?

Kids identify with his imagination. They love the idea that he goes into his closet to make up characters and they compare themselves with him. They also identify with Skippy’s naughtiness. They identify with Mama Junebug trying to make him do some thinking, and even when he’s naughty, his mother still loves him so much.

Do you have any advice to others wanting to pursue a career in the highly competitive children’s book market?
Make personal connections; go to conferences. As an illustrator, some publishers will see you in person, and that is a really good thing to do. Join The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). I’m not a joiner, and that is the one group that inspired me.

Can you offer any advice to the many creative writers who are trying to juggle work and family, yet want to do creative writing?
Try not put stress on yourself. Even if you wrote a sentence a day, just sit down and write. If you promise yourself a little bit, you’ll probably get more. Fill journals if you’re not verbal. Emerson said a journal should be savings bank of the mind. If you deposit something every day (a scene, texture, space, sentence from a magazine) those things add up.

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