Susan Blackaby attended the Kidlitosphere Blogging Conference in 2008. That’s when we met. We have seen each other at various functions in the Portland area since that time. The Portland Kidlit group has kept up our meet-ups, been at a variety of signings and SCBWI.
Sometimes I have to be hit over the head with a 2 by 4. Last Saturday, SCBWI hosted the Spring Gala for authors and illustrators in the Portland area. Susan was there to talk about her new book of poetry, Nest, Nook and Cranny. B-O-N-K! (That’s the sound of the 2×4 hitting my head). I finally put together that this Susan was the same Susan, author of several nonfiction books about plants in the school library.
And here is someone who talked about “needing a permit, how people think you need a permit to write poetry…” I can so relate to that.
Nest, Nook and Cranny is a delightful collection of poems about the many homes that animals make for themselves. Blackaby begins with a definition of habitat, describes her habitat ( including a little hut she goes to for quiet in her garden) , and asks “what’s yours?” The book is broken up into habitats: desert, grassland, shoreline, wetland, woodland with a further definition of them in the back.
Susan was gracious enough to answer interview questions for me. Enjoy.
JRM: I noticed that this is your first poetry book. Why did you wait so long?
SB: Well, partly because it turns out you get to write lots and LOTS of poems before you get a happy sheaf of pages that actually work together in some fashion ONLY to find out that poetry is pretty much anathema to publishers even when you find an editor who likes poetry and, more to the point, likes YOUR poetry, which takes some doing, too. All writers make good waiters; not all waiters make good writers.
JRM: What’s next for you?
SB: I have another picture book coming out in 2011, and I’m writing, you know, “other stuff.” That’s just a working title.
JRM: What books are on your night stand?
SB: Our Life in Gardens by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Pictorial Websters by John Carrera
The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
The New Yorker (various)
JRM: Ooh, there’s some new titles for me to research. What does a day of work look like for you?
SB: I’m terrible about sticking to a routine. This makes me sound undisciplined even though I’m not. As a freelancer, I often have writing deadlines that need attention and require some measure of creative energy. My own writing world is often compromised by the vagaries and necessities of my work writing world. Cest la vie. On a good day, I manage to juggle.
JRM: Favorite time of day?
SB: 4 o’clock, outside.
JRM: AM or PM?
JRM: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
SB: To me that’s like asking “Do you want to wear shoes or a hat?” Shoes, but not on my head; a hat, but not on my feet. For the first draft, there is a lot of legwork involved, heavy lifting, miles of rough terrain. So in that case I’d go with the shoes. Revising is more of a hat thing.
JRM: When did you know you wanted to write?
SB: Back in the 80s. That was kind of a weird time. Actually I always liked writing a lot, but it took a while before it occurred to me that I could make a living at it.
JRM: If you were not a writer what job would you like to have?
SB: I’d be a curator in an art museum. Or a surfer.
JRM: Where do you find inspiration?
SB: I know that writers are supposed to observe and eavesdrop and pad around the edges of things taking notes, but I rely on more interaction than that. And then really, I just step off the porch.
JRM: What are some jobs you have had along the way that have helped you in your writing?
SB: I’ve spent lots of years writing and editing for the educational marketplace, and obviously that boost has been huge—especially since the narrow specifications and rigid guidelines force you to focus on the craft of writing. Otherwise I had a weaving studio and I milked goats, and neither of those jobs were especially helpful except for introducing me to a host of characters and their stories.
JRM: What advice do you have for would be writers?
SB: Be patient. Be a waiter. Know when to wear shoes. Marry someone with health insurance and a 401K.
JRM: What book do you wish you had written/illustrated?
SB: Lottie’s New Beach Towel by Petra Mathers because of its exquisite charm. Or, for sheer greedy volume and the assumption that I’d be able to cook (which I can’t), The Joy of Cooking except for the meat section and game section, though I love the fact that Irma Rombauer recommends serving poached muskrat with creamed celery.
JRM: Not sold on the poached muskrat with creamed celery! Whom would you most like to meet?
SB: Quentin Tarantino, but only by chance.
JRM: What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult?
SB: Child: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey Teen: The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers Adult: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
JRM: Peace Like a River is one I wanted to read. Any particular genre stand out?
SB: Quirky realistic fiction. Bears optional.
JRM:Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?
SB: Dark. With a side of potato chips.
JRM: You would probably like the dark chocolate sea salt cashews, then. Coffee or tea?
SB: Strong, milky black tea
JRM: Dance funky chicken or the tango?
SB: No dancing. No no no. Though I’ve been known to boogaloo down Broadway.
Thanks, Susan for stopping by today. I have to tell you Here are two short samples:
~from the Desert:
From cool crannies
To catnap in the sun,
Making themselves at home on slabs
~from the Woodland:
Wing-wrapped bats hang
Like fur bangles
In dank, dark cave
Jamie Hogan’s line drawings of pastels and charcoal add to the poems. Susan gives us a bonus section in the back by sharing where her ideas for the poems came from, the form used for the poem (if there was one). The bat poem is new to me: a Burmese form called a than-bauk. Than-bauk has “three lines of four syllables with a built-in climbing rhyme.” She said she cheated on this one a bit. (Get the book and find out how).
I think I will be trying some of the forms, thanks to Susan and Nest, Nook and Cranny.
Still time to get a postcard. Email me.