Children’s book writers tell writing tales

A group of children’s book authors and illustrators came together to share their experiences in the field of writing during a panel discussion Thursday afternoon at USF. The event was presented by the childhood education department and moderated by Jenifer Schneider.

The authors who attended the event were Tom Birdseye, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Elizabeth Levy, Kevin O’Malley, Virginia Schomp and Joyce Carol Thomas. The authors spoke about details of the business and the difficulties they face in children’s book writing.

One of the frustrations they mentioned was the process of coming up with story ideas.

“I get frustrated with myself and think that I want to quit, and then I get right back at it,” Gilchrist said.

One of the fears Schomp mentioned was experiencing writer’s block before she begins a story.

“I’m always afraid that I’ve forgotten how to write,” Schomp said.

According to Birdseye, he struggled with his writing in school and had difficulty with his spelling skills. According to author Kevin O’Malley, other common frustrations for writers include receiving and dealing with rejection letters.

“I take rejection letters like receiving a badge,” O’Malley said.

The authors also spoke about how they come up with their ideas for stories and what inspires them. Thomas said she reads her stories to her grandchildren before she sends them to a publisher.

“I listen to what’s inside,” Thomas said. “I grew up in a large family where storytelling was entertainment. We didn’t have a television … so this was what you did when you wanted to have fun.”

According to some of the authors, another process that can at times be challenging is developing characters.

“It is difficult when I’m trying to create that character and trying to find that voice,” Birdseye said.

They gave insight about why they choose the genre of children’s writing.

“I started to become interested in writing children’s books because I read Where The Wild Things Are. It was so cool to see a kid in a wolf suit chasing his dog,” O’Malley said. “I do it for myself; it’s that trill of sitting down and coming up with an idea. That magic moment is when that kid is reading that book in the living room with his family. I do it for that moment.”

Senior Candice Wolff found the panel discussion helpful because she is pursuing children’s book writing.

“I really liked what Kevin had to say about wearing failure like a badge, and he seemed like a character right out of a book to me,” Wolff said. “My favorite quote that he said was, ‘Stay in the business of trying.'”

After the panel discussion, members of the audience were able to speak with the authors and get their books signed.

“The whole purpose of this (event) was so that people can relate and interact with the writers and help themselves if they are interested in writing,” Schneider said.