Aspiring writers turn out for children’s-book workshop

By Doug Snover

In the world of children’s books, fantasy rules.

Judging by the crowd at Changing Hands bookstore for a panel discussion on How to Write A Children’s Book, a popular fantasy among women writers is to become the next J.K. Rowling.

Rowling, of course, is the author of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter books. She has become one of the world’s richest women writing things like this:

All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled black umbrella.

Rowling’s success has changed the world of children’s books.

“As far as novels go, it’s absolutely fantasy. Every publisher is jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon.  Fantasy is huge,” Faith Hochhalter, children’s book specialist at Changing Hands Bookstore told about 90 prospective writers and illustrators.

The hardest part of becoming an author or illustrator is just getting started, according to Lynn Avril Cravath, an Ahwatukee resident who has illustrated numerous children’s books.

“Once you get going, it takes on a life of its own,” she said.

Don’t let rejection blunt your ambition, added Stephenie Meyer.

“For me, the hardest part is being brave enough to accept the fact that you are going to get rejections. It’s just a matter of being brave enough and believing in yourself and going ahead even if you’re terrified.”

Good things can happen, Meyer knows. Her first book, “Twilight,” will be published later this year, and already has been snapped up for a possible movie.

“In June, I hadn’t written a book.  I was a stay-at-home mom with three kids,” she said. “By November, I still was a stay-at-home mom but I had a book and a possible movie deal.”

“Twilight” is a teenage vampire love story. The heroine, Isabella Swan, falls in love with an alluring vampire, “forcing her to decide if she, too, wishes to become one of the undead,” according to publicity from the MTV Films, which acquired the movie rights.

“This is a love story with a bite,” its publisher, Little, Brown and Co., says.

Meyer told the prospective writers that the book took only three months to write after the idea came to her in a dream.

Books for smaller children sometimes get their inspiration from more real-life circumstances, according to Cravath, the illustrator.

She recently finished illustrating a book called “Amazing You” that teaches children about their bodies, especially their “private parts.” Her next work is for a book titled, “Oh, No. Gotta Go Number Two,” which should be self-explanatory to any parent.

A good picture book may have only enough words to fill a page or two, Cravath noted. “Picture book writing is a bare-bones form of writing,” she said.

Cravath said she started in the picture book business with only a portfolio of birth announcements she’d drawn for friends and family.

On the subject of rejection, Cravath acknowledged that rejection letters are an inevitable part of any writer’s life. “Don’t get hurt. Learn from it,” she advised.

Many rejection letters are just form letters, Meyer noted Occasionally, however, an editor will take the time to explain why he or she didn’t like your book.

“I got a few that had feedback, and it was not happy feedback,” she said.

Meyer, Cravath and Deborah Sussman Susser, a former editor at Scholastic magazine, passed along helpful hints and words of encouragement when dealing with publishers, editors and agents. Most of the people in the audience were women.  Many took notes.

“The people who I know who are successful (at getting published) are the ones who very methodical about it,” Sussman Susser reported.

“If you so something really well, it’ll find a home,” she said.

Her best advice, according to Sussman Susser, is to “revise, revise, revise.”

Meyer urged would-be writers to “finish what you’re doing; get it finished.”

Cravath suggested being “very methodical about sending your stuff out” to publishers.

And, of course, “draw, draw, draw.”