Helaine Becker is an award-winning writer of books for children. She has written over 50 books, including the best-selling picture book, ‘A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, the ‘Looney Bay All-Stars’ series; popular non-fiction, including ‘Magic Up Your Sleeve’, ‘Secret Agent Y.O.U.’ and ‘The Quiz Book for Girls’; and young adult novels including ‘Trouble in the Hills’ and ‘How to Survive Absolutely Anything’.
She also writes for children’s magazines and for kids television. She has written three seasons of Dr. Greeny’s Mad Lab, a segment on Planet Echo, an environmental science show airing on APTN , and is hard at work on several other TV projects.
For what age audience do you write?
I write everything from picture books to young adult novels. Fiction and nonfiction. Prose and verse.
Henry: Helaine also is a trained surgeon, master chef, constitutional law attorney, and astronaut.
Tell us about your latest book.
‘Little Jack Horner, Live from the Corner’ is a humorous picture book that riffs on Old MacDonald, Bingo the Dog, and lots of popular nursery rhymes. It’s fun for kids to try and find their favorite characters in the illustrations (by Mike Boldt), and try to figure out where all the animals on Old MacDonald’s Farm have disappeared to.
Coming out shortly is a nonfiction book called ‘Zoobots’ (Kids Can Press) that describes recent innovations in the field of robotics. Animal-inspired robots, like bat bots and octopus bots are coming…and they are both cool and creepy.
Henry: Great minds think alike. I’ve rewritten nursery rhymes, substituting mythological creatures for the human characters.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Lots of belly laughs! I’m all about having fun.
Henry: I tweet with Helaine, and can confirm that she is a barrel full of fun.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The sitting down and working part. Because writing IS work, no matter how tra-la it might look from the outside. And since I’m like most people, I really like to avoid hard work. But if you don’t follow that old rule for writing success, BIC (Butt in Chair), you don’t eat. I find hunger to be both bracing and motivating.
Henry: In short: tra-la = hungry, BIC = full belly. Got it.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Persistence and resilience are more important qualities in life than talent. No matter what we strive for, we always have two choices – quit, or forge ahead. The first guarantees failure. The second can feel like failure, but it isn’t. I prefer to think of it as victory in slow motion. The ability to keep going when you’d rather walk away and blame someone else for your woes is what sets apart those who succeed from the rest of us.
Henry: I have this mental image of reaching the summit of a hill (success) by gradually building a ramp made of failures or rejections.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Well meeting you, of course. Certainly the most thrilling experiences involved traveling to remote and unexpected places. I didn’t realize, when I started writing for children, that speaking to kids in schools was such a big part of the job. I speak to kids at up to 100 schools a year, and these schools have been in some incredible places. Peru. Nunavut, north of the Arctic Circle (We ate raw caribou there). And southern California. (heaven for a resident of Canada!)
Henry: I’m torn between being flattered at the compliment and horrified at the thought of caribou sushi…
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Get involved in writers’ organizations. Meet other writers and form a critique group. Get on line and follow writers, publishers and agents on twitter; read their blogs, subscribe to their newsletters. Writing is a business and you have to learn the business. And be prepared to work harder than you ever have before, and be greatly humbled. The best writers can take it when someone tells them their manuscript needs work, and they will revise and rip out entire chapters over and over again before they get it right. Everyone needs editing. Welcome criticism – it is your bestest friend. The writing world is no place for wussies.
Henry: I met Helaine at a critique group. BTW, is “bestest” a word? 🙂
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Dinner is served.”
Henry: You complete me.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
That’s kind of a creepy question. No. I sit down. I write until my ass falls asleep. Then I stop for the day. Save (NEVER FORGET TO SAVE!!!!), and repeat.
Henry: Some writers strive to get their creative juices flowing. But, you write until your gluteal circulation stops flowing. Interesting.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Just one? How lame is that? I am a woman, so I already possess the incredible super power of being able to find food in the fridge. I can also removed trapped sparrows from a wood stove and drink coffee with one hand. If I had one MORE super power, it would be to persuade people to do my bidding. Without having to yell at them first.
Henry: You’re the first interviewee to wish for mind control. Upon reflection, I think it is one of the best, because it indirectly gives you everyone else’s powers. Well played, sir.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I’ve always thought Mark Twain would be a hoot. Judy Blume. And maybe Homer, coz I’d like to know if he was really blind.
Henry: The greek poet Homer or Homer Simpson?
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The Golem, a character from Jewish legend. I saw a movie of this story as a kid and it always stuck with me. So much so, that I’ve written a version of the story set in the future. It’s called Gottika, and is scheduled for publication in 2014. I’m very excited about it.
Henry: We look forward to seeing it.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I am known for spending much time lying around drinking coffee and reading. I like to travel. Drink wine with friends on the deck. Tell bad jokes. Rant, when ranting is required. You know, the usual.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
She’s not actually down there, we’re just joking. Or maybe “She forgot to hit SAVE.”
Where can readers find your work?
Everywhere! I’ve written 57 books; most are still in print and you can find them readily on Amazon/Goodreads/Chapters-Indigo/etc. Or at my website. Or your local indy bookstore!
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.