Ann Whitford Paul became inspired to write after years of bedtime reading to her own children. She has published nineteen books, including fiction and non-fiction, rhymed and unrhymed, early readers, a collection of poetry and an adult book ‘Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication’.
For what age audience do you write?
While I write primarily for the picture book audience, I have two stories that need to be told in a longer format, so am working on middle-grade novels. It’s a whole new way of writing, and I struggle, and sometimes enjoy, the process.
Tell us about your latest book.
One of my latest published books, ‘Word Builder’, is directed at elementary age students who are just beginning to write. It was originally a poem in a collection titled ‘Wonderful Words’ by Lee Bennett Hopkins. An editor thought it would make a great picture book. Talk about concise. It’s only 88 words.
This Christmas I’ll have a new book out titled ‘Twas the Late Night of Christmas’ – a retelling of the famous poem especially for exhausted parents. It is illustrated by the talented Nancy Hayashi.
Henry: 88 words!? Happily, picture book writers are not paid by the word. 🙂
What do you hope readers will get from reading ‘Word Builder’?
I hope they’ll learn that writing is not unlike construction work, writing one letter at a time, combining them into words, pounding words into sentences, stacking sentences into paragraphs, etc. I hope thinking about writing in that way will make it less scary.
Henry: I’m reminded of the old saying. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Easily first drafts. It’s so painful for me to get that down and it invariably is nothing like the idea I had in my mind. Unfortunately it’s only when I get it down that I can do the fun part of revising and shaping it into something I’m proud of.
Henry: Ditto for me. Revisions are easier than first drafts. That said, I can do a first draft on my own, while I find the involvement of critique group members invaluable to my revision process.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from being a writer is not to expect perfection right away, and that hard work pays off. I’d also add that talent is important, but not everything. More critical is your willingness to revise and to be persistent.
Henry: Indeed, I’ve heard that before. Successful writers must have strong craft and a strong work ethic.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Recently I visited a kindergarten classroom and met an autistic boy who loves my book ‘Manana Iguana’. He reads it many times a day, and keeps a copy in his classroom, one at his after-school center and one at home. I was so touched I sent him the rest of the books in the series.
Henry: Lovely story.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read lots and write more. It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill, and I believe it. Keep on writing and ignore people who don’t support you in your dream.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Gustave Flaubert
“Is there any prettier sight in the world than the sight of someone sticking their neck out?” Ursula Nordstrom
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
None that I know of, but perhaps you should ask my husband that question.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Perhaps I’d like to be invisible. Then I could listen to conversations (only related to understanding character better) and apply those quirks and mannerisms to my books.
Henry: Ah, the old “fly on the wall” ploy. And you could indulge your childhood fantasy to be a CIA agent…
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Jane Austen because I love her books—such strong characters and such well-constructed and well thought-out sentences. The letters she has her characters write are as close to perfection as I know. Also appreciate her caustic humor. Margaret Wise Brown because of her lyrical picture books that capture not only the essences of childhood, but the cares and concerns of preschoolers. And just to liven things up a bit, I’d add F. Scott Fitzgerald who I’m sure would have too much to drink and say lots of things that would shock the ladies.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Peter Rabbit because he is curious and independent and then learns a very important lesson – listen to your parents! I visited Beatrix Potter’s home in England and the garden looked exactly like Mr. McGreggor’s.
Henry: Art imitating life.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Like many writers, I’m an introverted person. I enjoy peaceful moments, knitting, sewing, cooking. I also love listening to my cat purr, watching spiders spin webs and snails paint their trails.
Henry: Spiders spinning and painting snails! Very poetic, and you have far more patience than I.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I don’t want a tombstone to be remembered. To live is enough for me.
Where can readers find your work?
Libraries, bookstores and soon in e-books. You can sign up for my email newsletter on my website. It comes out only about once a month if I’m good and more likely once every two months—filled with thoughts about writing, suggestions of books and upcoming workshops.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.