WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
Sometimes I want to join every kidlit Facebook group there is because I meet the best people in them – like our guest today. Barry and I are both members of Susanna Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic alumni Facebook group. He’s a cracker-jack writer – I love his sometimes bluesy, sometimes power-punching, all the time awesome free verse writing style…and if you’ve read any of his fabulous books, I know you’ll love it also.
ME: Welcome, Barry! Thank you for stopping to chat at Picture Books Help Kids Soar. My blog name is actually perfect for your newest picture book, A PLACE TO LAND: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. AND THE SPEECH THAT INSPIRED A NATION. So, let me ask you:
What inspired you to write this story? (other than MLK himself )
BARRY: It was never my goal to write about Dr. King. I knew there were at least one-hundred books in children’s literature about his life, the March on Washington and the civil rights movement. What could I add? Then I became aware of a story of exactly how the “I Have a Dream” speech was written. I knew very little about the March. So, I dug deeper by reading “Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation” by his advisor and attorney, Dr. Clarence B. Jones. It soon became obvious to me that this story needed to be told.
ME: Without an agent, how did you connect with editor Neal Porter?
BARRY: I attended the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles 2016. I had been a member for a few years, but never attended either national conference in NY or LA. There, I sat in on Neal’s breakout session. He discussed a book he had published, The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper. That book consists of two, long lyrical sentences. A little light bulb went on in my head. An out-of-the-box thinker! My kind of dude! Once I returned to New York, the second manuscript I sent Neal was “A Place to Land.” He immediately showed great interest, and soon signed it. Being able to submit to editors who don’t usually accept un-agented manuscripts is a great plus to attending any of the SCBWI conferences.
ME: How did you feel when you learned that Jerry Pickney had been tagged as the illustrator?
BARRY: You can imagine! I’m still speechless about Jerry agreeing to illustrate the manuscript. The entire experience was a perfect storm. Having Neal sign it, getting Jerry interested, it’s still pretty unbelievable.
ME: Did you always want to write children’s literature?
BARRY: No. Never did. But I was always creative, and knew that I needed to pursue some creative endeavor. I play piano, wrote and pitched pop songs for a decade, did digital retouching and audio interviews for a photojournalist, wrote poetry, wrote some sports articles for Major League Baseball, took many online writing classes on memoir, greeting cards (!) creative nonfiction and picture books, and more. I tried it all. Finally, had my first book, “Waiting for Pumpsie” signed by Charlesbridge in 2015. I was 61.
ME: Why do you prefer to write nonfiction?
BARRY: A few things. I’m a news junkie at heart. Always loved documentaries, even worked at CBS News for a year when I wore a younger man’s clothes. But being a father – and also being in the classroom as a substitute teacher – taught me that stories which were important to me growing up have to be told and retold to each generation in order to survive. School does that, of course. But even schools need to grow and be fed new information, and be reminded of hidden histories of underreported events and people who helped shape the country and the world. Plus, I get a kick out of research and finding those “diamonds.”
ME: What’s next?
BARRY: I have an historic fiction picture book, “Oscar’s American Dream” that Schwartz & Wade will release late in 2020. Plus, I just signed a narrative nonfiction book with Boyds Mills & Kane. When I get to ten books, I’ll move to Arizona and take up golf. I jest.
ME: Thank you so much, Barry! This has been awesome and awe-inspiring. I, too, love digging deep to uncover that hidden gem of a story. And every time a ‘mature’ writer has success, we are all jumping for joy! I can remember when I first started writing in 2012, they were still advising us not to share our age – the editors might not want to buy our books. HOGWASH! If we write a great story – and don’t give up – someone is going to buy it.
To find out more about Barry and his fabulous books:
- Buy their books
- Review their books
- Tell a friend about their books
- Ask a local library to add their books to the collection
Also, if you’d like a chance to win a copy of Barry’s new book (and who wouldn’t!), don’t forget to leave a comment.
Happy Labor Day weekend, folks!