Sunday, September 21, 2008

One Writer's Process: Michelle Edwards

It was at summer camp in Vermont that award-winning picture book author and illustrator Michelle Edwards first began thinking about making books.

Not just any kind of books.

Hand-made books.

"At Camp Hochelaga we had a book-making tradition," recalls Edwards. "Every summer the oldest group of girls hand-made a book called the Log. My last summer at Camp Hochelaga, I was the Log editor."

That first book, hand-illustrated and hand-written, revealed to Edwards just how much pleasure she took in sharing the process with others.

And she still feels that same tingling sense of joy each time she brings a new book into the world, whether it's one of her award-winning picture books like Chicken Man or Papa's Latkes, or a new title in her popular Jackson Friends series.

Edwards, who lives in Iowa City, IA, was kind enough to take a break from her work on picture books and a middle-grade reader--and from the knitting that she loves to do when she's not at her desk--to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.

Wordswimmer: If writing is like do you get into the water each day?

Edwards: Coffee. Strong. Sometimes I read a bit before I dive in. A lot of times I sit in an ancient green barcalounger and write and draw on newsprint pads. If I am reading a work for a specific reason--the only reason I read in my studio--then I take notes on index cards.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat... for short work? For longer work?

Edwards: What keeps me afloat always is holding on to a particular heartbeat of the story. I keep it in my pocket like Little Brute kept the wandering good feeling. Often, when I am swimming laps (in the pool) or walking in the woods near my home, I am doing work, thinking about plot and characters.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Edwards: Reading. Looking at art. Knitting.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Edwards: When it isn't going well, I get this very uncomfortable feeling. Like wearing jeans that are too tight. Usually there's this inner voice cheering me on. But sometimes it gets cranky or worried. Then, I get worried, too.

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Edwards: By thinking of the alternative. I just can't imagine not creating. Not seeing a story through. The characters just eat at me whether I'm ready to write about them or not. And sitting in my chair and working until there's a breakthrough of sorts. Paying attention and proceeding with confidence are my new mantras.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

Edwards: When the story or picture is right and you just know it. That's a great feeling. It doesn't always last, but sometimes you just know you've hit it.

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