Hello, frogs and foxes!
You know, it’s not just anyone who can lure me out of my dark little crevice and make me blink into the light and shake the cobwebs off the blog.
But if anyone can do it, it would be this gentleman right here, one of my very first poetry pals, and just about the battiest bat I know.
David L. Harrison
I am telling you right now that this post is full of celebrations, Q&As, videos, and silliness, so we have no time to lose. But first things first…
I was astounded, befuddled, gobsmacked, and even in a twizzle when David wrote to me a few months ago to let me know that he’s currently celebrating his 50th anniversary of writing for children. That’s five decades … 2,600 weeks … 18,250 days, give or take a leap year … and approximately eleventy gazillion minutes of hammering out words for the young ‘uns. Color me impressed and slightly threatened.
So what does one do to celebrate such a stupendous achievement? A game of 20 questions, of course.
David, a forward-thinking and generous guy, was kind enough to answer my 15 questions before I even asked them — THAT’S how magnanimous he is.
I’d give you other examples of his cosmic kindheartedness, but I fear we’d never get through this post, and we really have so much to do, what with these 12 1/2 questions and all.
So without further ado, please give it up for David Harrison and these …
10 Questions for 50 Years of Writing
So. Fifty years is a lot. Are you going to share what sorcery is behind your success?
What happened was I got an empty jar from my mom and filled it with spiders and scorpions and centipedes under the house. And after that the rest of my life was much easier because I was grounded until I was twenty-one and then I got married and there went my collections. But everything turned out fine. I’ve now written stories and poems about spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. And I’ve depreciated the cost of the jar as a business expense, which probably was illegal since I never owned the jar. And I owe my success to being so well grounded.
When did you start writing?
I started out in this business when I was twenty-one years old, if you count the story I wrote in college that led to what I turned out to be. So to determine how long I’ve been a writer you just have to subtract 21 from my present age. I can’t do it for you because my wife won’t tell me how old I am and she doesn’t permit guessing. Isn’t that right, dearest? (I had to put that in because she might actually read this.)
What are the major influences, passions, tangents, and adventures that fueled and continue to fuel your writing?
Hmmm. I’d say my mother. My dad too. Learning the Gettysburg Address. Drawing pictures. Living in Arizona when I was small. Being fascinated with the universe. Living in a shack on a horse farm in Missouri. Getting bucked off a horse into a barbed wire fence. Uh, collecting insects. Catching snakes. Bringing home turtle shells and funny looking rocks and wings off dead birds and a bear skull from a cave. Reading a ton of books. Let’s see . . . playing trombone, learning taxidermy, pitching baseball. And of course being a parasitologist and a pharmacologist and a greeting card editor and running a business and sitting around in our back yard and . . . That’s about it, I guess.
What keeps you writing now?
Well, when you find pleasure in handling snakes, rescuing spiders from drowning in the pool, and stopping work to listen to crows, you can either go to the home or write nature stories for children.
Not to be indelicate, but everyone always wants to know about rejection. Do you have experience with this distasteful thing?
When I began submitting my work I was never rejected, if by rejection you mean did I have an organ transplant that my body didn’t accept. I was, however, dejected 67 times in a row before finally striking it rich with a sale to a small magazine that brought in a cool $5.07 before taxes.
Do I still get rejections? Absolutely. Rejections are honorable scars earned on the field of battle. You can’t get rejections if you don’t send out your work, and I send out a lot of work. But the quality of my rejections has improved immensely, from “You’ve got to be kidding!” to “You’ve got to be kidding, Mr. Harrison.”
What does a typical work day look like for you?
She says, “When are you going to quit writing?”
And I say, “I have forgotten how to quit writing.”
And she says, “Other people retire. Why won’t you retire?”
And I say, “I’ve forgotten why I should quit writing.”
And she says, “You’re making that up.”
And I say, “Ah-ha!”
Then I drift off to sleep at night thinking about what I’ll work on next morning. I get up early each day eager to get started. At the end of my work day I think about what I didn’t get done. Tell me the truth, do you think I need help? (I wasn’t talking to you, Sandy!)
What are you looking forward to now?
Book babies! Number 96 was released in May 2019. Numbers 97-100 are set for 2020 and number 101 will come out in 2021.
Is there hope for the rest of us mere mortals to achieve the same greatness?
Yes! All you need is the patience of a rock and the hide of a rhinoceros. Easy-peasy.
You know, they say the first fifty years are the hardest. That’s why I’m happy to have survived them. From here on everything will be easy. I can’t wait!
Thank you, David, for so kindly answering these 8 questions! I feel I understand you so much better now. You like bugs.
BUT WAIT! There is also the matter of BOOK #97! (You didn’t think I forgot, did you?)
That’s right, we have here David’s 97th book and it is a beaut! Just take a gander at this gorgeous cover of After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals, with luscious illustrations by Stephanie Laberis. I’m a sucker for raccoons and fireflies!
Published by WordSong, David’s latest tome is teeming with 21 animal poems, including the sweet yet ominous “Night Class.” Listen to David share his cautionary tale for skunks!
Now I hope David doesn’t mind if I share my personal favorite from the collection: “Owl Rules.” With advice for living like “never work for food” and “eat whatever,” how could I resist? This is one laid-back owl with a mischievous streak! (click to enlarge)
David had answers for me for After Dark as well, so here are …
4 Questions for Book 97 – After Dark
What’s the inspiration behind After Dark?
When I’m outside before the sun goes down, I enjoy the dark and feel comfortable in my chair by the lake, watching and listening to the sights and sounds of night. But when it’s already dark before I go out, somehow it makes a difference. I feel more like an uninvited stranger crashing a party. Everyone else knows one another and I don’t feel as welcome. From spring to fall my wife and I spend many nights by the lake behind our house, lingering after a late meal, watching it get dark, just being there, sometimes until midnight. I have a pair of night binoculars to help me see birds on the water, busy spiders at work on their webs, an occasional skunk or opossum or raccoon. We’ve been observing night life here for 30 years. But one night in 2015 a distant granddaughter of Charlotte spelled out in her web, “Itz tym.” Granted she wasn’t a good speller but I figured out her meaning and started taking notes. And here we are.
You’ve packed so many details and facts into these poems and your back matter! You either have amazing powers of observation OR you possess mad research skillz OR you are on a first-name basis with all the critters around Goose Lake. Which is it? And do you ever worry you’ll get something wrong?
Sometimes it’s hard to make sure you’re right. Back when I was a boy living in Egypt we used to believe that bees were the tears of our sun god RA. Man did we get that one wrong! In this case I relied partly on my own background, which includes two degrees in biology, a bunch of previous nonfiction books, and a lifetime of observing and writing about animals. Yes, there is wisdom to be discovered, if you’re very careful, on Google. And oh my yes there is a world of knowledge in the library. For kids who don’t know, a book is an object that needs no batteries, never needs to be charged, and to move ahead (or back) you simply turn from one page to the next.
But in this case I had the added advantage of having more than a dozen experts, on various creatures featured in the collection, looking over the manuscript and offering corrections, advice, and up-to-the-minute information not yet found anywhere else except in scientific journals and texts. This is one reason I’m so proud of this book. My hat is also off to the folks at Boyds Mills Press (now Boyds Mills & Kane) for going those extra miles to make certain our book is the best it can be for the young readers who will hold it in their hands.
Can you give us a behind-the-tree peek into your writing process for this book?
During the course of most days I hop around from one project to another, respond to dozens of e-mails, take a few bathroom breaks (I’m old after all), refill my water glass (which may be part of the problem), open the mail, shake my fist and mutter dark incantations when I get another rejection (Don’t they know who I am???), and check Facebook, my blog, and e-mail more or less constantly. Somewhere in there I need to settle into a groove that produces keepable results. For After Dark, I needed to be still for a while, think about the animal under my pen, remember images of previous encounters with it, and for a time swim, crawl, leap, or fly along as it went about its business during the dark hours. Miraculously (to me), I established a mood early on that I could find again when I needed to go there. Is the human mind cool or what?
I told you what my favorite poem in the book is. So what’s yours?
Oh, that’s easy! It would have to be the one about wolf cubs called “Rehearsal.” I like the way the last three lines of the final stanza turned out:
on your siblings.”
Unless it might be “Posted Property” about the cougar. These lines in the 3rd stanza are pretty scary. You have to be brave to write stuff like this.
a signpost, a warning–
where they should not be.”
Huh? Huh? Not bad huh? But you know what? The more I think about it, I have to go with the coyotes in “The Hunt Is On.” I mean, how can you top an opening stanza like this?
“Shhh, listen …
Hear that howling?
Out there in the dark?
Dogs don’t howl,
not like that.”
Does that make you shiver a little bit? It did me. So I’d have to go with that one. Rats. I forgot about “Mouth of Doom!” It’s about the enormous flathead catfish and I LOVE how it ends.
“his grim mouth opens wide
to swallow you down
his cavernous maw.”
Tell you what. Let me get back to you about this.
OK, fine. In the meantime…
Thanks for sharing your books, your poems, and your funny with us, David! I am now handing you back over to Sandy for care and watering so you can sprout more poems.
P.S. Check out the galleries below to see just a few of David’s 97 … that’s NINETY-SEVEN (and counting)! … marvelous books for children!
FIND OUT MORE
about David and his wonderful library of poetry for kids at his website: www.davidlharrison.com
And here’s the rest of the After Dark blog tour where you can learn more and enter giveaways!
See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems © David L. Harrison. All rights reserved.
Illustrations © Stephanie Laberis. All rights reserved.
Post content © 2020 Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.