Q&A: David Elliott

Author David Elliott
photo by Michael Seamens

There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers.  This month's interview is with David Elliott who has been a friend of the NH Center for the Book for many years.

If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
This is a bit difficult since it depends so much on who the someone is, a child or an adult. If it’s an eight-year-old boy, I might say The Transmogrification of Roscoe Wizzle. If it’s a ten-year-old girl, I’d say have a go at Evangeline Mudd and the Golden-haired Apes of the Ikkinasti Jungle. If adults and kids are reading together, I might suggest any of the poetry picture books with art by the late and fabulous Holly Meade, On the Farm, In the Wild or In the Sea.I do have one novella for adults, The Tiger’s Back. In it, a widower looks out the window of his Vermont home and sees a tiger lounging in his prized roses.

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I’m not trying to be coy, but it’s difficult for me to know what this means, really. Every piece, whether it’s a picture book, an easy reader or a novel seems to require something new. Of course, there is all the craft that a writer must have under his belt, the ability to put a beautiful sentence together (or even an ugly one if the text requires it), for example. But does a plumber think of herself as a plumber? I don’t know. Right now, I’m thinking of one of my favorite quotes about writing. It’s from Octavia Butler, an African-American woman, known mostly for her science fiction. (If you haven’t read Kindred, you’re missing out.)  “Habit is more important than inspiration.” I also love this quote which is from Thomas Mann, I think. “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”I guess the only time I feel like a writer is when I’m writing.

How did you end up living in NH?
Fourteen years ago, we were living in Columbus, OH. I saw a teaching job at a local college, applied on a lark, and well, you know how larks can turn out. When I came for the interview, I remember thinking, “Wow! There are A LOT of trees here.” But I’ve found that in spite of the black flies, mud season, power outages, and all the rest of it the state gets into your blood, its beauty, its quirkiness. It would be difficult to ever think of leaving.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
I garden. I read. I go to the movies. I think about writing. I still daydream quite a bit. Quite a bit.All the time, really, if I’m honest.

What’s the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
 Here’s some advice I share with my students. (I now teach in Lesley University’s Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.) It was given to me years ago, long before I knew that I would have a career as a writer, but it’s very, very good advice for a writer to hear. Whenever you are criticized, accept it as absolutely true. For 24 hours.
I always try to keep in mind, too, what my wonderful editor at Candlewick said to me. This was perhaps ten years ago. She was reading my manuscript and chuckling, and with each chuckle, my ego swelled. “Oh,” she said, putting the manuscript down at last. “This must have been so much fun to write.” She paused and then added, “Possibly not so much fun to read.” Ouch! But what she was really saying is that the writer must get out of his own way. When the writer’s ego is present in the work, it’s usually a failure.A tough lesson to learn, but invaluable. Nothing is worse than a book in which the author keeps announcing how clever or how virtuosic he is.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
Oh, so many. I love Dickens, especially Bleak House and Great Expectations. I also love My Antonia and sometime soon will make a pilgrimage to Willa Cather’s grave in Jaffrey. My taste is old fashioned. Though I know it is very passé of me to say so, I do like a book with a plot.  I love any book that makes me laugh. I love any book that makes me forget who I am when I’m reading it, but which has made me feel more myself when I’m finished. I love good non-fiction. Reading a good book is the closest thing I can think of to being a child again, to playing in that way when you completely lose yourself.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just stopped teaching at that local college that brought us to NH, so for the first time in fourteen years, I feel like I have the time I need to work on something longer. (Currently, I have six new picture books in various stages of publication.) Many years ago, I had a play produced in Boston, a musical for which I wrote the book and the lyrics. Recently, I have a revived interest in writing for the stage and am working on some very short plays. For younger people, I have several projects going, including a verse retelling of one of the Greek myths and a middle grade adventure trilogy.

What do you want to share that I neglected to ask about?
The world of publishing is difficult, not always a meritocracy, and just at the moment in a great state of flux. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone out there who wants to write, who feel she has something to say to the world. Keep at it. Learn your craft. Work and stay open so that that when luck comes your way (we always need a little luck, I think) you’ll be ready.

1 comment:

Anna Boll said...

David didn't mention it, but he is wonderful when presenting to the young people who are his readers.
Teachers, librarians and other event planners who'd like to have David speak at their event can contact me, Anna Boll, through Creative Bookings: kidlitbooking@gmail.com