An Evening With The Authors 2018

By Wendy Wood,

Award-winning authors from across America were in Chelsea last week to offer their insights on writing, motivation and dealing with challenges.

The event featured authors Helen Frost, Michael Buckley and Nora Raleigh Baskin and illustrator/photographer Rick Lieder.

After spending time in workshops and assemblies with first- through sixth-graders in Chelsea schools on March 13, the authors took the time to speak to a packed house of parents, students, and many just interested at the Washington Street Education Center that evening.

First up was the unique collaboration of author/poet and illustrator/photographer team of Frost of Indiana and Lieder of Michigan. Their “Wake Up” storybook combines stunning photography with engaging rhymes to tell the story about the birth of wildlife.

While sharing their work the two talked about the journey of completing a published piece.

“Don’t fall in love with a certain photo,” advised Lieder, adding that many times he will capture a moment in nature that is breathtaking, “but if it doesn’t work for the project – it is out.”

Frost approaches the writing process with a brainstorming method using pen and paper; creating a sentence then revising, changing a word, rewriting, and sometimes rethinking the whole angle.

“But I never cross anything out so much that I can’t still see it.”

They both say the creation of a publication comes from sifting through and finding just the right words and pictures to tell the story. A message they shared with Chelsea students.

Moving into a completely different genre, next up was Buckley, author of the New York Times best-selling series, “The Sisters Grimm,” for middle grade and young adult readers. In nine books, Buckley takes readers along for the ride as two orphaned sisters, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm (descendants of the Brothers Grimm) go from foster care to servitude and finally to the strange and dangerous town of their presumed dead grandmother. It is a town filled with familiar fairy tale characters in completely different roles.

Buckley said at the 10-year anniversary of the popular series he got the unbelievable opportunity to rewrite the series to tweak and perfect the details he thought were just not quite right in the first writing.

“It was a lot more work that I thought it would be,” laughed Buckley. “But I am glad I did it.”

Buckley said he didn’t intend to become a children’s’ author; in fact, he wanted to be a standup comedian. A goal more deeply entrenched after he gave his elementary school teacher stories he had written for her to review. Buckley was told he will never be an author because his spelling and grammar were terrible. It would be decades later before his writing urge was rekindled when a colleague informed him he does not need to be good at spelling and grammar – his editor does. The author needs to be good at weaving a story. Based on the many awards, accolades, and fans it is clear that Buckley is exceedingly skillful at weaving a story.

His dive into the world of standup comedy was not, however, a waste of time. It began when Buckley entered a joke contest in Mad Magazine. His joke – “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? He was dead” – won.

“It is possible I am the only one who entered,” he admitted. The prize was to spend a day with up-and-coming comedian, Eddie Murphy.

From there Buckley left his roots in Akron, Ohio, and spent the next several years in a series of exciting jobs including as an intern with the David Letterman Show. He worked with a number of successful comedians including Dave Chappelle, John Stewart and Louis CK.

Perhaps a prelude to finally settling into the role as a children’s author may have been his job with Nickelodeon writing for popular cartoons such as the Rugrats, the Fairly OddParents, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Yet another big shift in genre author of the children’s book nine/ten: A SEPTEMBER ELEVEN STORY, Nora Raleigh Baskin talked about her turbulent childhood and young adult life that was redeemed by writing. She shared her story of isolation and rebellion after the suicide of her mother then abandonment by her stepmother. “I was in trouble and got into trouble,” she said.

Raleigh Baskin’s sixth grade teacher suggested to her that maybe she could find some solace in writing. She took the advice and started keeping a journal. From there she began to write novels. “Each novel is another step in discovering who I am,” said Raleigh Baskin. “Every story and every character is connected to me and my life in some way.”

In her fictional novel “nine/ten” Raleigh Baskin offers a provocative look at the days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, in the lives of four middle-schoolers and how that tragic moment in U.S. history forever affected their worldview within the context of their personal struggles.

“After losing two mothers I felt I was unlovable,” describes Raleigh Baskin. “Through writing I have been able to discover who I am and where I belong in the world.”

She said writing has turned out to be a way for her to make sense of her experiences and grow as a person.

Authors in Chelsea is an annual event organized by the Chelsea District Library to encourage and engage students and educators. The goal is to help students explore the art and craft of writing and learn to appreciate literature and the power of writing through close personal contact with award-winning authors -­ and to be inspired.

Now in its ninth year, the popular event was the result of months of hard work by Keegan Sulecki, Edith Donnell, Jody Wolak, and Jessica Zubik..

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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