everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Archive for Richard Wilbur

The Genius Club: Memorable Remarks from Memorable Writers

Every day something enters my mind that was said to me by a writer or illustrator I’ve published. 

“There is no such thing as a bad scene–just a badly written scene.”  –Cynthia Voigt (about The Glass Mountain, adult)

(Speaking on an ALA panel) “Every time a question about race is asked, all of you turn to me to answer it. Why is that? Am I the only person here who has any kind of racial or ethnic background?” –Virginia Hamilton (followed by a long moment of silence) (Plain City; Time Pieces; Her Stories; In the Beginning; etc.)

“There is no such thing as a coincidence.”  –Leo Dillon (If Kids Ran the World; Aida; Pish, Posh; Rap a Tap Tap; The Girl Who Spun Gold; To Every Thing There is a Season; etc.)

“We know there will be always be people who won’t like the book we’re making, so we may as well make a book we like ourselves.”–Diane Dillon (about If Kids Ran the World)

“Moderation in all things, including moderation.”  –David Shannon (No, David!; Duck on a Bike; Too Many Toys; Jangles; etc.)

“That shows maturity, when you’re beginning to notice the insecurities of other people.” –Arnold Adoff (Flamboyan; In for Winter, Out for Spring)

(After I asked him the location of Hidden Valley, where he had just moved) “If I told you, then it wouldn’t be hidden, would it?” –Harry Nilsson

“Let’s make a funny blog about the worst dates we’ve ever had, and all our bad boyfriend experiences.” –Dawn Barnes (laughing) (The Black Belt Club)

(As he’s about to step on stage at Irvine Meadows, we skid up to him, late to the concert because of my young son’s Little League game.) “Bon, don’t hug me because I’m all covered with wires!  (He laughs and turns to my son.) I heard )you had a big game tonight. And you played second base. Did you catch any fly balls? (My son, looking out at 16,000 screaming fans, is speechless.) Hey, I like that Red Sox cap. I like the Red Sox, too.” –Jimmy Buffett (concert while working on A Salty Piece of Land)

“Love is the path to forgiveness.” –Audrey Wood (Blue Sky; A Dog Needs a Bone; It’s Duffy Time; etc.)

“Whistle while you work.”  –Don Wood (Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear; Into the Volcano; Jubal’s Wish; etc.)

“Look at that man’s eyebrows!”  –Karen Barbour, who notices everything (Little Nino’s Pizzeria; A Sip of Aesop; You Were Loved Before You Were Born; etc.)

“Are you sure you want to leave a toy gun instead of a tip?” –Barry Moser (The Dreamer; When Birds Could Talk & Bats Could Sing; In the Beginning)

(When I asked her how she writes such impressive speeches) “I always prepare. Always.”  –Jane Yolen (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?)

“It’s catnip for boys.” –Mark Teague (about The Tree House that Jack Built)

(After I bragged that there was a blackout at the Algonquin Hotel, but I managed to grope through the room and find my high heels for dinner) “Look at your shoes. One is blue, and the other one is black.”  –Virginia Hamilton (The Bells of Christmas)

“Your son is the golden retriever of children.”  –Edward Gorey

(After I asked her how she was able to write an utterly believable scene where three angels appear in an ordinary American kitchen) “It’s the details.” –Nancy Willard (about The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake)

“The problem with illustrating this book is drawing and coloring all that plaid!” –Chuck Mikolaycak (about Tam Lin)

“People always tell you what you need to know about them–right away. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re willing to listen.”  –Steve Faigenbaum

(After I blurted out that I was intimidated by working with a writer who was Poet Laureate and had won two Pulitzer Prizes)  “That’s the nice thing about teaching at Harvard. You have to read the classics because you teach them. But I still haven’t read Anna Karenina.” –Richard Wilbur (adult)

“She pulled her lips back and snarled. Then she said, ‘I hate that book. It’s the only thing I ever wrote for money.'” –Barry Moser (telling me about his meeting with Miss Eudora Welty after I asked him to illustrate her long out-of-print children’s book called The Shoe Bird)

“I’d like to wear her guts for garters.” –Robin McKinley (The Light Princess)

“I don’t care what Harcourt wants me to do. I am leaving this party. Madonna’s concert is on TV.” (And when I asked her what she loved so much about Madonna she said:) “You never know what she’s going to do next. Never.”  –Virginia Hamilton (In the Beginning: Creation Stories Around the World)

(Talking about her cat, Blueberry, who had chosen to spend the night with her downstairs instead of upstairs in the big cozy bed where I had slept as the honored guest) “I was worried he would go sleep upstairs, because he’s used to that bed, but no, he came down  here and stayed with me.”  –Cynthia Rylant (my first visit, in Kent, Ohio) (Dog Heaven; Mr. Putter and Tabby; The Dreamer; Poppleton)

(Showing me a diagram he’s made on a napkin at our table at a Mexican restaurant) “Responsibility is here (he points to one end of the line), and surfing is here (he points to the opposite end of the line). I’ve spent the last two years at Art Center trying to get those surf colors out of my art.” (about the possibility of illustrating Jimmy Buffett’s first book, The Jolly Mon, which was all island, ocean colors)

“Just do the work.”  –Leo Dillon (To Everything There Is a Season)

“Bonnie, please come out from under the table.” –Dav Pilkey (The Adventures of Captain Underpants; The Dumb Bunnies; The Hallo-weiner; Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot; Ook & Gluk)

“I would love to become a member of the Hearts Club.” –Michael Rosen (A Thanksgiving Wish)

“I used paper that’s recycled from elephant dung.” –Richard Jesse Watson (The Magic Rabbit)

“It’s the way the green and red vibrate.” –Lois Ehlert (about the cover of Growing Vegetable Soup)

“We do not approve of our food product being used on your book.” (Hormel Foods Corporation, manufacturers of SPAM, which was sitting on a table in the “Good Night Moon Room” cover of Dav Pilkey’s The Dumb Bunnies.) “We deny you permission to use it.”

(After I asked him why he drew a different dinosaur on every spread of the book) “It was too boring to draw an entire book of Tyrannosaurs.” –Mark Teague (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?; The Tree House that Jack Built; LaRue for Mayor; etc.)

“If we don’t stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, we run the risk of climate change so drastic that the path of the Gulf Stream could change.” –Molly Bang (about her five books in the Sunlight Series, which began with My Light)

(After flying me into New York on his seaplane so I could get to work on time) “It’s worse than heroin.” –Jimmy Buffett (about the addiction of flying in seaplanes, while working on Swine Not?)

“Every year my grandfather sat us all down and told us the story of how he and his mother escaped from slavery in Virginia–so we would never forget.” –Virginia Hamilton

“This manuscript has to be published exactly as it is, without a single change. If you feel the need to change anything,  I will have to withdraw it and send it elsewhere.”  –Cynthia Rylant (in her cover letter enclosed with the manuscript Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds which happily was flawlessly written and did not require as much as a comma)

“I love Christmas.” –Bruce Wood (after inflating and enormous Santa suit that made him bigger than a VW bug) (Alphabet Mystery; The Deep Blue Sea; Ten Little Fish)

“Did I tell you that my friend Debra Frasier wrote a children’s book? And Crown Publishers is interested. Their sales rep saw it and sent it to New York, and they’re going to publish it.” (my sister JoAnn, on the phone) “Why didn’t you tell her to send it to ME?” (I ask, frustrated.) “OK, I will.” (JoAnn is a photographer and very close friends with Debra’s husband, who is also a photographer; Debra created the banner’s for Jo’s wedding. So Debra sends the dummy  to me, and although Crown is making her an offer, I am nuts-cuckoo-crazy about the book and persuade her to do it with me at Harcourt. That was On the Day You Were Born. Thanks, Jo!!!)

( During an interview, Jimmy Buffett was asked about several very attractive women characters in Tales from Margaritaville who were passionate but also very kind to their male lovers–and when it was time for the male lovers to say good bye and head off on another adventure, the women understood and warmly wished them well.) “Where do you find these women???” the interviewer asked. And Jimmy, with a pirate’s laugh, said, “It’s fiction! I make them up!”

“When I was little, I always wished I had a big robot friend.” –Dav Pilkey, about Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot

 

(to be continued…)

Sir Richard Wilbur the Kind-Hearted Poet vs. the Dizzy Blonde

It is extremely intimidating for me to edit a book by Richard Wilbur. He is Poet Laureate, he has won two Pulitzer Prizes, he has flawlessly translated Moliere from French to English (in verse, of course), and he teaches at Harvard (when he’s not teaching at Smith). Actually, editing his book is not the intimidating part. That part is easy. Truly a no-brainer. In fact, one afternoon after I get off the phone with him, having given him my small list of editorial changes and why I’d like this and that adjusted, I hang up and look out the window, puzzled. I ask myself, “What on Earth makes you think you know what changes Richard Wilbur should make in his poetry? Where do you get this certainty? You have not won a Pulitzer Prize. You are not Poet Laureate. You do not teach at Harvard. So where do you get off telling him how to fix his poems?

I do not know. It’s that editor thing.

Anyway, I am indeed editing a book by Richard Wilbur, and I know that eventually I must meet the man. You can’t edit somebody’s book without meeting him or her, at least I can’t. But I keep putting it off. And off. And off. At this point in my life, I have long blonde hair, I wear very short skirts, I’m married to a rock musician (guitar), and when I imagine what Richard WIlbur will think of me, the words that come to mind are “dumb blonde” and “airhead” and “cheerleader” and “another one of those vapid young editors who doesn’t know a thing about literature.”

I continue putting it off until we’ve spoken so many times, and I have so many letters from him on his small blue stationary (typed on an old-fashioned typewriter), that it’s starting to really bother me. Meanwhile, I’m working almost every day with Jimmy Buffett who, like Richard Wilbur, lives in Key West…. So I am in Key West a lot of the time, and there just isn’t any excuse for it. The guilt!

I’m staying at my favorite hotel down there, the Mariposa, so I finally get ready to face the music, and I iinvite him over for breakfast. Let me tell you, this is one breakfast I would love to miss. I feel stupid, stupid, stupid. And I get up and put on a dress, but I am dreading every minute.

Richard Wilbur comes by–and today he will become Dick Wilbur–wearing flip flops and baggy shorts and a faded Hawaiian shirt, and from the moment he walks up to the little table, he is the sweetest literary genius you can imagine. Absolutely lovely. And since I am stuffing this huge balloon of insecurity inside, I finally just pop. I tell him exactly how I feel–inadequate, poorly read, unintelligent…it all comes pouring out over coffee.

He smiles. “That’s the good thing about teaching at Harvard,” he tells me. “Because you teach the books, you have to read them. I’ve never read Anna Karenina.

I brighten considerably. “I have!” I pipe up with great enthusiasm. In fact, it is a novel I love, although you can imagine how pointless it would feel for me to discuss it with Dick, my new pal.

Over the next few years I will get together with him many times, both in Key West and in Western Massachusetts, his other residence. I will have drinks with him and Charlee, his wife. They will laugh and tell me how they love to jump naked in the snow and then hop into a hot jacuzzi. I am young enough that to me they seem like “old people,” so their antics are really precious, and they seem very open about their personal lives and an experience Dick had with depression–he’s talked about it in interviews, which is why I think it’s OK to mention it here–I admire that. Later in my life, when I have a bout of depression of my own, it will reassure me that even Dick Wilbur–who is very balanced and happily married for ages–has experienced depression, so I can’t be too unique about it. I even get to escort him to Writers and Poets a few times, where I watch nearly every great writer I’ve ever admired get completely drunk at the party at the 92nd Street Y, and during the part where they have to sit on the stage in bleachers, some of them keep sliding off the benches and onto the floor. (Not Dick.)

Dick and Charlee are funny and great company, humble, gracious, and  kind people who take great pains to make an insecure outsider like me feel completely at home.

So that is how I finally met Dick Wilbur–and what a chicken I was, and what a generous man he is, and how it sure helps you relax when you finally face your fears.

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