Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tall tales

Author visits Eudora schools

March 31, 2005

If you love green beans, write about green beans.

That's the advice author Lisa Campbell Ernst gave students at Eudora West Elementary Friday afternoon. She encouraged young aspiring writers to take inspiration from anything they loved whether it is gymnastics, dinosaurs, hockey, or even vegetables.

Ernst visited Nottingham and West elementary schools last week to give them an idea of what it was like to have a career writing children's books.

Ernst, an Oklahoma native who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., has had 24 books published during her 23-year career. Her titles include "Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale," "Goldilocks Returns" and "Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt."

The whole process of completing one book takes about nine months on average, she said. She starts by brainstorming and mapping out the story line. She said the most important part of brainstorming was to not judge herself and to allow ideas to flow.

After a book is mapped out she writes her first draft of the story, which must fit into exactly 32 pages for convenience in printing. She sends a draft to her publisher and waits to hear if it is accepted. When the story is accepted and she is given the OK to proceed with her illustrations, she said it is always a good feeling.

"When I hear that news I am extremely excited," she said.

The illustrations start out as tiny drawings in a miniature version of the book that she calls her "dummy." Creating a dummy allows her to visualize the entire book without getting caught up in the little details.

Her next step is to decide what her characters will look like in detail.

For her book "Goldilocks Returns," Goldilocks is a middle-aged woman who returns to visit the three bears and make things right by fixing the problems she made in the original tale.

Ernst showed students several drawings of Goldilocks that she drew in the process of establishing the character's official look. One drawing looked like a cross between the Statue of Liberty and a Barbie doll while another looked like a fairy godmother. She was not happy with either. She said she wanted Goldilocks to appear strong and full of personality.

"Like she had stories to tell," Ernst said.

The result was a round woman wearing a tool belt and pearls.

Ernst said her inspiration for stories and characters came from the people and experiences in her own life. When a student asked her if she ever used her friends and family as characters in her books, she said they were in all of her books.

"They don't know it because it's not always flattering," she said. "If it's not flattering, it's just my little secret."

Ernst said she regularly ropes in friends to pose in costumes while she takes reference photos for her illustrations. Students laughed as she showed them photos of a woman dressed as Goldilocks and acting out the story line that many of the students were familiar with.

"It's always dangerous to be my family or friends," Ernst said.

But some of her characters can't be modeled by her acquaintances.

"I don't have any friends that are bears," she said.

So for "Goldilocks Returns," Ernst studied photos of bears and posed stuffed animals for her drawings of the three bears.

After the story and illustrations are complete, everything is shipped to New York City for printing. Ernst said the very most important step in her work came last.

"The most important step is reading," she told her audience. "The most important step is you."

Campbell said the best parts of her job were learning new things all the time and making a living by doing what she loved.

"I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world because I love my job," she said.

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