By Gloria G. Adams
LeeAnn Blankenship has always loved writing. Her picture book, Mr. Tuggle’s Troubles, was
GA: What started you on the path to writing?
LB: I believe my desire to write is deeply rooted in my love of reading. I was read to quite a bit before I learned to read for myself. My love of reading has never lessened. I also always loved poetry and some of the earliest books I remember from my childhood were written in rhyme. Most of my earliest writing was poetry - when I was as young as seven or eight.
When I was about 10 or 11, my poem “Candyland” was rejected by Ladies Home Journal. I had no idea how to properly submit a poem for publication and had no one in the family to help me. Actually, now I know it was not at all like what the magazine published and it obviously had been written by a child.
I enjoyed English as a subject and especially doing term papers. Poetry seemed to find its way into my class work any time it could. And I remember winning some sort of contest in high school by answering essay questions about the UN and world peace. As a result, my social studies teacher and I went to a banquet or award ceremony at Western Kentucky University.
For most of my working years, I was a social worker with children and their families. I don’t believe I ever consciously thought, “Maybe someday I’ll be a writer.” I just always loved reading and writing. When I went to college, I majored in elementary education because I loved children. Any time I could take elective classes, I chose something connected with English. When I picked my own topic for research in a senior seminar, I choose “How to Use Poetry in the Classroom.” And I also took a summer course in college about Children’s Literature – and loved it.
I imagine one of the first things I did as a young adult that put me on the path to thinking more seriously about writing was subscribing to Writer’s Digest magazine. I read articles about writing but never really imagined I’d actively pursue that career. And I always noticed those advertisements that said, “Do you want to write for children?” By then, I had married and started a family. I loved reading to my own children and the transition to thinking about writing for children myself happened naturally I suppose.
GA: What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?
LB: My first picture book was rejected five or six times and has never been published. I wrote it in 1973 while my newborn son napped each afternoon. I really knew nothing about what I was doing but tried any way. I suppose I just tried to model my book after others I had read.
So, my biggest challenge at first was my lack of knowledge about the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing. I did get a book out of the library about writing for children and that was a big step – just educating myself about the subject. Then I found a writer’s group that met at the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, library. Fortunately, there were two other young women who were interested in writing specifically for children. Sometimes the three of us would separate from the others and talk about stories, rebuses, and books. When I heard about a one-day workshop for children’s writers, I signed up. There I learned about the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators and that a local chapter was in the process of organizing and I became involved.
Not having a strong network of other writers early on was another challenge I faced.
When my youngest child was in high school, I turned 50 years old and realized if I was ever really going to try my hand at writing, I’d better not wait much longer.
Another challenge was the way my life and responsibilities distracted me for so many years. By then, my desire to write had really increased and I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. At that point, I decided to take the Institute of Children’s Literature Course in Writing for children and young people. (They were the “Do you want to write for Children?” folks). That was where I had my first experiences with actual assignments and learning the craft, as well as dealing with editing comments from my instructor. It was a valuable course and I began to get more serious about writing and submitting.
I began to submit magazine articles but got discouraged by rejection. I was about ready to give up when I was invited to Ohio State to hear a dinner speech by Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Tribe. Before attending the event, I read her autobiography. It focused on her endurance and fighting against the odds. After her speech, I met her and told her I was a children’s writer interested in writing about her. She agreed to vet the article for me and “Wilma Mankiller: Proud Cherokee” became my first published piece, appearing in Cricket magazine.
Chief Mankiller and her story played a pivotal role in my not giving up. Rejection is hard on all of us, and her tenacity inspired me to keep trying.
GA: How did you come up with the idea for Mr. Tuggle’s Troubles?
LB: Mr. Tuggle’s Troubles is a humorous picture book about a childlike guy who is extremely disorganized and the problems that arise because of it. At the time I wrote it, I was trying to get better organized at home – specifically in my home office. (I am still working on that.)
I actually dreamed the first part of the book and woke myself up laughing. I got out of bed and wrote down what I remembered. I finished the first draft the following day. But it was still a lot of revisions plus 7 years and 21 rejections before it was accepted for publication.
GA: What is your writing routine?
LB: I have found I am not a person who can successfully grab a little time here and a little time there. I need larger blocks of writing time. For a while I did well, planning my writing on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays but recently I’ve been struggling with distractions and the many pressures of life. So now I’m trying to get back on track. I write all day on Friday and hope to work up to another day or so on top of that. To be accountable, I recently began reporting in once a week with a favorite editor/friend about how I did each week. I don’t want her to be disappointed in me so it has been an effective incentive so far!
GA: What have been the pros and cons of being a writer?
LB: I’d say the biggest advantage is the joy of creation and the satisfaction of seeing my work in print. But following close behind is the circle of wonderful writer friends I’ve made (from all over the country) and the fabulous adventures I’ve had as a result of my writing. I’ve met famous people and traveled to fascinating places. Plus, writing means I am always learning.
The cons are that it takes away from time with my family and it still has emotional ups and downs.
GA: What do you do in your free time?
LB: I’m still an avid reader and love gardening, sewing, & being with my family. I used to paint but decided to focus on my writing instead.
GA: Who are some authors in your genre that inspire you?
LB: I grew up with Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books & loved them! But I also like Katherine Patterson, Lois Lowry, Richard Peck, and Shelley Pearsall.
For non-fiction, I admire James Cross Giblin, Larry Dane Brimner, and Candace Fleming. And I can’t leave out the poets! Two of my favorites growing up were Robert Frost and Robert Louis Stevenson. More contemporary poets I enjoy are Shel Silverstein, Eileen Spinelli, and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.
GA: Do you have a favorite children’s book?
LB: Corduroy by Don Freeman.
GA: What are you working on now?
LB: I am currently writing a book for an educational publisher about 21st Century Tunnels. As soon as that’s finished, I’ll be going back to a middle-grade historical fiction novel I’ve begun about Henry Samson, an English teenage who came to the New World with his aunt and uncle on the Mayflower.
GA: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
|Sculpture in the eye of a needle by Willard Wigan|
LB: In 2009, I was able to spend an entire afternoon with the English micro-sculptor Willard Wigan, who carves the smallest artwork in the world. We were at the Chicago gallery where his sculptures were on display. After my interview for an article that later was published in Highlights for Children, he invited me to join him, his press agent, and the gallery owner for a special lunch. He is such a talented artist and absolutely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
GA: What nuggets of wisdom can you impart to aspiring writers?
LB: If you’ve been bitten by the “I wanna write” bug, you might as well accept it. Once bitten, you’ll never be the same again! Enjoy the ride, even the bumpy parts of the road.