I'm delighted to feature my #Epic18 friend Cate Berry today! Her debut picture book is absolutely adorable and it's definitely required bedtime reading. Here are her thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection!
STORIES – Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
What a great question. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where my stories come from lately. Every year in January I do this semi-cheesy ritual. I sit down and write a yearly “mission statement.” I mean, I’m CEO of Nothing and a non-profit of Even Less, but still, it grounds me regarding my intentions towards writing. Lately it’s been hard. There are lot of negative stories affecting our lives through the news, social media, etc. that are deeply upsetting, quite frankly. And when I get quiet and ask myself what I want to write about, it can skew dark very quickly. And of course, that’s okay. But after I sit with things awhile my voice always ushers in something quirky and fun. I’m a stunted four-year old, I guess. Bathtubs talk to me. Fish flaunt their desires about parading in a tuxedo. And before I know it I’ve written something outside-the-box yet true to my aesthetic: joy. I ask myself, is this enough? The world is full of complexity for children. They need to figure out how to navigate through these difficult topics and questions. At the same time, I want to make them fall in love with nothing more than a funny, heartfelt story. So while some people get imposter syndrome I get joy de vivre syndrome. I want them to laugh, to delight with the adult reading to them, to connect through joy with each other. I know I have lots of stories to tell but right now this is what I’m most in love with sharing with kids.
My process? Well, I write a lot of stories, most of them bad. I’m of the rapid-fire-writing-school-of-drafting that encourages many, many stories in the pursuit of the one lucky gem that sometimes pops down from the superhighway above us fully formed. Don’t get me wrong I revise too. In fact, I don’t think anything is even approaching decent until you’re up to draft number ten and the real fun begins. I’m usually in the middle of a few projects at one time. Right now I’m revising four picture books and I’m completing a third revision of a middle grade novel. I love fiction but I’ve been slowly researching two non-fiction picture book ideas. I write mostly on my iPhone Notes App until something really has legs. Then I start revising on my laptop. The best ideas hit when you’re doing something else. You have to be ready.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
Well, I have pink hair. I guess I’d say that showcases and illustrates my creative side. I was an actress and a songwriter for many years and I still sing with my husband who composes for TV and Film. Other than that, I try and express myself through writing not only for children, but personal essays on parenting and other topics I find interesting. Really our lives are creative endeavors, too. You just have to remember to live that way.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
I’m a member of our Austin SCBWI chapter. In fact, I was on faculty at our annual conference this past weekend. I adore traveling to festivals and conferences— meeting members of our community and seeing old friends. I was surprised after I’d been writing a few years to realize how small our network really is. It’s just lovely to follow someone’s career and see them grow over the years. I also teach Picture Book I, II and III locally at the Writing Barn as well as staying active with the Writer’s League of Texas.
I am starting to do more school visits and there is nothing more fun than interacting with kids through your books, live and in-person. I think I love their honesty the most. Kids are Darwinian! They will let you know if they don’t like something. But the great thing is they also let you know when you’re reaching them and they are enjoying themselves and learning. That’s my favorite part: connecting.
Cate Berry is the author of Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! (Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Kirkus Reviews said, "A definite do for bedtime. (Picture book. 3-7)." She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers' League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round on such topics as "Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices" and "From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books." Visit her at www.cateberry.com to learn more.
CONNECT WITH CATE: