Special! An Interview with Jan Peck and David Davis

We’re so excited to bring you an interview with the authors of The Green Mother Goose, Jan Peck and David Davis. They were gracious enough to answer our questions, and we’re happy to share them with you.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  When did you start writing?

Jan: When I was in third grade, I wrote a story about my pet turtle, Frisky, who got lost in our house for a whole month.  We found him when my mother opened her bedroom door and cracked his shell.  But his shell grew back just like your fingernails or hair grow. My teacher told me I’d be a writer when I grew up, but I said, no, I really wanted to be either a ballerina or a veterinarian, but I never forgot what she told me.  I’ve written books about a ballerina (The Ballerina Princess), and a true story about when I worked for a vet (“The Perfect Dog” in Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul..

David: I started writing when I was a kid. I first remember starting to write when I started trying to draw cartoons and comics in the second grade. After all, you have to write the words that the cartoon characters say. I used to copy the funnies in the paper to see if I could draw the characters like the cartoonists did. Sometimes I got in trouble for drawing when I should have been paying attention to arithmetic. I never really thought of it as “real writing” but that was what I was doing.

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?

Jan: I might be a teacher, a nurse, or a veterinarian!  I love working with children and animals.  Right now I’m taking care of my 92-year-old Daddy.  He went to a one-room school house and didn’t learn to read until 6th grade.  He had a special teacher who took him aside and said he was too smart not to learn to read.  So he learned to read and graduated with honors with a degree in electrical engineering from college, the first in his family, .  He had dyslexia, which all of my family has.  So just know, no matter what disabilities you might face, you can overcome them and become whatever you want.  I have trouble with spelling, but I can figure it out–I especially like using the Google search engine.

David: I would still like to be a serious painter. I wanted to be a political cartoonist—and eventually I did that for a while. I would have loved to be in a band and write music and lyrics. I also used to want to be one of those guys that made Hollywood monsters and special effects when I was a boy. I’ve done many things in my life before writing full time. I was a medical lab technician. I had a job at a bank running the computer department. I worked in a milk plant for a while, but I was never happy unless I was drawing or writing.

What inspires you?

Jan: I’m inspired by other great authors, such as James Marshall and Arnold Lobel.  I fell in love with children’s books while reading to my young son.  We read so many books that my son learned to read before he was three.  I wanted to be part of this wonderful world of children’s books.  I thought it would be easy, but it was three years before I sold my first short story to Highlights for Children magazine.  My son is now 32, and he and his wife are expecting a son in May.  I can hardly wait to read to my first grandson!

David: Reading good writing, and biographies of authors. All kinds of music. I listen to music while I’m drawing, but I can’t write while listening to music. I love good comedy. I’ve loved Laurel and Hardy since I was a little boy, and my prize possession is a complete collection of their movies on dvd.

What was the most exciting thing that happened to you as a child?

Jan: The most exciting thing for me as a child was growing up in the country with a whole menagerie of wild animals.  I had a crow, blue jays, turtles, doves, a possum, a squirrel, a mole, a praying mantis, and many dogs and cats.  I use these experiences many times in my writings.

David: My stepdad took me out to the airport to see all the stars of the John Wayne version of The Alamo arrive in San Antonio where I grew up. I saw all of them and John Wayne, himself, waving and smiling at everyone. I got tickets to the premiere showing of the movie at the Woodlawn Theater for my birthday. A friend and I got to go. I can still recall my dad wondering if they should pay the outlandish ticket fee. “Three dollars and fifty cents—a piece!” he complained out loud, but he bought them anyway. Kids, remember this was in 1960, and that was outrageous for a movie ticket then!

How long did it take from starting to write to having the book published?  Did you get many rejections?

Jan: I wrote for magazines for a long time and learned a lot about putting together a story.  When I wrote my first trade book that got published, I received eight rejections.  That is not very many, but I’d had a lot before that.  I started writing in 1983 when my son was three and had my first book published in 1995 when he was fifteen–that’s twelve years!  I had a lot of magazine and small book successes that kept me going, plus I worked as a free-lance editor at Boy’s Life magazine and became an advisor with my local chapter of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

David: Actually, I sold the very first manuscript I sent in. It took two years from the time they bought it to the time it came out in print. I thought, “This is going to be EASY!” Then reality hit. I got plenty of rejections after that lucky break. It took longer to get the next books. I still get rejections. By the way, in some cases, it takes FOUR YEARS from the time a book is accepted for the book to appear in print.

Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?

Jan: It is hard to know when to stop cutting and changing and revising a story.  I have a critique group that helps me be more objective, but I’m the final judge of when it is ready to send.  When I think I can’t do anymore to make it better, I send it in. If it is accepted–then the REAL work begins!  Good editors know how to make your book move far beyond what you first envisioned.  Maybe that is why they call it revision!

David: Someone once said that you never finish a book—you just abandon it. That is how I feel. No matter how much I work on a manuscript I can always spot things I could have done better when the book comes out. A book can be really well received and my mind dwells on that one line I could have phrased differently. A writer is always searching for perfection, but you have to do the best you can in the time you have. A good editor can help you decide when you are done.

For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?

Jan: Getting those first words on the page has to be the hardest part.  It seems like you are writing in the dark, but you have to have faith and keep the editor/teacher off your shoulder and write what you really think and feel.  I do a lot of what I call Freewriting, just writing as fast as I can to fill the page.  I don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or anything. You can always go back and fix those things. Sometimes I write ideas that I didn’t know I was thinking.  I’ve been doing this since I started writing many years ago. You have to be willing to write badly, so that you can learn to write well.  I think of my published material like an iceberg.  You can see the published material at the top but under the water is a huge mass of unpublished writings!

David: The hardest part for me is when you get to the point in a story where you are not cutting the bad parts anymore—you are cutting good things. Many times you have to cut some really good stuff at the end because of length constraints. When you get to that point, you know you are almost done.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Jan: Do a lot of Freewriting!  Learn to pick a time to write and get used to writing every day.  You’ll learn so much.  Also read books and study how your favorite authors wrote their stories.  See if you can do as well using your own ideas.  We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us.  I believe anyone that you truly admire, you can learn to do as well, and many times write even better.

David: 1. Write every day for at least five minutes. Train your brain. Once you are used to writing it comes easier. 2. Get a small spiral notebook and write down your ideas for stories when you get them. Trust old Mr. Davis. You WILL forget them if they are not written down. 3. Save what you write. Even if you think a story isn’t very good, you might use parts of it later. 4. Count the number of words in the story you have written and then cut ten percent of them. In other words if there are a hundred words in your story see if you can cut ten of them. Cutting whatever you write like this makes you have to get rid of words you don’t need and helps the whole become stronger.

Are you working on a new book right now?

Jan: Like David, I’m ALWAYS working on a new book!  While I am taking care of my dad, I thought of a little fish in the big ocean who felt so alone.  I saw the cover of the book in a dream.  I’m checking out some books on ocean animals right now from my local library to get to work on this.

David: I’m ALWAYS working on a new book! Right now I am toying with a novel for grownups called Wisdom Hill.

(A special question from Fran) Any plans for a sequel to The Green Mother Goose?  Some sensitivity training (towards humans and other animals) may be in order for the likes of Georgie Porgie, Goosey, Goosey Gander, the Farmer’s Wife, the King of Hearts, Robin-A-Bobbin, the Bird Scarer, Polly Flinders mother, the little man who had the little gun, and others.  I’m confident your creative team could soften up this hard old world one clever rhyme at a time).

Jan: Fran, thank you for your fantastic ideas!  Wow!  I think you’ve got some great ones, which YOU ought to write.  Sounds like your brain has been working on this for some time.  Just put your fingers on the keys and see what you do!  Use the Freewriting technique I use.

David: Hmmm. That would be telling…hahaha.

Do you have any subjects that you’re dying to write about, but haven’t yet?

Jan: I have a science fiction young adult that David and I are going to write together.  It is so different from what I usually write. I’m a little scared but very excited too.

David: Yes. As a matter of fact Wisdom Hill is such a project.

What made you decide to write books for children, instead of adults?

Jan: I fell in love with children’s book while reading to my little son.  I was amazed at all the depth and wonder in children’s books in so few words that could be read in just ten minutes.  I still am in awe of children’s books.

David: It really wasn’t a cut and dried decision at first. It was just that the way my mind works and the way I write seemed to lend itself to the genre. Also, I grew up loving picture books.

What authors or illustrators influenced you when you were starting out (or still do today)?

Jan: The George and Martha books by James Marshall; and Frog and Toad and Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel, were big influences on me. I used to take my son to the library in his stroller, take him out, and fill the stroller with books.  I did that every week. So many writers and illustrators influenced me and still do.

David: I love OLD books. When I was a small boy Mom had a copy of a book she had been given when she was a little girl. It was The Aesop for Children with pictures by Milo Winter, that was published in 1919. I loved the old fashioned illustrations and the stories with a moral. My love for this book was a direct influence many years later when I decided to pen Texas Aesop’s Fables. By the way, the book has been reprinted by Barnes and Noble and a copy is very inexpensive. Mom’s book has about fallen apart and I bought her a reprint some years ago for Christmas. It is a beautiful book for children and adults alike.

And of course I have to mention Dr. Seuss. I’ll never forget the day the teacher showed me a copy of one of his books and explained that he drew the pictures to go with what he’d written. A light went on in my head. Wow! Someday could I write stories and maybe even draw like Dr. Seuss? It was a lot of years before I did it, but I never forgot that day.

Who is your favorite author or book?

Jan: I will always love Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, and a little known book called When Grandma was a Little Girl, all of which my mother read to me when I was a little girl.  The Tale of Peter Rabbit is one of my all time favorites.  When Peter nearly gets caught by the farmer, I can remember being very scared for him.

David: Children’s author: Doctor Seuss, Adult book: The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What is your favorite word?

Jan: “Love”

David: “Yes”

What is your favorite food?

Jan: I love pizza but also love vegetables, so I put vegetables all over my pizza, including broccoli!  LOL!

David: I used to really like Mexican Food, but I had to change my ways. Now, I eat lots of broiled fish and salad.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

Jan: I love to garden, play with my poodle, Spirit, read books and listen to music–all kinds of music from rock and roll to classical.

David: I like to draw, listen to old rock and roll music, and play around with Photoshop, creating and restoring old family photos. I enjoy watching classic movies. I also read a lot. (I read for a while in bed before I turn out the lights at night.) By the way, I have never met an author that wasn’t a reader too.

Thank you so much to Jan Peck and David Davis!  I know we’re all looking forward to whatever new books they might write, and I’m sure you all are, too.

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Rita Painter said,

    This is such a great interview! Thanks for all your words of wisdom, Jan and David!

  2. 2

    Betsy Haynes said,

    You two are the greatest! Isn’t it amazing what all writers have in common?

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