Welcome to the 2013 WIK Blog Tour. I’m honored today to share a recent conversation with writer, poet and artist Robyn Hood Black. Robyn is a member of the outstanding faculty for the 2013 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference, which will take place October 12, 2013, in Birmingham, AL. Michelle Poploff, who edited my children’s middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods, is another member of the faculty, along with Lou Anders, Doraine Bennett, Amanda Cockrell, Heather Montgomery, Nancy Raines Day, Jennifer Echols, Dianne Hamilton, Janice Hardy, Sarah Frances Hardy, Sally Apokedak, and Chris Rumble. Be sure to check out the end of this post for links to each stop on the tour.

WIK is one of the best places to get inspired, gather tips on the craft of writing, and to learn about the business of publishing fiction and nonfiction for children. The conference also offers an opportunity to meet editors, agents, and an incredibly supportive network of working writers and artists. This annual conference is hosted by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and llustrators (SCBWI). To find out more or to register, visit https://southern-breeze.net/

Now, here’s my conversation with WIK 2013 faculty member Robyn Hood Black.

D: Welcome to my blog, Robyn. Tell me how you became a writer, poet and artist. What/who were your early influences — the people and experiences that led you to your present career?

R: Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Donny!  Great question.

I was blessed to come from a family which highly valued creativity.  My mom spent endless hours nurturing whatever projects my brother, Mike, and I wanted to make.  For me these included entire villages of pipe-cleaner people with handmade clothes, or paintings, or countless “books” and cards.  My father was very creative and praised originality.  Imagination was always encouraged, and books and music and art were readily available.

D: You have a business called artsyletters. Tell me more about this. Is it all online or do you also do shows and festivals?

R: My artsyletters business is turning a year old!  Nowadays I guess I’d be called an “artist entrepreneur” – there’s a strong “makers” movement out there for creative folks with a bit of a business bent.  But I remember my mom taking me around to local gift shops when I was a kid to sell my little painted birds (stones) affixed to shellacked pieces of pine bark!  And I did some art shows and such in my life B. C. (Before Children).

Now I create “literary art with a vintage vibe” – note cards, bookmarks, collages, altered books, some calligraphy – my favorite media include printmaking, pen and ink, and mixed media with all kinds of vintage treasures (including stuff I pick up off the ground…).  If it’s rusty or dusty and especially if it has writing on it, it’s probably not safe around me.  I sell my work online through my Etsy shop – https://www.etsy.com/shop/artsyletters – and also at art shows and book festivals.  I’ll have a booth at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta this weekend!

D: Robyn, how do you balance writing and art? Do you consider these separate parts of your creative life?

R: Still working on the balance… and I’ve never been able to completely abandon one for the other. I remember struggling in college at Furman about whether to major in English or Art.  I picked English, and I do consider myself a writer first.  Now  that I’m also making and selling art which celebrates reading and writing, I couldn’t be happier.  At my first art show last year, a college English teacher bought bookmarks to give to her school’s first class of English majors (a rare declaration these days – sigh.).  This week I had two Etsy sales– one from a West Coast poet, and one from a history professor in the Midwest. I feel honored to be reaching a literary target market with my art!

D: I first met you at a SCBWI conference and I know you’ve been heavily involved in coordinating conferences for the Southern Breeze Region for many years. How have your experiences attending, planning and coordinating conferences helped you as a writer?

R: I could never say enough good things about getting involved in SCBWI and volunteering. What an amazing, talented, knowledgeable, generous group of folks. It’s important to spend time with your “tribe,” to interrupt the busy days of your life to do that. My years coordinating conferences gave me confidence dealing with all kinds of publishing professionals, as well as offering helpful peeks inside the industry.  Also, I absolutely treasure the life-long friends I’ve met through Southern Breeze.

D: You’ve published books for children and also write for magazines and a blog. Which format is harder/more challenging? Which do you prefer?

R: Tough one. Books have been the biggest thrill (and though it’s been a while, I still have ambitions for more books
with my name on the spine!), but I love writing for periodicals and anthologies, too.  I started actively blogging on Poetry Friday each week a few years ago on my author blog, http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog, and that’s been a wonderful way to connect with other poets as well as teachers, librarians, and poetry enthusiasts.  It’s offered an outlet to interview some amazing folks as well as occasionally share my own writing.  I started my (weekly for now) art blog http://artsyletters.com a year ago.  No lie – two blogs, even if posting just once or twice a week, is work. I just took a little hiatus in August – we were busy getting both kids settled into colleges in different states and my husband settled in a new job.  But I look forward to getting back in the swing of those blog deadlines and to connecting with folks from around the world who share similar passions.

D:  I once read that for a prose writer, studying poetry is like a football player studying ballet. (Sounds like I could use a little poetry makeover in that last sentence!) Can you give workshop attendees an idea of what they might learn at your wik13 workshop, “Poetry Tips for Prose Writers?” Why should they sign up for your session?

R: Interesting analogy! I’m not coordinated enough to play football or do ballet. ;0) But I do have a good bit of experience writing in all kinds of genres – fiction, nonfiction, and my first love, poetry.  I hope attendees will leave our workshop with neurons sparking away with ideas to liven up their fiction and nonfiction projects.  We’ll explore examples of how successful authors have employed poetic devices to enrich passages, and we’ll try out some techniques.  (Works-in-progress welcome!)

D: Your workshop sounds very interesting. Tell me, what makes a poem sing for you? Is it the sound of the words? The way the poem is constructed? The emotion conveyed? The originality?

R: It could be any or all of those things!  When the elements of a poem work together – the ideas, the sound of the words, rhythm, structure, appearance even –  to create an image that both surprises and registers as truth, I’m hooked.

D: As you know, every word in a poem is important and there is no room for any words that don’t “fit.” Is there any word (that we can mention in this blog post) that you feel should never be in a poem?

R: Ha! Well, I’d never say “never,” especially to another writer.  After taking a workshop years ago with renowned poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, I am far less free with the words “and” and “the” in a poem.  Only if there’s no way around it will I include them now, and only if they seem absolutely necessary.  If you’re ever fortunate enough to have a critique with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, as I’ve been, you’ll find that behind that warm and friendly demeanor she’s an absolute stickler about making EACH and EVERY word in a poem carry its weight and then some.  No lazy writing.

While I think writing a long piece of prose is a different thing from writing a poem, applying that same kind of poetic precision in select passages can make them sparkle.  Or sizzle – depending on which effect you’re going for!

D:  I agree. Who are your favorite poets? What makes them your favorites? Do you have a favorite poem? If so, why do you like this poem best?

R: Many incredibly talented poets are writing for children today; I’d hesitate to start naming names because 1.) this blog post would be very, very long and 2.) the moment I hit “send,” I’d think of someone else whose work I love. I join many other poets in unabashed praise for the work of the late Valerie Worth.  I do think her short poems are just magical – they invite the reader to see something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Our own Irene Latham has recently featured many of Worth’s poems on her blog, “Live Your Poem.” Here are the last couple of stanzas of one of my favorite Valerie Worth poems, which Irene posted Friday and which I’ve shared before, too: 

– from “cat”

She settles slight neat muscles
Smoothly down within
Her comfortable fur,

Slips in the ends, front paws,
Tail, until she is readied,
Arranged, shaped for sleep.

Classic poets I love include Blake, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Dickinson, Williams. I’m also inspired by many contemporary haiku writers, as well as the “old masters” – Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni.

One of my favorite pieces of writing ever is the first essay in Nancy Willard’s TELLING TIME. It’s called, “How Poetry Came into the World and Why God Doesn’t Write It.”  She’s just brilliant.

D: What are you working on now? Any new books in the publication pipeline? Poems, prose, articles?

R: I have some poetry in the publication pipeline – contributions to a couple of projects I’m not at liberty to share yet.  But I also have one I think I can share, because Lee Bennett Hopkins shared it himself in an interview!  He’s doing a collection for the very youngest readers and listeners for Abrams, and I’m thrilled that a poem of mine is scheduled to be included.

I regularly submit haiku to journals such as Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Acorn and am always honored when a poem makes it in an issue.  (I’ll be on a panel at the upcoming Haiku Society of America/southeast Region Haikufest in Atlanta at the end of October, which should be a fantastic weekend.)  https://www.facebook.com/events/418063954956424/

Now that my husband and I are brand-new empty nesters, I plan to return to book projects I’ve had in the works a while.  Some have had helpful formal feedback at previous wik and Springmingle conferences, and they are waiting for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

Thanks again for the interview – here’s to a terrific wik conference!

D: Thank you for stopping by, Robyn. I think conference attendees are in for a treat at your workshop. I hope they all bring works in progress.

If you’re interested in learning more about other members of the conference faculty, follow the WIK blog tour links below:

Aug. 28            Author Matt de la Peña at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
Editor Lou Anders at F.T. Bradley’s YA Sleuth
Aug. 29            Author Doraine Bennett at Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s Once Upon a Science Book
Author Robyn Hood Black at Donny Seagraves’ blog
Aug. 30            MFA program director Amanda Cockrell at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog
Illustrator Prescott Hill at Gregory Christie’s G.A.S.
Aug. 31            Author Heather Montgomery at Claire Datnow’s Media Mint Publishing blog
Editor Michelle Poploff at Laura Golden’s Just Write
Sept. 3             Author Nancy Raines Day at Laurel Snyder’s blog
Author Jennifer Echols at Paula Puckett’s Random Thoughts from the Creative Path
Sept. 4             Editor Dianne Hamilton at Ramey Channell’s The Painted Possum
Author Janice Hardy at Tracey M. Cox’s A Writer’s Blog
Sept. 5             Author / illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
Agent Sally Apokedak at Cheryl Sloan Wray’s Writing with Cheryl
Sept. 6             Author / illustrator Chris Rumble at Cyrus Webb Press.

                         Agent Jennifer Rofe at Cathy Hall’s blog


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