An interview with Frieda Wishinsky, award-winning author of more than 70 books for young readers, both fiction and non-fiction. Hear about her aversion to horror, her fondness for chronological order, and the similarities she finds in writing and gardening. 20 minutes, all ages.
Read the full transcript:
[1:20] Interview with Frieda Wishinsky
CA:… Are you a planner or a pantser?
FW: Used to be much more of a pantser; I’m more of a planner. … I don’t really do an outline for a picture book, but I usually think through where it’s going…. Because you can really get into complications. Even with planning, you get into complications if you don’t have a sense of where you’re going.
[2:00] CA: Do you have any advice for young writers who might have started something and got … stuck in the middle?
FW: Yeah. … do an outline from the middle. …and see if you can figure out where it goes from there. …Or put it away, stop thinking about it, and come back to it later. … Your mind works while you think it’s not.
[2:45] CA: Is there a way that you like to start books?
FW: Probably all over the place. I’d have to look. … I do believe in the overriding rule of getting yourself into the story. ‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ is such a great opening because… there’s so many questions in that one sentence. … you get tons of information from that opening conversation. … It’s a provocative question. …
[3:50] CA: What kind of endings do you like? And do you have any faves? …
FW: Sure. I don’t know if this is a favourite ending. This is from my Emily Roebling book…. I started off with “When Emily Warren Roebling was growing up in Cold Spring, New York, in the 1850s, many girls were told they weren’t smart, especially in math or science.” She became the really driving force with building the Brooklyn Bridge. And my last line is “In 1899, she graduated in Law from New York University. She was 56 years old. Her final essay focused on equal rights for women.” … it kind of ended with her fulfilling that promise that she made herself, that she was going to pursue something even though she was told she shouldn’t.
[5:00] CA: Have you written sad endings?
FW: No, I don’t think so. I don’t write YA. … I’ve written profiles of people who had kind of sad endings… like Emily Roebling. I didn’t end the book with “And then she died of cancer,” which is what happens actually. … That was really sad to me. …But I didn’t end the book like that… I tried to end it with the moment where she graduated, which was a positive thing. I’m okay with a somewhat sad ending, as long as it doesn’t end with complete despair. Because that’s too hard for anyone to cope with….
[6:20] CA: So when you’re drafting, do you tend to revise while you draft? Or do you try to just get it out and then come back to it and revise?
FW: … A bit of both…. let’s say I’m writing a picture book. I’ll get up to a point, leave it for a day, go back, and then revise what I’ve done. I may continue or I may not like it. … I usually don’t write a whole thing out at once. That’s hard. But sometimes… I’ll go with whatever I’m feeling at the moment.
CA: So how much time do you typically spend revising versus drafting? …
FW: Much more time revising than drafting. I like revision.
[7:00] CA: Do you tend to start at the beginning of the story and then proceed chronologically?
FW: Yeah. I like chronology. Because it’s easier. I don’t like flashbacks that much. … I’ve never written where I’m really going back. …. What do you do?
CA: I tend to go start to finish, yeah. And in terms of writing, I proceed scene by scene. …
FW: I’m like you. A few times I’ve stumbled on a place where they’re filming something. And they will take things completely out of context. …. I don’t know how people do that, because how do you get your mind in the middle of something?… I guess the scene has to have a beginning and the middle and an end. Maybe that’s it….
[8:40] CA: And do you have a favorite POV to write from…?
FW: No…. I don’t know why, but it depends on what I’m writing and what sounds like it works better.
[9:00] CA: And do you have any favourite settings…?
FW: No, but I really do believe we write the settings that appeal to us personally. So write the settings that feel natural to you. And don’t feel you have to go exotic … There’s nothing wrong with telling a story that takes place in your little town …, or something that you fantasize. …
[9:40] CA: What about characters? Do you have any favourite characters from children’s fiction?…
FW: One of my favorite kids books is Chrysanthemum, a picture book by Kevin Henkes. I love stories about standing up to bullies, and that’s what I tend to write a lot. … I like funny books. …There’s a book, Doctor Xargles. … It’s incredibly funny. I love James Marshall. … my first shelf in this room is full of my favourite books, and they really range from Miss Rumphius, which I love, by Barbara Cooney … to George and Martha. … So it’s not one kind. I think it’s just, really, a book that’s done really well….
[11:00] CA: Did you write as a kid?
FW: Yeah, I did. I wrote letters, I wrote essays. …. I wrote stories for school, but I don’t think I wrote stories for me. And I know there are kids that do that. They’ll say, Oh, I wrote this whole book. You know, I don’t remember doing that…. But I definitely wrote. And people forget that writing is more than just writing a book….
[11:40] CA: Did you ever have a storytelling aloud experience as a kid…?
FW: Probably all the time but I don’t remember anything specific. I do remember some bits of hearing stories, and they were so odd. … I remember sitting around and hearing someone tell about a mountain exploding and all the people died of this hot stuff that spewed out of mountain. And it was about Mount Vesuvius. And I had never heard of a volcano before. … it terrified me. … I don’t like scary. … I don’t even know how people do horror. I mean, I do death. … I wrote about the Lusitania. But not horror. Horror is different. … I don’t like being scared. I don’t like being startled.
[14:15] CA: And what kinds of things scared you as a kid? Volcanoes.
FW: There was a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still… The other movie that scared me was a book that I did read. It’s about the end of civilization. …On the Beach. …That was really scary, that sense of complete devastation. Really scary.
[14:50] CA: Do you have any phobias?
FW: I’m pretty phobic of Nazis. … I definitely have a doom thing. And I think it’s because of family history. I always figure, Yeah, the Germans walked in and they killed everybody. That could happen again. Why wouldn’t it? It happened. … that sort of lingers over what happens in the news….
[15:35] CA: Do you have a regular writing practice? …
FW: I’m almost always working on something. But I’m disciplined undisciplined. So I know people who get up at 7, sit there at their desk for four hours, don’t get up, and then do other things from 4:00 o’clock on or whatever. No, that’s not what I’m like. … Most of the time it’s daytime. And its erratic. … I create a lot of lists, I organize my time. … I’m actually quite organized but in a non-traditional way. … I’m always trying to check off things on my list, but I don’t ever finish all the things on my list. …
[17:45] CA: And do you work on one project at a time?
FW: No, never. …. I’m always open for some new idea. …
[18:00] CA: And so you get some ideas from what you watch, and probably what you read. And are there other sources for some of your best ideas?
FW: People say things to you. Watching people. Yeah, everything. Everything. Everything’s a possible idea….
[18:45] CA: Do you keep a journal? …
FW: No but I keep ideas. …. I write little notes. … I’d like to be a little more organized about keeping all my ideas together. … Like always put it in that book instead of, you know, little pieces of paper that can lose….
[19:15] CA: And have you ever had a crisis of confidence in your writing?
FW: I always a crisis of confidence. Daily. All the time. …
CA: And so what would you say to young writers who are scared, either to write or to share their story with the world?
FW: I think at the end of the day, being scared is important, and that the best part of writing is writing. … I can’t control if someone’s going to publish my book, what’s going to happen to it. But if at the end of the day, I produced something that I think is kind of good, that journey to making it good is the only thing I really own, and the only thing at the end that I really love. …
[20:30] CA: … You’ve been a great guest. Thanks again so much for doing this. …
FW: Great. Thank you very much. Bye.
[20:45] Frieda Wishinsky introduces herself
FW: Hi. I’m Frieda Wishinsky, spelled like “wish in sky.” Well, I have a book that’s coming out in the spring with Liz McLeod. We did a book, How to become an Accidental Genius. So How to become an Accidental Activist — which is very timely — is coming out sometime this spring. And we have a contract for How to become an Accidental Entrepreneur, which we haven’t written yet. And then I have a bunch of picture books that I’m working on. I’m in a picture book mood. They’re out being rejected or not. Picture books are still my favorite genre. They’re the hardest to write and I love them the best. I’ve always wanted to write an article about how writing and gardening are similar. I have a really pretty garden, and I think of that as very much like being a writer because you’re editing, certain things are more in the forefront, there’s a path, you have to wait a lot, things change all the time. It’s very similar.
[22:00] Find out more about Frieda Wishinsky
You can hear more creative writing advice from Frieda Wishinsky on Cabin Tales Episode 6.5: Author Interviews about Beginnings,” on Episode 7: “Just Get it Over With” about endings, and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. You can find out more about Frieda Wishinsky, her books, and her editorial services from her website at FriedaWishinsky.com.
[23:05] Thanks and goodbye
…This was the last of my interviews, which means this podcast is completely over. I had a blast making Cabin Tales – the stories, the exercises, the interviews, all of it. … I wish you all the best as you write your own tale. …. Thanks for listening.
Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.
Guest Author: Frieda Wishinsky has written over 70 picture books, chapter books, novels and non-fiction books. Her books have won or been nominated for many prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award, the Print Braille Book of the Year Award, the TD Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture book award. Find her online at https://friedawishinsky.com.