In my family, writing is essential. Growing up, my love for writing was inspired in large parts by the women I grew up around: my mother Lyra Halprin, whose background as a journalist led to a successful career as a public information specialist for UC Davis, while she simultaneously produced stories for television, radio and print, and my aunt April Halprin Wayland, who for as long as I knew her, was a walking, talking whirlwind of poems and stories, songs and books. From both of these women I inherited a deep respect and awe for writers and artists; to be a Halprin woman was in large parts to be an artist. I still feel that way, which is why my daughter's middle name is Halprin.
My aunt April's career as a children's book author, poet and activist kicked into high gear when I was a small child, so I got to witness the joy of her booksignings, school lectures and public events. For years she would come to my school to talk to kids about the writing process. (I'll never forget the way she compared writing to cooking, telling us to let things "Simmer, boil and cook.") She's garnered critical acclaim for her books, which include To Rabbittown, Nighthorse, It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma, Girl Coming in For a Landing, New Year at the Pier, and most recently, More Than Enough. She's traveled the world meeting writers and writing students and founded Authors and Illustrators for Children, an organization which unites writers around political causes that benefit kids.
I called my aunt on a Sunday afternoon shortly after my daughter's first birthday, happy but also exhausted from juggling chores, full-time work, volunteer work, and the day-to-day joys and challenges of living with a small person with a big personality. I'll never forget the relief I felt just hearing about April's experiences as a young writer and parent.
Thanks to April for answering my questions for today's installment of Parents Who Write.
April Halprin Wayland
· How many children do you have? How old are they?
I have one; he’s twenty-frickin'-eight.
· How many hats do you wear in your household? I.e. how many gigs do you have?
write a poem every day,
blog about writing on TeachingAuthors.com,
take care of my books (PR, conferences, etc),
make our home a place of peace and comfort,
move our country in a positive direction,
Also walk the dog.
My husband's jobs (according to him):
feed the fish
When our son was growing up, one of my jobs was to make sure he ate healthy. He did.
· How long have you been a writer?
My first published book, To Rabbittown (Scholastic) came out in 1989, but I wrote and illustrated (in pencil) my very first book in second grade. Clothing Through the Ages began with cave people wearing furry coats; next you see women in colonial gowns, then flappers with shorter skirts, then mini-skirts. In the final spread, everyone is naked. I wrote a sequel, Hair Through the Ages.
· Tell me about your relationship to writing before you had children.
In the last stages of my corporate life, I was a round peg in square hole; I was very unhappy. I looked around the company for a role model. I asked a colleague what she did to stay happy; she said she took lots of classes. So I took a class in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program on writing for children. As soon as I started taking that class—BAM!—men at construction sites who never noticed me before whistled as I walked past, though nothing else had changed. I was alive—I was soaring!
When I quit my corporate job, I committed to being a full-time writer. I was 30. I joined a group of artists, musicians, architects, dancers, actors, etc. who met to talk about doing our art. That was the first time I said aloud, "I’m a children’s book writer." I wore pinafores (!) thinking that was probably the uniform children's book writers wore.
I was determined, passionate and ambitious. I was a learner. I went to conferences. I took a master class in writing poetry for children from a brilliant teacher for 12 years. I joined three critique groups (Yikes. That would make my head spin today).
I was thrilled to get up each day to write. Somewhere along the way, though (after my son went to college) that joy morphed into a grayness. It was a hard job. It was a lonely profession. Something had to change.
So in 2010, I began writing a poem every day, no matter what. I sent it (and still do) to my best friend, who is also a children's author and poet. He, in turn, sends me a poem every day. I felt alive again.
I loved (and still love) the people in my field. I loved saying that I’m a children’s book writer; it gets a nice response at a cocktail party. I saw that that as part of my paycheck. Still do.
· How did you expect parenthood to impact your writing? Did it?
We didn't expect parenthood to impact us at all. We thought you could just put your kid on your back and do everything you usually did. I hadn't a clue how things would change.
When I was pregnant, my poetry teacher commented that every poem I wrote was about a blooming flower, a fruiting tree. I didn’t see how wrapped up I was in creating a child.
My son was born in 1989, and that’s when my first book was published. I was 9 months pregnant and—OMG!—I was autographing a book!
I didn't write much as a new mother. A writer who worked at our local bookstore brought me to my senses. “If I were you, I'd hire a babysitter a few hours a week; my writing is worth that.”
I loved my writing time when I did finally hire a regular babysitter. And yet...there was an inner tug-of-war when I had to leave to speak or teach and the sitter got to stay home and take our son to the park. Why couldn't I pay her to go speak so I could stay home?
· Have you shared your writing with your children? If not, do you plan to someday?
Yes. When my son was in elementary school, I would ask him to read some rough drafts. Does this ending work? He’d say, not really, or what if…? Both he and my husband were brutally honest with me. I can't always tell if my stories are delightfully off-the-wall or completely incomprehensible.
· What piece of culture are you obsessed with right now?
I am crazy about audiobooks. Now I’m listening to My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman. I just finished Girl on the Train. I loved Each Little Bird That Sings, a middle grade novel by Deborah Wiles and a library-full of others.
· Is there a poem, short story, novel or play that you return to when you are stuck in your writing?
Harold and the Purple Crayon, written and illustrated by Crocket Johnson, hands down. Although I have many favorite teen, middle-grade and picture books, Harold and the Purple Crayon is my all-time favorite. Why? When Harold falls into the ocean and is drowning, he comes up thinking fast—and draws a boat with his purple crayon. It's a story about being resourceful. Whatever you need is already inside you.
Learn more about April at aprilwayland.com.
If you are a parent who writes and would like to share your experience with me, please reach out. I'd love to hear from you.