Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don: Encouragement from friends on my path to publication

I attended my first SCBWI meeting shortly after moving to Austin ten years ago. Although my background had been in children's publishing, I was strictly an illustrator. I hadn't even considered writing.

Authors, I thought, were only for folks with master’s degrees, or for people who studied English or Russian literature. Authors were for people who knew about misplaced modifiers and when to use a colon versus a long dash. I didn't have or do or know any of those things. If someone had told me then that I'd be a published author in my not-too-distant future, I'd have said they were crazy.

So what's a guy like me doing with a literary agent like Sara? Well, hard work of course. But especially because of the encouragement, advice, and general goodwill I received from friends in the children's literature community — and especially Austin SCBWI.

Dianna Aston inspired me. It was her idea that I write the true story of outsider artist Bill Traylor, which will publish next year. She sent a newspaper article to me about the artist, and recommended a list of picture book biographies that I should study. I tacked the article to a bulletin board above my drawing table, with no real intentions to write Bill's story.

Cynthia Leitich Smith praised my writing. "You can write," she said. That was a powerful compliment; no one else had told me that before. Turned out, she had been reading the blog I had just started. When I told her about my plans to someday write Bill Traylor's story, she offered to give it a first read when I finished a draft. Someday began first thing the next morning.

Chris Barton not only offered to read and copy edit my manuscript, he read many of my stories that followed — poor thing. His feedback was invaluable, and his example of persistence encouraged me to keep writing.

Eventually, I took an online writing course with Anastasia Suen. I studied the craft, and I wrote every single day. What I learned is that a well written, compelling story, told in an authentic voice, trumps a misplaced semicolon or a dangling participle, any day.

There were many others that supported me and offered encouragement: Julie Lake, Anne Bustard, Liz Scanlon, Annette Simon, Susan Taylor Brown, the list goes on. Friends who graciously offered to read my work, provide constructive feedback, and encourage me to keep on keeping on, even when I found myself getting discouraged enough to throw in the towel.

But while this post is meant to recognize and show gratitude for the kindness and generosity of my friends, it's more than that. It's a testimony about the wonderful spirit of mentorship and benevolence among the children's literature community, unlike any other I've been a part of.

Getting published is tough; it's competitive out there. But authors, I've found, stick together. I plan to dedicate my first authored book, It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Taught Himself to Draw, to friends who stuck by and encouraged me on my way to publication as a writer.


  1. Awesome post, Don! I can't wait to read your first book as an AUTHOR!

  2. I'm so glad the workshop helped you, Don! Send me the book when it comes out so I can post it on my blogs!

  3. Awesome post indeed!

    "...It's a testimony about the wonderful spirit of mentorship and benevolence among the children's literature community, unlike any other I've been a part of."

    This is so true. It amazes me how so many writers and illustraors in this business truly want to help others.

    Good luck on that first book. And the second, and the third...


  4. A lovely post Don, and I'm honored by the mention. It works both ways, you know. I always so look forward to seeing you and feel inspired by our talks. You're a wonder.

  5. Don, I know what you mean about writer friends. They're family. Congratulations on your new book! I can't wait to add another one to our Don Tate collection. BTW, my son still loves Zoom: A Book of Things that Go. I also took an Anastasia Suen course and benefited from her wisdom and teaching. Hope to see you soon at a book signing!

  6. Inspiring post, Don. I'm so happy for successes.