The 5-Question [Children’s Book Author] Interview: June Sobel

by Meredith Resnick

The writer talks about relaxation as the path to inspiration, messy blocks of words and being a big picture creator.

JUNE SOBEL is the author of three books for children: B is for Bulldozer (Gulliver Books Harcourt), Shiver Me Letters (Harcourt) and The Goodnight Train (Harcourt). She received her MFA in painting at Stanford University and an individual grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Over the years she has created artwork for the gift industry, toy companies and advertising agencies.

Meredith: Does inspiration feel like something particular or specific to you?

JUNE: I know I am inspired when the voice inside me says, “Quick grab a pen and get that down on paper.” My inspiration has an urgent voice. I am often hit with inspiration at inopportune times like when I am driving on the winding road of Malibu Canyon and it is too dangerous to take one hand off the wheel to write it down. Inspiration finds its way into my head when my mind is still and relaxed such as when I am laying on the floor in Shavasana after a vigorous yoga class. I admit to spending this meditative time working out passages in my work that have been problematic. I find the inspiration of an “Ah-ha” moment to be one of the most exciting parts of the creative process.

Meredith: As an artist and writer, does your creative mind naturally think/do/feel/create in images or words first? In other words, do ideas come to you in words or images, sounds or something else? Talk process for a bit.

JUNE: My background is in visual arts, which I think has helped me become a better writer. I naturally create in words first. Creating a story for me is analogous to working on a clay sculpture. I mound together a big messy block of words that I tear down and build up until I have something to edit and refine. Being a picture book writer, I am very conscious of the sensory details of my work especially how the words sound to the reader and the listener. Every word must delight the ear as well as move the story along.

Meredith: Are you a “big picture” writer, or do you take the Anne Lamott Bird by Bird approach? Can you tell us about it?

JUNE: I am definitely a “big picture” writer. [I dig-this-too, alert:] I consider knowing the end of a story before I begin to be the greatest gift. I would rather fill in the story line than write down word-by-word and see where I end up down the road. The editing process is my favorite part of writing.  Once my “big picture” has a shape, I love going back tweaking the story, playing with words, re-structuring sentences.  That’s the fun part.

Meredith: Is voice, to you, a constant? Has yours as a writer evolved over the years? Or have you just gotten more confident in using it?

JUNE: Yes, voice is a constant. An authentic voice sings through a story.  I think my voice has become more confident over the years. I think a good writer should also have an authoritative voice that conveys to the reader no doubt about the veracity of the tale being told. I am currently co-authoring, Goat Head Soup, the story of the first woman to become a Maasai warrior. The biggest challenge has to preserve the voice and personality of the woman who survived this adventure. I am writing in a voice that is not my own since it is written in first-person narrative. This has brought up the question for me of whether or not a writer can create an original voice to tell a character’s story.

Meredith: Why is telling stories so much fun? I ask because I believe we all have stories inside us waiting to be told and that finally telling them satisfies a need we all have to connect with others—and ourselves. How about you?

JUNE: Stories are the fabric of our lives. There is a connection made by sharing stories that resonates with everyone. There are stories in the details of everyone’s lives. Stories are an affirmation of our being. Words are the magic that gives them life. Stories confirm our humanity.

JUNE lives in Westlake Village, California with her family. She blogs about book writing (and the book she is currently writing) and life in general right. You can read her entries by clicking right here.

[Thanks, June!]

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Sheryl

Another great interview, Meredith. I especially like – and relate to – the inspiration question and answer. It always hits me at unpredictable moments; I have to keep pen and paper handy at all times, or commit it to memory (if I’m in the shower or driving when it hits!) I love those moments, though. These are the most real, authentic, meaningful thoughts, aren’t they?

Alexandra

I want to offer up my thanks, too. I liked the way June Sobel described inspiration having an “urgent voice.” Exactly how I feel about it. I look forward to the discovery of her books with my granddaughter.

Barbara Bietz

Meredith,
Thank you for this insightful interview with June. She is a terrific talent and her picture books are pure delight.

Barbara B

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

I love this: “Stories are the fabric of our lives. There is a connection made by sharing stories that resonates with everyone.”
Thank you both for another great interview.

Kim

Yep, I always get hit with inspiration at the weirdest times too. I have a pad of paper and a pen with me at all times. I also have that strong sense of urgency with inspiration, which is why I can’t go back to sleep once a story finds me in the middle of the night. I liked what she said about the editing process. Usually, I despise editing, but I don’t know why. That is where so much of the magic happens.

Alisa Bowman

I love reading about how other writers create slop and then start over before it turns into something good. It makes me feel normal. I tend to have this flawed belief that I am the only writer who writes crap a few times before anything good comes out of my fingertips.

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