Posted in Book Review

Meet the author: Valerie Scho Carey

Author name:  Valerie Scho Carey

Author website/social media:  I’m terribly old fashioned and do not currently have a website, though folks can read a bit about me on Amazon.com at: https://www.amazon.com/Harriet-William-Terrible-Creature-Valerie/dp/1453780122/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480630668&sr=8-1&keywords=valerie+scho+carey

Or on the Amazon.com site, readers can search for me by name: Valerie Scho Carey

When you were my age, did you like to read? Yes! I most certainly did like to read! My younger sister credits me with helping to teach her to read. How? Usually our mother read us stories at bedtime, but sometimes she let me do the reading. I liked reading aloud to my little sister so much, that I sometimes did it just for fun at times other than bedtime. One of my favorite things to do was to check out books from the library at the elementary school I attended in Flint, Michigan. Sometimes I walked further to the nearest public library branch. When I was old enough to take the city bus alone, I would go all the way downtown to the main library which had the added benefit of giving me the opportunity to spend some time looking at the library’s costume doll collection or visiting the nearby Flint Institute of Art gallery. What kinds of books did I read? I especially enjoyed reading books about animals – any kind of animal, but especially books about horses or dogs. In elementary school, I read “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, “My Friend Flicka” by Mary O’Hara, “Lassie Come Home” by Eric Knight, “Big Red”(the story of an Irish setter) and “Snow Dog” (the story of a Siberian husky by Jim Kjelgaard, “Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson and many others. In middle school, I read, loved, and cried over “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. And of course, I read “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White. Since I first read “Charlotte…”, I’ve read it at least three more times as an adult (once to each of my children) and I cry each time when I get to the end.

In middle school, my mother encouraged me to branch out to reading other kinds of books in addition to animal stories. That’s when I became fascinated with biographies. Biographies about royalty became my new reading favorites. I read biographies of Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Catherine of Russia, the Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and many others.

What was your favorite story? Of course, E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” is one of my favorites, but there are many other books I came to love at different times…some have really stuck with me over the years. Some are books I read as a child or teenager, others are books I read as an adult or books I read aloud to my children (reading aloud to them was an important part of every day, even on road trips…my husband would drive, while I read aloud to our two daughters and one son).

Other favorite books are: One of my favorite children’s books is “The Tall Book of Make Believe”. It’s a collection of stories & poems by a variety of writers put together by Jane Werner and illustrated by Garth Williams. I loved and read this book so much that it literally is falling apart (I still have my childhood copy). It is no longer in print, but it was still in print when my children were very young so I bought a copy for them to share. Now I wish that I’d purchased several copies! I don’t know where to begin with this book. I think it inspired my earliest efforts at writing poetry when I was still in elementary school and making up stories to entertain my little sister. I loved all the poems and stories within this book’s covers. One of my very favorites is “How They Bring Back the Village of Cream Puffs When the Wind Blows It All Away” by Carl Sandburg. Another is “The Land of Counterpane” by Robert Louis Stevenson wherein a little boy recovering from an illness & confined to his bed imagines his quilt is a land in which his toys come to life. When I was very small and recovering from having my tonsils removed, I especially loved to hear this story.

When I was sick and lay a-bed, 

I had two pillows at my head, 

And all my toys beside me lay, 

To keep me happy all the day. 

 

And sometimes for an hour or so 

I watched my leaden soldiers go, 

With different uniforms and drills, 

Among the bed-clothes, through the hills; 

 

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets 

All up and down among the sheets; 

Or brought my trees and houses out, 

And planted cities all about. 

 

I was the giant great and still 

That sits upon the pillow-hill, 

And sees before him, dale and plain, 

The pleasant land of counterpane.

 

And “Bad Mousie” by Martha Dudley is another story in “The Tall Book of Make Believe”. It was the story of a terribly mischievous mouse that was very much loved by a little girl whose mother tried very hard to get rid of that mouse. The mother ties the mouse to a kite in an attempt to send it into the sky and far, far away. I came near to tears seeing the pitiful, sad look on Mousie’s face as he was tightly bound to the kite. In the end Bad Mousie reforms and becomes a good mouse and he is allowed to stay in the house with the little girl who loved him. That’s just a sample of the treasured tales in that book.

Other books I like are Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” trilogy, but I was already in college when I read these three books. They weren’t published until the late 1960s I think. Also, “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbit (first published in 1975) is a book I very much like. I read it as an adult for the first time when my oldest daughter was in about fourth or fifth grade. If you aren’t familiar with it, I highly recommend it. It asks a very interesting question: If you were given the choice between living forever and staying young, or of growing up, growing old, and eventually dying…which would you choose? Would you choose to remain forever frozen at the age when you chose immortality even though all the people you love would go on aging and would eventually die? Or would you choose to live a natural lifespan growing up, perhaps marrying and raising a family, experiencing the joys and pains of youth, middle and eventually old age surrounded by friends and family members at all their varying stages of life and living, and eventually dying? The heroine must choose between immortality and spending eternity with the young man she thinks she loves (and he is immortal), or leaving him to live a “normal” life. Finally, I really enjoy the “Max” board books for toddlers and very young children. They were written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells. I love them because they tell real stories with conflict and resolution using very few words. Most books for the very young are what writers and editors often refer to as “concept books”, that is, they focus on teaching babies and preschoolers about things such as colors, numbers, the seasons, animal names. But the “Max” books tell stories about things like big sister Ruby trying to convince Max to eat his eggs for breakfast, or go to sleep at night, or when Ruby tries to get Max cleaned up after he gets his sandwich all over himself instead of in himself (that’s why, Ruby says, he’s still hungry because he gets food on himself instead of in himself). Lastly, a favorite story I discovered as a young adult is the novel “How Green Was My Valley” by Richard Llewellyn. It is the fictional story of a Welsh family in a mining town in, of course, Wales. I find the language in the book to be very beautiful, the word images strike me as poetic. When I read passages, I feel like I can see and hear and smell the Welsh countryside and town even though I had not yet been to Wales till some years after I had read the book.

How do you get your ideas? That’s both a difficult and an easy question to answer. I don’t exactly know where some ideas come from. They just seem to pop into my head, sometimes as mostly fully-formed stories, sometimes in fragments that need to be fleshed out and pieced together. Other times a story might be inspired by something I read in another story or a newspaper article or a piece of music, or by a conversation or by some phrase I overheard in someone else’s conversation. Once I was inspired to make up a story out of a mistake I’d made in reading a folktale. I was very tired when I was reading the folktale and misread a part of it, but later I decided that I liked the “mistake” better than the original tale, so I recreated the story with an ending quite different from the traditional ending.

Is it hard to write/illustrate a book? I have never tried to illustrate a book. For me, that would be very difficult. I used to draw, but that was years, and years ago. Mostly now the only thing I am able to draw are cartoon-like dog faces and chubby, bear cubs. These are not sufficient for illustrating a book! Is it hard to write a book? Yes, for me it takes a lot of thinking about the story even before I begin to put words onto paper. I like to know where I’m going with the story before I commit to beginning to write it. Better yet, I like to know how the story will end so I am better able to think about how to get to the ending. Even knowing the beginning and ending, I sometimes get stuck in the middle trying to move from one part of the tale to the next. Sometimes characters seem to work themselves into a corner from which it is difficult to extricate them…difficult to figure out how to help them overcome a problem and move on. Dialogue can be troublesome at times, that is, hearing how the characters speak so that they say enough to move the story along, but not go on talking too much making small talk that doesn’t keep the story progressing. I always read what I’ve written out loud to myself so that I can hear how the language sounds. Hearing the language being read frequently helps me hear how the words are flowing, whether the sentences are too wordy or if they are too choppy or clumsy sounding. The stories I write are usually meant to be read aloud as illustrated stories or picture books. That’s why the language must not make for awkward reading. The sound of the words should flow and sound good. I want the language to be vivid and the images the words conjure up should be lively and descriptive. I’d like my words to come together like the words in a play so that the stories’ readers or listeners can imagine themselves being there where the story is taking place or like they are part of an audience watching a play being acted out on a stage. It takes a lot of concentration to write and usually then re-vise and re-write each story many times before I’m satisfied with it. Some story manuscripts never satisfy me and I finally put them aside to remain unfinished or to come back to at a later time and try again to write them. There are two stories I’ve been working on off and on for at least twenty years and I’m still not happy with them. One of them I imagine as a story with very few words that I want to see told mainly with illustrations. Since I do not draw, this has made it particularly difficult for me to write the story the way I want to write it. I wish that I had an artistic collaborator with whom I could partner to tell this story the way I think it should be told…with few words and mostly pictures.

Do I have a favorite among the books I have written? Perhaps “Maggie Mab and the Bogey Beast” is a favorite of mine because I think that I captured the dialect and flavor of a Celtic storyteller in the language. I’ve been told that it sounds when read aloud like an authentic fairytale. It was indeed put together from bits and pieces of Irish, Scottish, and northern English folklore. I took these fragments and put them together to create a story of my own creation but in a way that it sounds like a retelling on an old tale. I also like “Quail Song” which actually is a retelling of an old story. I read and heard many versions of this Pueblo Indian folktale. The story is told many ways and with varying casts of characters by different Pueblo communities and their storytellers. I came up with my own way of telling the story of Coyote challenging Quail to teach him a song, even though the sound Quail was making was not really a song. The sounds she made were the sounds of her crying which Coyote mistook for the sound of singing. How Coyote threatens Quail if she does not “sing” for him and how she eventually outwits him is the version I put together from the many ways I heard the story told. One funny thing about the book is that I had never heard a real quail make a sound, so I called a zoo and spoke with a bird curator about what sound a quail would make. This conversation took place long before their were smartphone apps for birdwatchers that let you select a bird species and hear the recorded songs and sounds that type of bird makes in the wild. The zoo bird curator “sang” for me the sounds a quail makes and I tried to mimic it in the story. I also have a special fondness for “Harriet and William and the Terrible Creature” because it was the very first book I ever published. It is not a folktale or made up of bits and pieces of folklore. It is a story I made up from watching my two daughters and the differences in their temperaments and ways of playing. They are not twins as are Harriet and William in the story, but I simply wanted the story characters to be twins. That’s the privilege of being a writer…you can change things to suit yourself. So my two daughters became brother and sister fraternal twins in the story.

 

What author do I really like right now? I will always enjoy Llewellyn’s “How Green Was My Valley”, and Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. Just now I am reading a book about rescuing and rehabilitating injured hummingbirds called “Fastest Things on Wings” written by Terry Masear, who is a real hummingbird rehabilitator in Los Angeles, California. The book is nonfiction and tells about her work saving these tiny birds when they are brought to her as either injured adults or nestling babies who have fallen from their nests sometimes in violent storms or when the tree their nest was hidden in was inadvertently cut down or the branches trimmed. She writes the stories about her experiences with the birds and along the way tells many fascinating facts about hummingbirds such as that some of them migrate as much as 5000 miles in a year to get to their winter home and then back again to southern California for nexting and raising their babies. I very much enjoyed Mary Stewart’s series of books about King Arthur and Merlin. The first in the series was “The Crystal Cave”. I think I’ve read the entire series, but I’ve yet to read her Merlin Trilogy. I love to read about King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and the many tales that revolve around them and English and Welsh folklore. I suppose that is partly because since childhood I’ve enjoyed hearing stories about fairies, wizards, and magical beings (along with the books about dogs and horses that I read in abundance). The folktales and folklore of many cultures fascinated me and still do. I loved hearing the stories my parents told about their own childhoods and any folktales they might share with me. Later, in college I became a history major with an anthropology minor. Somewhere along the way I developed a penchant for reading about the Middle Ages and that led to an interest in Arthurian legends.

 

What advice do I have for a kid who wants to be an author? Read! Read books and short stories and poetry. Read what you like, and try other types of books to learn what else you might like. Tell your school or public librarian what you like to read or your language arts teacher, and ask them for suggestions of other books they think you might like. Turn off the television (if you watch TV) and the computer games (if you play them). A little TV or gaming is ok, but reading and absorbing language as it is written is more valuable for someone who wants to write. Also, get outside and walk around especially in nature…state and national parks are wonderful, but local parks and nature centers are good, too. Listen to the sounds, pay attention to what you see and what you smell. If there are classes you can take that get you outside exploring the natural world around you, that is very valuable. Being out in nature and paying attention to the details – the sensory details – stimulates the imagination and creates a library in your mind, a library of experiences your writing can draw on as necessary. Of course, you can pay close attention to the sights, sounds, odors, textures of life wherever you live. Learning to pay close attention to the little things around you and trying to jot impressions down in a journal or notebook will help you with creating written imagery that will draw readers into your writing. Listen to the sound of birds, of water, of rain, of motors, of different kinds of laughter. Look at trees and how different kinds of trees look different. If someone wants to write, my advice is practice being a good observer of people, of nature, of your surroundings in city or country, woods or lakeshore, or wherever. And write down your observations whenever possible.

 

 

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