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FIVE ON FRIDAY with Larry Brimner

This week’s guest at FIVE ON FRIDAY is Larry Brimner. Larry is the author of over (gasp) 150 books! I know this because I counted them. If you don’t believe me, check out his website at and see for yourself. Please join me in welcoming Larry to the FIVE ON FRIDAY community.

When did you know that you first wanted to be a writer?

I think I always knew I wanted to be a writer at least from the time I came to the realization that people-real people-put words in books and, if not a writer, then a teacher. When I got to college, however, and my dad asked me what my career plans were, I nearly put him into cardiac arrest when I said I thought I’d become a writer. No doubt he was envisioning many years more of supporting me. His sage advice was that real people got jobs. I took that advice and became a teacher (the “day job”), but a children’s literature professor I had while in college encouraged me to write for publication. In fact, he submitted my first work-poetry-for me and without my knowledge because I was too shy to do it myself. When those poems were accepted, he brought the journals to me and suggested I look at the table of contents. There was my by-line, and that was it. I was hooked. So I’d teach during the day and write at night. Eventually, my work began to appear in other publications. Then my first book, a nonfiction work, was contracted. Now, 150+ books later, I still get jazzed when a project is accepted for publication.

What book or writer/artist do you feel influenced you the most?

Oh, my. I read so widely that it is difficult to say. I think probably Jim Marshall, with whom I studied, was a huge influence. He taught me that it is alright to tap into your sense of humor when writing for children-even if your humor is a bit wicked and the jokes will be understood only by grown-ups-because the people who share books with children-parents-will get and appreciate it. A good example of this is George and Martha. Although the characters are silly in nature and appreciated by children for that silliness, much of their banter will fly right over their heads. Another writer with whom I studied is Ron Roy, who writes wonderful middle-grade adventure books and the popular A to Z Mystery series for Random House. An early book of his that I truly enjoyed and still read from time to time is Nightmare Island. If you want to learn story structure, there is no better book to study and no better teacher.

What book or books are you currently reading or have recently read that you’d recommend to others?

A chapter book that made me roar is The Sloppy Copy Slipup by DyAnne DiSalvo. Ms. DiSalvo took a common occurrence-common to those of us who have a teaching background-that is, HOMEWORK THAT WASN’T DONE and turned it into a delightful, funny read. Another book, a nonfiction title that I’m looking forward to reading, is What to do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley. Barbara has a way of tapping into the humor of real life, real events.

If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Persevere. Don’t let a rejection by an editor, or the anonymous “The Editors,” stop you. Just remember that a rejection is somebody’s personal opinion (and there is no accounting for some people’s taste). Keep writing. Keep submitting your work to publishers. Eventually, if you persevere long enough, you will find that editor who clicks with your style and topic, and you’ll be on your way. Somebody once told me that the only difference between a failed writer and a successful one is that the failed writer gave up too soon. I am assuming, of course, that the aspiring writer does the routine things, like reading current children’s books and attending helpful conferences like the Highlights Writers’ Conference at Chautauqua and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Can you share with us your next project or any information about the next book you’re working on?

The next project due out in February 2010 is a companion piece to We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin. It is called Birmingham Sunday, and is about the day the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and events leading up to that horrendous act of domestic terrorism. It’s intended for older readers (grades 4 or 5 and up). I’m also told that my next picture book, which will either be called Sophie or True Love (the publisher hasn’t kept me in the loop about this) will be out in time for Valentine’s Day 2010. I’m a little suspicious about discussing my two works-in-progress, but only because I worry about expending all my energy and enthusiasm for them in talk rather than in work toward their completion. It happened once that I talked so much about a project I was gathering information on that when I sat down to actually write the thing, I’d lost all energy toward it. I will say that one is a picture book and the other is a biography.

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