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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Linda Ashman

author Linda Ashman and her book Fire Chief Fran

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? So often, my brain is whirring with to-do lists, plans, projects, and worries about the world. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The act of writing—even if it’s just jotting down activities in a journal—is a way to slow time and keep a record of days that pass much too quickly. In the whirl of daily busyness and too much information, writing offers a refuge: a chance to pause and reflect, to process our thoughts, emotions and experiences—and maybe bring a little order to the chaos.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? After 25 years of writing, I’ve accumulated many fat folders filled with possible story ideas. Some are just a few words on a scrap of paper and others are full manuscript drafts that never quite came to fruition. When I’m starting a new project—always the hardest part for me—I haul out the folders and start looking for something that resonates. Usually I wind up playing around with several ideas until—eventually—the outline of a story begins to take shape. Relief!

What is your favorite time to write? When I’m fully caffeinated—usually after my morning and mid-day infusions. Also, when I’ve got the bulk of the story figured out and can focus on revising—my favorite part of the writing process.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? About a year after I started writing, I heard an author recommend typing the words of picture book texts into a Word document and doing a word count. Wow, what a difference that made! It showed so clearly how spare most picture book texts are, how illustrations tell much of the story, and gave me a better sense of language and pacing. This exercise is a lot easier to do with short picture book texts, of course. But other writers find similar value in copying long passages from favorite books, something the late Louise DeSalvo talks about in The Art of Slow Writing. This is an excellent book, by the way, packed with reassuring stories and helpful advice. I just pulled it off my bookshelf, in fact, and am going to read it again.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? Probably the same thing that excited me about writing from the very beginning: the opportunity to connect with young kids—whether they’re curled up next to a parent or sitting in a classroom or library—to make them laugh, discover new words and concepts, maybe help them express themselves or think about things in a different way. I also get a special thrill when I hear one of my books will be published in another language. I love seeing the translated editions and imagining families in faraway places—say, Japan, France, Korea or Turkey—reading the book. That sense of connection makes the world feel a little bit smaller.

Linda Ashman’s Fire Chief Fran, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, is out now with Astra Young Readers.