We're giving bear hugs all around today as we celebrate Eric Pinder's new picture book, How to Share with a Bear (Farrar Straus Giroux), illustrated by Stephanie Graegin!
The perfect thing to do on a chilly day is to make a blanket cave. But, of course, a comfy cave never stays empty for too long... What’s a boy to do when a bear takes over his cave? Try to distract him with a trail of blueberries? Some honey? A nice long back scratch? How to Share with a Bear is a story about how although it’s not always easy, sharing with a sibling can make things even more fun!
Welcome, Eric! So, tell us . . .
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
The bear in How to Share with a Bear used to have more company. In the first draft, the bear’s cave also housed bats, and the star of the story, Thomas, had to think of a clever way to get the bats out of the cave before dealing with the bear. That entire scene had to go. It was a fun scene to write, but the story as a whole is definitely stronger without it. For me, the hard part is always starting a new story, getting the first draft down on the blank page. That’s agony. Once the shape and structure of the story are there, the revision process is, well, not easy but more enjoyable. It’s like whittling; the more you cut away, the more focused and fine-tuned your creation becomes. It’s fun to see a story’s final form emerge. Getting rid of the bat scene made the story less crowded, which let me focus more on the bear (who originally was a real bear), which allowed the “sharing with a sibling” theme to finally appear.
How does a VCFA alum procrastinate? By making treasure maps!
Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?
I put on background music while writing, usually something non-distracting like Bach. I can’t remember who said it, but someone once compared Bach’s Brandenburg concertos to “listening to a brain thinking,” so maybe that’s why Bach helps to fire up my own brain. Instrumental music is easier to write to than music with vocals. I’ve written a lot of drafts to Mozart’s horn concertos, too. My routine, in theory, is to force myself to sit in front of the computer and write for at least two hours a day. Sometimes it takes a while for inspiration to strike, especially in the early stages of a new project. It’s boring, waiting. But I know inspiration won’t strike if I don’t sit there with Microsoft Word at the ready. So I’ll put on two CDs and tell myself, “Okay, no playing Scrabble, no checking email, no talking on the phone till the music stops.” If I can’t think of anything, I don't have to write, but I do have to sit there. Usually that gets me writing just out of sheer boredom. And sometimes I’ll get on a roll, lose track of time, and suddenly realize that the sun has set, my stomach is grumbling, I’ve been writing nonstop for six or eight or twelve hours, and the music stopped hours ago and I never even noticed. Other times I’ll struggle for two hours, shut down the computer, and go for a bike ride instead.
The author does some outdoor research for the sequel to How to Share with a Bear.
How to Build a Snow Bear, also illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, is forthcoming in 2016.
What's your writing superpower?
“Faster than a slowly melting glacier, able to type tall tales in a single bound.” I wish I had a writing superpower, because I’m a terribly slow writer. I suppose the only superpower I have is persistence: powering through.
That might be the most important superpower of them all!
The publishing industry requires a lot of patience and persistence. When I teach creative writing courses, the time it takes to go from first draft to contract to seeing your published book on the shelf in Barnes & Noble is what surprises my students the most. They’re also surprised, or maybe alarmed, by the number of rejections most writers receive before their first success. But finally finishing a story, a poem, or a book and seeing it in print makes all the waiting, rejection, and agonizing over word choices worthwhile.
Students at the New Hampshire Institute of Art react to Eric's impressive collection of rejection slips.
How did VCFA affect your writing life?
I learned so much on the very first day of my first residency that I immediately wanted to rewrite what was soon to become my first picture book, Cat in the Clouds. The only problem was that it had already gone through copyediting and color proofs, and the printing presses were about to roll the very next day.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Choosing a favorite memory is like trying to choose a favorite book; if you asked me the same question tomorrow, I’d probably come up with a different answer because there are so many good ones to choose from. VCFA is often compared to Brigadoon, and the weather can add to that mystical feeling. During my first January residency, it was so cold that you could feel your nostril hairs freezing when you breathed outside. The temperature must have dropped below -20 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. But instead of suffering, people were making frozen soap bubbles and leaving them like Yeti eggs along the walkways. That was a great introduction to the magical vibe of Montpelier.
My funniest memory has to be the night before the class ahead of us, the Thunder Badgers, were about to graduate. A dozen of us were playing picture telephone when there came a knock on the door, followed by someone saying, “Shh! Guys, the police are here!” Apparently the neighbors had called the police because we were laughing too loudly. It’s almost a shame there isn’t more to the story, because “once got arrested for laughing too much” would’ve made a great line in our future author bios. The police officer ended up laughing too, and we just had to close the windows. In our defense, it’s a very funny game.
Picture Telephone is a very important part of the writing proces. Um, not that I would know anything about that fateful night.
Eric is a proud member of the class known as the Bat Poets. He says: The name comes from Randall Jarrell’s book The Bat-Poet, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, which is about a bat who writes poems for forest animals and gets paid six crickets per poem. We joked that we should all add a “cricket clause” to our first book contracts.
Agreed! Chirp chirp! Thanks for stopping by, Eric. Welcome to the world, How to Share with a Bear!