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By Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison

2020 April Halprin Wayland - photo credit Morgan Eagle!! (1)

(Photo: Morgan Eagle)

April Halprin Wayland will be joining us for our picture book retreat, January 10–12, 2020, in San Simeon, California. She writes poetry and picture books, including More Than Enough: A Passover Story and the Sydney Taylor Gold Book Award winning New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story. She was named UCLA Extension Writers’ Program Outstanding Instructor of the Year, and blogs with five other children’s authors at TeachingAuthors.com. April will be presenting four sessions during the retreat weekend, which is open to the public, and will include time to write, join small critique groups, stroll on the beach, and enjoy a beachside campfire in the evening.

ANN ROUSSEAU SMITH: Welcome to the Kite Tales blog! Most people love origin stories. Can you tell us a little bit about your first published picture book?

APRIL HALPRIN WAYLAND: I wrote To Rabbittown (Scholastic, 1989) when I was working in a corporate job that I did not like but I could not quit. Have you ever felt stuck like that?

I was in an important meeting around a big conference table; I was supposed to be taking notes, instead I began to write about a child who runs away to live with rabbits…and slowly turns into one. It wasn’t until the book was published, years later, that I realized I’d been writing about my yearning to run away from my job. To run away and to become something else entirely.

At first it was an unrhymed poem…but I eventually sent it out to publishers. I was lucky and I was excited. I was also determined. I wasn’t afraid to submit my books to many, many publishers.

ARS: As an extremely busy individual, can you give us any tips on staying on the creative path? Procrastination busters?

AHW: One thing that works for me is being accountable.

Accountability has dressed in different clothes at different phases of my life. This can mean being a member of a critique group and, as author Joanne Rocklin once told me (paraphrased), “crawling to the group on your knees in the rain, whether you have work to present or not.”

Or being a member of a silent writing group that meets regularly. I LOVE this—I’ve been in a group of five writers around a sunlit oak table in someone’s kitchen; I’ve also met one friend at the Starbucks between my town and hers.

What I have hung onto even when I was too sick to leave the house, is my connection to my best friend, author Bruce Balan, who lives on a trimaran with his wife and sails around the world. Every day since 2010, we’ve sent each other a poem.

Knowing that someone smart and honest (and usually kind) is at the other end waiting for my poem, is exactly the kind of energy I need to keep me writing each day.

April Halprin Wayland celebrating 20 years of teaching in 2019 photo credit Alexis O'Neill (1) (1)

Celebrating 20 Years of Teaching (Photo: Alexis O’Neill)

ARS: You are an experienced teacher, instructing students through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and leading workshops around the world. Can you share any of the topics you plan to cover in your four sessions during the retreat weekend? (If this doesn’t give away too much?)

AHW: Hmmm. Well, the most important thing I’ve learned in both my life and in my writing is be authentic. When we are not authentic, people can smell it. So, I’ll probably come back to the topic of “Tell The Truth” again and again.

ARS: Who would benefit from this retreat?

AHW: My workshop will be most helpful to beginning picture book writers.

That said, those who have taken many picture book classes, or who are already published, are absolutely welcome! I have attended SCBWI events since 1980; I need to hear something many times before I take it in. Sometimes different teachers present an idea in a different way which I can finally hear.

The exercises we offer will open windows that may help them to look at a story that’s been stuck in their bottom desk drawer with new eyes.

And, c’mon—how bad can a weekend writing by the sea be?

ARS: I enjoy writing poetry and I know that is also a passion of yours. Will poets and writers of verse enjoy this retreat?

AHW on hay stack with mother and sister Lyra (1)

April on a haystack with her mother and sister.

AHW: Yes! I have always written poetry, but I actually began taking what turned into twelve years of life-changing courses in writing children’s poetry—taught by the legendary children’s poet Myra Cohn Livingston—not to learn to write poetry, per se, but because I wanted to infuse my picture books with more lyrical language. I wanted to know how to control language…Myra called it knowing how to use “the poet’s toolbox.”

ARS: Do you have any preparatory tips or advice for picture book creators planning to attend the retreat in January?

AHW: I’d love it if each attendee brought a favorite picture book to the retreat.

Also, take a deep breath. Right now.

ARS: Do you have upcoming projects that you would like to share with us?

AHW: I could tell you, but then I would have to give you a delicious cookie soaked in a forgetting drug.

Thank you, April! We’ll see you at the beach retreat!

To learn more about April Halprin Wayland, check out her website, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Join us for our Beach Retreat, January 10-12, 2020. Go to CenCal 2020 Retreat for details.



For information on SCBWI-CenCal events (open to all SCBWI members!), go to cencal.scbwi.org.


For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Images provided by April Halprin Wayland and SCBWI Central-Coastal Region.