Craft, Career & Cheer: April Pulley Sayre

Learn about April Pulley Sayre.

What do you love most about your creative life? Why?

Wow, I love so many aspects of the creative life. That feeling of inspiration makes me feel alive. My favorite part about the creative life is its flexibility. I can pursue projects I am passionate about. I can change topics month-to-month or year-to-year.

Writing nonfiction books gives me an excuse to explore and learn what I’d like to know anyway. Even when I write about assigned topics, I discover things that surprise and delight my brain.

The time flexibility is important, too. I work 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. But I don’t have to commute, and I schedule it as I please. I can run outside to look at a butterfly or photograph a squirrel that is doing headstands. I can stop all work to rescue a wood duck orphan or toads crossing a road. I just stopped in the middle of typing this to watch a baby downy woodpecker being fed by its parent on a tree trunk eight feet from my computer.

This flexibility allows me to fit my life to nature’s seasons, particularly to migration, which is my lifelong passion. My husband and I have weeks blocked out on our calendar for bird migration and wildflower blooming. Any trip can be “research” for a book. Working at home, interspersed with travel for conferences and school talks, suits my personality.

Crafting speeches and programs is as much a creative joy as book writing. It gives me a use for the tens of thousands of photos and videos I have taken while traveling to rain forests, coral reefs, and other biomes. So, that public aspect of the children’s book author life has been a surprise and a delight.

When you write a book, you have no idea who will read it. But then, to go out and actually see kids getting fired up about writing and science…and educators pouring their creativity into their work . . . it inspires me. It fires me up to write more!

How have you come to thrive in such a competitive, unpredictable industry?

Be who you are, do what you do best, and eventually that will come into fashion. Oh, and take your vitamins so you can live that long. Yes, I am joking around here. You have to laugh a lot in this crazy business. It is a business.

I favor thinking about it as a business. Don’t just try to figure out the publishing business. Read business books from other fields. See how they might apply to what you do. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur. That’s important, especially as publishing changes because of digital technology.

The best thing you can do is to make friends with writers and other folks in the publishing business. Read their blogs. Keep in touch by email or in person. They will give you perspective and give you good advice, i.e. keep you from selling yourself short in moments of weakness.

The most important thing is not to remain a solitary writer, with no clue about the business. You need to know what is customary and what your rights are. An agent or literary lawyer can help.

Another bit of advice: don’t burn bridges. Be professional in your interactions. Again and again, this has helped me. People I worked with, peripherally, at one company have ended up at another company years later. They remembered me, my writing, and the ease of working with me.

Every six months, like most writers, I entertain getting some kind of sensible job with a bi-weekly paycheck and more predictability. But then, after searching jobs online, I get over it. Because, doggone it, I just love what I do.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

My most recently released book is Honk, Honk, Goose! Canada Geese Start a Family (Holt, 2009). It is a narrative nonfiction picture book illustrated by Huy Vuon Lee. It is great for studies of life cycles. It began, as many of my books do, with experience. For many years we had Canada geese nesting in our yard, on the edge of a creek. So I watched every step of their family life from fluffy nest to fluffy chicks to what my husband and I call the “dinosaurs,” that hilarious juvenile stage when the young geese are awkward and flapping.

As one reviewer pointed out, this book, instead of just celebrating mother goose, celebrates father goose! It focuses on the defensive role of the male Canada goose. But that sounds rather serious. When you read the book, you can see that the father goose’s chasing things is protective, but it’s also a little over the top sometimes. I can speak to this because I have been chased and hissed at many times. I actually had to learn to stand tall, chase back, and do a little hissing of my own in order to reach my garden.

I am glad that readers and reviewers have embraced Honk, Honk, Goose. Next year I have two narrative nonfiction books being released. One is a re-illustrated, revised and updated edition: Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! (Charlesbridge, 2010). This is my most asked-for picture book, and it was no longer available. I think folks will love the new spin on the sea turtle story, and it is informed by recent experiences I have had with sea turtle research.

The other picture book is Meet the Howlers (Charlesbridge, 2010), a book about howler monkeys, focusing on what howlers can “get away with” that kids can’t! Jeff and I have been to Panama seven times, so we’ve spent a lot of time observing howler monkeys in rain forests. Really, you cannot ignore them. They are natural alarm clocks. Just before dawn, sometimes right outside your window, they begin to hoot and howl with their incredibly loud, booming voices. Ah, the peace and quiet of nature….

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.