Children's author explains publishing SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

April 12, 1993|By Maureen Rice | Maureen Rice,Contributing Writer

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book and being a famous author? Children at Eldersburg Elementary School have learned the ins and outs of writing from a pro.

Priscilla Cummings of Annapolis, author of "Chadwick the Crab" and other children's books, spoke to the students last week, describing the publishing process and answering such questions as, "Where do you get your ideas?"

"When people ask me where do I get all my silly ideas, I tell them it comes from just looking around and seeing what is there," Ms. Cummings told the spellbound audience.

She said the nucleus of her story, "Sid and Sal's Famous Channel Marker Diner," came from watching a shore bird perched on a channel marker. Sid and Sal became avian restaurateurs, whose business was on a channel marker.

Sometimes you have to work on the idea itself, Ms. Cummings said.

"I wanted to do a story about Chadwick and pollution," she told the children, "and animals wouldn't call it pollution. I had to think of a new word for them to use for pollution, and I thought of 'garplegrungen.'

"Then I tested the word on a group of second-graders like you, and their response was, 'Yuck!' So I knew I'd made up a good word.

"I'm having a little trouble with my next book," she said in response to a child's question. "I thought of having Chadwick get married and start a family. The problem with this is that crabs spawn 2 million eggs, so I have to think of a lot of names for the children."

Ms. Cummings said she began getting "very interesting mail as soon as my first Chadwick book was printed. Sometimes it comes addressed to me, but sometimes it comes addressed to 'Chadwick's mother.' "

She explained that publishing a story is more than just getting an idea and writing. The work has to be sent to a publisher, accepted and edited, and pictures must be drawn, all before the book can be set to print. Ms. Cummings showed the students a large sheet with pictures and text in blocked areas.

"This is a press proof," she said. "There's a map to show where all the pages have to be on this sheet, so that once it's printed it can be cut into pages and all the pages will be in the right order."

Colors are printed individually, so sheets go through the press several times before they can be cut. Then they are sewn into a book cover.

Ms. Cummings told the children that they could send a book to a publisher, so long as they remember it might not be accepted, and that they could find publishers' addresses in the library.

Ms. Cummings started her writing career as a newspaper reporter, then moved to editing before becoming a mother and author of children's books. She was invited to the school to support the language arts program and as a speaker in connection with Earth Day, April 22.

"We wanted to invite an author of children's books to speak to the children," said Chris Tarr, a parent who organized the lecture. "Since we are involved in some Earth Day activities, and she uses environmental themes, we thought that the lecture would fit right in."

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