Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Chat with Cheryl Harness - Part Two

Welcome everyone to the second Chat with Cheryl Harness, author and illustrator extraordinaire.

Marya: Good morning Cheryl. It is good to be talking to you again

Cheryl: Hey there, Ms. M. J-G. Greetings from the bitter cold Midwest. 'Tis the season to be freezin'!

Marya: What have you been working on lately?

Marya: I've got a picture book idea for which I'm doing some preliminary drawings and test-driving some final art approaches. More than that I shan't say for fear of jinxing! And my dining room table is covered with family photographs needing to be labeled and pasted into books.

Marya: Is sounds like you have a lot going on. I would like my readers to get to know you a little. Can you tell me a little about your childhood? Did you like to read?

Cheryl: We moved a lot when I was growing up here in western Missouri. Like
Carmen's dad in my novel, Just For You to Know, my dad, like his own dad, was "the restless kind." So I was the new kid at school more than once - a shy, dorky, insecure, crabby, artistic new kid who comforted herself with books. Things, dialogue, outcomes all remain unchanged in books. That's very comforting. I read and reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books - 10 times! - and Maud Hart Lovelace's series of Betsy- Tacy books, set in Deep Valley [Mankato actually], Minnesota, in the years 1897-1917. I called up Mrs. Lovelace years later to ask her if her fictionalized childhood was truly so happy. "Yes," she said,
"it really was." My best friend M. and I agreed that, for us, the Laura & Mary and the Betsy-Tacy books WERE our happy childhoods. It wasn't a question of liking reading, we needed it. Real life can be pretty trying. I avoided it. Still do! On the other hand, I loved reading the encyclopedia - still do. Go figure.

Marya: Do you have any funny childhood stories that you would be willing to
share with my readers?

Cheryl: My nicest memory of my family - I'm the oldest of seven kids, did I tell you that? Well, I was, and I was none too gracious about it, but it was rather nice when, on Sunday afternoons, Dad and Mom would bundle their brood into the back of the car for a drive into the country. Coming home of an evening, Mom's red hair was so pretty in the setting sun. Once, when I was ten, we went on a trip to Mansfield, MO, to visit the home of Laura & Almanzo Wilder. They'd passed away, but they left the door unlocked on their house, Rocky Ridge. I saw the desk upon which Mrs. Wilder wrote her books, a page or two of her first drafts. Pencil on tablet paper. I saw pictures of what Laura & her sisters & Ma & Pa really looked like.

Marya: I too grew up reading Laura's books and I hope one day to go an a pilgrimage to all the places where she lived. I was wondering something. Have you always liked to draw?

Cheryl: Yup. An obsessive doodler I was.

Marya: What did you draw when you were young?

Cheryl: Beautiful ladies with long flowing hair. You have my permission to smile & roll your eyes.

Marya: I am a pretty mediocre artist, but I liked to draw when I was growing up. For a long time all I drew where mountains with waterfalls, trees, and the dove of peace. No idea why! Did you get formal training in art?

Cheryl: I went to college at what is now known as the University of Central Missouri. I graduated with an art education degree so yes, I had quite a few art classes. Knowing what I don't know now, I wish I'd taken more, but I got a good grounding in drawing and watercolor.

Marya: On a more personal note, I know that you have pets. What are they like and have you ever thought of creating a book about them?

Cheryl: Some of my pets, Ruby the Basset Hound and Maude the Scottie, have appeared in my picture books. They passed on to the Blue Beyond some years ago. Nowadays I have Mimi the black & white Shih Tsu and two cats who avoid one another entirely: Lily and Scary Merrie.

Marya: When I am not working I like to knit, cook, ski, ride my bike, and do
yoga. When you are not working what do you like to do with yourself?

Cheryl: I READ. Only yesterday I devoured a delightful book, Buried
Alive, the words as snappy as the day they were written 100 years ago by Arnold Bennett. And I've just begun reading H.W. Brands' bio of Andy Jackson, in genuine expectation of doing a book on him soon. Andy, not H.W. :-)

Marya: Yes indeed! I forgot to mention that I too love to read. In fact I am hoping to convert an old barn on my land into a library so that I can have a place to store all my books. Thanks again Cheryl for joining me.

Cheryl: Thank YOU, absolutely, Ms. Marya.

Cheryl will be back with us for part three of this Chat next week.

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