By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN When Delano resident Marsha Wilson Chall first considered becoming an author, she was a bit hesitant.
“I’d always written, but I was a ‘closet’ writer,” she said, explaining that most of her work was in private journals.
Reading to her children, however, Chall fell in love with the fresh, poetic language of picture books, and felt compelled to try the craft herself.
“I slowly opened the door to the closet and poked my head out,” she said.
A course on children’s writing helped her gain the confidence to submit a manuscript to a publisher.
“Everybody was talking about publishing, and I thought, ‘that’s one in a million. That’s like saying you’re going to paint the Sistine Chapel,’” Chall said.
The enthusiasm of Chall’s classmates was contagious, though.
“They were not intimidated, so I decided that if other people could think about publishing, maybe I could think about it, too,” Chall said.
Her first book, “Up North at the Cabin,” didn’t immediately garner attention, but Chall persisted.
“I submitted it nine times, and I got eight rejections,” she said. “The ninth one was a hit.”
In May 1992, 2.5 years after it was accepted, Chall’s book was published by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
“I was lucky enough to get a nice review in the New York Times,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know it was a big deal. That kind of thing helps a lot, and a few awards also help.”
“Up North at the Cabin” has been selected for the American Bookseller’s Association’s pick of the lists, the International Reading Association’s teacher’s choice award, and was a 1993 Minnesota book award finalist.
The book was just the beginning for Chall, who now has 10 books published and has sold a total of about 300,000 copies.
Having a book published never gets old, according to Chall.
“It’s always thrilling,” she said. “It’s like you’re going to have a baby. It’s this feeling that this is the beginning of something incredible.”
Just like pregnancy, there is also a hint of fear and uncertainty, she added.
Authors typically have little or no say in the illustrations, for example, so the finished product is somewhat of a surprise.
Like a child, each book has a unique identity, Chall said.
“Three of mine happen to feature dogs as characters, but they’re all very, very different,” she said.
Her first doggy tale, “Bonaparte,” was published in 2000, and is set in France.
“One Pup’s Up” and “Pick a Pup” are her two newest creations, written in anticipation of adopting her own puppy.
“One Pup’s Up” is a silly story about a litter of puppies, filled with peppy, playful language.
Fifteen years ago, authors would be mocked for trying to publish a rhyming book, according to Chall, but times have changed.
“Puppies are kind of bouncy, and my words came out that way, too,” she said.
Chall’s 17-month-old grandson, Jack, adores “One Pup’s Up,” which is designed for babies and preschoolers.
“He turns the pages and laughs,” Chall said. “Even at that age, they can appreciate those emerging reading skills.”
Chall was selected to appear at the Minnesota State Fair’s “Alphabet Forest” Sunday. Visitors had the opportunity to cut out and color a “pup on a stick,” with six types of puppies to choose from.
Although Chall’s state fair activity is over, she’s available for other appearances throughout the year.
“I love to do school visits,” she said. “It’s always energizing to get out there with the kids.”
Teaching has always been a passion for Chall.
She graduated from Drake University with degrees in English literature and special education, and received her master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in educational psychology.
“I taught in a literary program for many years,” she said.
Currently, Chall is involved in Hamline University’s master of fine arts program in writing for children and young adults.
“It’s just an incredible program,” she said, explaining that the intense training includes instruction from several nationally known authors.
Much of Chall’s work is done from home, on her 10-acre hobby farm. She and her husband, Watertown native John Zeyer, have two dogs, four adult children, and three grandchildren.
To learn more about Chall, click here.