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PROFILES : The Write Stuff : Breaking into the burgeoning children's book market requires persistence and very little sleep.

February 20, 1992|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a long time, it was the inimitable Dr. Seuss and a handful of other authors and illustrators who dominated the children's book market.

But when the baby boomers started having children, all that changed. Now the children's book market is booming. Publishers are being flooded with the works of would-be authors and artists.

Only a fraction succeed. The Society of Children's Book Writers has a Ventura-Santa Barbara counties chapter that blossomed quickly to 106 members.

"I doubt there are more than 20 who have actually published (something), and that is (in) magazines as well as books," said Jean Stangl, local chapter president.

Here are three who have succeeded:

Mary Ann Fraser

Mary Ann Fraser, a Simi Valley mother of two small children, has illustrated about 40 children's books. And that's only in the last five or six years.

Fraser, 32, has done a series of "Amazing Science" books on subjects like the armadillo and the whale. She has also illustrated versions of "The Night Before Christmas" and "The Nutcracker." She has even done pop-up books.

In her latest work, she tackled the writing as well as the artistry. "On Top of the World" is a dramatic account of Sir Edmund Hillary's climb to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

The book grew out of a trip she took with her husband in 1988 to India and Nepal. On the trip, they flew over Mt. Everest.

"It was unbelievable to me that two people could reach the top," she said.

When she returned home, she found that no one had done a book recently for children on the historic climb. She sold the idea to Henry Holt, publisher of her other books.

She took painstaking efforts to portray accurately the climb, both artistically and narratively. The details, down to the kind of ice pick used or the color of the tent, were drawn after much research.

She had always wanted to write the books she was illustrating but felt she couldn't do it. "It's a lot more complicated than most people realize," she said.

But the book, out last fall, was well received and she received a contract to write and illustrate a second one on the transcontinental railroad and a third on the 1969 moon landing.

Fraser has loved art from the age of 3 when her mother gave her a brush from the Fuller Brush man. She studied fine arts at UCLA and did graduate work in England. After tiring of the gallery scene, she showed her portfolio to some publishers and entered the children's book realm.

Along the way she entered the realm of motherhood. Her children are 10 months and 2. She gets up at 5:30 a.m., draws for a half-hour, then three mornings a week she works while the children are in preschool. After the kids go to bed she is back in her garage studio for another three or four hours.

"I'm comatose by 11 p.m.," she said. "I'm sleep deprived."

Carol Heyer

Illustrator Carol Heyer's first children's book, "A Star in the Pasture," came out in 1988. She's done nine since then. She's working on two other projects, and has signed contracts for three more books.

"I'm slightly overworked," said Heyer, 42, who lives in Thousand Oaks. "Being a free-lancer, I hate to say no." Ten-hour days are the norm, and lately she's been up working until 2 a.m.

Her most recent book is "Excalibur," the story of King Arthur's quest for a sword to replace one that he broke in battle. Heyer retold the famous story and illustrated it with strikingly realistic pictures.

"I like the old fairy tales and legends," she said. Her illustrations have graced "The Christmas Story," "The Easter Story" and the book version of the movie "Prancer."

She's working on illustrations for the Grimm's tale "Rapunzel," and in March a book based on the old poem "All Things Bright and Beautiful" will be released with her illustrations.

Then it's on to a book about dinosaurs that she is illustrating. In between she does book covers, magazine illustrations, posters, even collector cards for "Dungeons and Dragons" fans. She can turn out three or four in a day.

"I've speeded up," she said. "I used to be so slow."

Previously, Heyer worked for a small movie production company and co-wrote the screenplay for "Thunder Run," shown occasionally on cable channels.

She finds self-employment more to her liking, although it means she has to play lawyer when contracts have to be signed as well as serve as publicist.

Heyer got her art training at Moorpark College and at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. She works at home, where she lives with her parents.

Heyer recently bought a motor home and will embark on a self-promotion tour to visit publishers and hold book-signing sessions.

Her advice to would-be writers and illustrators: "Just do it. Don't let anyone tell you you can't."

She broke all the rules on her first effort. "I still sold the book."

David Birchman

David Birchman commutes daily from Thousand Oaks to Canoga Park where he works in the computer-training program for Hughes Aircraft.

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