Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth

I'm recovering from knee surgery six days ago–my third operation in 25 months. I often joke that I should just find those scientists who gave Wolverine his adamantine skeleton and get one myself! And check out what I call my Transformer crutches: much easier to use than the axillary crutches they give you in physical therapy, even if they do make people stop and stare at me when I hobble down the street.

I'm up and limping around, feeling fairly good, all things considered. But surgery takes something out of you, mentally as well as physically, so I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on my writing, teaching, or editing at the moment. As a three-time veteran, I was prepared for that this time. So I'm logging lots of hours on my Kindle, catching up on seventy—yes, seventy—books in my " find time to read someday" pile. It's heaven, but I have to work hard not to feel guilty about "goofing" off this way.

A few days before my surgery I came across this link in the Guardian to a speech that fantasy writer Neil Gaiman gave in London earlier this month. I want to write something profound in response, but I'm reduced to saying, "Oh wow oh wow oh wow." Gaiman plucked every word I might ever think to set down about this glorious craft of fiction writing and said it so much better than I ever could. So please, please–if you love books, either as a reader or a writer, do yourself a favor and read his speech. I'd quote my favorite parts, but by the time I was done, I'd have reproduced the entire thing.

What exploded in my heart most of all was when Gaiman said that fiction writers—especially those of us who write for children—have an obligation to daydream, to entertain, and most of all, to tell the truth. Gaiman didn't mean that writers should teach or moralize: far from it. He specifically lists as one of our obligations that we should avoid preaching at all costs.

So what did he mean? I'll let him explain.

,,,truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are.

To me, that is another way of saying that truth in fiction isn't a simple regurgitation of facts. There is an alchemy that happens when you enter a book, a combustible reaction between word and reader that can forever change the way you see life, the world—even yourself. That I think is what Gaiman meant when he said

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all.

Now if that doesn't get you to read his speech, I don't know what will!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Couldn't have said it better myself: kick the adults out of your stories for kids

Can I hear an amen? This quote from my friend Mary Scarbrough's article over at Quick and Dirty Tips says it so well: get those Buttinskys out of the books and stories you write for kids. 

"Real kids get told what to do, how to do it, and what not to do all the time. Parents, teachers, older siblings, coaches, music instructors – kids have to listen to adults blathering all the livelong day. Think of a child you know and start enumerating how many adults/authority figures that child interacts with on a daily or weekly basis. Sure, a lot of this instruction from one’s elders is necessary in real life, but it doesn’t make for good literature, not for a young reader, and not if you are the adult reading to a youngster. Ugh. It gets old fast. Give kids a break!"
Resisting the urge to insert a wise older adult into stories for kids seems to be difficult for a lot of my writing students and freelance clients. I think this is because as adults ourselves, we are hard-wired with a strong instinct to protect the children under our care—even the fictional ones. But as writers we have to step back; we have to set the young heroes and heroines of our books free and allow them to take wrong turns down dark and even dangerous alleys. Because this is what makes stories interesting, whether that means scary, dramatic, funny, or sad.

I wish Mary had written this article a long time ago, so I could have been recommending it to my students for the past fifteen years! But I'm glad it's there now. Take a look at the entire article, and also at Mary's other columns about the crazy craft of writing for kids while you're there. She manages to dispense a lot of wisdom in a candy-coated wrapping of zany humor.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My neurotic need for redundancy finally pays off

I apologize for the long silence. After a summer tsunami of work—culminating in a four-book project for educational publisher Amplify—I needed a break. So I snuck off for a week-long sabbatical.

Upon my return, look what I found!

This is the title of an article I wrote on computer backups that was just published in the October 2013 edition of the electronic magazine Children's Writer. Seeing my name in print again is great inspiration to shift back into full work mode again.

And it tickles me because my husband has long teased  that my obsession with backing up everything I write, not just to one place but to several, amounts to a "neurotic need for redundancy." At long last my neurosis had paid off—in an article sale.