Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why Lemony Snicket is my hero

“You cannot wait for an untroubled world to have an untroubled moment. The terrible phone call, the rainstorm, the sinister knock on the door—they will all come. Soon enough arrive the treacherous villain and the unfair trial and the smoke and the flames of the suspicious fires to burn everything away. In the meantime, it is best to grab what wonderful moments you find lying around.”

If anyone needed it, this quote from Lemony Snicket’s Shouldn’t You Be in School? is proof that children’s books aren’t all saccharine fluff and nonsense.

I know it's been months since my last post: a lot has been going on, and sadly today isn't the day for me to catch you up on it. [Though I did have a heavenly solo writer's retreat last week.]

I will pause long enough to say that over the past week I've been reading two middle grade series that appeal to my twisted and sometimes macabre sense of humor. The first series is Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, four books by the pseudonymous Charles Gilman that are like a cross between Goosebumps and the Cthulhu mythos. Some of my best memories of my late dad are of him telling us spooky stories that I later found out were written by H.P. Lovecraft. So Gilman "had me at hello" just with his titles.

The second series is  All The Wrong Questions, a planned quartet of books in which Lemony shares a pivotal event from his apprenticeship at the age of thirteen in the secret VFD [Volunteer Fire Department]. If the famous Series of Unfortunate Events books were simultaneously an homage to and a parody of penny dreadfuls, then All the Wrong Questions does the same thing for Golden Age detective novels. There is even a noble librarian named Dashiell!

When I got to that quote about not waiting for a wonderful moment, I realized that was the very reason I fled to the mountains for my retreat in the first place. There never does seem to be an untroubled moment in which I can write. If it's not another round of surgery for me, it's needing to leave home to take care of my mother after she's had surgery. The central air conditioning dies and needs to be replaced, trees crash onto all three of our cars, the toilet chokes, the dog needs to go to the vet. And even when things are going well, there is always food to be bought and cooked, dishes to wash, floors to be swept, clothes to be folded, and carpets to be vacuumed. If it's not student or client manuscripts to edit, it's a new educational gig to stress over.

This is true not just for me, but for all of you who are trying to write. None of us has a life filled with untroubled moments. But what I am learning, almost against my will, is that I need to stop waiting for those mythical halcyon times before I sit down to write. As Lemony tells us wisely, it's best to grab whatever moments we can find lying around in the midst of the daily chaos.

That's what I am trying to do today, with rain pouring down in sheets outside and tornado watches pending. Forget about all that, and just write.

I will leave you with another quote from Shouldn't You Be in School, this one by Lemony's imprisoned sister, Kit.

"“If you’re not scared, she told me, it’s not bravery.”

As I sit down to try and find my way back into my middle grade novel, I do feel a little shaky in the knees. Have I forgotten how to write? Is my idea stupid? Are my characters made of cardboard? Will kids find anything to like in this book? Is it worth writing at all?

So like Kit, I will be brave—and like Lemony, I will keep writing.