Novel-Writing

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My favorite thing to remember about novel-writing is an observation I saw taped to a friend’s wall in her office in graduate school: “Nobody asked you to write that novel”. Therefore novel-writing is a choice–you can always stop, always keep going. You are free to do whatever you want. Most novelists come to writing novels because they have been avid readers. Almost all novels, because they are capacious and hard to contain, are imperfect. Normally, “perfect” and “ambitious” cannot co-exist in the same novel. Therefore, most readers have plenty of opinions about how even a wonderful, beloved, and thrilling novel might be made just a little better. And so we try it. And we discover that it is both harder and easier than it looks.

Jane Smiley

On Understanding

The Stuff of Stars

“Will younger children understand the scale of this text?” the reviewer asked about my recent picture book, The Stuff of Stars.

For better and for worse, those of us who publish are expected to remain silent before such questions, and I have.  This one, however, begs an answer, so I’ll cheat a little and give my answer here.

“Of course not!”

I must add, though, “It depends on what you mean by understanding.”  Because the success of my text depends far less on “understanding,” either the understanding of those younger readers or adults, than it does on letting my readers feel.  My text is meant to open them to something just beyond their comprehension . . . beyond my comprehension, too.

To her credit, the reviewer also went on to say, “More likely they will just take it on faith and be mesmerized by the remarkable art.”

I couldn’t possibly agree more.  The art brings my text alive in a way I couldn’t have dreamed.  And having Ekua Holmes as the illustrator of my text is a bit like being the tail on a comet.

But I would argue that the words—if they are doing their job—mesmerize, too.  Through sound and association, through rhythm and shape, they open a door to something larger, something we all can feel with a depth and authority that surpasses any understanding.

I joined a poetry group once to read and discuss poetry.  I thought, This will be a nice way to spend an evening, talking about poetry.  And I showed up for my first meeting with a high heart.

I attended only once.

I discovered that while I love reading poetry, feeling it, carrying it in my heart, I don’t love talking about it.  I sat through the evening thinking, “I’ve read it.  I’ve taken it into my bones.  What is there to say?”

I didn’t mind listening to others, who had far more to say than I, but little of what was said enhanced my experience of the poem we had just read.

Let me be clear.  I’m not against all literary analysis.  A good piece, poetry or prose, is layered, and it’s too easy to read across the top layer.  But a lot of analysis reminds me of dissecting a frog.  There can be much to learn in such a process, but when you are done, the frog is usually dead.

When I wrote The Stuff of Stars, I didn’t ask myself whether young children would understand the origins of our universe, the birth of our planet, or even their own births.  I asked myself only whether this was an appropriate subject for reverence, for awe, for delight.

I knew it was.

And if my words combined with Ekua’s incredible art create reverence, awe, delight . . . well, we have all understood.

The Time Will Come

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, And say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was yourself. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

A Disappointed Reader

Runt

Recently I received this email from a young reader.  It was, in fact, the fourth or fifth email Robert had sent me, each making the same point.

Dear,Marion Dane Bauer

 

I think I made it clear…we all want a sequel to Runt.If this can happen we will all smile.We will all laugh.We will all be happy and I think that you want us to be happy.However if you don’t then…I don’t know because that’s what I’ve always tried to do.I think that doing this would be the right choice.However I know how hard it is to write books.Ive tried I have but it takes a long time if this is a problem I kind of get it even though you have to put the time and effort to do that.I think anyone who has read Runt wants a sequel.Its obvious and I think that you should write a sequel many people think you should write a sequel.We don’t want to be left off with the sentence “Come, my dear ones!” He sang.”Come.the feast waits.”

 

Sincerely

Robert

 

Dear Robert,

I have often received letters from readers who want a sequel to Runt, but none of those writers has been as persistent as you are.  I appreciate your enthusiasm.  I really do.  But here’s the bottom line.  As you acknowledge, writing a book is hard.  It takes a long time and lots of effort.  And long ago I decided not to dedicate that time and effort to writing a sequel to Runt.

As I’ve explained, I considered writing a sequel.  I knew it would be called Singer and that the story would follow Runt/Singer as he leaves his family and would end with his finding a mate and with the birth of their first pups.

I had sorted some of what would happen along the way.  He was going to make friends with a coyote.  (Usually, wolves and coyotes stay clear of one another, but when I went back to my research about wolves in preparation for writing, I found a report of a coyote/wolf friendship, and I was going to draw on that.)

But here’s the problem.  I did return to that wolf research in preparation for writing the sequel you’re asking for, and as I read I found myself falling out of love with the idea of continuing Runt’s story.  My respect for the natural way wolves live and communicate grew to be so strong that I no longer wanted to play with the idea of giving these intelligent, independent creatures human speech.  Because however closely my story might adhere to the natural habits of wolves, giving them speech changes them in fundamental ways.

So you may go on pleading if it pleases you to do so, but my answer is firm.  I love Runt, as you do.  I’m glad I wrote it and glad that you love it, too.  But I have changed since I wrote that story, and I can no longer gather the energy needed to return to it . . . no matter how often you ask.

I appreciate your enthusiasm.  I appreciate your willingness to put that enthusiasm into words.  But you’re not going to change my mind.  What you might do instead of waiting for a sequel that isn’t going to happen would be to look up some of my other books.  A Bear Named Trouble or Little Dog, Lost or Little Cat’s Luck for other animal stories.  On My Honor for a totally different kind of story.

I wish you well, and I hope you find many books out there by many different authors that you love as much as you love Runt.  I know you will.

Fondly,

MDB

 

I WILL BE AS PERSISTENT AS POSSIBLE EVEN IF A SEQUEL NEVER COMES.#SEQUELTORUNT.

 

ROBERT

And how I love hearing from all the Roberts who demand more!

Even when I have to turn them down.

 

The Beauty of the Earth

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.


Rachel Carson

Credit: Beth-Alison Berggren