Tag Archives: Runt

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.

 

Joy in Fiction?

4_1We are programed, each of us, to pay attention to the negative emotions, fear, anger, jealousy, sorrow. Being aware that we are afraid and tending to that fear is a matter of survival, even today. We don’t need a saber-toothed tiger waiting to pounce to justify our fear. A semi barreling toward us will do very nicely. Or a rumor that there are going to be cut-backs at the office.

But joy is another matter entirely. It comes on the breath of a spring day and is gone with the passing breeze. Tara Brach, in a recent dharma talk, recommended pausing for ten breaths when we are visited by joy. Ten breaths to catch it, hold it, and let it penetrate our bones. Because if we don’t pause to notice joy, it flies away.

Fine advice for living a life, but I found myself asking, how does that piece of wisdom relate to the stories we tell? Is the fact that we are programed to notice and to keep thinking about the negative emotions the reason the great tragedies have so much more power than the comedies, why Paradise Lost has more impact on the psyche than Paradise Regained?

The complaint circulates often, especially about young-adult fiction, “But it’s so depressing! Why does the literature for our young people have to be so depressing?” And part of the reason is certainly that, in our culture, happily ever after endings have come to be seen as unsophisticated. But I suspect some of the answer lies here, that the happy stories, the funny stories melt away. The ones that pull up dark feelings stay. And we all want our stories to stay.

Part of the reason for darkness in our stories lies, of course, in the very nature of stories. Stories are based on struggle. If you don’t have struggle, if your character doesn’t have a problem that feels really important, at least to that character, you don’t have a story. At a father-son book club, a father once asked me, “Why does the father in Runt have to behave the way he does? Why can’t he be kinder? Why can’t he acknowledge and support his son?” And the only answer I could give was, “Because this is a story. If the father had accepted Runt as we all want him to, I would have no story to tell. If all had been fine in Runt’s world, you wouldn’t care. You would, in fact, be bored.”

This “rule” of storytelling is so strong and so built into our unconscious expectations that if a story starts out, as they sometimes do, with all being right with the world, we read tensely, waiting for disaster to strike. It’s a story, after all. Disaster has to strike. Our lives can sometimes go along smoothly for days, months, years, but lives as they are lived don’t make good stories. A life can only become the material of a story when someone begins selecting, leaving out all the too-easy bits, perhaps, too, leaving out the joy.

No, I’m not advocating more happy endings to our stories. A story’s ending must reflect what a story means, dark or light. But I wonder, is there a way, while we’re dealing with struggle, while we are creating an emotional connection to our readers through strong negative emotions, to occasionally build in ten breaths for the savoring of joy?

It’s just a thought.

 

Is Remembering Enough?

YouthEvery time I happen across a children’s television program where adult actors are pretending to be children I am grateful that those of us who write for young people are permitted to appear in the world in our adult clothes. We are even allowed to grow old! 

What we must do, however, to make the leap from our own world to those we serve is to remember what most adults prefer to forget … our own childhoods. 

It’s understandable that few adults want to retain a deep knowledge of their own young selves. Dependence, vulnerability, unfulfilled longing are painful to relive. But while we who write for young people are commending ourselves for our ability to stay connected with those places in ourselves, perhaps we should pause to ask a crucial question. Is remembering enough? 

Is the most intimate knowledge of our own childhood selves sufficient to create a connection with today’s young readers? Especially if it’s been a long time since we ourselves were young? Or is it possible that childhood itself has changed so profoundly that we are at risk of losing our ability to reach our audience? And when I say we, I mean mostly me  … and those other writers out there who are no longer young.

There are, of course, fundamental facts about childhood that don’t change with an evolving culture. Or they change so slowly as to feel constant. And the younger the child we are writing for, the easier it is to find a reliable empathy from our own experience. Very young children are connected primarily with families, and families have a certain sturdy consistency.

But smart phones and the Internet and video games and whatever the next innovation might be do, in fact, alter the experience of childhood. And the revolving landscape of movie actors, slang, and junk food has always been a plague for writers to sort through as they try to make their stories feel current without risking their being almost instantly out of date once they are published. Styles of parenting change. Schools do, too. And the world that seems to be tumbling around us at an ever accelerating rate impacts children as much, if not more, than it impacts us. But how? How do they experience their future as they witness the disaster our climate is sliding into? I came to consciousness during World War II, but that was a war that we all assumed would end one day … and it did. Or seemed to. What is it like to be born into an unending landscape of war? 

RuntOne solution, of course, to staying contemporary with our young people is to write about a future that lies beyond their reach and ours. Many do that these days. Writing historical fiction is another way to avoid missteps in portraying today. That’s what I’m doing in Blue-Eyed Wolf, the young-adult novel I’m working on now. Another solution for me is to write in an old-fashioned, classic tone set in no particular time as I did in Little Dog, Lost. Animal stories with almost no human characters such as Runt work, too. All those kinds of stories are mostly time safe.

I grow more aware every year, though, of the maneuvering I have to do to stay fresh, to stay in territory where I have authority, to stay publishable. And I’m aware, too, that I can no longer bring the boundless energy to my work that I see younger writers all around me bringing to theirs. 

But that last—all that young energy coming up behind me—brings with it a wholly agreeable surprise. I once was out there pushing the boundaries of the field I entered with such passion and such love. Now I settle back into the flow, knowing writers all around me are pushing the boundaries still, that their work is robust and daring and filled with a whole new passion and love. And those enthusiastic, hard working, young writers bless my work by keeping our field alive.

Norma Fox Mazer taught in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts with me. And she said to me one day, “You realize, don’t you, that we’re grooming our own replacements.” We laughed because, of course, it was true. 

What better way to experience just a hint of immortality?

Where Do Ideas Come From?

ideaI got the idea for this blog when I was meditating this morning. Yes, I know, I’m not supposed to get ideas meditating. In fact, that’s supposed to be a time for leaving ideas behind. But when my mind loses its quiet focus on my breath and skitters off to someplace else, ideas about what to write or how to fix something I’m currently writing are one of the more productive results it can return with. “Thinking,” I remind myself happily as I tuck the idea away, and then I return to my breath.

It’s the most frequent question fiction writers are asked, wherever we go, whatever age readers we’re talking to: Where do your ideas come from?

And it is probably the hardest question to answer.

I always want to say: They come from everywhere . . . and anywhere. And that, of course, is true. It also gives absolutely no satisfaction to the questioner. So here’s an attempt to define “everywhere and anywhere.”

Five BooksOn My Honor started from something that actually happened, not to me but to a friend of mine, when we were both about thirteen years old.

A Bear Named Trouble began from an AP news story, only about two paragraphs long, about an adolescent brown bear that had broken repeatedly into the Anchorage Zoo. How wonderful! I thought. A wild bear who wants to live in a zoo! What a perfect story!

Runt came out of my remembering my passionate love for Felix Salten’s novels when I was a child, the most famous of which is Bambi. I wanted to write a story that I, and I hoped others, could love as I had loved those.

A Very Little Princess and its prequel, A Very Little Princess: Rose’s Story, came from fantasies I carried around as a child. I used to pretend I was a three-inch-high doll living in a family of normal sized people.

Little Dog, Lost began in a very different place. It started with my wanting to write a story that would work for young readers without giving up the natural flow of my own style. Thus I turned to verse to give lots of white space on the page. Through verse I can deliver sentences in bite-sized chunks without shortening them, chunks that are easier for developing readers to manage. And the topic? From a combination of my own much-loved little dog, a cavalier King Charles spaniel named Dawn, and a friend’s service dog, Ruby, a terrier mix with the most astonishing airplane-wing ears I’ve ever seen. And since stories are always based on a problem—no problem, no story—I simply asked myself what problem would work best with a dog as a main character? To get her lost, of course.

But the topic is only the beginning of any story. What brings a story alive is the writer’s heart. So always, whatever else I’m writing, I’m really writing both about myself and for myself, about my own longing, my own experience of being “lost,” my own joy at being found.

What a perfect way to make a living, feeding my own heart again and again and again. And if I do the job well enough, my hope always is that I’ll manage to feed your heart, too, wherever my story idea might come from.