On Creativity: Marion Dane Bauer

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

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Marion Dane Bauer writes:

Marion Dane BauerWhat is the Point?

Mary Oliver: I also believed and still believe, with more alarm as the years go by, that we are destroying the Earth.

Krista Tippett: And you don’t write about that.

Mary Oliver: No. Simply that I think you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. And there are some poets who pound on that theme until you really can’t take any more. And I think that my way of doing it, saying this is what we have, let’s keep it, because it’s beautiful and wonderful and wondrous might work better. Though probably it’s not going to work either. We’re in deep trouble with the environment I believe. And nobody’s going to stop this business of … of business, of making money, the amassing of things that will vanish for us as we vanish. I’ll leave a few poems behind . . . but not much cash.

                   Unedited interview, On Being, October 15, 2015

So … Mary Oliver, from whom so many of us draw hope for our precious, struggling world, for our precious, struggling lives, despairs, too. How painful to hear!

And yet when I listened to that interview I only nodded and thought, Of course. That’s the way it is, isn’t it? We despair and, at the same time, we write about wonders.

Because what is the point of writing anything else? The wondrous, after all, still exists. The wondrous in the natural world that surrounds us, the wondrous in human relationships, the wondrous that flows from the human mind … art, science, even technology. All worthy of honor.

I feel a powerful aversion to the message I’ve heard too often handed to young people, “We adults have failed. The world is yours now. Fix it!”

If I were young today I can’t imagine much that would fill me with more disdain … or more anger.

So I have recently spent intensive months first researching then writing and rewriting and rewriting a picture book text called EarthSong. I don’t say one word in it about our collapsing climate. I only celebrate. A hymn, not a sermon. My theory is that if I can fill a young child—and perhaps that young child’s caretaker, too—with wonder at our Earth, they will be more ready to take care than if I preach the fire and brimstone I can too easily see gathering at our feet.

And if, as I suspect, taking care in our individual lives is no longer enough to make a difference, then at least my words will bring my readers to the kind of deep appreciation that can change us today.

Of course, climate chaos isn’t the only threat I, and many others, see gathering around us. We stand on the brink of war, war we can no longer simply export to other lands and pretend is not ours. Our own society is collapsing under the burden of inequality, of a neglected infrastructure, of short-sighted and greedy economic policies. Politics—all of it, not just the too-easy-to-name newcomers—has become a travesty, focused on power rather than the common good.

There are days when my most optimistic thought is that I’m old. If I’m lucky, I will come in nature’s unerring way to that final exit before the collapse.

But then I have grandchildren.

I have grandchildren.

And young readers.

And the only answer I can find when I speak to them is to combine honesty with a deep honoring of the good, of the beautiful, of the holy.

Because it isn’t just that “you catch more flies with honey.” That’s true, of course. But what’s even more true is that we need, all of us, young and old, to live in that good, beautiful, holy place. Otherwise, what is the point?

And if we need to live in it, then I need to write in it, too.

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Marion Dane Bauer is the author of the Newbery Honor book On My Honor, as well as many cherished picture books, early readers, nonfiction books, middle grade novels, young adult fiction, and books about writing. She was the editor of Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence, a collection of original short stories on gay and lesbian themes by well-known children’s writers. Her most recent books are Little Cat’s Luck and Jump, Little Wood Ducks. Marion was one of the founding faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ master’s degree in writing for children and young adults. Visit Marion Dane Bauer’s website.

 

On Creativity: Gennifer Choldenko

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

Gennifer Choldenko writes:

Gennifer Choldenko

There’s no doubt we’re living in trying times. I’m still reeling from the shock of yesterday’s news, when a new affront, even more disastrous, pops up on my phone. If fiction writers concocted the events in today’s newspaper, the plot would be hair-brained, Gerry-rigged and completely unbelievable. The characters leading our country would be too simple, too clearly deranged. Readers would not suspend their disbelief.

But the question is … how do I write during these confusing and troubling times?

From an intellectual standpoint I could say we have to write because otherwise we’re allowing the evil to wrap its fingers around our hearts and our minds. The Boston Marathon has gone on every year since the bombing in 2013. Ariana Grande is planning a benefit concert for Manchester. Charlie Hebdo is publishing every Wednesday just as it did before 2015.

We have to write because otherwise we’re pushing the mute button on our muses. And it is our voices that will set us free. And though I believe this, that isn’t really why I’m writing well right now.

I’m writing well because the worse things get, the more important writing is for me. Writing is my refuge. It’s the place I go to hide from the world.

I write for years trying to deepen my understanding of the complex environment of my characters. And in the universe I create, my characters grapple with skewed or upside-down morality such as we are experiencing today.

But when I’ve gone through the rough and tumble, uncovered the secrets, fears, lies, and downright insanity of my stories at the end, there is hope. I write for that hope. I need it now more than ever.

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Gennifer Choldenko is the author of the Newbery Honor book Al Capone Does My Shirts and the two books that continue Moose and Natalie Flanagan’s story. She writes novels and picture books, the most recent of which is Dad and the Dinosaur, illustrated by Dan Santat. Visit Gennifer Choldenko’s website.

 

On Creativity: Avi

June 8th, 2017

A few weeks ago, I sent this question to several writers I admire. “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

First, from Avi:

AviKaren, I have nothing but sympathy and shared feelings with you. That said, I am writing, not just because the domestic budget requires it, but I like to think I can take the world as it is today and make it part of what I write. Perhaps it is the historical fiction I write (and you write) that helps. There are, alas, many moments in history which echo today’s world. If you can write about such, and as does happen in history (not always) the highest qualities of human culture triumph, you can imbue your young readers with a sense of their potential triumphs that might be, could be, and should be. In other words, let your struggle be your story.

Avi is the author of many books for children and teens, including the popular True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Crispin: Cross of Lead, and Nothing But the Truth, each of which were honored by Newbery committees. Nothing But the Truth is being read in classrooms because of its connection with current events, much like The Loud Silence of Francine Green. Visit Avi’s website.