On Creativity: Dorothy Love

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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Dorothy Love writes:

Dorothy Love

Would it help you to think of writing as a form of resistance to the toxic miasma that’s engulfing us all? Most of my friends are desperate to do something to counteract the current White House occupant, but lack the power of the pen.

I’ve never subscribed to the idea that literature for young readers ought to ” teach a lesson” —ye gads!!! but perhaps your characters can embody the best of our shared humanity as an example to those readers who will one day be in charge of this poor old planet.

Fire up your computer and tell your story as an act of defiance against all that has gone so horribly wrong in our country.

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Dorothy Love, the author of Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray, A Respectable Actress, Every Perfect Gift, and several other historical fiction novels told with mystery and romance, is highly respected for her storytelling and her research. She enjoys traveling with her husband, collecting antique ephemera, and playing Frisbee with Jake, the couple’s golden retriever. A native Southerner, she currently lives in the Texas hill country. Visit her website.

 

On Creativity: Nikki Grimes

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.

_________________________

Nikki Grimes writes:

Nikki GrimesLove in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a powerful title. It comes to me now as I consider the challenge of creating art in the diseased social and political environment in which we currently find ourselves.

For me, the answer is largely a matter of balance. As a citizen, I have a responsibility to keep myself informed of what’s going on so that I am positioned to take action, accordingly. As an artist, though, I bear a responsibility to my work. By setting limits on the former, I’m able to create a space of positivity in which I can successfully attend to the latter.

We live in a 24-hour-news-cycle kind of world, but that doesn’t mean I have to ingest news 24:7. Once or twice a day is more than enough, especially given that much of the hourly news is a regurgitation of earlier posts, anyway. Like medicine, I mind my doses of information. A certain amount is necessary for the health of my citizen-self. An overdose, however, is neither required nor recommended.

In addition to monitoring my intake of daily news, so much of it negative, I’m careful to balance it out with positive actions and affirmations. I spend time in my garden, draw in the fresh air and the heady scent of roses. I enjoy the laughter of children. I celebrate the birthdays, baby showers, and weddings of friends. I visit art museums and botanical gardens and intentionally spend time giving myself over to beauty. Above all, I remind myself that I believe in a God who has already written the end of the story, and—spoiler alert—the just prevail.

Trust me, I am not naive. I know we have a pretty deep ditch to dig ourselves out of. Will the road be rocky? Absolutely. But we will reach the end of it. In the meantime, my job is to use my gift as a source of help, healing, and inspiration, which are so desperately needed, right now.

Literature and art are powerful tools. With them, we can promote peace, plant seeds of empathy and compassion, and encourage right action. As such, this is not the time for those of us who are creative to sit back, or allow ourselves to become paralyzed. This is precisely the time that we must engage.

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New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include the much-honored books One Last WordGarvey’s Choice, ALA Notable book What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin’s Notebook, Talkin’ About Bessie, Dark Sons, Words with Wings, and The Road to Paris. Creator of the popular Meet Danitra Brown, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California.. Visit Nikki Grimes’ website.

 

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.

_________________________

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.

 

Glad You Asked, Q5

May 18th, 2017

 

I Love to ReadWhat did you study in college?

I entered college as an English major but quickly became enamored of the Classics department because it was much smaller and more interesting and they had sherry parties every Friday afternoon. My final major was double—Greek and English.

Glad You Asked, Q4

May 4th, 2017
Tags:

Are there particular memories of growing up that, looking back, you see as leading you toward a writing career?

My first 17 or so years seemed to be leading me to a writing career.

I wrote all the time—poems, short stories, a 7-page novel, an epic poem cycle based on the life of Elvis.

A lot of what I wrote was involved with creating a world I’d like to live in starring a person I’d like to be.

Glad You Asked, Q1

March 23rd, 2017

Are you working on a new manuscript?

I’m struggling my way through a book set in San Diego in 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. Here’s the beginning, or the beginning at the moment:

Jorge lifted the slimy creature to his lips and bit it right between the eyes.

I shuddered as I watched.  “Doesn’t that taste muddy and disgusting?”

 “Nah,” he said, wiping mud from his mouth. “Is only salty. This way they don’t die but only sleep, stay fresh.” He threw the octopus into a bucket and slipped through the mud flats to another hole in the muck. He filled a baster from a mud-spattered Clorox bottle and squirted the bleach into a hole. When the occupant slithered to the surface, Jorge pulled it out and bit it, too. “You want?  Make good stew.”

I shook my head.  I preferred fish that came in cans and was mixed with mayo and chopped celery.

San Diego's Santa Fe train station

San Diego’s Santa Fe train station 1940s

Congratulations, Late Bloomer!

JC KatoJC Kato has won the 2015 Cushman Late Bloomer Award with her manuscript for Finding Moon Rabbit,  the incredible story of Koko Hayashi, a ten-year-old girl who doesn’t follow rules, but must survive with her mother and sister in a Wyoming internment camp. JC said she’s been wanting to write this story ever since she married into the Kato family, and now she has. I chose Finding Moon Rabbit because the writing is strong and authentic, Koko is an intriguing and original character, and the subject matter is compelling and important. Well done, JC. I look forward to reading the finished book.

So all you over-fifties, think about applying. Next year I could be congratulating you.

The Polish word for family

RodzinaQ: Choosing names. Is there a story behind the names you’ve chosen for your characters? (e.g., Brat becomes Beetle becomes Alyce)

A: There is no good answer to this question. Names just pop into my head, often before the story does. But there is a story behind Rodzina: When I was ten, my Grandma Lipski took me to the Polish cemetery in Chicago to show me her mother’s grave. In front of a gravestone marked Rodzina Czerwinski, she sat and cried. Many years later when I was writing a book about a Polish girl from Chicago, I decided to call her Rodzina after my great-grandmother. I checked with my father to make sure I had the spelling correct, and he told me that rodzina was not her first name but was the Polish word for family. The gravestone marked the resting place of the rodzins Czerwinski, or Czerwinski family. The book Rodzina is all about the search for family, so I decided that while Rodzina was not my great- grandmother’s name, it was the perfect name for the girl in my story. And so she is Rodzina.