Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Rereading Mission and The First Lesson from SCBWI

This post is a two-parter. The first part is: I'm on a mission. And that mission is: to reread books from my childhood, and then blog about them.

I formulated this plan in LAX, while at one of the airport bookstores. Side note about bookstores. I always feel kind of silly walking into the young adult section of bookstores. I'll sort of wander around sci-fi/fantasy, and then glance to see if anyone's looking, and then dart over to the YA section really fast. I have this weird paranoia about someone who isn't familiar with YA assuming that it's only for younger people, coming up to me, and saying something like, "shouldn't you be reading at a higher level?" At which point I would flick them in the jaw. But I would rather not have to do that. I try to use my flicking powers only for good.

(Maybe that is using them for good?)

Anyway. I would love for anyone and everyone to join me on this mission. I am going to blog about The Giver on Friday, August 13th (Friday the 13th! Ominous), and if you choose to blog about a "childhood book" on that day, please post the link in the comments or tweet it at me and I will link my post to it, and we can form a giant chain of blog posts. Read any book you want, as long as you first read it when you were a kid (or a teenager, if you are a Person With More Age, and your teenage years feel far off to you) and post anything you want about the experience. If you can't do it this month, I'm pretty sure I'll do this again in another two weeks, with A Wrinkle In Time.

The first lesson I learned from SCBWI is more an interesting thing to think about than anything else. And I learned it from Marion Dane Bauer's keynote speech, "The Shape of Our Stories."

Marion said that while she was in an interview, once, the interviewer asked her a series of particularly good questions that led her to this simple realization: she's written the same book, over and over and over again. The trappings would be different-- different characters, different settings, different plots, even-- but the core of the story that lived under all those layers was the same; that basically, no matter what she wrote, she was always writing about abandonment. And when she tried to push away from that topic, she found herself stuck in the story, wondering why it wasn't working.

I realized as I was sitting there that my stories are always about transformation. More specifically, a decision that leads to transformation. For some reason, the idea of a character taking responsibility for his or her own life and doing something else with it just never leaves me.

Basically: Marion isn't alone. I think we all write about the same things, over and over, because we all acknowledge that our writing isn't just for readers, it's for us. There are things I am trying to tease out, to understand better, and because I find them confusing and compelling, I write about them, over and over, in an attempt to get somewhere. That doesn't mean that our stories are just replications of each other. It means that no matter what you write, you are the same person, and parts of you are going to make it into your work. Sometimes, the same parts. I don't think that's a bad thing.

The practical application of this is that the next time I get stuck in a story and I don't know where it's going, I can look at whether I am allowing myself to write about what I really want to write about, or whether I am forcing myself to write about something else.

The theory that I'm going to test with this rereading old books thing is: do the stories that stick with me for long periods of time also deal with the same things I am currently writing about?

And: what is it I'm trying to figure out, exactly?

This should be fun.

Anyway, think about what your works have in common. It's fun. And let me know what you come up with. (If you want.)

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