Links Galore

Lots of great links I’ve been hoarding:

Distance in YA: Where Things Come Back

From YARN’s interview with John Corey Whaley, author of this year’s Printz winner, Where Things Come Back:

YARN:  WTCB has a retrospective feel, with Cullen looking back on the way he felt “back then.”  Can you shed any light on how old you imagined the narrator being at the time he tells this story?  And also—this is an unusual choice for YA fiction, which is so often told in the immediate here-and-now of the teen’s life.  Why did you choose this more distant and—dare we say—more adult form of narration?

JCW: Great question…and a tough one. I can’t say I set out to write from a specifically “adult” perspective, but that’s just sort of what happened. I guess I wanted to be able to include observations on life and details in the story that couldn’t have worked out if Cullen had been telling it in the present tense. As far as how old I imagined Cullen as he’s telling the story goes—I can’t really say. I want to say he’s at least out of high school, but I don’t really examine the character’s “life after the book” so much.

Really interested to see this. The question of narrative distance is huge in discussions about how YA novels differentiate from adult novels. Really glad to see Whaley talk about perspective and time in WTCB, and that he didn’t limit himself to the here and now. I think it’s a great example of you can break pretty much every rule in YA. It doesn’t need to be from an intensely immediate perspective. I recently read WTCB, and I think giving Cullen that little bit of distance was a huge help to the narrative.

Make sure to check out the whole interview through the link.

The Fragility of Life, the Irrationality of Life, the Comedy of Life

From this NPR interview with Maurice Sendak in 2011:

“Yes. I’m not unhappy about becoming old. I’m not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me and life is emptied. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I still fully expect to see my brother again. And it’s like a dream life. But, you know, there’s something I’m finding out as I’m aging that I am in love with the world.

And I look right now, as we speak together, out my window in my studio and I see my trees and my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old, they’re beautiful. And you see I can see how beautiful they are. I can take time to see how beautiful they are. It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music.”

The rest of the interview is extremely engaging and moving as well, especially today. Make sure to listen or read the full transcript.

MT Anderson: YA Visionary

MT Anderson is probably one of the best YA authors currently writing. He’s tackled dystopian society hipsters in Feed and the life of a brilliant slave/social experiment in Revolutionary-era Boston in The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing with equal skill and depth of emotion. He pushes boundaries, and I think he’s done a lot for YA as a genre.

So I was really psyched to see Anderson included in NPR’s Visionaries series. Read the article and listen to the podcast here. One part I especially liked:

“Older teens tend to write to me and say, ‘Thank you for not writing down to teenagers,’ ” Anderson explained. “And then there are the letters from adults who say, ‘This is such a good book, why did you write it for teens?’ And feel like, ‘What, you should write a [expletive] book for teens, is that the idea?’”

I think this is why some YA and children’s writers find major success. Their goal isn’t to write a book “for teens” or to “teach children.” They just write good books that appeal especially to children and teens. If adults like those books too, it’s because they’re good books. Kids and teens deserve books that are held to a literary standard like any book you’d put in the general fiction section.

PS–I also had the opportunity to meet Anderson at an NCBLA event last year. He and lots of other amazing authors were signing books afterward, and I got Anderson’s signature. He was very cool and I had a major inner fangirl moment.

(image: Adam Ragusea/WBUR)

Storytelling and Reporting

Gene Weingarten is one of my favorite feature writers ever. He knows how to craft a story and isn’t afraid to look at complicated characters. A couple of pieces he’s written are “The Peekaboo Paradox,” about children’s performer the Great Zucchini, and “Fatal Distraction,” about parents who accidentally leave their children behind in a car on a hot summer day. Both are heartbreaking and wonderfully written, and I highly recommend checking them out.

Writer’s Digest has an interview with Weingarten about the writing process. About storytelling and reporting:

One of the things I admire about your work is that you consistently prove that great writing begins with great reporting. Talk about the importance of reporting.
Well, let’s start with the maxim that the best writing is understated, meaning it’s not full of flourishes and semaphores and tap dancing and vocabulary dumps that get in the way of the story you are telling. Once you accept that, what are you left with? You are left with the story you are telling.

The story you are telling is only as good as the information in it: things you elicit, or things you observe, that make a narrative come alive; things that support your point not just through assertion, but through example; quotes that don’t just convey information, but also personality. That’s all reporting.

What distinguishes a well-told story from a poorly told one?
All of the above. Good reporting, though, requires a lot of thinking; I always counsel writers working on features to keep in mind that they are going to have to deliver a cinematic feel to their anecdotes. When you are interviewing someone, don’t just write down what he says. Ask yourself: Does this guy remind you of someone? What does the room feel like? Notice smells, voice inflection, neighborhoods you pass through. Be a cinematographer.

Very much like Weingarten’s focus on the story itself, not extraneous flourishes, and creating a cinematic feel in a piece. Even though this is about nonfiction, I think both of these tips are extremely useful to fiction writers as well.

Great Editors Still Want Great Writers

Editorial friends: ever wish you could have been the person to work on books by JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Tomie dePaola, Jerry Spinelli, and more? Arthur Levine has you beat. Check out this fantastic interview with him about his experience as an editor and how a hopeful writer can approach the world of publishing. A few nice points:

OLSWANGER: Do fiction editors want to find new writers?
LEVINE: Sure. The lists get full, but there’s always room for a new, special voice. There’s nothing more exciting than coming across that. I can’t imagine a point where I will have covered every possible form of great writing, not only serious literary fiction but humorous literary fiction, fiction from many different cultures, and mysteries, and . . . you know, there’s so many genres and so many types! I can’t imagine a time when I would have a writer that is the last word in every possible form of writing. There’s always going to be room for somebody new.

OLSWANGER: You’ve worked with many writers over the years. In your opinion, how does a writer grow?
LEVINE: I think writers grow by pushing themselves to be more honest and revealing about themselves in their work. They grow by reading and turning outward, not by turning inward and becoming self-referential. The writer who says, “Oh, I only concentrate on my own writing–I don’t read other people’s books” is missing out on the opportunity to be exposed to new voices and approaches that help one grow. And taking risks. That’s another way that writers grow.

OLSWANGER: Do you believe good writing always gets published?
LEVINE: “Always” is too strong a word because nothing happens always. But I think if a person is determined, smart and professional enough, in addition to having that piece of writing, then they have a great chance of getting published. A person who has a truly original piece of writing will have their choice of opportunities. With enough persistence, they will wind up getting published.

Overall, I think there’s a lot of hope in this interview for upcoming writers. Rowling and Pullman may be great, but even Levine is excited about what’s next. Make sure to check out the rest of the interview, too!

Fifty Years of the Finches

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books and movies. It’s rare that both the original novel and the film adaptation work so well, but each version is fantastic. The movie is celebrating its 50th anniversary–hurray! In honor of the occasion, Movieline has interviewed Mary Badham, who played Scout, and Cecilia Peck, daughter of Gregory Peck. About why To Kill a Mockingbird is so necessary, Badham says:

“To me, the root of all evil is ignorance, and this book speaks directly to the importance of getting an education because ignorance breeds things like bigotry and racism, and all that hatred. We’re still dealing with that, right here in the United States, if we’re talking about Muslims or Mexicans or immigrants, you know, it’s a major deal right now. So we’re still grappling with these issues. It’s just that people have changed their clothes, that’s all. This is not a 1930s black-and-white issue, this is here and now, today.”

Another great example of why literature and film matters, especially if it confronts an uncomfortable subject. Make sure to check out the rest of the interview through the link.

Links Galore

A few more fun links for Thursday: