Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Audience

Last time we had a day off from work, what did we do? Oh yeah. We built another fort. This second fort was much better constructed, thanks to an ingenious idea (from me, of course) to use quilting pins to hold the blankets together. We used my living room this time, but we had just as much fun! We ate yummy treats and made Narnian madlibs and watched one of our most favoritest movies, Prince Caspian. I, for one, felt like a little kid again, which is exactly what I intended to do. I needed to get in touch with the audience of children's literature.

Then, my family swept me off to Disneyland, where I turned into a little boy. It sounds awkward, but I simply mean that I had the whims of Tom Sawyer. I wanted to be a pirate, I wanted to be a knight, I wanted to be a cowboy, etc, etc. And I saw Peter Pan himself! He would be my idol, if I were really a little boy. As it is, he is still very idol-like. I don't believe in growing up completely. At Disneyland, it became painfully obvious that I was getting more in touch with the audience. I was starting to...lose myself in the audience.

The next week, Rachel and I went to WIFYR: the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference. My creative mind exploded. In a good way. It was quite messy, and I'm still trying to pick up the pieces. But I was running to and fro, from class to class, helter-skelter, heebie-jeebie, learning about the children's and YA book markets and about how to get my foot in that wardrobe door.

Guys and gals, the point of this travelogue is that the Magic Portal is opening. To keep it open, I'm going to have to read and read and read this summer until my eyeballs fall out. See, I told you I'm a little boy: in the last two paragraphs, I have mentioned exploding brains and loosening eyeballs. In other words, my plan to be an expert in children's and YA literature is starting to work!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Path of Peter Pan

Now that we'd discovered the portal, we had to wait for it to open. We set up camp in Rachel's living room. Well, we set up fort in Rachel's living room. Observe:

It was awesome to say the least. And it was guarded by Erasmus the Unicorn.

We goofed around, read our favorite books (mostly Narnia in honor of the then-upcoming movie), and took lots of ridiculous pictures with our good friend, Cassie. Then, in the middle of the night, when we were all sleeping soundly in our sleeping bags, the portal opened. We awoke the next morning with newfound purpose. I had questions buzzing around my head: why is it so fun to relive childhood experiences? Why do make-believe and imagination have such a profound impact on children? Why do adults struggle to suspend their disbelief when they are the ones who can draw the deepest meaning out of the fanciful?

We thought about it long and hard.

After that summer, our schooling allowed us to study specific aspects of literature that most interested us. We both chose the Path of Peter Pan: neither of us wants to grow out of children's and young adult books. There is something fascinating about the layers of meaning in a fairy tale, something instructive about the adventures at Treasure Island, something hopeful about man's ability to influence magic. And it's not just the fantasy stories that stir up questions and engage the synthesizing part of my brain. Every good story makes connections! Tom Sawyer crafts himself a life of joy, Stanley Yelnats unravels several mysteries at once, Julie learns to survive with the wolves. There is something in this type of discover story, the bildungsroman, that speaks to us. It keeps us awake at night and often (in frightening ways) invades our dreams. It's what I think about in the shower when I don't need to be thinking at all.

Over the next few years, we continued our search for that wonderful world where children live forever. Some call it Neverland, others Wonderland, still others Narnia, and I have heard countless other names for it. The enchanted drawer in Rachel's apartment opened our minds, but we wanted to explore further. In the woods near campus, we found a gate that seemingly leads to nowhere, but we can't figure out how to get the other world to appear. We also found a wardrobe in my old apartment building, but it disappeared before we could test out its magical powers.

Magical portal? Maybe. Why else would someone put a wardrobe up against a glass wall on the second story?

So our search goes ever on and on, and that's how we came to be studying the craft and history of children's and young adult literature in graduate school.

Coming up next: the Adventure continues with another fort and a whole lot of books. Stay in tune! If you find a magical land in the meantime, let us know!

How the madness continued: Rachel's abridged version

It all started with a spoon. Not just any spoon, mind you: a spoon that had moved out of my apartment months before. One evening when I was baking, I reached into my drawer of baking implements, and there it was.

Now normally the appearance of a spoon in a drawer could be considered perfectly ordinary. (It was a kitchen drawer, after all.) Remember, however, that this was not my spoon, and it was in a drawer that I used quite often. I should have seen it!

It was also not the first time the drawers in my apartment had spit up something that shouldn't have been there: a few days before, my bedroom drawer had jammed. I, of course, pulled it out to figure out what had happened. At the back of the drawer were hidden a purse, a pair of socks, and pajama pants--the latter in my size! (I threw out the socks and washed the others, of course.)

Fast forward to the kitchen. Imagine my surprise when a strange spoon showed up in my drawer, the second such occurrence in a week!

Toni and I had only one explanation:
My apartment must be connected to another world.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How The Madness Began, Part 1: Toni's Version

Embarrassing picture of Rachel and...
wait a second, is that a figure of me she's smooshing?

Apparently Rachel has a thing for tigers. Is this why we are friends? I am, after all, Toni the Tiger. Let me recall the beginning of our friendship.

In the summer of '07, Rachel was a teacher in my Relief Society. She was new in the ward and she worked at Barnes and Noble. Of course, I gravitated toward her in hopes of getting a discount on the seventh Harry Potter book, which was coming out that July. It was a brilliant plan. In fact, I distinctly remember the first time we hung out at her apartment: we had a couple of people over to talk about HP7, particularly what we thought was going to happen and which characters were the most attractive. Rachel is to Sirius Black as Toni is to George Weasley. That I remember. Anyway, there we were, sitting around her countertop island, radiating nerdness into the atmosphere. It was totally awesome, the beginning of a beautiful friendship a la Casablanca. We got together again a few weeks later, having finished the book within hours of its release. We mourned together, laughed together, discussed literary-isms together, and BAM! Inseparabilitio! We had been cursed to be nerd-friends.

Yep, that sounds about right.

Coming soon: Part 2, Rachel's Version.
Coming not-as-soon-but-pretty-soon: Part 3, The Fortress of No Return

Friday, April 16, 2010

Most exciting thoughts and a little bit of blood

Rachel and I will now be using this blog as a venue for our most exciting thoughts about literature. Yes, we do have exciting thoughts about that mighty and nebulous aether of literature. Why? Because Rachel is a new MFA student and I am a new MA student.
M.A. Me and M.F.A. Rachel

We're about to lead glorious lives filled with leaves, spines, drafts, hand cramps, and (last but not least) paper cuts (hence the blood in the title of this blog post). To relieve the immense pressure of this glory, we are going to discuss our favorite things on this blog: children's and young adult books.

This coming summer, our focus will be Victorian and turn-of-the-century children's books, as part of our preparation for a class on the Victorian era. We are looking forward to writing book reviews, reader reactions, interviews with the dead, and other fun things! What "other fun things" would you, gentle readers, like to see on this blog?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Provoking an Apostrophe

I have a prompt for Weavers this week!

...Well, it's technically not a writing prompt, just something to get us thinking.

Virginia Woolf wrote that a woman only needs money and a room of her own to be successful as a writer. Since we're starving college students, money isn't exactly an option...nor is an entirely private room. Dreaming, however, is.

Imagine (and possibly design) your ideal writing office, one that you would make if you had enough money. How big would it be? What colors would you use in it? What would you keep in it?

(I know it's silly, but consider it an exercise in establishing Sense of Place.)

A Year in the Making

Almost a year ago, I sat in a dark theater watching a now-familiar movie. At the time, I struggled to write the first draft of my novel. I felt very alone with that conflict.

Toward the end of the movie, however, a realization dawned on me: I wasn't alone. Since I grew up in a very religious family, I believe in a loving God. Shouldn't God love me enough to care about my writing? The experience taught me it was appropriate to pray about my writing projects. I now do that frequently.

It's a pity it took me a year to take this to the next step.

I've known since childhood that I wanted to be a writer. In junior high, I decided that I wanted to write YA novels: I found myself with a somewhat limited reading selection, and I wanted to create books like the ones I loved so that later readers would not share my trouble. In college, however, I lost track of that goal. I was reminded over and over that you can't make a living as a YA author, that you have to have something to fall back on. I spent so much time focusing on the fallback that, until recently, I practically stopped writing and reading. Bringing writing back into my life should have brought that goal forward, but recently, I've still been paranoid about not having a fallback plan. Am I a good enough writer to make it in the real world?

This weekend at stake conference, a year-old realization finally hit me. The Lord knows who I am and who He wants me to be. If my goal of becoming a YA author is not part of His plan for me, He would let me know. I just needed to ask.

Ironically, I had a conversation about this with a coworker this morning. He has been struggling with the same question: should he pursue and MA or an MFA in writing? Should he train to teach literature that he does not love, or should he pursue his passion for personal essay? My circumstances are different--I want to be able to choose YA fantasy over technical editing--but I tried to offer what advice I could.

At first, I struggled with what to say. However, as I bore my testimony that God knows me and will guide me to the correct choice, I realized that I had my answer.

I'm not sure where YA publishing will take me. I should be terrified, but I'm not. I know that things will happen in the Lord's time. For now, I'm just happy to know that a prayer was answered...
Even if I really should have thought to ask earlier.