Monday, January 05, 2015

No New Stories, Just New Writers' Reactions

Last Wednesday I had to do some baking--New Year's Eve and all--and while I was working away at that, I listened to a terrific podcast of Colin McEnroe's radio show. In Connecticut, McEnroe is, maybe our James Thurber, a James Thurber who writes for the local big city paper and Salon and is on his second local radio program. He's all over the place. I, myself, have been to two writer festivals at which he appeared, and he and my son sat at the same table at a Christmas party this past year. I'm not kidding you. The guy is everywhere. Probably everyone in the state has had a McEnroe sighting.

Anyway, the podcast he did on December 3, Why We'll Always Need New Books, was terrific. His guests were Brian Slattery, Lev Grossman, and Ruth Crocker.

What Was Said

Many juicy things were said during that program. I'm going to focus on three:
  • Are our lives stories?
  • Are writers' books an attempt to explain their lives?
  • There are a limited number of stories. So most writers aren't dealing with new material. It's how they react to the material that can make work different.


Hurry Up And Make A Childlit Connection, Gail

A lot of children's lit, repetitive. New and different isn't a huge issue in children's literature because there are always new readers coming up who will find this year's book about the quirky small town girl surrounded by eccentric adult characters and maybe a dog new and different because they weren't reading the quirky small town girl surrounded by eccentric adult characters and a dog book from last year and the year before and the year before that. And publishing, particularly children's publishing, is like TV and movies. If something does well, the way the Georgia Nicolson books did a decade ago, there will be dozens of copies.

There really are a limited number of stories in children's literature.

I think The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern is a perfect example of what McEnroe was talking about on his program when he said that while most writers don't deal with new material, how they react to their material can make it different. The autobiographical Meaning of Maggie starts out with a stereotypical childlit situation. A clever, spunky girl is beginning to keep a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. But Sovern's reaction to that material is what makes it different, and her reaction is all about her life's story. She is, indeed, explaining her life to us.

So I guess maybe writers should ask themselves if there is something in their lives that can bring something new to whatever story they're thinking about writing.

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