Thanks to Agnes last week who posted the link to The New York Times Sunday Book Review review of Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It, which came out yesterday. For those of you who missed it, here it is again: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/books/review/bookshelf-poetry.html?_r=1&ref=books. And for you poetry buffs, there was an amazing essay in The Atlantic online at: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/why-poetry-should-be-more-playful/254188/. I’m delighted to say the book has gotten a marvelous send-off!
Now for more questions from Charlotte. Here’s the first: Did you get annoying non-writers asking to read it (your manuscript) when it was so rough it wouldn't have made any sense to anyone?
No. My non-writer friends were encouraging about my new and then not-so-new and then unending endeavor, but no one asked to read. I asked the children’s librarians at the main branch of the Brooklyn public library to look at my first effort. They did and were enthusiastic and set up a reading for children - who got bored and wandered away mid-reading. The librarians stuck around to the end, though. The book was never published, but it was lovely to have that little cheering section wishing me well.
And the second and third: Did anyone ever say something so mean (well-intentioned or not) that it still haunts your writing confidence today? Not a publisher, I mean (I remember you said in Writing Magic you got a terrible letter about Ella when you were starting out...), but a friend?
No one did. I did take a class in getting published that was taught by an editor, and she was discouraging to all her students, so I didn’t feel singled out. The terrible letter wasn’t for Ella, it was for a picture book manuscript called Sweet Fanopps about a kingdom that had forgotten how to sleep and had lost all the words associated with sleep. When sleep is rediscovered no one has language to go with it. Fanopps, of course, means dreams, and I invented other sleep-related words. Poodge was the one for sleep. In the course of the letter the editor misspelled Fanopps as Fanoops. Tut tut.
And more: What did it mean (monetarily and emotionally) to be "able to quit your day job"? Or is that too personal a question?
Not too personal. Money first. I quit seven months after Ella Enchanted came out and two months before it won the Newbery honor. I was fifty years old, and I had worked for New York State government for twenty-seven years. At fifty-five I would collect a small pension no matter what happened with my writing career, so I had a measure of security although I had five years to get through. My husband and I decided to risk it. My friend, the wonderful young adult author Joan Abelove, who was supporting herself as a technical writer, promised to teach me technical writing if I needed something to fall back on, which I still feel grateful for. But luckily the Newbery honor came along and my prospects improved and have stayed pretty darn good.
Now for emotional. My work with New York State government mostly had to do with welfare. By the end my job was administrative and I was in an unhappy patch. I was glad to leave. But I’m a social person, and I worried about the solitary life of a writer, so that’s when I started my workshop, and I continued to take a writing class and participate in a critique group. Naturally I was delighted to be able to devote myself to writing, but sometimes I missed feeling part of a shared enterprise, which is what my job gave me.
And: Do you still muse about characters whose books are written and over?
Sometimes I think about Ivi in Fairest. Because I wrote hundreds of pages that I tossed, I know much more about her than the reader does. For example, I wrote a scene in which she worries to her brother (cut) that she won’t be a good queen. And one in which we see Ivi’s mother’s mindless approval of Ivi no matter her deficiencies. I wrote scenes between her and Skulni in which she tries to win his approval and he toys with her.
And I wonder about the future happiness of Addie and Rhys from The Two Princesses of Bamarre. His life span is so much longer than hers. She’s going to get caught up in the drama of ruling and he in his wizardly studies. What will they share?
There’s also Irma Lee from Dave at Night, with her over-protective mother and the Great Depression on the way. Dave, who’s known nothing but poverty, will be okay. But Irma Lee? And I left Mike with tuberculosis. I don’t even know if he lives.
Then, on December 9, 2011, Melissa asked, ...How come you never self-published Ella Enchanted since it was taking so long?
Ella Enchanted didn’t take that long, only a year or so, and it was rejected only once. It was the many other manuscripts that nobody wanted. All but one of them (Dave at Night) were picture books, and I would have had to find an illustrator. Also, self-publishing, although possible, wasn’t as available as it is now. Print-on-demand was in its infancy, I think. There were no online booksellers, so I would have had to try to get stores to carry my titles, an uphill battle. The opportunities in self-publishing are much improved today.
On October 5, 2011, Lizzy wrote, ....If you had started writing Ella Enchanted today instead of a couple years ago, how different would you think the story would turn out? Do you think that it would turn out as a totally different story, or would it stay around the same?
Hard to speculate. If I’d written all the other books first and was working on Ella now, it would certainly be a different book. I once heard the wonderful children’s book writer E. L. Konigsburg (author of the Newbery winning From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and many others) say in a speech that you can only write your first book once. She may have meant something else, but what I understood was that you have a wealth of ideas stored up from however many years of living and reading, and the riches come pouring out in a first book. After that, you have to work harder. I think I had two first novels: Ella Enchanted and Dave at Night, because each drew on different parts of my writing imagination. And two other books have felt utterly fresh, Writing Magic, because it was my first nonfiction venture, and the new book, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It, because it’s entirely unlike anything else I’ve done. If I were writing Ella now and I’d delayed writing until now, well, I can’t guess what would come out. Who knows what I would have done in the intervening years.
More about my books next week, but, looking ahead, I think that will be the final post about them, at least for the time being.
Charlotte’s question about the future fate of some of my characters got me thinking about sequel possibilities, which led me to these prompts:
∙ J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan leaves Peter unresolved, and he’s kind of a tragic figure at the end. Write the rest of his story. You can give him a sad or happy ending, but make the outcome settled for him.
∙ What happens to Jack and Jill after the nursery rhyme? Jack’s skull is cracked, I think. Does he live? How badly injured is Jane? Are they modern protagonists? Or when else do they live and possibly die? Continue their tale.
∙ How does Pinocchio’s story go after he becomes a real boy? Write it!
Have fun, and save what you write!