First off: We put the first chapter of A Tale of Two Castles up on my website. Click here to read it: http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/tcas_prev.html. And click here for the cool book trailer that HarperCollins created: http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/video/tcas_trailer.mov. If you have trouble opening it, you can also watch it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EK05DTpbOn8.
Also new on the website, we added first chapters to three other of my books, Dave at Night, Fairest, and Writing Magic. We hope to have the rest available soon.
And, if you click here, http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/news.html you’ll see the latest photograph of puppy Reggie, who grows more adorable every day, in our opinion. And housebreaking is starting to take. Whoopee!
February 20, 2011 Piper wrote, …where do you get your inspiration?
I don’t think of myself as an inspired writer so much as one who plugs away, so when I use the word in the post, I’m not certain I’m using it in the way inspiration is commonly used or even that I’m answering the question, but here’s hoping.
That concern aside, my inspiration for being a writer is my childhood reading. Reading ranked just below breathing in importance when I was little. Privacy was in short supply in our cramped apartment. I shared a bedroom with my older sister, who believed I had been created to plague her. Books pulled down the walls that confined me. The ones I read as a child made me a writer for children. I still love to read, but reading isn’t as important to me now as it was then.
The books I attached to were mostly old: Louisa May Alcott’s novels, L. M. Montgomery’s, Heidi, Bambi, Black Beauty, Peter Pan. I relished books about Robin Hood and King Arthur, tall tales, and of course fairy tales. If I liked a book I read it over and over. Through my favorite books and rereading them I absorbed a sense of plot, character, language, even grammar and usage. The old books didn’t limit their vocabulary to what a child would know. What a gift!
When I write, I’m writing for my younger self, which is probably my most fundamental and continuing inspiration.
There are certainly writers for children, however, who weren’t big readers when they were small, some who may be inspired to write because they disliked reading. They want to write books for their younger selves, too, in their case books for today’s children who pick up a book only when they have to for school. These writers may eschew difficult vocabulary words for the reasonable reason that they hated them. I once got a letter from a child who didn’t like Ella Enchanted because of the made-up languages, which he or she (I don’t remember which) didn’t understand. Hard words can frustrate a child and make her feel stupid. I don’t avoid them, but I understand why some writers do.
In 1987 when I started to write for children, I read the books in the Newbery bookcase at the library. I found in many of them the same old-fashioned approach to storytelling that I knew from my childhood, which made me feel right at home and as if I could join in. Another inspiration.
I took writing courses, too, and met fellow writers. My favorite class was a workshop. Every week our teacher would read three or four selections of student work that had been submitted to her the week before. After she read, the class would comment and then she would. Many published writers took this course. The same writing issues (like the ones that come up on the blog) would appear in different guises week after week, so advice would be repeated. The effect was much like rereading books; I absorbed the comments of the more experienced writers, and now their voices are in my mind when I write. I hear them ask me what my characters are thinking and feeling or if I’ve written information that the reader doesn’t need to know and that only I do. My teachers and my classmates are another inspiration.
Today, my writing friends inspire me. Every month two friends come over for lunch. There’s no purpose. We don’t critique each other’s work. Sometimes we shop talk about publishing. Often our own writing comes up. It’s rarely smooth sailing for any of us, which is a comfort and, in an odd way, an inspiration. My critique buddy and I meet monthly too. My book deadline isn’t looming, so having pages for her is a goal.
I still go to fairy tales for ideas and inspiration. The book I’m struggling with now was inspired by a nineteenth century fairy tale called “The King of the Golden River” by John Ruskin, a morality tale about greed. Two rapacious brothers are turned into black stones and their younger, generous brother is rewarded. What I love about the story is the gothic atmosphere. The wind roars into the brothers’ house; the king of the river is a golden mug that melts; the brothers have to climb a forbidding mountain. I wondered what the story’s sequel might be if the stone brothers came back to life. Then my tale changed, and it isn’t about that any more, but the seed probably remains.
What keeps me writing may be the internal-ness of the process, the communion with myself. Like reading, writing is intensely private. We’re fishing in our own minds, and sometimes we pull out magic fish.
There’s also the fact that I earn my living as a writer, which, if not an inspiration, is a goad. What else? Meditating, which I used to do more regularly before Reggie arrived, sometimes causes ideas to bubble up. Exercise also. Plus the drive that artists have to create. I’m at a loss if I’m not working on something.
So here’s something for you to work on, some classic themes that you may have enjoyed as children. Write a story about one or more of these:
• a dog, horse, or any pet who thinks in language and is separated from her owners.
• an orphan traveling to an unknown place.
• a child separated from her family by war.
• a stowaway on a ship of the royal fleet.
• a family struggling with poverty.
• an outlaw set against an unjust society.
Have fun and save what you write!