Friday, February 22, 2013

what is it like to be famous??!

What is it like to be famous?? That's the question a ten-year-old student poses to me at a school book-signing. Like most authors, I do not feel at all famous. Any more than I feel rich. What I do feel is humble and grateful and, at moments like this school book-signing, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be able to contribute to children's minds and hearts and imaginations. Why else would I write children's books?
The kids I speak to are genuinely interested in why people write stories. So I get a chance to think about and express why I write and what I feel about storytelling. And I tell the kids that  stories are about journeys and growth. My books in the FAR AND AWAY SERIES are about actual journeys of children fleeing war-torn countries and going someplace safe (they hope) during the war-torn years 1939-1945.  But I tell the kids that this "external" journey must be matched by an "internal" journey -- the journey from selfishness to compassion; from fear to courage, from prejudice to understanding. And I explain that stories give us the opportunity to travel all these journeys in ourselves. Stories enable us to grow ourselves into bigger, more humane, kind, understanding, brave people.
When I speak to school groups I always write down my talking points and they're usually pretty simple. I never include the word "passion" and yet when talking about storytelling I become totally passionate. Stories have fed me and continue to feed me. They provide me with the meanings about the world that help me continue and move forward with my life. And I tell the children that frankly writing is even better than reading because you are telling the story you most need to hear. You are doing for yourself first what you hope to do for them - you are creating the meaning that is most likely to sustain you, you are repairing the ill and strengthening the frailty; you are imbuing yourself with the fortitude to continue.
So far my book True Brit has been read and enjoyed by adults as much or more than children. I think that's because I'm not just writing for children, I'm writing for the child within...But I'll explore that topic another time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Draw of Downtown Abbey -- an intimate community

After posting that negative reaction to Downtown Abbey, I've continued thinking about the appeal of this program.  There's the element of mingling with the rich, powerful, eloquent and well-dressed, of course. That's a distinct draw. Who wouldn't want to engage in such clever repartée with a quick and appropriate response to everything said?

Another feature of the program, I believe is the representation of a tight community. At a time when few of us even share a meal together on a regular basis, here are the servants and the nobility sitting down together and dining on home-cooked (looking delicious) fare 3 times a day. Who wouldn't want to be part of that group who live dormitory style; who share their woes and their thrills; who engender a sort of intimacy that we rarely experience as we drive around solo in automobiles (mini-gated communities I call them) or dine alone or go to movies or the library or walk the dog or pursue other solitary pursuits?

It's not just a community -- it's a very active and for the most part caring community -- and the caring seems to waft upward from servant quarters to the main house and trickles down (a substantial trickle) from up above. How genuine it accurately it represents real attitudes and behavior, I'm not sure...but it is a complex sophisticated portrayal of the interconnectedness of relationships between different classes.

As someone who grew up in the South with black "help", I have often remarked that there's rarely if ever a portrayal of the subtle and complex relationships in that society -- it's almost always romanticized, exaggerated or stereotyped in one way or another with villains and heroes or heroines who are completely at odds with one another. Quite different from Downtown Abbey....