Sunday, August 26, 2012

e.b.white would understand distractions of social media

from a letter by E.B.White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web:

North Brooklin, Maine
May 7, 1961

Dear Miss B.,
... Cathy, as I recall it, asked me why I had not written another book for children, so I told her. (I don't always tell the exact, whole truth to children, but my tendency is to do just that.) Then I made what I considered was a little joke: I suggested a movement in America called "Don't write to E. B. White until he produces another book." In all this I see nothing ungracious or cruel. I do see that I raised a question that should be of interest to librarians and school teachers, namely, should they, in their zeal to put children in touch with books, also attempt to put them in touch with authors?

The practice of having youngsters write to authors is now widespread. It is an innocent, and perhaps laudable, diversion; but it has arithmetical consequences that teachers and librarians seem unaware of. The author is hopelessly outnumbered. You, as a librarian, tend to think of your exhibit as an isolated case, but it is one of thousands. The result is the author swamped with mail. Letters now come to me faster than I can answer them. Many of the letters contain requests—for an autograph, for a dust jacket, for an explanation, for a photograph. This to me presents a real problem. I have no secretary here at home, and if I am to deal with my mail I must do it myself; if I am to mail a book I must find the wrapping paper, the string, the energy, the right amount of stamps, and take the parcel to the post office up the road. This can occupy a whole morning, and often does.

I haven't solved this problem and don't really know what I shall do. I may give up answering letters, or, as some writers do, throw them back on the publisher—which seems to me evasive and unsatisfying.

About four years ago, I had an idea for a story for children. It seemed like such a pleasant idea that I spent my spare time for several weeks doing research and making notes—the raw material of a book. I put everything in a folder and there it still lies, awaiting a spell when I feel enough caught up with life to tackle the writing. Every once in a while I take this folder out and examine it, hungrily. But then I look at my desk where the unanswered letters and the undone things lie in accusing piles, and I stick the folder back in its corner.

When I was a child, I liked books, but an author to me was a mythical being. I never dreamed of getting in touch with one, and no teacher ever suggested that I do so. The book was the thing, not the man behind the book. I'm not at all sure that this separation of author and reader isn't a sound idea, although there are plenty of teachers and plenty of writers who would disagree. It is somewhat a matter of temperament, I guess. A lot of writers thrive on a rich diet of adulation and inquiry and contact; they like to read from their works, sign their name on flyleafs, and take tea. Other writers are very anxious to do anything that will promote the sale of their book, and they spend much time and energy fanning any spark of public interest. As for me, as soon as I get a book out of my system, I like to forget about it and get on with something else. So in the long run, although I'm not immune to praise and to friendliness, I get impatient with the morning mail, because it is, in a sense, my enemy—the thing that stands between me and a final burst of creative effort. (I'm sixty-one and working against time.)

Margaret Mitchell once remarked: "It is a full-time job to be the author 'Gone With the Wind.'" This remark greatly impressed me, as being an admission of defeat, American style. (Miss Mitchell, incidentally, was not overstating the matter—she never produced another book.) I don't want being the author of "Charlotte's Web" to be a full-time job or even a part-time job. It seems to me that being an author is a silly way to spend one's day ...

E. B. White
Source, via The Passive Voice: Letters of E. B. White

Saturday, August 25, 2012

checking in

Hard at work, Le Café de Paris, Boise
It's been three years since Scholastic published The Secret of the Junkyard Shadow, #6 in the Cabin Creek Mysteries. Since then, a mountain of mail from teachers, parents and young readers has encouraged me to write more of the adventures, featuring the sleuthing cousins Jeff, David, and Claire, and their loyal dogs Tessie, Rascal and Yum-Yum.

David's map of Cabin Creek with Lost Island & Fog Island
I'm delighted to report that Scholastic has now given me permission to continue the series with a new publisher, so I've started #7: Danger on Fog Island. The funny part is that I've forgotten most of the stories and am re-reading them, pencil in hand. Keeping straight who had brown hair or green eyes, and the name of tattle-tale parrot ("Ringo") is all on a yellow pad so I can refer back to everyone. It made me smile to be reminded that the kids get in plenty of trouble and have to figure their way out. So that's where we'll pick up: a bit of trouble, a mystery, the dogs of course, and perhaps a saucy parrot.

If you have ideas for more adventures, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, August 10, 2012

sometimes a kind word makes you feel like an Olympian

 Payette Lake w/ my hiking buddies
We just drove down from the mountains after a week in the pines and swimming the dogs in Payette Lake. It was refreshing without computers or Facebook but--confession here--we binged on TV! Yay for the Olympics! I'm always inspired by the athletes' years of toil and self-discipline, and feel a kindred spirit with their hopes. So it was particularly meaningful this afternoon when I opened my laptop and found this thoughtful review of STALKED. It's from Children's Literary Classics and they call it "historical fiction with a thrilling twist." Sometimes a few kind words can make you feel like an Olympian.