Tag Archives: the arts

in which I participate in #MyWritingProcess

So I have been tagged in a thing that has been circulating around a lot of writer’s blogs recently, fondly known as #MyWritingProcess, in which writers answer a series of questions about their work. Since I got tagged twice by my two critique partners, I felt like I should probably do it.

Here’s a better explanation of what it is that I didn’t write:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…

So. Let’s do this.

1)     What am I working on?

Right now, I’m in a period of between. I am just about to jump into edits on THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. Meanwhile, the first draft of a newer manuscript, this one about gender and first love during the Dutch tulipomania, is being mulled over by one of my lovely critique partners. So at this moment, I’m less working and more waiting.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since SHADOW BOYS is pretty understandably on my brain, let’s talk about that!

What makes this book different from all the other young adult historical fantasy books1 coming out next year? Here are five things:

  1. It is a steampunk book that is not set in Victorian England and has no magic
  2. The story centers around a sibling relationship, not a romantic one
  3. There are old-school cyborgs
  4. The main character does not like to read or love books
  5. It includes 100% more gears, Coleridge, dissections, half-human monsters, book throwing, clock towers, unsexy kissing, spiced wine, and Christmas markets than almost any other YA book out there. Guaranteed.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

So I write primarily things set in the past. I was a history major in undergrad, and I first found my love of history through historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction because it feels like fantasy—a time and place too far away from where we are now for me to imagine as someone’s reality—but the times and places are real, and we are connected to those stories by the universalities of the human experience. Sounds corny, but that’s why I love historical fiction. It makes history somehow feel simultaneously impossible and real.

4)     How does your writing process work?

Now this is the question, isn’t it? I’m still trying to figure out if it does actually work.

When I first get an idea, I resist the urge to start writing immediately because that generally results in fifty or so misguided pages that trickle into nothing and abandonment. Instead, I usually spend six months to a year with an idea bouncing around inside me before I ever put pen to paper2. This period of researched-fueled incubation can be best summed up by a quote from Emerson Cod, the private detective in Pushing Daisies: “Well that idea just made a stupid idea feel better about itself.” The year a book spends in my head is my chance to get all the bad ideas out of my system (and let me assure you, these ideas are bad. I just found my original outline for SHADOW BOYS and…let’s just say I spent a lot of time way off base) and give the good ones a chance to fight their way through.

After a year, I still don’t know everything about the story, but I know enough that I can crank out a first draft3. Even though that first draft is barely readable and generally a mess, it is how I figure things out. Terry Pratchett says a first draft is just you telling yourself the story. I learn what my own book is about by writing it. Once that first draft is done, I let it rest for a while. This distance gives me time to get unattached emotionally from what I wrote and be more objective about it. And then…revise! Revise revise revise! Which is fun and hard and there’s no process or rhyme or reason to this, it varies so much between projects.

An unrelated but really important part of every book I write is the creation of two things: the Pinterest board and the playlist. I love finding songs and images4 and poems and lyrics and art that relates to my project in a variety of ways. I’ve found answers to plot questions and character conundrums in songs and art. Sometimes I find images that I like so much I work the image into my project. The Pinterest board and the playlist are both crucial to my process, and provide me with something other than an open word document to stare at when I get stuck.

And that’s my process! Now, the hop continues! I’m tagging:

Rebecca Wells, a Simmons MFA-er, bookseller, and writer whose prose will make you weep with envy.

Jessica Arnold author of the delightfully creepy YA novel The Looking Glass, eBook designer, and magic enthusiast. That last thing is only sort of a lie.

 

  1. All two of them.
  2. Or rather fingers to keyboard.
  3. It should be noted that I do not go back and revise as I draft. It’s the only way I keep my forward momentum.
  4. In spite of being a writer, I’m really visual.
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in which I hold my mistake up

Something I’ve talked a little bit about on this blog is that I, like many people, sometimes struggle with bad anxiety. One of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is by my brain wandering during a mundane task1 and filling itself with a fast-motion replay of everything stupid I have ever done or said, or every awkward interaction I have ever caused. Then, after playing these memories back to me in quick succession and excruciating detail, my brain reminds me that the reason all these horrific moments exist is because of me and my inability to function as a normal human being.

Then it laughs maniacally and walks away, leaving me wilting into a puddle of anxious self-loathing.

When this happens, the only thing I can do is stand there, helpless and immobile, and say things like, “Brain….brain, wut r u doing? Brain, SHTAP.”

As you can imagine, this is not very effective.

Another thing I have talked about a little bit here on the blog is my passionate obsession with the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Recently, a friend shared with me an amazing blog called Terrible Yellow Eyes, an art project dedicated to collecting artistic interpretations of WTWTA. Naturally, I spent a few hours looking at and drooling over all of them, and then proceeded to pin most of them to my Pinterest board2.

There was one in particular I fell in love with, this sketch of a defiant Max by artist Dustin Nguyen. I liked it a lot the first time I came across it in my casual scrolling through the blog. Then I read the title, and fell in love with it.

The sketch is called “Hold Your Mistake Up.”

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Image Credit: Dustin Nguyen and Terrible Yellow Eyes

If you haven’t read WTWTA since you were a kid, you might have missed that at its core, it’s a book about getting angry, doing something thoughtless, wallowing for a while, then letting it go and asking for forgiveness. Pretty lovely and relatable stuff. But one of the key parts of this journey is the messing up, the saying or doing something dumb or mean or just plain stupid. Not necessarily because you’re angry or upset. Sometimes just because we all say and do dumb things.

So what do we do after we, like Max, have returned from our wild rumpus of stupidity or awkwardness or thoughtlessness? After forgiveness, then what?

Well then you have to forgive yourself, and part of that includes holding that mistake up and acknowledging you made it. We don’t have to hide it or let ourselves be shamed by it. We thrust it up and say, “Once I did this thing, and it was dumb or wrong, but now I’ve learned from it and will try not to do it again.” Will we do it again? Probably. But the point is that you’re trying not to. You learn from it. You get better.

I love this idea of holding up things in our life that made us who we are, good and bad, and this picture, with Max with that defiant look on his face thrusting up his staff, the memory of his wild rumpus, captures it perfectly for me. So next time my brain is a jerk and starts nudging me with its elbow while whispering, “Hey…hey, remember that time you made a complete idiot of yourself?” I shall fling my metaphorical staff into the air and say, “Yeah, Brain, I do. What about it?” Let’s see if that shuts the old brain up4.

 

  1. Something ordinary and harmless, like riding the subway or shelving books at work. Or occasionally something less mundane that I actually need to be paying attention to or devoting energy to, but I am then unable to pay attention or devote energy to because my brain gets in the way. Dumb brain.
  2. I’m sorry3, Pinterest followers!
  3. I’m not sorry.
  4. These are the weird musings I sometimes have about children’s books and life.  I think it’s a result of being a recovering grad student5. Alright, now go back to your knitting.
  5. More on the recovering part next week.

 

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in which I examine my google search history

In order for me to become a master in May, I have to complete a thesis over the course of this year. This thesis is a novel-length piece, which I write and work on under the direction of a mentor from the wide world of publishing.

So my life for the past month and a half1 has been consumed by my thesis. This is partially me just informing you of this fact and partially explaining why I haven’t been blogging with any sort of consistency.

I have been absolutely eaten up by this project. Obsessive in a way I’ve never been with any other piece of writing. I think about it all the time. I dream about it2. I plan scenes in my head while shelving books at work, while riding the train, while watching television3. I’d rather be writing than almost doing anything else. I’ve been sort of acting like a real writer lately, and it’s been fun.

When I tell people that I’m working on my thesis novel, the inevitable next question is “What’s it about?” I’m still really terrible at talking about my own writing. Worse at giving an elevator pitch of it. Even worse where this particular project is concerned, because it’s just really hard to explain with any sort of brevity or sanity.

So I thought I’d let my Google search history explain it instead. Sometimes I think that being a writer is just an extended game of “The Weirdest Thing I’ve Ever Googled,” and I have been definitely winning with this manuscript.

Here is an eclectic list of my most recent Google searches relating to my manuscript:

  • Miles between Geneva and Lyon
  • Recipe for spiced wine
  • Paradise Lost quotations in Frankenstein
  • French pastries
  • Slang for cyborg
  • Regency winter wear
  • How long does it take to dig a grave?
  • Victor Frankenstein childhood
  • How to tell if a cut is infected
  • Parts of a bridge
  • Can a bullet go through a steel plate?
  • “Make me a willow cabin at your gate” full quotation
  • Swiss surnames
  • What color hair did Mary Shelley have?
  • Regency underclothes
  • How much does it snow in Oslo?
  • How to say “shut up” in Dutch

I now leave it up to your active imaginations to guess for yourself what exactly my manuscript is about. Anyone care to speculate? If you need more clues, here’s a Pinterest board to help.

 

  1. Actually, since January really.
  2. Last night I dreamt that I was staring in a staged version of it. My subconscious is weird, man.
  3. Which I don’t do anymore, because I’d rather be writing.
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in which a portrait is painted

Right now there is a great thing going on in Boston called We Art Boston. It is a coming together of a bunch of amazing picture book illustrators to raise money for the Children’s Hospital.

I am all in favor of helping hospitals and children, but mostly I’m in this because OMG PICTURE BOOK ILLUSTRATORS!!!!!

The latest in a series of events happened yesterday at Porter Square Books. The general public of Boston was invited to bring their children and their children’s favorite stuffed animals to the bookstore, where those stuffed animals could be sketched as a memento of childhood to be treasured for years to come.

I have no children, but I am in possession of a once-white-now-dingy-brown stuffed Snoopy, affectionately named Noopy, that I purchased at the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California many years ago1. Noopy has gone all over the world with me. I love him very much, and have cried many tears and spilled much Diet Coke into his fur2. He’s a little worse for wear after so many years of love and adventuring, but more than worthy of a portrait commemorating our time together. So yesterday, I took him on the train with me to Porter Square Books, and had his portrait sketched by Barbara McClintok, author of Adele and Simon, among other adorable picture books.

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 photo courtesy of Porter Square Books

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Isn’t he a beautiful boy? And the portrait itself is very Ernest Shepard, don’t you think?

It was one of the most fun things ever, and fun to see all the kids coming out with their beloved animals3. Noopy is very pleased with his portrait4, and so I am. It shall be prominently displayed in my home5.

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  1. Though it was after the age it was probably appropriate for me to still love stuffed animals that much.
  2. I was also once advised by the MT not to use him as a means for transporting drugs when I went to college. She clearly had a high moral opinion of me.
  3. And fun elbowing them out of the way for my turn.
  4. It made him feel like a Victorian gentleman to be sketched so.
  5. It should be noted I have no pictures of any members of my family or friends displayed in my apartment. But a portrait of my stuffed dog—you bet.
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in which I discuss the thoroughly modern woman

Allow me a moment to muse on female heroines. I am not a bra-burning feminist and my opinions here are pretty mild, so I hope no one runs away.

This past weekend, I went with some friends to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, one of my favorite campy Broadway musicals. I saw this show once when I was around twelve and loved it. The dancing, the flappers, the 20s music—but the thing I really remembered loving was Millie. Twelve year old me loved Millie as a character. Even at twelve, before I understood what sexism felt like, I recognized that Millie was different from most of the women that populated musicals. She was sassy, smart, and brave, and I carried Millie with me for years as a heroine with something to hold onto.

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Millie as played by Sutton Foster on Broadway
Is she not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen!?

So then I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie again this weekend, and it was exactly the same delightful show I remembered. But about halfway through, II found myself thinking, “I don’t remember this show being so much about marriage.” Little me had not registered that Millie, brave and driven as she is, was all the time driving towards finding herself a husband. But as I watched the show, I realized that her goal in no way destroyed my image of her as the feminist icon that I had carried from my tweens. Millie was still, in a lot of ways, everything I wanted to be, despite the fact that marriage is pretty low on my priorities list and I don’t usually associate feminist icons with a strong desire to settle down with a man.

Which got me thinking.

I read a really great article last week called “Why I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougal. Though I don’t agree with everything she says, I liked the main take away, which is that the idea of a Strong Female Character is a damaging one. First because it creates a differentiation between the genders that we are trying to fight. No one every praises a book for having a strong male character, but we say it all the time about women.

The article also pushed back against the idea that a strong female character is one who wears trousers, cuts her hair short, and knows how to fight. So many books and movies today say, “Look! Woman fires a gun! Woman punches snarky man in face! She is strong! She is independent! She is sexy! Aspire to be her!” In my experience, these are the women that usually come off as violent and volatile, but they lack their own drive in life. And when the moment comes for them to actually take a stand and take care of themselves, they fall apart.

Millie doesn’t throw any punches. She doesn’t go into battle. She doesn’t hold a gun. She does bob her hair, but that’s all in pursuit of fashion. What she does do is set her sights on what she wants, move actively towards it, roll with the setbacks that come along the way, and adjust her plan to fit them. And in the end, she recognizes and lets go of her flaws. Which are all things I want to emulate in my own life.

It didn’t matter that she wanted to get married and I don’t. I’ve been laboring for a while under an incorrect idea that a desire to fall in love and get married is a defect in a woman’s character, and I’m trying to let go of that. Millie showed me otherwise. She is an example of a woman who is fine on her own but better with someone else. It doesn’t make her weak. It doesn’t mean she needs a man to complete her. It just means she knows what she wants, and she goes, and she finds it and she gets it. And I freaking love that.

To me, what makes a compelling heroine is a woman who is actively in pursuit of what she wants. Whether that is marriage or a career or a perfect cup of tea, that is what I want in my heroines. A woman who is active in her own life rather than acted upon. Wanting love and marriage does not make a woman weak any more than kicking ass and taking names makes her strong.

That is what I want in my friends, male and female, and in my own life: people who find what they want and they go for it.

And that is about as opinionated as I get. Carry on, and happy Monday.

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Four Book Friday: Tracy Marchini

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Tracy Marchini, a former literary agent and current children’s author. Here are the four books that changed her life!
There is a clear disadvantage to being an August child. One, my birthday party was always on days when my friends’ families were squeezing in their last summer vacations. And two, my penchant for August means that so many of the books that I would have chosen for Four Book Friday have already been discussed! (Clearly, Mackenzie and her friends have good taste!) In order to avoid repeats, my four would have to be:
https://i0.wp.com/cdn1.fishpond.com.au/0005/770/521/2013245/4.jpegChatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day by Suzanne Gruber and Doug Cushman – Though this is an easy reader now, when I was a child it would have been considered a picture book. And I loved it. I loved the repeating refrain (“Chitter, chitter, chatter. I like nuts!”), the artwork and the appearance of a cat (perhaps because I subconsciously knew that I would spend the next eight years of my life begging for one.)  As a child, I did not wonder if the cat would be more interested in the chipmunk than his winter acorn stash. Now – in my wiser, elder years – I think that I probably misunderstood the obviously murderous look on the cat’s face.
 
https://i0.wp.com/www.horsebooksplus.com/shop_image/product/28123.jpgA Treasury of Fairy Tales by Lucy Kincaid, Eric Kincaid and Gerry EmbletonThis book broke my young heart. Or more so, the destruction of this book by my younger brother (who, granted, was only four or five), broke my heart. This was the most gorgeous, illustrated collection of fairy tales my eyes had ever seen. Each fairy tale was a page to three pages max, with lush illustrations surrounding the page. I would have compared it to an illuminated manuscript, if I knew what that was at the time and ignored the difference between tri-color printing and painstakingly illustrating individual pages by hand. Even the end papers were lush! But when my brother threw it down the stairs and it snapped in two – with the cover going in one direction and the story of Snow White split right at the climax – it probably was the birth of my desire to never lend books to friends, lest they crack the spine. (I have mostly gotten over this. Depending on the book.)
The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)Nancy Drew and ::fill in the blank here:: by Carolyn KeeneI followed Nancy Drew from her days of her vintage, blue 1970’s Mustang convertible to a puffy haired, puffy sleeved Bess in the Nancy Drew Case Files. At night, I would read until the point where Nancy was about to go into a dark room alone, then close the book and tuck it under the bed (not because books were ever censored in my house — it was more of a “Joey throwing Little Women in the freezer” reaction.) Then I’d pick it up again in the morning — Yay, daylight!
To me, Nancy was fearless — the kind of teen I wanted to be. (Though I wondered if she’d really spend that much time with Bess. What did they talk about, really?)
Caveat: This is not to say that Nancy and I would have agreed on all things. There are obvious problems with racism/sexism/classism in the original (and decades of rewritten) Nancy Drews. If the 1980’s were the decade of the superwoman, one could argue that a contemporary Nancy reflected that and that is why my recollection of the series is Nancy as a fearless/do-it-all-to-perfection woman. This, of course, comes with problems of its own. Moving on…
Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – In college, I did an independent study on Jane Austen’s politics. I had a friend at the time who was also an English major, and he hated Jane Austen with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I tried to convince him that Austen’s novels were actually very smart, sociopolitical commentaries, but to him she was just a silly woman who wrote trashy books.

So one day, I printed out a couple of Jane Austen quotes, and my roommate and I tucked them into various parts of his car, so that he’d have a little Jane Austen with him wherever he went. Fast forward a few days, and I walk into my bedroom and it is covered in thousands of little slips of paper, individually cut into little rectangles that say, “Jane Austen Sucks.” Years after graduation, I still occasionally find one of these papers.

ImageTracy Marchini is a freelance editor and author. She’s worked at a Manhattan literary agency, as a children’s book reviewer and newspaper correspondent. More about her editorial work and her books for children and teens can be found at www.tracymarchini.com. She’s also on Twitter at @TracyMarchini, where she daily fights the urge to tweet pictures of her favorite picture book protagonists — ducks.

Want more Four Book Friday? Here are more posts in the series:

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in which I solve a Maurice Sendak mystery

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

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The cover of the November 1969 issue.

And I immediately thought to myself, “That looks a lot like Maurice Sendak art.” And I opened the cover and found this. Image

And then I freaked out. Maurice Sendak, my favorite artists ever, one of my favorite kid lit writers, had done a cover for our little LDS children’s magazine! I immediately ran to tell my editor, who shares my passion for children’s books. We had a moment of surprise and celebration, and then she said, “What else do you know about it?”

Nothing, I said. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if the painting was commissioned by the Friend. I didn’t know where it was now. I didn’t know how a Caldecott-winning artist and outspoken atheist had come to do art for a Mormon magazine.

So I decided to solve the mystery of the lost Maurice Sendak painting4.

I started with the Google, and found exactly one other place that the painting appeared: there was a grainy iPhone photo of it accompanying a Sendak obituary. I tweeted the author of the article about it, and he directed me to the Rosenbach Museum, where all Sendak’s art and papers were collected after his death.

The curator at the Rosenbach was very helpful, and emailed me back in minutes. He said:

“I know only a little about that piece, but basically I think you’re correct that Children’s Friend (as it was called at the time) commissioned the art from Sendak.  His usual process was to do an unknown number of doodles or sketches, then compose them in pencil on tracing paper, usually using a light table.  I believe we have this preliminary drawing at the museum.  The “final” artwork…is privately owned in the hands of Sendak collector Justin Schiller.”

To Justin Schiller’s website!

He replied this morning:

“I purchased the original watercolor for “The Children’s Friend” magazine (as it was then called) directly from the artist in early 1970.  All I can recall was that Maurice told me at the time he had a friend associated with the magazine who asked him to illustrate a cover design.  I do not recall the name of the friend ever being mentioned.”

Dead end, it would seem! But I had to know who on staff of the Friend had known Maurice Sendak! What ties did he have to my weird little Church. So I took a different approach.

One of the many strange things about the LDS Church is that they really keep tabs on their members. Not like CCTV or hidden camera tabs or anything creepy like that, but they know where you are and what you are doing and how to contact you at all times through pretty comprehensive membership records5. The benefit of this is that I was able to take the staff names from the table of contents in the November 1969 Friend and send them to our secretary, who was able to get me their records. Turns out they were almost all dead. But I had their posterity’s phone numbers and addresses. So I swallowed my crippling fear of talking on the phone to strangers6 and began to call.

I called probably ten people. No one knew anything about their parent’s work with the Friend, and less about a connection with Sendak. I was starting to despair. Perhaps I just would never know the origin story.

Then I got a phone call on my lunch break today from a man in Virginia. “You left a message for me,” he said. “About the Friend.”

I told him my problem. “I’m trying to find out who on the Friend staff would have known Maurice Sendak,” I explained. “Do you have any idea?”

And he said simply, “It was my mom.”

So here is the story. It’s maybe not novel worthy, or really that dramatic at all, but I solved it. I followed the trail of clues and I found my answers7.

In the 1960s, Gladys Daines was the managing editor of the Children’s Friend. In 1962, she had bought herself a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and fallen in love with its boxy, whimsical art. So, bold as brass, she called up Maurice Sendak and asked to visit him. She flew to his house in New York and they had a good chat and hit it off. She then asked if he’d be willing to do some art for the Children’s Friend. Apparently, he was more than happy to do it. They collaborated on the initial ideas, he sent her sketches, she approved them, and then in November 1969, the cover was published. Though at the time the Friend kept most of the art they commissioned, Sendak kept his painting because he was such a prominent illustrator. He sold it a few years later to collector Justin Schiller, who owns it today. The sketches Sendak sent to Gladys are in the Rosenbach.

And this is now featured prominently on my desk.

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My first real mystery—solved. Ten year old me would be so proud, and current me is ecstatic.

  1. Which did not work, because I was both creator of the mystery and solver of it.
  2. Which did not work because there were no mysteries in my neighborhood, though books led me to believe that if I had the intention of being a detective, mysterious things would start happening. Children’s lit lied to me.
  3. This is not the mystery I solved. Just FYI.
  4. Not technically lost. I sort of hoped it would be, and I would have to crawl through the bowels of the Church Office Building, fight some corrupt art dealer, and then eventually would have a write up in the paper after the painting was recovered with my photo under the word “CHILDREN’S LIT HERO.” None of those things happened.
  5. Don’t think too hard about this or it all starts to feel vaguely 1984.
  6. FOR SENDAK! *raises sword and charges into battle*
  7. You really do get a rush from detecting. This must be how Sherlock Holmes feels all the time!
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in which I reflect upon the little Shakespeare company that could

Like most of my stories, this one begins with a children’s lit reference:

This is the story of the little theater company that could.

Four years ago, the summer before I went to Europe, I was bored. Like bored out of my mind. Hated my job, all my friends were on missions or in school or just living elsewhere for various reasons and I was chomping at the bit to get out of Utah and into the big wide world.

So I naturally did what every bored nineteen year old does: I started a Shakespeare company.

I did not know what I was doing. I cannot emphasize that enough. I had directed like a play and a half before. I am not a scholar of Shakespeare or acting. I just love them both dearly. But the previous year, I’d done some work with Logan Youth Shakespeare Co, an amazing theater company in Logan, Utah, that puts on full-length Shakespeare with actors ages 8 to 181. I was so inspired working with them and seeing what the director had made out of nothing that I wanted to do more of that.

So, armed with nothing but my usual ridiculous passion for absurd things and a desire to do something way beyond my skill level, I started to put together a show.

When I went to post the audition notice on a local theater website, one of the mandatory boxes you had to fill in was “Company Name.” I had no company. This was literally me and my backyard and a public domain script copied off the internet. Then I had this train of thought:

“We’re doing Shakespeare…my favorite Shakespeare quote is “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”…we’re doing the Tempest…and that quote is from the Tempest…” And then I typed “Such Stuff Productions” in the box and posted the audition notice.

Three months later, the strangest and most awesome group of people ever, most of them under 182, put on a production of “The Tempest” in an outdoor amphitheater, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

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The next summer, upon my return from England, I found myself again bored and again wanting to do something that required great passion and mild insanity. So again, I posted an audition notice, this time for “Coriolanus,” one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays, and signed it Such Stuff Productions. That year, our cast was all under 213 and I have honestly never worked with a better group of people in my life.

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It is a remarkable thing to look across a stage and see twenty-something young people looking back at you with total trust and total dedication and know that they would probably walk with you to the ends of the earth if you asked them to. They were also, as a group, incredibly giving. Giving of their time, their talents, their message to the audience that came to see them.

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And my, but the audience came. Our same little amphitheater was packed for four scorching nights in August. The show turned into one of the most perfect experiences of my life, the untouchable sort that you whisper when you talk about and cry for no reason when you think about.

And then the next summer…I moved to Chicago. And though Such Stuff Productions was finished.

But then two lovely young friends of mine picked up where I left off. That summer, they staged As You Like It, with the same spirit that had hoisted Tempest and Corio: young people who are passionate and enthusiastic and just want to give. I wasn’t able to see it, as I was in Chicago, but this summer I was able to see their production of Merry Wives of Windsor. And the whole time I watched it, I just felt so freaking proud.

I am so proud of every single member of that company for continuing the tradition of Such Stuff Productions, which is making something out of nothing and then giving it away again. It is about inspiring people to be artistic and creative, about learning to work together as students, artists, and friends, and share the things we love with others. I am so grateful to the people who believed in my original dream for this company and have worked so hard to not just keep it alive, but grow it and make it better.

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To the company of Merry Wives of Windsor—what a treat it was to see you all on Thursday night! Thank you for continuing to share your passion and the passion of this company with others. I respect you so much, and I am so grateful you have kept this company alive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and never stop doing what you love!

You can like Such Stuff Productions on Facebook, and you probably should, since they are awesome. If you didn’t get that already. 

  1. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my career path feeding into children’s lit was a direct result of my work with LYS.
  2. And one over 70. And one who had never been on stage before. And several who didn’t know who Shakespeare was.
  3. With one glaring exception—our villain was played by a 30-something carpenter who had never acted, only read Shakespeare in middle school, and was totally outstanding on stage.
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Four Book Friday: Greg Batcheler

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Greg Batcheler, a Simmons MFA survivor and kidlit writer, reader, and reviewer. Here are the four books that changed his life (or rather, four series, because he cheated a little!) 

Frog and Toad Are Friends (Frog and Toad, #1)Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel – Perhaps this one is cheating, but my attachment to these loveable characters reaches back to the prenatal stages of Greg-dom. My mom would read these books aloud when she was pregnant with me (or so I’m told), and I remember enjoying the adventures of these two friends as a child. When Frog and Toad became my subjects for deeper study in grad school, I thought I would nearly burst with excitement. The sparse text and spot illustrations are a goldmine for exploring the many faces of friendship. Every time I read these books as an adult, I’m reminded of the simple brilliance and extraordinary heart that Lobel poured into his work. I can only strive to do the same.

The Invasion (Animorphs, #1)

Animorphs by Katherine Applegate – There are very few middle grade and young adult novels that I read when I was the age of the intended audience (one of the many reasons I’ve loved rediscovering them as an adult), but I fondly remember devouring this series as a teen. The life and death stakes, the angst of secrecy, and the close bonds of these friends all had me flipping pages and begging for more like nothing else. When I had these books in my hands, I knew I loved to read. Oh, and deep down, I wished that I, too, could have magical, sci-fi, alien powers.

Redwall (Redwall, #1)

Redwall by Brian JacquesThese books are the first that I can remember having a more conscious understanding of craft. Jacques’ way with words mesmerized me: the descriptions of battles and riddles and foods – the foods! Ooh, they made my mouth water, though I didn’t even know what half the words meant. Beyond the descriptions, within every book I found a new cast of characters in that old, familiar world that captured my imagination. These everyday, unlikely heroes stood for epic and noble causes. I cheered when they won, I cried when they were defeated, and I cheered again when they persevered. Through the world around Redwall Abbey, I knew that though the costs may be high, good can and does triumph in the end. I believed it then, and I believe it now. Eulalaiaaaaaa!!!

Ghost Ship (Star Trek: The Next Generation, #1)Star Trek: The Next Generation *Proudly puts on the nerd glasses* Because of my desire to read up as a kid, I often sought out the series novels enjoyed by my older brother. One that dominated the scene of my bookshelf was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up watching this show on television, and there was no end to my enjoyment of the “continuing missions” offered up by the books in my hands. I read and reread many of them, but it was the characters, more than the individual stories, that resonated with me. I loved the ensemble nature of the cast, and seeing them work together in new combinations and new situations made me feel as though I knew them. The possibilities for their adventures were endless, and I credit this series with my abiding love for science fiction. IDIC. Look it up. You know you love it.

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Greg Batcheler is a writer, reviewer, and former indie bookseller currently living in the greater Boston area. When he’s not writing, he’s dreaming of burritos and oatmeal cream pies. But not together. That’s gross. You can check out occasional updates on Greg’s blog at www.gpbatch.com, or follow him on Twitter for more regular tweets on creativity, writing, and kidlit.

 

 

Want more Four Book Friday? Here are more posts in the series:

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in which I visit the bard

Hello! I am back! You probably didn’t even notice I was gone because I am a master of the scheduled blog post.

Where was I, you may ask? Oh, just my favorite place in the entire world. Cedar City, Utah, home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival and pure awesome.

The story of my family and the Utah Shakespearean Festival began in 2002, when we packed up in our Subaru for the first time and made the trek. I was 11 and the MT was 8. Younger than most people start being serious theater goers, but my parents have always taken the approach of exposing us to great things earlier than most. I saw my first Shakespeare play that summer, As You Like It, in the closest existing replica to Shakespeare’s Globe outside of London. And it was magic. I fell in love with Shakespeare there on that warm July evening and, in many ways, the theater too.

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Since then, Cedar Ciy has been my home away from home, the only sure fixture of every summer where we can really get away from it all. It is our best week as a family, a week of glorious theater and lively intellectual discussion surrounding the Bard and his better and lesser known works. It was also the sight of the best days of my high school years, when my theater department competed in the national high school Shakespeare competition1 annual held there.

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a rare family photo in front of the super large banners that hang on the outside of the theater.

I love the USF. I really can’t emphasize this enough. I love the plays they do. I love the seminars they do. I love the infuriatingly pretentious discussions about the plays and the seminars that is had daily at the pine grove. I love sitting on the wet grass and watching the pre-show while reading our souvenir program and talking about the actors’ previous roles like some people would discuss stats on a baseball card2. I love watching the sky and worrying about rain driving the outdoor shows inside, which it never does3. I love the giant banners with photos from the shows, I love the canyon wind that whips the stage, I love the gold leafing in the Randall theater balcony. I love the giant tree in the Adams courtyard and the woodcarver that words underneath it. I love the statue of Shakespeare in the lobby. I love the field where we used to rehearse before the Shakespeare competition (see first picture in this post). I love trying on masks with the MT in the gift shoppe. I love that they spell it gift shoppe. I love the uncomfortable seats in the Adams Theater balcony, the overpriced cream cheese tarts we always buy at intermission. I love being too shy to talk to the actors we spot around the festival grounds and feeling like we’ve just had a celebrity siting.

Most of all, I love the way this small community in southern Utah all comes together every year to make some damn fine Shakespeare.

This is the second summer in a row that I didn’t think attending the Shakespeare Festival was going to happen for me, but it did, and I feel so lucky to have gone again4. I love, love, love the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and the gift they gave little 11 year old me of beautiful, exciting theater that has been inspiring me ever since, and continues to inspire me every day.

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  1. Performing at the USF with my high school team is what I still think of as my Patronus Moment, or if dementors ever attacked me and I had to conjure a Patronus, running down to collect our first prize trophy is the happy moment I would think of.
  2. The MT and I are a bit possessive of the people who work at the festival. We have our favorites, our least favorites, our outrages and excitement over casting. It’s a very niche sort of nerd.
  3. Last year, we had the privilege of seeing a sensational production of Titus Andronius on the outdoor stage. We were apprehensive all day that a storm was going to break and force the show indoors, but instead of rain, we just got lightning and thunder, meaning that during the most climactic moments of Shakespeare’s darkest show, the sky was full of lightning. It’s the sort of magic you can’t pay for or plan.
  4. This year, I felt like I needed to go because of one particular play we saw: Peter and the Star-Catcher. Remember how I saw this play a few months ago in New York? Well I saw it again in Cedar City5 and had one of the most emotional reactions to a play I’ve ever had. It is a beautiful play in its own right, but it was one of those strange and serene coincidences where a certain piece of art comes to you right when you need it, and it changes you6.
  5. I realize it isn’t Shakespeare. They don’t just do Shakespeare.
  6. Not a joke, I am tearing up just thinking about it. It may be years before I can think about Peter and the Starcatcher without tearing up.
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