My dear friend Sara O'Leary asked me to participate in this blog book tour. This is very exciting and momentous for me because I wouldn't qualify to do it if my first picture book hadn't JUST been published. So thank you, Sara, and yay!
Sara is the author of the gorgeous Henry books and a kind of magical, generous mentor figure to me. (If you can have a mentor who is basically the same age as you.) I first stumbled upon When You Were Small in Munro Books when I was living in Victoria, B.C. and I remember being STRUCK. I was both absolutely charmed and incredibly envious. It was exactly the kind of book I wished I'd written. The other two books in the series are just as amazing.
Sara has a number of wonderful new books coming out that I've been lucky enough to read in draft form and I can't wait to see them in print. They include This is Sadie, illustrated by Julie Morstad and published by Tundra Books, and a series of baby books, published by Owl Books and illustrated by Soyeon Kim. I'm SO curious about the illustrations.
Q: What are you working on?
Right now, I am working on four new picture book ideas and honestly, I am afraid to talk about any of them. What if I jinx them? So I won't say anything more about that. I am also working, in a very vague, now-and-then sort of way, on my collection of Grim Stories, which is more YA than anything else, I suppose. And I am thinking about working on a collection of short stories for adults. Does thinking about working on something count as working on it? Probably not.
Q: Why do you write what you do?
Because I can't write anything else? Seriously, though, I am really drawn to constraints. I love flash fiction -- short stories that are less than 1000 words long and ideally much shorter than that. Every single word matters. When I had children and started reading to them, I realized that picture books work the same way. Only the text has to interact with the pictures, too, and that can be a fun challenge.
Q: How does your writing process work?
Ideally, I get flashes of inspiration and work really hard, for a day or two, trying to capture them on paper. Then I let them sit there for a while before going back to edit them. I love writing when writing is like this -- the flashes of inspiration feel like magic, the writing tends to pour out of me, and I even enjoy the editing process. But, unfortunately, you can't just command yourself to have flashes of inspiration. So I only work like that when they come. When they don't come, which is most of the time, I just...try hard. It's like exercising. And, like exercising, I don't do it often enough. It also takes a long time to see the results.
Isn't it stunning?
And why not visit some of the other authors and illustrators who have answered these questions on this blog book tour?
And of course: Sara O'Leary. Thank you so much for asking me to participate, Sara, and for hosting a giveaway of my book!
My dear friend (and writer extraordinaire) Sara O'Leary answers some interesting questions about writing over on her blog and also offers a copy of my newly published picture book "If I Wrote a Book About You" to a lucky Canadian winner. To enter the contest, all you have to do is leave a comment on her blog post or tweet something about why you love picture books to @saraoleary using the hashtag #stephka and she will enter your name! Good luck! And thank you so much, Sara!
Karl Ove Knausgaard is a 46-year-old Norwegian writer who has written an unusual six-volume autobiography called My Struggle. It's getting a lot of attention -- apparently one in 10 Norwegians have read at least some of it and he is both adored in that country and abhorred (for revealing so much about the private lives of his friends and family). Critic James Wood has written admiringly about his work and apparently Zadie Smith said, on twitter, that it was "like crack." (That offhand remark is quoted on the Amazon pages for the kindle books. No wonder people as famous and as "serious" as Zadie Smith tend not to use twitter.) The books are weirdly compelling (at the least the two I've read so far) -- they contain long, unadorned yet extremely detailed descriptions of Knausgaard's everyday life that, somehow, still have relentless narrative drive. You want to keep reading to find out what happens next, even though what generally happens next is just more of the same. I enjoy the second book, A Man in Love, more than the first, and this is probably because Knausgaard devotes a large part of it to his family life with three small children, and he happens to be an active parent, like a lot of men of his generation in Europe and North America (although some part of me wonders if his wife Linda would agree with his assessment of his involvement). I also wonder if Knausgaard's work would get as much attention if he looked like, say, Rush Limbaugh, instead of a brooding rock star. Yet that's probably unfair -- it's difficult to put your finger on just why, but his work is really good. Here is an example of his writing about his children, from the first book, A Death in the Family :
As I write, I am filled with tenderness for her. But this is on paper. In reality, when it really counts, and she is standing there in front of me, so early in the morning that the streets outside are still and not a sound can be heard in the house, she, raring to start a new day, I, summoning the will to get to my feet, putting on yesterday's clothes and following her into the kitchen where the promised blueberry-flavoured milk and the sugar-free muesli await her, it is not tenderness I feel, and if she goes beyond my limits, such as when she pesters and pesters me for a film, or tries to get into the room where John is sleeping -- in short, every time she refuses to take no for an answer but drags things out ad infinitum -- it is not uncommon for my irritation to mutate into anger, and when then I speak harshly to her, and her tears flow, and she bows her head and slinks off with slumped shoulders, I feel it serves her right. Not until the evening when they are asleep and I am sitting wondering what I am really doing is there any room for the insight that she is only two years old. But by then I am on the outside looking in. Inside, I don't have a chance. Inside, it is a question of getting through the morning, the three hours of nappies that have to be changed, clothes that have to be put on, breakfast that has to be served, faces that have to be washed, hair that has to be combed and pinned up, teeth that have to be brushed, squabbles that have to be nipped in the bud, slaps that have to be averted, rompers and boots that have to be wriggled into, before I, with the collapsible double pushchair in one hand and nudging the two small girls forward with the other, step into the lift, which as often as not resounds to the noise of shoving and shouting on its descent, and into the hall, where I ease them into the pushchair, put on their hats and mittens and emerge into the street already crowded with people heading for work and deliver them to the nursery ten minutes later, whereupon I have the next five hours for writing until the mandatory routines for the children resume.
I have always had a great need for solitude. I require huge swaths of loneliness, and when I do not have it, which has been the case for the last five years, my frustration can sometimes become almost paniched, or aggressive. And when what has kept me going for the whole of my adult life, the ambition to write something exceptional one day, is threatened in this way my one thought, which gnaws at me like a rat, is that I have to escape. Time is slipping away from me, running through my fingers like sand while I... do what? Clean floors, wash clothes, make dinner, wash up, go shopping, play with the children in the play areas, bring them home, undress them, bath them, look after them until it is bedtime, tuck them in, hang some clothes to dry, fold others and put them away, tidy up, wipe tables, chairs and cupboards. It is a struggle, and even though it is not heroic, I am up against a superior force, for no matter how much housework I do the rooms are littered with mess and junk, and the children, who are taken care of every waking minute, are more stubborn than I have ever known children to be; at times it is nothing less than bedlam here, perhaps we have never managed to find the necessary balance between distance and intimacy, which of course becomes increasingly important the more personality there is involved. And there is quite a bit of that here. When Vanja was around eight months old she began to have violent outbursts, like fits at times, and for a while it was impossible to reach her, she just screamed and screamed. All we could do was hold her until it had subsided. It is not easy to say what caused it, but it often occurred when she had had a great many impressions to absorb, such as when we had driven to her grandmother's in the country outside Stockholm, when she had spent too much time with other children, or we had been in town all day. Then, inconsolable and completely beside herself, she could scream at the top of her voice. Sensitivity and strength of will are not a simple combination. And these matters were not made any easier when Heidi was born. I wish I could say I took everything in my stride but sad to say such was not the case because my anger and my feelings too were aroused in these situations, which then escalated, frequently in full public view: it was not unknown for me in my fury to snatch her up from the floor in one of the Stockholm malls, sling her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carry her through town kicking and punching and howling as if possessed.
And so on and so on and so on. Sound familiar?
I took some writing workshops led by Thaisa back around the turn of the century, in San Francisco,* and I agree with Yuvi, she is insightful and riveting. I think Yuvi's mind got a bit blown. (He also has a toddler.) I miss Thaisa and her workshops so much!
* Don't I sound all fancy, also ancient? Excuse me now, while I go sort the laundry, clean out the kitty litter box, and shout at my children for shouting.
Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir (is that a thing?) about her relationship with her mother. Maud Newton talks to her about it in this really intriguing interview.
AB: One of my earliest, most powerful memories of my mother is playing this game where I would be a crippled child like the kids I would see at the orthopedic wing of the hospital when I would go to get my fallen arches checked up on. I was just fascinated with these children, with their external signs of disability, their crutches and braces and big shoes. There was something about that that I needed to reenact, and my mother entered into that imaginary space so willingly with me and in such an encouraging way. Even though I knew there was something weird about having this fantasy about disabled children, she didn't sensor it. She encouraged me to go with it, and I feel like she probably did that with me in lots of imaginary games as a kid but for some reason this is the one that I remember the most vividly. And I speculate in the book that it's because it was a fantasy that she shared to a certain extent as well.
BNR: And when your OCD was making it really difficult to keep the diary, your mom would write down your entries. I remember that from Fun Home, too, and both times it gave me chills. The devotion implicit in it.
AB: Oh my God, that was another pivotal moment. She would sit there and write down everything I said. It was amazing. It also becomes weirdly this template for my relationship later with therapists, other women who would sit there and take down notes on what I was saying.
Image taken from here.
Love and Stationery
Tonight, women dream of stationery;
well thumbed catalogues hidden
in bedside tables, falling open
at filing solutions. Some promise
this will be the last time, one final look
at industrial size staplers, hole punches.
Others take it further. Post-it notes
edge their desire as they chase private
rainbows husbands don’t understand.
At lunchtime, propelled out by a need
for highlighters, their fingers brush
sellotape dispensers as they imagine
being held by paperclips,
protected by bubblewrap,
wiped clean with Tippex.
In quiet moments,
they will pull out new journals,
those blank, lined, empty pages waiting
to be filled; who knows what magic
will result from an organized life?
At bad times, when the ink runs dry,
you will find a woman standing in front
of an open stationery cupboard, the flutter
of her heart stilled by the solid weight
of correspondence quality paper.
Last night Luke asked me to read him a book he had picked out himself at the library called Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm by Jerdine Nolen. I was surprised by the name "Harvey Potter" and wondered if it was meant to be some kind of parody of the Harry Potter books. It wasn't -- it was simply the story of a man named Harvey Potter who grew crops of magnif'icent balloons on his farm instead of more mundane crops. The narrator, a little girl, spies on him and discovers he does this with the help of a magic "conjurer stick" in the middle of the night. The story is quirky and fun and Luke absolutely adores the illustrations by Mark Buehner -- we had to spend quite some time on the pages devoted to the fields of balloons.
According to the publication date of the book on Amazon, it came out in 1994. J. K. Rowling didn't finish the first Harry Potter book until 1995, according to Wikipedia at least, and it wasn't published until 1997. How weird. The books are completely different except for their central, similarly-named characters who also happen to be magic. Imagine Jerdine Nolen's surprise at the stratospheric success of the Harry Potter books. If I were her, I might entertain the notion that Rowling had seen the book and perhaps inadvertently borrowed the name for her own character, but I'd be more likely to chalk it up to coincidence. Or I just might think I was psychic!
You can see more of Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm here.
Posted by Stephany Aulenback on February 23, 2012 at 09:51 AM in Art, Babies in Literature, Books, Bright Ideas, Child Psychology, Childhood, Failed Projects, Illustration, Literary Parents, Parenting, Parodies of Children's Books, Stuff for Kids, The Baby, Writers, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Some months ago I did a little genealogical research and discovered that my children are descended from royalty. I wrote an article about it for the current issue of Brain, Child magazine:
Friedrich III, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and his wife Eleanor of Portugal were, Ancestry.com told me, the thirteenth great grandfather and grandmother of my husband! There were even pictures of them—well, paintings. There was Great Great Grandpa Friedrich getting introduced to Great Great Grandma Eleanor by the pope, as painted by Pinturicchio. There was a portrait of Friedrich looking steely-eyed and a bit jowly, the way my husband sometimes looks while watching his favorite hockey team lose. And here was a portrait of Eleanor peering wistfully at a flower, something about her expression, the lines of her face, reminding me of my son’s when I told him enough with the video games.
Because excellent records are kept by royalty—in a sense their family history is everyone’s history—once you find a connection to a king, it is possible to go back for generations and generations. I surfed for hours, looking at photographs of a golden crown that had once rested on the head of the fifteenth great grandfather of my children. I started planning summer vacations to the palaces their ancestors had once lived in. I began researching language tuition in German and Spanish for the children, never mind the fact that their ancestors lived so long ago they would’ve spoken entirely different versions of those languages. Basically, I stopped just short of writing to request invitations to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.
With their bloodlines becoming clearer, some of my children's quirks began to make sense. The way my six-year-old son still wanted me to dress him in the morning, as if I were his valet. My two-year-old daughter's insistence on wearing a pair of golden slippers at all times and her particularly erect posture and imperious manner. ("Play cars, Mama!" she commands with a little wave of her hand and a slight, dignified inclination of her head. "Sit here!" she orders, pointing to a particular spot on the floor, her stern expression demonstrating that she will not tolerate dissent. "Dis one, Mama!" she says, handing me her preference when I pick up the wrong one. And then, "Vivi's turn first!")
This intriguing discovery was, for lack of a better word, brief. You'll have to get your hands on a copy of the magazine to find out the rest.