Monday, May 26, 2008

Why the best narrators are sixteen

Why do you write? How do you get the ideas for your book? How much do you consider your audience? These are the questions we ask of writers, the truths we want writers to answer. And so I cannot help thinking about these truths. And refining the answers.

For a long time I thought I knew what kind of writer I was—or wanted to be. But to this day I can’t tell you who that was. I know I wrote stories that were always, inevitably, about sadness or solitude and the strength of a flawed yet perfect friendship and there were always self-consciously naked bodies and self-consciously whispered confessions and everything, I mean everything, had impossible endings.

When I started to write the story that grew into THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU it was a story about a single mother who had five year old twins and a newborn and a long-ago love affair she couldn’t let go and a fear of losing herself in her children. I couldn’t put myself inside her, though, not in the places I wanted to, I was lost in the story of her adolescent love affair. And suddenly, almost without my knowing, the twins grew up and the story became theirs. And I realized that, all this time, what I have wanted to write about is the beginning of things. In high school we are beginning to understand the world we live in in a brand new way, yet often being told we are not ready for it yet. The emotions and interactions we experience, however, can be intensely real and mature and so often teenagers handle all of this with a grace and an honesty we don’t give them credit for. I wanted to write about this.

The good news is, it seems to be the right time for this kind of storytelling. Recently Newsweek did a story on young adult readers, their literary interests and attitudes toward content. I think, in a way, teen readers—still at a place where they can read what inspires them and what strikes them—are speaking for another generation of writers, who are maybe too busy or too critical to let books do what they once did. One thirteen year old reader, in the Newsweek article, has it right on in my mind. “The great thing about literature is that it promotes the expansion of thought and the opening of minds."


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