Tuesday, November 17, 2009

India's Children's Book Trust

Seated with me is Ira Saxena, Secretary of the Associaition of Writiers and Illustrators for Children in New Delhi. She is also a volunteer for India's Children's Book Trust, an organization that publishes books for children in hundreds of local dialects and sponsors literacy programs along with IBBY through out India.

Manorama Jafa, the Vice President of AWIC invited me via email before coming to India to participate in their monthly meeting in which twenty or more writers attended. On this particular day, they celebrated their first Hindi dictionary for children, a book the Trust had published many years ago, but had been bought by a major publisher. Royalty checks were distributed to several of the authors who were present.

On a second visit to the Children's Book Trust, Ira Sazxena interviewed me for an article she will write for Indian IBBY Journal. Our discussion roamed from the craft of writing to the underlying theme of Sufism in my novel Anahita's Woven Riddle and our favorite translations of Persian poetry, which Ira grew up reading. Her mother translated the Sufi poetry of Omar Khayyam into Hindi. Ira, a child psychologist and children's book author is presently at work on a novel set in 1800's India with an environmental theme. "Did you know the world's first tree hugger was in India?" she said. I had never given much thought to the origins of this kind of activism and assumed it may have been in the California redwoods. I look forward to reading this novel. For more details about the Children's Book Trust, its volunteers, and my trip to India, please check out the Central Asian pages on my website www.meghannuttallsayres.com

Monday, November 9, 2009

Making it Work

I am secretly (maybe not so secretly) addicted to Project Runway. Sometimes, watching the show, I've thought, what if there was such a contest for writers? Would I get to the writers' equivalent of fashion week if required to produce a well constructed, cleverly plotted tale in a genre outside my comfort zone?

Last weekend, I attended Weekend on the Water, a three day writing retreat hosted by the Western Washington SCBWI region. During the course of "Going Deeper" into plot, character, setting and voice, we attendees did a lot of writing exercises. In one, we wrote a description of a gothic cemetery, then were asked to re-write that description, adding a teenage girl who had just been asked on her dream date.

It was as if Ruta Rimas morphed into Heidi Klum, asking me to make a red-carpet ballgown from plastic grocery sacks.

But the point of that exercise, and everything else presented by Ruta, assistant editor with Balzar+Bray/HarperCollins, and Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, was to explore our writing more deeply. How well do we know our characters? How does setting affect their behavior? Does the voice we've chosen bring the reader close enough to the story?

The two extraordinary editors presented for a total of five and a half hours each during the weekend, as well as providing first page intensives for everyone. And retreat organizers Joni Sensel, Laurie Thompson and Jolie Stekly did an outstanding job keeping us on time and comfortable. I left with a new feeling of energy for revising my novel, and deeper insights into the creative process.

--cross-posted from Under the Covers

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wake up

Have you noticed hardly anyone pays attention anymore?

So many conversations resemble narcissists passing in the park, each chatting so busily about themselves they don’t notice the other isn’t listening. And the dialogues that consist of periodically posting links on Facebook to “Check out my latest blog".

It's the writer’s job to pay attention. But today anybody can be a writer. Anybody with a computer, internet hook-up and some tech knowledge can post a blog. Anyone with the gumption and money can self-publish a book. With the explosion of information on the web, we don’t even have to think for ourselves. We can cut and paste other people’s arguments and opinions into e-mails and send them to all our friends and relatives. None of this requires paying attention.

Good writing requires not only paying attention, but the time and facility to step back from what we see and hear to get a bigger picture. We need the patience to wait for corollaries to appear and the courage to also pay attention with the inner eye. For it is the synthesis of the world without and the world within that gives our words the weight of truth.

We can be blinded by busyness, deafened by the minutia of a day’s distractions. If we keep moving fast enough we can outrun the demons. If we have enough difficulties to worry about, we needn’t pay attention to the simple, the beautiful, or that which we know to be real and true, but can approximate only through story.

It’s a noble journey to pay attention, a great trust to name oneself a writer.