Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guest Post: Ron Koertge on They Made Me Do It. I Didn’t Want To, But They Made Me

By Ron Koertge

I always admired people who wrote sequels. I was lucky to get through one of my novels without forgetting the main character’s name and gender. Then I’d go to a conference and watch other writers sketch a two or three book arc on a white board—plot, sub-plot, hero, unreliable narrator, death, regeneration, and enough twists and turns to baffle the Minotaur.

Oh, so what. I liked moving from book to book—writing in verse one time then not, meeting new teenagers, creating new landscapes, solving old problems in new ways.

If I wanted to hang around people I knew well, I could visit my in-laws and eat the fruit salad. You know the fruit salad, the one Aunt B. brings, the one with the miniature marshmallows and the inflamed cherries.

To my surprise, though, a year or two ago, Kevin Boland—the hero of Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (Candlewick, 2003)—turned up. I was happy to see Kevin again. We both liked poetry and baseball. I didn’t actually think of Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs (Candlewick, 2010) as a sequel. I just wanted to hang out with this kid and write even more poetry.

Turns out I pretty much hit for the cycle and then some. I mixed free verse with the ghazal, the sestina, the villanelle, the pantoum and more. Giving Kevin a new girlfriend who was as crazy about poetry as he was made writing more fun. They were good kids. No worries. Everything turned out well.

Then I was through with sequels. One was a nice surprise. Thank you, poetry gods.

Now on to something else.

But you know what they say: If you want to make God laugh, have a plan. Because one day when I thought I was working on something new I got a postcard from a fan. Four words.

Okay, three words and a contraction:

I’m worried about Colleen.

And just like that, I was worried about her, too. Stoner & Spaz (Candlewick, 2002) was a serious book (or at least as serious a book as a smartypants like me can write).

Colleen is a drug addict. She’s reckless and shot through with self-disgust. She can be scathing and bitter. Sarcasm is her sonnet-form.

Ron Koertge; photo by Sonya Sones.
Ben is just about the only good thing in her life, and because he loves her, she thinks he’s not only a spaz but a dope. Who could possibly care for a burnout like her?

At the end of Stoner & Spaz, Colleen leaves Ben and goes off with a guy in a Camaro who knows where there’s a party.

Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II (Candlewick, 2011) begins with a furious and heartbroken Ben confronting her the very next day.

Now that’s a sequel—one night apart and a whole book to follow.

I remember writing Ben’s anguished question to a chastened but still defiant Colleen: “How could you do that?” I thought to myself, Seriously, Colleen. How could you?

That’s why I wrote the sequel: to find out.

Cynsational Notes

Look for an interview with Ron in the "Under Cover" column of the October issue of School Library Journal.

6 comments:

Uma Krishnaswami said...

Your opening cracked me up, Ron! I've always maintained that I do what I do because I have the attention span of a flea and who else in the world would pay me to skip from story to made-up story? But I too have been nailed by characters who refuse to go away, and am now working through a sequel. Your comments couldn't have come at a better time for me.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Uma, I can't wait to read your sequel, and I've been following reports of your adventures in Washington, D.C. with great interest! So thrilled for you!

Mindy McGinnis said...

I love that a postcard from a fan is what got the ball rolling - that's a great story!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Me, too, Mindy! It's inspiration delivered right to the mailbox.

Georgia said...

Oh, Cynthia, thank you so much for interviewing the lovely and astounding Ron Koertge! His books are an amazement of brevity and clean prose. He says more with 3 words than most writers say with 20. Great interview; I can hardly wait to get to that scene between Ben and Colleen. Yipee!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

My pleasure! And yes, Ron is a genius, to be sure. Enjoy, and thanks for chiming in.

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