Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest Post: Ann Redisch Stampler on Paper Clips, Post-its and The Meaning of Life

Simon & Schuster, 2012; see more info.
By Ann Redisch Stampler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The thing that I find the weirdest in the process of writing children’s book is the juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridiculous, the weighty issues and the tiny mundane quirks that all have to be lined up just right for the whole enterprise to work.

(For me. For writers whose deep and fabulous books just flow right out of them easily and without fanfare, moments of intense doubt, or quirks that drive copyeditors to drink, it’s a whole different story. A story some of use will never hear because we’ll have our fingers in our ears, and we’ll be going neee-neee-neeee-neeeee.)

My weighty issue: Mortality.

Specifically cancer, when my kids were very tiny, leading me to ask in a more urgent way than usual, what do I want in my life? What do I want my legacy to be? What’s important to me?

The answers being: I want to raise my children and spend a lot of time caring for my family (The “lot of time” thing was key here.), and I want to write books.

Specifically, books driven by what I care about and want to write, without my voice dulled out or dumbed down or my eye hugely on the market.

And even though this was probably completely selfish, my thought was that, given that my children needed to be loved and raised and that good books (It was my plan that these books would be good.) are inherently valuable and needed in the world, it wasn’t the kind of selfish that would detract from world’s overall well-being.

It was the socially useful and, in its small way (but for me, individually, huge way), a world-healing kind of selfish, and it has been my deeply appreciated good fortune to be able to work at those three things for eighteen years and counting post-cancer.

Bringing us to the ridiculous.

More about Ann Redisch Stampler.
The way my books actually get written. How chunks of picture books got written in spiral notebooks balanced on my steering wheel in the carpool line and in the coffee shop of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena while my children were at choir practice down the street.

How when my youngest left for college and picture books didn’t fill my suddenly gapingly open days sufficiently, I went on an emotional-emergency shopping trip to Staples and agonized about the right color for a plastic three-ring binder in which to put a not-yet-written novel. (Red.)

How I need color-coded pastel paper clips and Post-it Notes to organize my hundreds of pages of manuscript because, being way on the side of 40 when the brain begins to turn to Swiss cheese, without sky-blue and lemon-yellow paper clips, I am physically incapable of organizing more than 15 pages.

How I cut and paste, and a significant aspect of my writing life involves crawling around on the floor with scissors and Scotch tape, trying to prevent my writers-helper dog from eating any significant passages. (He eats paper.)

And I think that what happens on the pages of the books, especially with the YA novel, reflects the same juxtaposition of elements that happens in my writing life.

A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan
There are the weighty issues and the aspiring truths -- finding your own identity, figuring out who you are and then figuring out how to be true to that evolving person -- all in there, but the way the story gets told is with concrete, mundane moments in the days of flawed, concrete characters who need their own versions of multi-colored paper clips, their own tiny concrete ways of getting through the minutes and hours of their lives.

Because with all the lofty aspirations in the galaxy, the only way to get there is to slog through the concrete details of creation.

On the page and in life.

The characters’ lives and mine as well.

4 comments:

catherinemjohnson said...

What a lovely interview, so poetic.

Laurisa White Reyes said...

This was a very nice post. I can relate to so many of her thoughts, especially writing in the carpool lane.

Jeanne said...

This reminds me of a quote I have over my writing desk. "Only when you write do you know what you think, what you believe. Eventually you even begin to know who you are, God help you." I don't know whose quote it is though - any ideas?
Jeanne
jeannemoran.blogspot.com

Ann Stampler said...

I just wanted to thank you so much, Cynthia, for inviting me to guest post on Cynsations, which is such a wonderful blog for readers and writers. Thanks also to Catherine, Laurisa, and Jeanne for your kind comments -- wish I knew where that quotation comes from, I love it!

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