Monday, September 17, 2012

Guest Post: Leda Schubert on Monsieur Marceau: Artist Without Words

Copyright Gerard DuBois, Roaring Brook Press.
By Leda Schubert
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

"Look at this man.
"He climbs invisible stairs—"

A very long time ago—so, so long—I took a class from a Swiss mime, Jan Kessler. This was my senior year in college, when I decided to loosen the yoke of my heavily academic load with a couple of courses that had amazing reputations. (The other was a class in Persian art. Fabulous.) Sadly, I remember very little about either class, but both were gifts of different kinds, opening worlds.

Of course I knew of the great Marcel Marceau, and the mime class only intensified my appreciation of his work. After Marceau died, my agent, Steven Chudney, asked if I had ever entertained the idea of writing about him. No. I knew very little about his life.

It’s almost impossible to take a suggestion from another person about what to write. Ninety-nine percent of the time, those ideas belong to that person. But the thought wormed its way into my brain cells. I started looking stuff up and began learning surprising information M. Marceau. Example: I had no idea he was Jewish.

Ah, research. A lot of writers love research.

Why? Because it postpones the act of writing. So I amassed interviews, videos, books about mime and its history, necessary information about World War II (e.g. the evacuation of Strasbourg), programs from world tours, newspaper articles about his performances, and books by M. Marceau himself. I thought about him all the time. If I don’t have that passion, I can’t put words on paper.

Finally, I wrote, and as the story took shape, I wondered—was I nuts? How would a picture book about this particular mime even be possible? There were no actual lions, no stairs, no other people on that stage. Just one very recognizable man in a spotlight.

How could such imagination be represented on the page?

Copyright Gerard DuBois, Roaring Brook Press.
Answer: if Neal Porter is your editor, he will find Gerard DuBois, and you will be extraordinarily lucky. Your jaw will drop in amazement when you see proofs. You will run around showing them to everyone you know—even your dogs.

And now, almost four and a half years since Neal bought the manuscript, I am dancing about.

Wordlessly.

After the book was done, I called someone I had met but didn’t know: Rob Mermin, founder of Circus Smirkus, a home-grown traveling extravaganza that “gives kids a chance to run away and join the circus–with their parents' blessings.”

Rob actually studied with Marceau, and I wanted to see what he would say. I was incredibly nervous. What if I had gotten everything wrong—not the facts, but the person himself?

When Rob liked it, I was a happy bunny. And Rob also suggested some mime exercises that readers could do, now included in the afterword.

The photo of M. Marceau at the end has particular resonance for me. But you’ll have to visit my website to find out why.

What a great artist Marceau was! I hope the book conveys a little of his magic, and I hope you like it.

Leda with Pogo and Pippa
Cynsational Notes

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews cheers: “Don’t turn the pages too quickly; rather stop and feel the joie de vivre with which the master filled people of all ages all over the world. An exceptional life; a stunning achievement.”

In a starred review, School Library Journal raves: “It is fitting that this superb picture-book biography is short on words and long on visuals. The spare text marvelously captures the essence of the artist, depicting a man whose choice to be silent was born of an awareness of the damages of war.”

5 comments:

LinWash said...

Leda! Always a delete to read about your work.

Wild About Words said...

I was going to leave this comment blank . . .
Your book sounds terrific!
Going to share the link now.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Cyn! And LinWash, I hope you didn't actually mean "delete." But you made me laugh.

leda

LinWash said...

I actually meant "delight." Now I have to laugh!

Sarah-Ann B. said...

If I wasn't already excited to read Leda Schubert's latest and greatest creation--now I'm twice as excited!

Thanks for sharing

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