Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quotes from the vine (or Arthur Levine)

I'm quoting something I read several months ago that Arthur Levine (of Harry Potter fame) wrote. He said:
"People often ask me how I stay responsive to wonderful new manuscripts when
I read so many every week, every day. The good news and the bad news is that
really special ones stand out as distinctly as real flowers in a shop
full of
plastic imitations. And it's just like that really. The actual,
living flower,
has a smell. It isn't perfect, it's colors can be off a bit.
But it's REAL and
you know it. On the other hand, those plastic flowers
represent a syndrome that
results in nine out ten of the rejections I write
every week: let's call it
channeling. Channeling is a common problem to
writers of any sort of piece be it
poetry, fiction, or journalism, but it's
a particular hazard of the various
literary forms that make up the broad
category of children's books: picture
books, chapter books, middle grade
novels, Young Adult novels and nonfiction of
all levels. In most cases, I
believe channeling is not done intentionally. A
writer simply sits down at
his or her computer and sets out to write, let's say,
a picture book story.
Suddenly, that person is possessed by the spirit of Dr.
Seuss. Everything
comes out in rhymed, metered verse, with a plethora of made-up
words to help
make the lines work.”

I really like what he said and I really hate what he said. I like it because
I agree. I hate it because I am sometimes guilty of the "channeling" crime. I'm
going to be argumentative just because I'm about ten hours late posting this
blog and feel argumentative.

Channeling is not necessarily a bad thing if you do it well . I've thought about it a lot since
I read Arthur's article. I've pondered it because he deals in
children's literature and I write for a YA market--most of the time. I've
concluded that to a child nothing is cliche if it is well written. Think on how many retellings with new twists there have been with Cinderella. Though these author's have had to channel a little to get their stories out, they added their own flair and made the stories new again.

But I loved what he said about the real flowers versus the plastic ones. In every contest I've ever judged, the real flowers stood out among the plastic ones and I knew. I knew the winners, because they were the ones who'd taken the time to learn to write.


Heather B. Moore said...

I love this quote, Julie. Very thought-provoking. I think if you aren't a writer/editor, it's harder to say exactly why one book is so good and another isn't. But once you start learning the craft, everything gets very black or very white.

Josi said...

What a cool quote, I love this and have never heard the term 'channeling' but I know exactly what it is and the name is a perfect description. Thanks for sharing.

Anne Bradshaw said...

I agree both with the quote, and with Julie's insightful comments. Because we read so much to keep up with our genres, and because there really is nothing new under the sun, it no doubt applies to each of us in some way or another. We soak ideas up, whether we intend to or not. Maybe the trick is to bring enough of ourselves into the writing (the way we think, feel and act), along with fresh twists and angles, so the result can sparkle with that ‘fresh flower’ uniqueness.