Thursday, January 14, 2010

Here, Kitty-Kitty…

Before I begin an unapologetically odd post, I want to wish all the authors at ALA this weekend good luck (I won’t be there, but many of my colleagues will). Carolrhoda has had some fantastically successful titles year, and I am very proud to have them mixing it up in what has been a distinguished crop of books for young readers industry-wide in 2009. Good luck, all!

On to the oddities …

Hidden Cat by Grahford.As an editor, I consider myself a serious collector and student of cat-skinning methods. That is, even though I don’t write fiction myself, I always want to know about the many ways my authors do their work.

I’m not the only one thus obsessed. The Internet has been a great tool for turning spotlights on writers’ processes. For example, Carolrhoda author Blythe Woolston’s latest blog post is a reminder to herself about the importance of drawing. You should definitely take Blythe at her word about drawing and writing, but I think there’s more to this post than the explicit message. The medium—blog--matters. Blythe prefaces her post this way:

Note: This is mostly a message and reminder to myself about the importance of drawing. If the tone seems condescending or the content obvious, it is because my intended audience--me--is rather thick and easily distracted.

I suspect writers have been reminding themselves of stuff like this as part of their processes as long as there’s been creative writing. And writers have probably shared these reminders amongst themselves as long as writers have been gathering around campfires, on barstools, at cafe tables, etc. But now process isn’t the cultish concern of the relatively few; it’s the large scale obsession of a great many. For writers, you don’t need to look any farther than NANOWRIMO, and even that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Readers care about this, too. They have for at least as long as there have been mass media. There are plenty of stories about how Hemingway wrote. Kerouac's “process” for On the Road is legendary. And there are the contemporary antecedents: JK in her cafe; Stephanie and her dream. The processes of the famous have always been interesting. That’s why talk shows exist.

But here’s why I like anecdotes like Blythe’s better for my personal collection: you’ve likely never heard of Blythe Woolston. Only a few people have read her novel, The Freak Observer. To my knowledge, she’s never been on a talk show. In my imagination, Blythe still has cat blood on her hands, and she’s a little winded (there may be more than one way to skin a cat, but none of them are easy so far as I’ve seen). This isn’t a process made all clean and neat in hindsight by fame. The book was hard work. For people who care about the written word and the work behind it, this is fantastic. For me, a little peak into the real effort makes the fictive effortlessness so much more pleasing.