Tunes for a Monday Morning
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Reading in the woods

Morning coffee 1

The book I'm currently taking to my favorite spots for morning coffee in the woods and on the hill is Innocence & Experience: Essays & Conversations on Children's Literature, edited by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maquire. Published in 1987, I picked it up in a used bookstore in Tucson many years ago, but somehow never got around to reading it fully until now. The collection is compiled from talks presented at the Simons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature in Boston...yet is full of ideas that also apply to other forms of writing, story-telling, and art.

"Writing is a journey," says Jane Yolen (in her contribution to the volume), "a journey on which the author goes hand in hand with her characters. If everything is written down in the author's mind before the journey is started, then (in the words of Truman Capote) you are not a writer but a typist. You have to be open to wonder as you go along, wonder and discovery, uncovery, and recovery. Discovery: the act of coming upon something that is unexpected. Uncovery: finding out all you can about your discovery. Recovery: using your discovery to tell more about character, setting, plot, and ultimately theme.

Morning coffee 2

"It is theme -- that elusive word that literature teachers mangle (sending elementary school children home with the instructions to find the 'author's intent' and high school students to discover 'thematic underpinnings' of a book) -- that I want to deal with now. The theme of every quest story, every hero story, is -- in Joseph Campbell's words, 'fundamentally...inward.' The hero seeks himself, seeks to mature, so that when he comes into his powers, he uses them for others, not himself.

"That is why the story of Jason is a quest but not a hero tale, for vainglorious, selfish, egotistical Jason wants all the honors and does not share. He is the earliest antihero. The heroes we pattern our children's books upon are most often the unlikely hero, the youngest son in the fairy tale, who goes forth like Tolkien's Frodo, although he does not know the way. It is Arthur pulling the sword for his foster brother Kay. And Taran discovering that he really does not know his name. And Morgan unriddling for the sake of the riddles themselves, not because he wants a kingdom. And, I hope, Jakkin, who tries to save the dragons of Austar and in doing so discovers and saves himself.

Morning coffee 3

"But to ask someone to offer the author's intent (friendship, loving-kindness, do no cry over spilt milk) and grade it as the correct answer is to overlook the simple fact that each reader reads a different book. The book is created between the author and the reader, re-created at each reading. William Black wrote, 'A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.' Which is not to say that the tree the wise man sees is the correct one. Only what he sees. And again Blake, 'The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse how he shall take his prey.' When we discuss books, we are all like the blind men and elephant, each describing a different thing, a different part, that which we hold in our hands. "


Innocence & Experience

Morning coffee 4


Another book for the wish list.

On that note, I wanted to thank you for your mention of May Sarton's 'Journal of a Solitude' in a post a while back. Right after, I ordered it and devoured it. It was the first of her writing I'd read. Such deceptively quiet and simple language delivering observations and insights which are at times of an almost violent incisiveness. Wonderful. Many thanks!

I'm drinking my coffee from an almost identical mug made by my sister-in-law. :)

Thank you for your inspiring posts. I have recently discovered your blog and have become a faithful reader.

My own writing is a journey for me - I couldn't imagine writing any other way. I set my characters on a path and we both see where it is it will take us. And as we go, I find that they grow more into themselves.

I've been writing a sort of 'flash fiction' for years with a group that meets every Monday for two hours of prompt and response via the Amherst Method ( I'm at the point where this 'practice' yields constant rewards, and at least one complete draft a night. It helps to have a dedicated time and space to practice in, and to have a group (some core members and always new ones each season) to practice with. We are all so different, come from such variable circumstances, and yet there we are of one focus...many minds rolling along a communal path.

"the correct answer is to overlook the simple fact that each reader reads a different book. The book is created between the author and the reader, re-created at each reading." I loved the ring of that line, it is the same for every message we give and get, isn't it?

HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY AUTUMN EQUINOX/MABON TO ONE AND ALL!!! May all of your harvests be happy, healthy and full of joy, now and throughout the future!!!

Such wise words, so beautifully wrought. And I agree with them ... writing is a journey, and I love the thrill and dreaming whenever I approach a bend in the road.

I'm so glad you're enjoying May Sarton!

My mug is handmade too, by a potter in Boston. I have a small set of them, given to me by Ellen Kushner back when we both lived in Boston; they were then used in the kitchen at the Endicott West Arts Retreat in Arizona; and have recently made the journey here to Devon. Each cup hold memories along with the coffee....

"I set my characters on a path and we both see where it is it will take us. And as we go, I find that they grow more into themselves."

Beautifully expressed, and that's how it works for me too.

Yes, it truly is.

To you too, Stuart! It was also our wedding anniversary yesterday, so we had two reasons to celebrate. :)

Thank you, everyone. I always love the conversation here.

Writing groups have never worked for me -- though I've seen them work for many other writers.

What I personally prefer is having just one trusted reader while I'm in the gestation stage, before a manuscript is ready to show to others.

Indeed. The depth of Jane's knowledge of the creative process is rivaled only by her ability to articulate it clearly.

Many congratulations and even more blessings to you both!

I think this is such a nice ritual-- morning reading and coffee in the woods. I always leave inspired whenever I stop by your place here, Terri.
Happy Autumn to you x Tiff

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