Tag Archives: Laura Kvasnosky

NOTES FROM THE IDEA FARM

Funny thing, inspiration. Why is it that certain moments catch us up, shimmer, and shout “I belong in a story?”

Perhaps we writers are especially attuned to these illuminated bits, but from my unscientific survey of fifth graders at Whittier Elementary in Seattle, it seems most human beings experience times when life expands and reveals some essence to which the only logical response is: “that belongs in a story.”

We writers are the raccoons who hoard these shiny snippets.

We snap mental photographs that hold story. Like mine of my friend Margrit quilting in a circle of lamplight, an image that speaks her specific tenderness. Or Izzi’s evening vigil by the gate, her fur backlit by the sun, doggedly awaiting John’s return. Or the guy wearing a baseball hat that has crowfeathers stuck into the mesh like a feathery crown. There’s story there.

Other times a story is suggested by a mental auditory clip: The clink of nine pennies dropping into the birthday jar during Sunday morning services at the Little Red Church. The squeaks and pops of the elementary school band tuning up before a rehearsal. A shriek of wind whipping off Puget Sound.

Sometimes I save up overheard pieces of dialogue for inspiration. Like that of three little girls playing in the ancient Grove of the Patriarchs on the side of Mount Rainier. “Let’s play castle,” announced one. “I’m blond so I will be the princess.”

grove

Camus said that artists seek to recreate those two or three moments when their souls were first opened. That’s just the beginning. We writers constantly collect and recreate moments because they serve a story. We savor little vignettes of character, place, dialogue, etc. that help us make sense of the world and ourselves.

Sometimes opening lines seem to drop from the heavens. I save them up. Like: The first time Mama left us she was back the next day. Or: “Darlin’, I wish I could stand between you and the wind.” (According to my notes, this is something children’s author Eve Bunting’s dad said to her.) Or: What’s the worst thing that could happen?

All these glittery bits, some as brief as a word, offer inspiration. Like this list near the path at a coffee plantation in Hawaii which suggests an alphabet book about ways to move:

walkthisway

It is not unusual to meet a word that inspires a story – snarky, hunched, snick – or a word that fits into a work-in-progress with a satisfying chink.

Of course names are grist for the storymill, too: Charlie Goodenough, Stumpy Thompson, Pincherella the crab. Their names deserve stories.

Anecdotes can get me going, too. Like the best friends who glued their hands together with superglue so one couldn’t move away, or the girl who “corrected” her boyfriend’s love letters and sent them back. Both tragic and comedic at the same time. Good stuff.

Of course this is just a beginning of all that inspires. Memories, experiences, research, observations, reading. When I come across an image in a magazine or newspaper that holds a story, I clip it out. Some pictures really are worth a thousand words.

wayorbeach013

I imagine all these story parts shelved in a high-ceilinged, cobwebby hall. Golden light streams through clerestory windows and falls on a particular item, suggesting it. I start to write. That bit seems to attract others and they begin to fit together in a sort of Rubik’s cube. Pieces slide, align, and spark each other.

When I work with material that has the supercharged quality – the “I belong in a story” quality – I am more likely to fall under the spell of my work, as I hope my reader will be.

Those are the best days, right?

• • • • •

FAREWELL. In July 2000, I was a guest speaker at what was then Vermont College’s three-year old MFA program in writing for children. The following January I joined the faculty, and taught off and on for a total of nine semesters over the next 11 years. It is a first-rate organization, superbly captain-oh-captained first by Lousie Crowley, and now by Melissa Fisher. I loved working with fellow faculty members who lit up the days with lectures and workshops and lit up the nights in the faculty lounge. I loved being an advisor to my students from whom I learned so much. VCFA is a nurturing, supportive community and I will be forever grateful for its presence in my life. Let’s stay in touch.

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THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH

      I am the new kid at school. Again. After lunch at this new school, we third graders have to sit on benches under the basketball nets while the older kids finish eating.
      I sit next to Joanie who has a cool Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lunchbox. How can I make myself interesting so that she’ll want to play with me at recess?
      “My whole family used to work in the circus,” I tell her. “My cousins flew on the flying trapeze and my aunt danced with a bear.”
      That seems to get her attention. And the attention of a few other kids sitting nearby.
      “Really?” asks a wispy-haired girl in front of us. I think her name is Rene. The others lean in.
      “We had a pet baby elephant,” I continue. “She was an orphan so I had to feed her from a bottle. I named her Mimi.”
      Now the boys behind us are listening, too.
      “Right. You had a pet elephant,” jeers a boy named John who has been sent to the principal’s office twice in the three days I’ve been at this school.
      But the other kids are starting to doubt me, too. I can see it in their faces. How can I get out of this jam?
      “And then I woke up,” I say.
      “You were dreaming all that?” asks Joanie.
      “Yes.”
      She doesn’t play with me at recess.

       I was a big liar in my early years. When my mom thought I had lied, she made me stick out my tongue to prove it had not turned black. Of course I would not open my mouth for fear of being caught. I was so young that I did not realize Mom was lying in this matter of the black tongue. Such innocence. Such irony.

      I was ashamed of the whoppers I told when I was a little kid until I read a post on DelanceyPlace.com from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/7730522/Lying-children-will-grow-up-to-be-… about children and lying:
     “Researchers have found that the ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast developing brain and means the liars are more likely to have successful lives. Scientists found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick witted the liars will be in later years and the better their ability to think on their feet. It also means that they have developed ‘executive function’ – the ability to invent a convincing lie by keeping the truth at the back of their minds.”
     The article goes on to suggest such child liars would make good bankers as adults – but it seems to me lying is good practice for a later life in fiction writing, as well.

      To craft a believable story, we are called upon to create a believable lie. We must invent it all: dialogue that rings true, plausible events, realistic challenges for our characters’ lives. Like good liars, we freely mix in actual factual details from the real world to lend credence. We fabricate to reveal a bigger Truth.

     But back to my black-tongued childhood. I wonder how many of you writers out there were also child liars?

Contributed by Laura Kvasnosky, no lie.

 

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