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Archive for September, 2010

Sheer Effrontery

The phrase, “right place at the right time,” was seemingly invented for our summer trip to Vermont. Not only were the weather and the company (family & friends) unbeatable, but when my wife and I snuck away to explore nearby Stowe, we found ourselves at a very good library book sale. Yes. A library book sale.

And at that library book sale, my wife spotted Origins of Story, a hardback anthology of essays by children’s writers. Neither of us had heard of it, but she knew I would want it and brought it over to me. It was more or less unused and I got it for a dollar.

Although there are a lot of great names in the book, mostly I wanted it for the pieces by Maurice Sendak and Ursula K. Le Guin. I haven’t gotten to those yet, and have instead been savoring the essay by British author Gillian Cross, entitled “Up the Beanstalk.” Cross uses Jack’s headstrong ascent as a metaphor for the dash-it-all approach to story creation that we must sooner or later take, if we are to effectively inhabit and transmit the emotional lives of our characters. The key is to live the story — grabbing hold of it, spontaneously finding out what’s “up there” — rather than researching and meticulously plotting.

Okay, so it isn’t exactly headline news to most writers, aspiring or professional, but I found her way of saying it very compelling. I especially enjoyed this passage (which made me think of my last post): Imagination is not a matter of cleverness, not a question of meticulous work or intellectual grasp. It demands involvement, and daring, and sheer effrontery.

Another, which she summons in conclusion: Never recognize. Always see.

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