who. not a question, but a statement of intent.
the question is something my writing group is examining this week and i've decided to think out loud and embarrass myself publicly before doing so with the people who might otherwise gently suggest i think this through first. i am doing things in reverse, not an unusual approach for me.
in art school, many lifetimes ago, the question of why was never really addressed. school was about how, about tools, about mastering the means to an end, and the end was a personal journey into expression. some were politically motivated, others had axes to grind with the world, some just wanted to make pretty decorative things. all valid approaches, as the question of why was merely swept up into the same thinking as "why climb the mountain?" well, not so much "because it's there" as "because i must."
even that's not entirely true. flogging my memory i can recall those instructors who would ask me why i chose a particular tool, made a specific line, focused on a specific object. the confrontation in those decisions had to do with understanding the purpose of the approach, a re-examination of the possibility that this was the right decision on my part; did these choices really support what i was trying to say?
so art school was about the how supporting the what, sometimes the why, but never the who.
this was fine, until i shifted my focus from the fine arts into writing. within the wilderness of words i had discovered there were writers doing what i'd always wanted to do but never saw as possibilities. this discovery -- writing for children and young adults -- had come after a decade of writing for film and television. unsuccessfully, i should add, but i don't dismiss those years working on the form and craft and methods of storytelling. back then, with a different writing group, a friend had suggested we all came from a place where all out projects were centered on a singular question. jokingly, i suggested i wrote about the lies of the post-WWII american dream. it wasn't a funny joke, because i was feeling the deception deeply but was unable to connect it to more universal themes. again, i had learned the craft of how and the themes of what, but a why without the who.
working on my mfa in creative writing i found myself in the familiar territory of learning the how of the craft and the what of stories i wanted to tell, but there was a general shunning of the why to remain somewhat pure from the politics and business of publishing and, more importantly, gaming awards. it was noble to try and keep the writing isolated to the sphere of working within a self-contained story-driven world, but there was scarcely any discussion of a who beyond discussions (sometimes arguments) over whether YA was a genre or a marketing term, or YA over MG, or whether there was such a thing as a picture storybook. (this last point is an entire post unto itself, and one i'm not likely to delve into.)
however, we had a lecture once that guided us through the examination of who we were writing for, or rather, which of our own past selves we might be speaking to. every writer i've met has touchstone books, the ones that they cherish, the ones the return to, the ones that most resonate within them. through a guided exercise, we were to imagine going back and speaking to that particular person we once were. this ended up being a controversial presentation, as some people found themselves thrust into psychological territory and emotional traumas they hadn't intended or welcomed to confront.
like the wierdo, er, artsy free-spirit i can be, i found myself talking to myself at two inflection points in time, but the exercise had done what it set out to do: it helped me realize the who of my ideal audience and forced an examination of whether my writing was in service to just myself or to a broader audience.
we don't simply write for ourselves, or simply what we know -- as writing instructors and craft books advise -- but to a specific version of ourselves who may be looking for something that guides and grounds us in our world. the who is the why. for me, writing is a sort of time portal in flux; i write to travel in time and space with my other, younger selves in order to find the answers to questions i haven't thought up in advance. i write for and from the same joy i had when i was younger and books were the seeds of thoughts and ideas for a fertile mind. i write to explore, through the use of tools of craft, to climb the mountain.
because it is there. because i must.
...that i might as well do a full reset, get in the mental wayback machine and see how things go this time around.
there's no way to replicate "the moment," that time i was working in the newly created Young Adults section of the barnes & noble in berkeley when i was shelving this book called FEED by m.t. anderson. standing in the aisle, intrigued by the premise, i read fifty or so pages before i remembered that they didn't pay me to read at work. then, just before shelving i read the author bio and saw that he'd received an MFA in writing for children and young adults, and i remember thinking "that's a real thing?"
that feeling, that sensation, that doesn't happen often, and it isn't replicated on demand.
if the internet had been what it is today -- or, heck, what it was seven years after the moment --i'd have blogged that book hard. not that it needed my evangelism then because FEED got plenty of attention and was/is now practically YA canon.
by the time i got around to blogging -- well, after the brief flirtation with food blogging at least -- the first book i wrote up was road dahl's THE MAGIC FINGER, a book with an incredibly strong resonance to my childhood. sadly, dahl's personal life turned out to be one of those toxic soups of anti-semitism and misogyny and ugliness. he's not the first and likely own't be the last (joanne rowling is keeping the tradition alive) of writers for children with darkness in their soul. but that's not out topic here.
no, when i started, i was taking my former skills as a movie reviewer at a radio station (90.7 fm KALX) and switching over to kidlit. in 2008 kidlit was the name for the casual community of people sharing their love of books for children and young adults. librarians, teachers, writers, editors, and gung-ho wannabe novices like me just gushing over the things they'd discovered in this kidlitoverse. i made some friends who magnified my scribblings, i returned the favor, and in short order everything that was my writing life just snowballed. the blogging, the tweeting, the writing, four or five different jobs...
jump ahead a dozen years to 2020 and... covid, am i right?
new year, new me. new tech, new ideas. but where to start? that's when i got the idea...