Thursday, May 26, 2011

YA Author Christina Meldrum spoke to my class yesterday

Several of my 8th grade creative writing students have picked up Christina Meldrum's novel Madapple; all have returned to me to say that it was "intense"...some couldn't finish it.  What was interesting was that they identified that she is a good writer, yet something about her writing made them feel unsettled.

Before Meldrum met with my students I gave her a heads up on kids may not ask the typical questions because first and foremost they quite innocently and honestly want to know how you can write subject matter which is, and one said, "strongly weird."

I was interested in what exactly caught them as weird or unsettling.  My gosh, on their own they devour plenty of YA literature with strong and/or challenging subject matter: The Hunger Games (children killing other children), Speak (rape), Positively (cancer), If I Stay (death), among others.  What is it about Madapple and now Amaryllis in Blueberry which yanked on their inner child?

My observations from some informal follow-up talks and even in some of their written expression is that Meldrum's style is relentless to them.  It isn't a light jaunt to Neverland and back.  They have to work a little bit when they read Madapple, and they are working to further dig their heels into something which doesn't always sit well with our senses.  Meldrum makes our alarms go off from time to time.  My kids have just experienced a taste of an artist who can reach inside of them and tug (to varying degrees) on those soft and tender heartstrings adolescents are just learning that some can reach at will...even artists.

As Meldrum spoke yesterday I took some notes and share them with you here; none are direct quotes but some are quite close:
I received some advice from a friend, 'Write what you love, not what you know.'  You can research what you love, right?  Your love of your topic comes through when you love it.
Everyday, I only write what I am interested in.  I don't write drudgery.  I put that aside.  I write what I'm into that day.  Writing doesn't have to be such a linear process--you can come back to things.
Writing, a place for us to explore things...sometimes things which make us uncomfortable.  And you know what, literature is a safe place to explore those write about what makes us uncomfortable and explore it, face it, and place it out there for others to explore too.
Stories can be difficult to write for good reasons.  Certain topics make us dig deeper...into them and into ourselves.  But if no part of that excites you then maybe you should walk away from it. What excites you?  What interests you?  If I am writing something and I feel like I don't like the book, yeah, I want to leave it.  It's hard sometimes because others may be telling you it is great and you already sold the rights, but you are in it and it is don't like it.  You have to walk away sometimes.
Just because you had a personal experience doesn't mean it is worth writing about.  It has to have passion behind it.  Be picky about which personal experiences you want to share.
For Amaryllis in Blueberry there are parts of of my experiences in Africa...when I was younger I spent some time in Africa...but I leave much of my personal life out of what I write.  I don't want to burden those close to me with that weight.  So I only share what is necessary and the specific things that lends something to the story I am writing.
In Madapple there is a lot of botany...and I have a great curiosity and interest in botany.  So, learning about it, researching it, excited me and so much of that helped make the book.

In the end, Meldrum was classy and wonderful with  my students.  She treated every student and every question with great care and seriousness.  In my follow-up discussions today my kids felt great about how Christina Meldrum made them feel about writing.  Thank you, Christina!

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