From John Green's Printz Honor Speech

  • Dec. 7th, 2010 at 5:01 PM
beth_shulman: (Default)
We have a way of saying that a book is good if we liked the characters, or if it kept us turning the pages, or if we enjoyed, albeit guiltily, the exploits of the snotty popular girls. But I think that such good stories are not necessarily good books. All good stories have power - as Colin says in the book, they become what happened. And I do believe, although maybe it is unfashionable to say so, that such power must be utilized thoughtfully. I believe that authors - particularly those of us writing for teenagers - have a responsibility to tell stories that are both good and - for lack of a better word - moral. I heard Tobin Anderson say a few months ago that he is no longer opposed to fiction that teaches lessons, and neither am I. In fact, I believe that fiction must teach lessons—after all, any story that we believe in comes with a lesson, be they YA novels or Geico commercials. A book that is just its lesson cannot be a good story, of course. But we can’t ignore the moral power of good stories, either.
beth_shulman: (Default)
The dangers of the past often seem more quaint than our own dangers. From our modern vantage point looking back, we have supernatural sight; we can see into torture chambers, across borders; we can peer into bedrooms and predict which infants are born to greatness; we can hear the whispered orders in forest camps and words of command spoken in the colonnades and cupolas of power. For this reason, people in the past seem blinded and bumbling.

And yet, the dead have their lessons to teach us, if only we'll listen.

It is worthwhile, when we read of the past, to say not just, "How did they possibly believe this was right?," but rather, "What do we do that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will look at aghast? What are we blind to?"

When we read about the inequities and atrocities of the past, we repeat, with horror, "Never again. Never again," but we cannot stop there, because genocide, cruelty, inequality, and graft are not just relics of history, but a part of our world in the present,

On April 19, in the year 1975, my parents woke me up at four in the morning. They took me down to the river and put me in the canoe. I have only the faintest memory of this. My father and mother paddled us down the Concord River to the Old North Bridge, where, in the rushes, we saw some redwing blackbirds and the President of the United States. President Gerald Ford was standing on Old North Bridge, delivering a bicentennial address.

On the one bank was a hill where, exactly two hundred years before I arrived there, down almost to the minute, the men of my town, ordinary citizens, men like my father, had come over the rise, and had marched down toward the river where I sat to engage in battle with the most powerful army in the world.

That time, those people, were not mythic; they had once been real, though now historical - just as the year 1975, the year I bobbed on the waters ten feet below the pants of the President of the United States, is now not real, but historical.

History is not a pageant arrayed for our delectation.

We are all always gathered there. We have come to the riverside to fight or to flee, we are gathered at the river, upon those shores, and the water is always moving, and the President of the United States always gesticulates silently above us, his image on the water. Nothing will cease. Nothing will stop. We ourselves are history.

The moment is always now.

beth_shulman: (black and white tree scene)
I've published five books now, and I love them all, hate them all, and am both proud and embarrassed of each of them. Only one of them, however, means everything to me. Only one of them is the book, however flawed, that I worry I can't better in my next attempt - and that's The Book Thief.

There are many reasons why this book means everything to me, but the main one is my parents. Growing up in Sydney, I had a slightly different childhood from most kids in my neighborhood, especially when it came to stories that were told at home. My mother is from Munich and my father from Vienna-and although they're Australian now, they brought a whole different world of stories with them. It was those stories that kept us glued to our kitchen chairs as we grew up. It was those stories that inspired The Book Thief.

My brother, my two sisters, and I were always entranced as we saw cities of fire, people crouching in bomb shelters, and several close brushes with death. We heard about German teenagers giving bread to Jewish people being marched to concentration camps. We heard how the Jewish people were whipped for taking the bread. And we heard how the teenagers were whipped for giving them the bread... I remember being stunned by the ugly world I was told about, but more so by the moments of beauty that existed there as well. I wanted to write about those moments, and it's here that I need to acknowledge that I'm extremely fortunate to have parents who not only have great stories, but also have the ability to tell them in a beautiful, meaningful, and compelling way. They are the beginning of The Book Thief. Writing the book resulted in me telling my parents that I loved them, and for that, I'm more grateful than anything else.

Geraldine McCaughrean

  • Sep. 21st, 2010 at 12:46 AM
beth_shulman: (great gatsby art)
Books aren't nutritious. Like vitamins or roughage. No one will die of not reading another story. Storybooks are not spinach! After all, what can fiction actually do? Only dye your thoughts a different color, hang your skull with tapestries, take you time-traveling to the curtain walls of the universe; question your conscience; blast the window-shutters off your soul and let in the sunshine.

Geraldine McCaughrean

  • Aug. 31st, 2010 at 11:38 PM
beth_shulman: (Default)
I don't know why we authors strive so hard to make our fiction a plausible representation of life: real life is so utterly implausible.
beth_shulman: (Default)
...This leads me to why I write for teenagers. I'm pissed. I'm angry. I'm enraged. I wish I could be a sweet and cuddly author, but that's not possible. Inside, I'm 15 years old, and I'm mad as hell. I'm angry because I can see the world through teenage eyes and through grown-up eyes, and I know it's not fair. The lies, the injustice, and the hypocrisy we force-feed our teenagers makes me sick.
      I love teenagers because they are honest. I love teenagers because they are raw and passionate. They think in black and white and are willing to go to extremes to defend their beliefs. I love teenagers because they are artistic. They are risk-takers. They are shape-shifters, trying on new skins, new personalities, new dreams. I love teenagers because they challenge me, and because they frustrate me. They give me hope. They give me nightmares. They are our children, and they deserve the best books we can write. I wrote Speak for these wonderful, maddening, beautiful creatures. But I'm glad you liked it, too.
beth_shulman: (stock: boat in sunset)
...And one day I mentioned to Ilene [Cooper] that I wanted to write a book. She said the idea sounded promising, although I doubt she figured she’d one day have to excuse herself from a committee over it. Ilene gave me a deadline: April 15, 2001.

When that deadline passed, I’d written ten horrible pages. I’d read you a selection from those pages, except various members of the Printz Committee might rush the stage and take back this award. The central problem was that I couldn’t find a structure to tell the story. And then September 11th happened, and that night I was alone again, this time in my apartment. Everyone on TV kept talking about how we’d see the world in terms of before 9/11 and after it. And I thought about how all time is measured that way—before and after the birth of Christ for Christians; before and after the hijrah for Muslims. Before and after is not the true nature of time, of course, but it's the only way we have of living through time. This, I realized, is how I would tell my story. Before and after. A year later, the manuscript was sent to Dutton...

I am often asked whether I wrote Looking for Alaska for teenagers, or whether I intended it to be a novel for adults and was just steered to a YA publisher. The answer is that I wrote it for teenagers, and my next novel is written for teenagers, and that I intend to write novels for teenagers as long as I am allowed to do so—although, to steal a line from Laurie Halse Anderson, I am really happy that the 12 adults sitting over there liked it, too. Writing for kids is the only kind of writing I know how to do that I feel is halfway noble. In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, William Faulkner said, “The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, one of the pillars that help him to endure and prevail.” This is precisely why I write for young adults, and I think it’s why most people in the business do what they do. When you are a teenager, you discover that life is messy. Life is defined by ambiguity and confusion and unfairness and a pervasive randomness. It is in adolescence that you realize you are not safe, not in any sense the word, and that you never will be.

When I was a teenager, I remember reading a book by the sociologist Peter Berger in which he said, “The difference between dogs and people is that dogs know how to be dogs.” This is what we do as teenagers, and forever after: We try to figure out how to be people. I like writing for teenagers because they are still trying to figure out how to be people in unselfconscious, forthright ways—because they are still open to the idea that a single book might change their understanding of how to be a person. It is my fervent hope that, at least for some teenagers, books can play a role in helping them navigate the labyrinth—that books can help show us how to choose the awful pain of love over the strange comfort of destruction, that books can be a pillar to help us endure and prevail.

beth_shulman: (book: jellicoe road)
Recently, at a YA festival in Sydney I was asked to comment on this genre of YA and my readership. It gets too complicated sometimes, because audience is the last thing you’re thinking of when you write. But I just love that teenagers read my work. It’s a privileged place we hold in their lives. We have access to places that most people don’t. We’re in those bedrooms late at night; we’re in the very dark place of a young person who feels rage at the world; we’ve been told we make black holes a bit smaller. We try to make sense of a world that stopped making sense to even their parents. I don’t think for one moment, that’s our responsibility as writers, but I’m glad that it’s our reality.

Melina Marchetta

  • May. 24th, 2010 at 2:25 AM
beth_shulman: (book: jellicoe road)
I know some people have a thirty page rule. I wish they didn’t. I’d like to think there are so many wonderful surprises on page 31 of someone’s story. I’d like to think that the first line of a novel doesn’t make sense if you haven’t read the last.


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