on narrative and the power of simplicity
"Everything I know about writing, I learned through writing my first book, Maya, which is also a book for children. The story is approximately 700 words, but it contains four narratives, nested together. In early drafts, these narratives knotted together, and it was through the process of untangling them that I discovered what narrative is. The most useful part was discovering how few words a narrative actually requires; this was also the challenge — reducing a narrative to its most essential. In fact, that principle applied to all aspects of the manuscript. Maya taught me how character can be revealed through very few sentences — a necessity, in a work so short. I also discovered how sentences, through rhythm and sound, can draw in readers, involve them in an interaction with the text that activates the imagination. This is what I think of now, when I write and revise a story: What is the central narrative? Is the character present in every sentence? How is the story engaging the reader?"
on collaboration and letting go
"Writing a children's book taught me an important lesson about letting go. It forced me to do something most writers don’t have to do (or want to do) to develop a final product — collaborate with a stranger. With a memoir or a novel, there can be a real sense of “It’s my book”. Even when it comes to an editor’s involvement, I've heard writers say, “It’s your book, stick to your vision.” In writing The Stone Thrower children's story (an adaptation of my adult memoir), I couldn’t do that. I had to give the words I had written to an illustrator I didn’t know, someone I didn’t select for myself, to finish the story. I was apprehensive. Even when I found out that award-winning illustrator Matt James would be painting — by hand — each spread for the book, I wondered how it would work to share this personal story with someone I had never met. Who was this person who would play a pivotal role in creating the visual elements needed to inspire a reader to pick up the book and look inside? After several months of waiting, I got my first peek at his work. When I saw the painting of my late grandmother with her arm wrapped around my father as a child, I cried. I laughed at the little boy reaching for food, at the boy throwing stones through time. I was touched, not by my own creation or words; I was touched by the beautiful way the writing I had shaped inspired someone to create something so compelling and rich. I am humbled by this collaboration. It is such a treasure to share the children’s book with everyone — it’s a symbol of the compelling power of collaborative art that transcends differences to tell an important story about an extraordinary person. And I think when you see The Stone Thrower, you’ll know exactly what I mean."