Friday, November 18, 2011

Being Transported: Author Visit from Delia Sherman and Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Last night we welcomed authors Delia Sherman and Catherine Gilbert Murdock to the Big Blue Marble to read and discuss their newest books. What a fabulous event it was! I'd read both books in advance and was eagerly anticipating hearing them read aloud.

Delia's The Freedom Maze is middle grade/YA historical fiction, with a protagonist who longs for a storybook adventure and wishes herself back in time, from 1960 to 1860, where she is taken for a slave on her own family's ancestral plantation. The book offers a tribute to earlier children's literature -- Delia said she felt she was "writing back" to Edward Eager and E. Nesbit -- and I had made a display showcasing several of those earlier books. So I was gratified to hear her read the section that named them, following up with the obligatory transformation scene into the past. Beautifully read, with effortless accent transitions.

In contrast to this earnest exploration of an evolving view of racial ambiguity, Wisdom's Kiss is something of a silly romp through mill ponds, castles, and kingdoms. "I laughed out loud writing this book," Catherine told us. She wrote it in epistolary form, with eight points of view, including an encyclopedia and a play, along with various letters and journals. Delightfully, she read us one of the encyclopedia entries, imbued with an arch know-it-all tone of superiority. "Of course, the encyclopedia is the least accurate point of view," she added later. She followed this with a letter describing one of the important meetings in the emotional core of the book -- ostensibly a romantic triangle, but also, to me, a means to allow the characters to learn what they do best, despite external pressures, and how much satisfaction that eventually gives them.

The audience was enthusiastic and posed lots of insightful questions, ranging from external allusions to internal audiences, and the ages of the authors' inner children. We discussed cover images (both authors liked theirs!), gender-based marketing, and other aspects of publisher politics: at one point, Delia described a request from a previous editor that she make the white people nicer. "I'd made them as nice as I could," she said pointedly.

Delia and Catherine had shared a reading once before, at which we (and they) marveled at the excellent real-time demonstration of a wide range of writing styles and writing process. This time the discussion was laced with moments of curious confluence -- such as the discovery that both books grew from dream images. Delia described a dream of looking up from a book that was writing itself and seeing outside not her own garden but a garden maze. Catherine described a fabulous hot air balloon with acrobats performing inside. She had mentioned earlier that the Globe D'Or had been a sustaining image for her, an anchor to keep her writing during the development process. Both authors, it turned out, had spent a long time on these books -- one on a scale of years and one of decades!

And glad we are that they persevered.

(Photos by Rich Okewole)

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