Friday, November 20, 2009

YA Fusion, or Our Differences Unite Us

We continued our Young Adult author series Thursday night with a lovely visit from Delia Sherman and Catherine Gilbert Murdock. It was an excellent event full of wit and warm comments. Catherine read from her realistic YA novel Dairy Queen (first in the D.J. Schwenk trilogy), a dramatic scene near the end. Delia then read from her middle grade fantasy novel The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen (sequel to Changeling), a dramatic scene near the middle. And the very different readings came together beautifully, on the parallel strengths of the characters' voices.

The topic of voice reveals one area these authors have in common: they are agreed on the tremendous value of reading all the dialogue aloud, and even on reading dialogue aloud while taking walks outside, sometimes with vigorous handwaving. (They do differ on precisely how public such demonstrations should be.) Delia spoke about the fun of making literary allusions with her characters' personae, and Catherine gave examples of vocabulary, educational level, and tone as ways to ensure the consistency of voice and to distinguish characters from one another. I was particularly intrigued to hear her policy of rewriting to see what various characters would do if it were their story.

When it came time to talk about the writing process in general, we learned that Catherine is an avid outliner who insists on having the end of her story (sometimes the final sentence) and the emotion she wants to leave with the reader completely worked out in her head before she commits any of her work to paper, while Delia, well-versed in the story structures of many kinds of folklore, starts with an unformed idea and just writes, watching the story unfold before her. She often doesn't know the end until she arrives there herself.

One of the most charming aspects of this author event was watching our two guests react (graciously, of course!) to each other's very different ways of doing things. All in all, a delightful discussion. It entertained us, and, even more, it highlighted the breadth of possibility in writing and in story.

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