Nobody wants to know how hard it is. They want to know what fun it is. So let’s skip the hours—days—months—staring at a computer screen trying to understand what the plot needs to find its way forward, what the characters want and what they have to overcome to get it. Skip the feeling that this is way too hard for you, that you should have stuck to the easy stuff, the books of poetry, literary criticism, journalism, the hundreds of articles you thought were so difficult. They were a snap compared to writing a really good children’s book.
I’ve now written six. You’d think it would get easier. Ha! The latest is called The Blue Shoe, subtitled A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes, an off-center fairytale that ends up being funny while dealing with issues of greed, prejudice, and the cost of loyalty. As with all my novels, the idea came from a bedtime story I told my wife, my best first editor, slave driver, and muse.
Now at last, here’s the book on my desk, spanking new, printed in blue ink, with pitch-perfect illustrations by Mary GrandPré of Harry Potter fame, and I realize that somehow it all came together.
I also realize that it was, actually, after all, and in fact, fun. Fun to get to know my characters, from the villainous mayor with a hairy wart on his forehead to the hero, a young thief named Hap, and his irrepressible friend, Sophia.
Even the writing problems had their fun side. For instance, there’s an enslaved race of trolls who live in the mineshafts of dreaded Mount Xexnax, and they speak their own language. Naturally, I had to learn that language. “Hwaet! Ic commin am!” cries the troll guiding the ferryboat to shore. (“Hey, I’m coming!”) Readers with fancy educations will recognize the mangled combination of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English.
The truth is, I conspire to make things hard, too hard, for myself—as if a book is worth writing only if it strikes me as quite impossible. I paint myself into a corner and then see how I will get out of the room. Call it the Houdini complex.
I guess that’s my own definition of fun.