Monday, November 8, 2010

Reasons for Being

Any thoughtful writer has different reasons for writing her stable of books, ranging from a story that must be told to commerce, plain and simple. In a reflective moment, I realized that many of my books are the ones inspired by the child I once was or the adult I’ve become with important things to impart.

Examples from the kid end? I wrote the Brave Kid series for my younger self, stories in which ordinary children show courage in hard times. I found kids who lived in different eras to bring in another element. But my real message was that you don’t have be an expert in the martial arts to be a hero. Being scared and acting anyway is heroic. Standing up against something wrong, even just a little bit, is heroic. Getting through something really hard is heroic. Way back then, I wish I had known that we don’t have to measure ourselves against an ideal or end goal to be brave. Trying is brave.

I made sure to reveal some foibles of Washington, Jefferson and Adams in See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes and the Race to the White House for the same reason. In the service of giving kids a moral lesson, we used to paint these guys as gods (okay, not Adams, no one ever seemed to like him much but Abigail). But we robbed kids of the chance to see that imperfect people struggling to do right is perfectly heroic.

An example from the adult end? I’ve already blogged about why I wrote On This Spot, a book that describes a specific place in New York City from present day all the way back through geologic time. In this post, I explained that I was inspired by overhearing a young girl who was very upset and couldn’t quite fathom that things would change. (

What an important lesson that one is. It’s the one that inspired the “It Gets Better” Project in reaction to the rash of suicides by gay teens. Sue Macy wrote a great post about this project that has people on youtube telling their own stories to stricken kids to say, in essence, “Hang on, things change.” (

Last thought. Many of my books, serious or funny, have an uber-message the adult me wants kids to know. It boils down to: Hey Kid, you think that the world you see, hear, touch is THE world. Well, it’s just one part of it. Your truth is a truth; but there are others too. Check it out!

Authors out there, I’m curious. What are some of the deeper reasons behind your books? Is there a pattern? Some message important to you that you keep trying to get across?


Jan Greenberg said...

Susan, Your question requires more than this brief answer. But I wanted to respond because people always ask how I choose the subjects I write about and I've given this a lot of thought. When I wrote novels years ago, I realized that I was drawn to persnickety characters with some problem, such as peer pressure, sibling rivalry, or illness, to overcome. Now in my books about artists, I also am attracted to subjects who've had difficult childhoods or have struggled long and hard to achieve success.I like the notion that my characters walk out of snow storm at the end of the story rather than into one.

Susan E. Goodman said...

Jan--that snow storm image is a lovely way to put it. Thanks. And congratulations for Martha being named one of the best books of the year by PW. Well deserved.

Vicki Cobb said...

When I was ten years old I was listening to an adult recollect his childhood as some kind of cautionary tale to me. I remember that moment with absolute clarity. I thought to myself, "This guy doesn't remember it [childhood] right." At that instant I vowed to myself that I would NEVER forget what it's like to be a kid. It was a conscious decision for me and obviously for you, Susan, and the rest of us in our profession as well.

Children's thoughts and beliefs have their own validity and are worthy of respect. Thank you for honoring that in your blog, Susan.

Sue Macy said...

Susan: Thanks for mention the It Gets Better project. I'm amazed at how it's grown, with Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, even President Obama making videos. It's those by the more anonymous folks, though, that I find most inspiring....As for your question, when I started out I think I was writing books for the kid I used to be, featuring the female heroes I was looking for, to no avail, when I was growing up. That's still part of my motivation as I challenge myself to try new formats--I have my first picture book coming out in March--figuring out new ways to share these stories with new audiences.