Monday, October 23, 2006

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Has a childhood experience made it into one of your books?

This week's question is:
Has a childhood experience made it into one of your books? How is the story different from or the same as the actual experience?

If you'd like to send us a question of the week to answer, feel free to put it in the comments section below, or email us at bluerosegirls at gmail dot com.

Well, I haven't written any books, but I can say that a bunch of childhood experiences have made it into Grace's middle grade novel, Year of the Dog, since it's based on her childhood, and I was a part of that. My mother's healthy cooking, what my bedroom looked like, eating vitamins instead of candy, the lunch lady confusing Grace with me, going to Taiwanese summer camp, etc. The differences between the book and what happened in real life is mainly in the timing--Grace and I knew each other from 5th grade till 7th grade, and even though she doesn't really specify what grade we were in, I think it's pretty obvious that we're younger in the book. The lunch lady experience actually happened in 7th grade when we were already friends. Oh, and one major difference is that I never dressed up as laundry for Halloween, although in 8th grade after I moved to California, I did dress up as a pillow.

GRACE: Yes, I guess you could say almost EVERYTHING I write about is based on a childhood experience--from the vegetable garden in The Ugly Vegetables (see more about that HERE) to the book contest in Year of the Dog (more about that HERE). I do switch things around (Alvina and I actually won the Science Fair), so much so that sometimes I forget what actually happened and what I've made up. I've been caught so many times by my sisters that they are considering sending me to a psychologist to help me tell the difference between reality and fiction.

Yes! All of my books have some childhood memories thrown in. STEAL BACK THE MONA LISA is based on my childhood fantasy of being a spy. SHOW DOG is the childhood I wished I'd had (never got that dog!) GEORGE has a little A.D.D and likes to hang upside down--I did both. And, of course, the #1 book based on my experiences is THE ADVENTURES OF PATTY AND THE BIG RED BUS. I wrote all about it here--

My dad owned a VW bus and it was the most embarrassing thing ever! The door blew off several times on the highway. It serves as a playhouse when I was younger so, for that reason, the bus will always have a place in my heart. Fond memories. Fuzzy feelings. Dew drops on a spring morning. I shed tears every time I think if its demise. Sob. I'm going for the tissues right now....

I'm going to answer with something that has haunted me for a long time: Beth's death in LITTLE WOMEN and in real life. In the book, she got scarlet fever because she went to nurse the Hummels while Jo stayed home reading. In real life, it was her mother who gave her the fever -- or as Abba put it "brought back the fever that sucked up her sweet young life" (CREEPY! Like Abba -- Marmee in the book-- herself, in my opinion). The doctor said she died because of "inadequate nursing after scarlett fever."

In real life, Beth was dieing for a long time, she knew she was dieing, and she made little presents for everyone in her family and hid them under her bed (they found them after she died). The whole family was with her when she died -- Beth looked around, said "All here," and I think gave the kind of look and little sigh LMA describes in the book (when only Jo and Marmee were there) -- and then died.

Most things in my novel, Blow Out the Moon, really happened.... including the scene of trying to rinse the butter down the sink after the midnight feast (though many of the OTHER details in that scene were made up). I'm writing a new book now -- one that is completely made-up, I almost said. But it has ovetones of me and my own childhood, too: nothing directly autobiographical but I'm realizing that some of the characters I thought were completely made up have bits and pieces -- whiffs and echoes -- I can't think of the right word, of real people. Or they started with a glimpse of a real person (a girl dressed all in bright red silk I saw jumping on a huge bug with a SHRIEK of triumph, for example) and then got made up from there. Or one character started with her name: she just demanded it. But right now I'm IN this book, everything reminds me of it, so thinking about my own real childhood or botm feels like trying to remember something that happened on another planet, to someone else.

Since I don't write I have to be more stealthy about putting my own experiences into my books. The interiors and landscapses (minus the sea) in The Water Gift and the Pig of the Pig are the house and farm I grew up on in Maine. When Isabel sits on the rock and talks to the wind, that's me in an activity I did frequently in my pre-teens; it was coincidence Jacqueline Briggs Martin wrote it into the story. The flooded piazza scene in One Grain of Sand is something I witnessed in San Marco in Venice and made a huge impression on me. The cottage the king and queen move into in What Could Be Better Than This? is the Carriage House of Edgerton Park in New Haven, my favorite place in the world. And of course my dog Sammy makes it into most all my books.

ANNA: I too like to sneak particulars into my books from when I was a kid... Francine's Day has the little yellow rocking chair I had when I was little, also since the book is dedicated to my mother, I have the mother character drinking coffee out of the mug my mom used to keep her paint brushes in. More broadly though I often base the relationships in my books on relationships I have with family members. Estelle and Lucy is all about trying to get along with my little sister. What changes, I think, when I retell the stories, or try to describe my characters, is that they become a symbol for how I felt when I was younger. Instead of a chronicle of actual experiences, I re-make the world that was in my head. Its like piecing together little bits and pieces of memories into the my imaginary childhood experience. Like Libby said, sometimes it feels like another planet.



Stephanie Roth Sisson said...

I am constantly spewing my childhood out into my artwork. I BLOCK PARTY TODAY I put myself in one of the scenes at age 6 with my yellow schwinn bike with the silver banana seat (someday I will find you again, yellow bike). Also I put my sister, nephews,niece, a cat that belonged to an art director, a white german shepherd that belonged to an editor and my grandparents... In TWO CHRISTMAS MICE a lot of my furniture is in mouses houses. You know, I think in almost all of my books there is something familiar- and why not? It's always fun to give a book to someone and say, turn to page whatever and hear them say, "That's ,my cat!"


Jarrett J. Krosoczka said...

never really on purpose. old childhood friends tell me that all of the schools in my books look like our old elementary school. i guess it's just what an elementray school looks like to me and that comes across in my books. my mom has said that she used to call me 'monkey boy' and that she used to sit me on the counter in the kitchen. i probably include my own childhood more than i realize....