Friday, June 24, 2011

Children's Noir

The other day I told my husband about a dream I'd had the night before:

Someone in the family had brought home from the Dollar Store a six pack of 4-ounce jars, and each jar appeared to hold a toy animal. I opened one and pulled out a tiny rabbit - a squirming, real tiny rabbit.

Startled, I dropped the critter back in its jar and capped the lid, but the jar immediately filled with urine. I fetched him out again and gave him a good shake, but then I dropped the poor thing. My family had similarly dropped two tiny dogs, and all the tiny animals had scurried under the furniture. We all got on our hands and knees to search for them, but the problem was, my two black cats were searching too, licking thier lips, hoping to find them first...

My husband has suggested I start a new literary genre. Are you ready? Tell me what you think:

Children's Noir.

It wasn't till Wednesday that I began to take him seriously, all because of Bonnie, and because of Megan. And because of Madeleine L'engle.

In Wednesday's post, Bonnie opined that writers never know the exact moment they began to write.

In the comments, Megan Sayer countered that she did indeed know when she began, and it was when she was five years old.

Emboldened by Megan's contradiction of the thing that Bonnie said, I added that I too had become a writer when I was five.

How strange then, to pick up my favorite writer's book, Walking on Water, and read that its author, Madeleine L'engle, had started to write at the age of... five.

Is there something signifigant about that time in our lives? Well yes, a few pages later, Madeleine quotes one Finley Eversole:

In our society, at the age of five, ninety percent of the population measures "high creativity." By the age of seven, the figure has dropped to ten percent. And the percentage of adults with high creativity is only two percent! Our creativity is destroyed not through the use of outside forces, but through criticism, innuendo...
Madeleine adds, "by the dirty devices of this world."

One might think, then, that all our stories, all our art should be created by five-year-olds, those pure, unsullied children at the zenith of their creative powers.

But there's a problem. The story I wrote when I was five was probably melodramatic, blithely simplistic - and short, very short. Besides, I couldn't write it down, because there was no kindergarten where I lived, and I wouldn't learn to actually write write until I was six.

Once I'd mastered the alphabet and scratched it a thousand times on triple-lined practice pads, I still had to live a life before I could write a novel worth reading. By that I mean I had to learn all the things that adults know about sorrow, and guilt, and the sad, sad world. Creativity isn't enough. An artist needs those life experiences which form the raw material for lasting art. She has to endure all those "dirty devices of this world," and still retain the lightness, the freedom of a five-year-old at play.

I think that sounds like faith, don't you? The ability to look deep into the eyes of the sad world without flinching. The assurance that even when things are dark, even if the story we write ends with Romeo dead, and Juliet dead, the happy ending is out there, just pages beyond the back cover.

Megan, you'll be interested to know that Madeleine caught flack too, for "telling a story" in school. They just didn't know she was Madeleine L'engle.

I hope you always make up stories in church. I hope all of you do.

Because we love to read what you have to say.


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is powerful! Thank you. I just love being part of this writer's family.

At five, I was the girl with the "overactive imagination". But I lacked the confidence to believe that God had a purpose for what some called a character flaw. "Dirty devices" indeed.

Thankfully, I'm from an incredibly artsy fartsy family (dad is a writer, mom was a painter...etc.). They were able to encourage me. Never getting too annoyed with my day dreaming.

I think that just recently I've learned why I do the things I do. Why I see things so differently from other people. Why I can't seem to stop listening in on the conversations of strangers. It's because I am a writer. Ah. So relieving.

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

Kathleen - Love the last line!! Yes we do love to read what you write.

Bonnie Grove said...

Katy: I LOVE being wrong--especially when it's you who comes along, sweeps up my mess, and sets the world right. MWAH!

Hey, am I allowed to tell stories in church? Should I check with Pastor Steve first? heh heh.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Anybody read Struvelpeter? That is Children's Noir if ever I was emotionally scarred for life.
By the age of 5 I'd had so much pain and dismemberment that I only wanted to write happy fairy tales to counter it all. Still unable to read at the age of 8 I would sit with Hans Christian Andersen's Tales on my lap and will the words to come alive.
Children's Noir would be stories about children, mostly true, that we would never tell them about for fear of them understanding.

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

*Insert contented sigh*

I also knew I was a writer at the age of five. My mother didn't argue when I told her. Instead she handed me paper and a pencil.

Have you by chance read WOLVES IN THE WALLS by Neil Gaiman? It's a most clever picture book that I'd consider Children's Noir. No surprise that my boys love it.

Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, Hooray for the overactive imagination! I was (am?) a day-dreamer, too.

Chris, thank you!

Bonnie, don't check with Pastor Steve. Easier to get forgiveness...

Henrietta, I'd never heard of Struwwelpeter. Just snapped up the Kindle edition for free. I'll check it out. And I'm happy for age 8 and Hans Christian Anderson.

Ariel, what a perfect response from your mom! And I forgot, there IS a Children's Noir author. Suppose Gaiman would want to write about tiny animals in jars of urine?

Megan Sayer said...

Kathleen I am deeply honoured by the thought that my comments have inspired you, thankyou!

Once again, there is so much truth in this. I'm the owner-operator of a five-year-old at the moment, and he's one of the most random creative kid I've ever met. He's a "why-let-the-facts-get-in-the-way-of-a-good-story" type, and some of the things he comes out with are hilarious, although not always what you want to hear.

I think he'd love Children's Noir, and stories like your rabbit one.

I agree totally that as adults - and as artists - we need to find that five year old way of relating to the world. I remember for many years acting like a grown-up while trying to squash down the little kid inside me who clamboured for attention. Then God did this amazing thing, and I felt like I could let it go and grow up for real. Funny thing though, now I feel grown-up on the inside, and I'm free to sing and dance and chat with random strangers in public and generally act like...a five year old.

Granny said...

Sharon, I so hope your next novel gets published! I am going to read Every Good and Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday if I have to go to the ends of the earth to find them.
Blessings to you.

Megan Sayer said...

It just occurred to me that there's probably quite a number of books that would fit in the category of Children's Noir. Roald Dahl's stories are full of abuse, extreme poverty, attempted murders and the like, and kids come to them in droves and read them again and again. In fact, we encourage them!

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, my youngest son loved Roald Dahl when he was younger, and he does, as an adult. I think he's appalling. ;)

Granny, so glad you are here. You can find Sharon's books on Amazon - run a search for Sharon K. Souza.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Seems I was a late bloomer compared to most of you. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was six. :) I still remember it though - I'd asked Mum where all the storybooks came from, and she told me that authors made them up. I decided then and there that I was going to be a writer. I thought I'd had the most profound and original thought on earth. Took me years before I grasped the sheer quantity of books and writers and would-be-writers on the planet.

I've never once veered from that decision, either. In primary school I pored over the Guinness Book of Records, memorising the photo of the Youngest Published Author in the world. She was 8 years old, and I both loved and hated her. She had a bowl haircut and a checked pinafore, and she'd written a story about pirates.

I soaked up every bit of information about writing that I could. Learned that authors don't usually make much money, or at least not for a while, so I decided I would study teaching so I could support myself while I wrote my books. And that's what I did.

I was thinking recently about the stubborn nature of my 2-year-old, who is a very strong willed child. It occurred to me that there's a positive side to stubbornness - the determination to carry things through. In my own quiet way, I was a very stubborn kid as well. Decades later I still haven't achieved my dream, but it's never once occurred to me to abandon it. It's a part of me, and I won't give up until I reach that childhood goal.

Anonymous said...

Granny, thank you very much. My books are available through my website, which you can get to through Novel Matters (which is the case with all 6 of us).

Megan Sayer said...

Karen I love what you wrote here.
I'm writing about that funny childhood love-hate thing at the moment, and I keep thinking back to your story.
Personally I was extremely disappointed when I was a kid that my stories hadn't been swept up by Penguin for the perusal of the world at large. I flatly refused to turn 13 because I hadn't reached any of my childhood goals. I still haven't. Maybe when I finally have a book published I can have a massive 13th birthday party!!! What a laugh.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Megan, that's great. What a laugh. Glad I wasn't the only one. :)