Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Talking Back to Markus Zusak (Because I Can)

Many thanks to Sharon for sharing the interview with Markus Zusak on Monday here.

She posted two interviews, and I watched both of them--and took notes! The Book Thief is one of my favorite novels, which is exactly what the author intended. (I talk back to him about that in a moment.)

Yes, the novel is fabulous, wonderful, poignant, contradictory, spine-chilling. But mostly it is human, so I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Markus: The inspiration for The Book Thief came from my own life, the stories I grew up hearing at the kitchen table about my family's experience in Nazi Germany and Austria. (A paraphrase. I never took shorthand, a true regret.)

Me: Hey, that's where I get my inspiration, only my family didn't live through a horrendous war and the cruelty that rode its back. My family's history is boring. But you're so right about writing out of your own life.

It took me three novels to write through my biggest fear, being left alone like my mother. My father died when I was three, so the reality of brevity is very real to me. I'm surprised I didn't fill a bookshelf with that bit of inspiration.

The rest of my novels are like that, too, Markus--ordinary people caught up in dramas that require extraordinary strength. Not so different from yours, really, if you squint down hard.

Markus: Try to write someone's favorite book.

Me: What do you think I've been doing? Sorry, that was snarky. Obviously, I have some room to grow here. The key, I think, is that I must, must, must forget about selling the story, which is tough, but oh so necessary if I'm to write my favorite book. Only by writing my favorite story will I write someone else's favorite story.

Markus: I edited the first 80-90 pages of The Book Thief 150 to 200 times.

Me: Shut up! That's crazy. You weren't under contract, were you? This is how it was for my first book, too. I have a tub the size of a casket filled to the top with my edited pages. I use the tub as a visual aid when I talk to classrooms about self-editing. Kids are relieved to see all those pages. They mean they don't have to get their words spot-on perfect the first time. Thanks for reminding me of the same thing.

Markus: The Book Thief changed my life. I always want to write stories that means something. This story meant everything to me.

Me: The trick then, I suppose, is to write about things that move us as authors deeply, so that every story we write means everything to us. We'll need a vacation to places with umbrella drinks between those stories, or, at least, we should need a vacation.

Thanks for letting me talk back to you, Markus. Do you have a critique group? Yeah, that's what I thought. Just thought I'd ask.

Where do you get your inspiration? Do you think book contracts stifle creativity or spur it on? Is it possible for every story to be our everything story? 


Megan Sayer said...

Okay, so it took me a few days, but I finally got around to watching the first video (the second can wait until I have a free half hour). WOW. I am SO glad I did! Markus Zusak is like a breath of fresh air, and exactly what I needed to hear.
"Nobody's going to read this. I might as well do this exactly as I want it, an follow my own vision for the book" YES!!! AMEN BROTHER!!

Last year, at the writer's conferences I attended, it became abundantly clear to me that I'd written a book that had broken all the rules, that wasn't going to sit on any shelf on the bookstore that I was looking at, that simply didn't fit. It was a hard, hard revelation. Shattering. I'd poured my heart and soul into a book that was...wrong. One, like Markus said, "how could people ever recommend their friends to?"
I went home. I grieved. I tried to bend it to fit the rules, and was desperately unhappy with the result. I tried to throw it away, chalk it up to a learning experience and write something new, and was also desperately unhappy with the result. Finally I came to Markus' conclusion: that I have to write this book to my own vision. Even if nobody reads it, I have to make it the best version of itself that it can be. I will write it for myself, and for the people I love who have loved it. If I edit my opening 200 times (and I'm barely a fraction of the way there right now) it is for them, and because it is right and fitting to finish, and not give up.
I don't ever dare to dream that I may ever write anything as powerful or as impacting as The Book Thief, but I will take Markus' advice and follow my dream to the end. Then maybe me and my two friends will have a little happy dance together, snd I'll write something else.

Rhonda said...

Hi Patti,

I loved the Book Thief that we read in book club. It was a great book to talk about and I recently watched the movie. I rarely like the movie as much as it often is so different from the book. But I felt the movie followed the book well and I enjoyed it just as much.

Patti Hill said...

Megan: I'm so glad you're back to writing the book you want to write. Something tells me it will be a book I will want to read. I am sorry about the process you had to go through to be happy with your story. That smacks. I thought you might like that Marksu is an Aussie, too.

BTW, when I was in college a professor told my class, "Write and your audience will find you." My thought at the time was, Sure! Of course! Now I'm hoping my audience gets down to the business of finding me. "Hello? I'm here!"

Rhonda, how nice of you to stop by. The Book Thief is a great book.

Adelaide said...

For years my husband (my greatest supporter) has told me to forget about the marketplace and people's tastes. I should write what I want to write the way I want to write it. So, I wrote the stories the way I wanted to write about subjects that interested me, and, although no prestigious literary journal has accepted any of them, they have been published in other smaller journals. I've written three novels, all unpublished (not for lack of trying) about people relationships with no slam—bang action, sexy scenes, fantasy or magic, paranormal happenings, dead bodies, blood and gore. As Old Blue Eyes sang, "I did it my way" and I'm content with the final product.


Denise Covey said...

Thanks Patti for this little talk to Marcus Zusak. The Book Thief is one of my favourite books, too. Just as well as I have to study it with my students year after year. I liked the movie too.