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The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy Hardcover – February 14, 2006
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5 Up Using well-focused questions, Marcus interviewed 13 master writers of the genre. He asked each one about wellsprings, the influence of antecedents, writing habits, revisions, and the effects of the times (many carry memories of World War II) in which they wrote. In the process, he uncovered fascinating revelations about where writers' ideas come from and the themes that the authors deal with. One common thread is homage to J. R. R. Tolkien: Susan Cooper took a class from him; Madeleine L'Engle devoured the three LOTR volumes in as many days; and Ursula LeGuin returns to the novels again and again. However, Philip Pullman can find little in the works now that resonates for him. Marcus also elicits pithy quotes, such as this one from Terry Pratchett: Fantasy is like an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not actually take you anywhere, but it does exercise the muscles that will. Each lively and highly readable interview ends with some advice to would-be writers that, unsurprisingly, suggests that reading voraciously, as did Garth Nix and Nancy Farmer, and writing anything (stories for the school paper, bits of character descriptions) are ways in. The elegantly designed volume includes photos of the authors, their working spaces, and a typical manuscript page or working outline. Interviews with Tamora Pierce, Lloyd Alexander, Franny Billingsley, Brian Jacques, Diana Wynne Jones, and Jane Yolen are also included in this essential volume for fantasy readers of all ages. Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 6-9. Spotlighting a genre that has mushroomed in popularity, Marcus' latest may draw in even those young people who typically prefer to read, rather than read about, the books and authors they admire. Following the same format as his Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book (2000), Marcus presents interviews with 13 fantasy luminaries, including Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Nancy Farmer, Brian Jacques, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, and Philip Pullman. The writers' distinct personalities and career paths emerge, as do intriguing similarities; many authors, for instance, speak of the profound impact of World War II (Diane Wynne Jones recalls that wartime hazards convinced her that "the most appalling and peculiar things are liable to happen at any time"). Each profile includes a black-and-white author's photo, a reading list, and a bit of ephemera, often a handwritten manuscript page. Although the absence of J. K. Rowling is surprising, this remains a rich resource that will be consulted as frequently by children's literature professionals as by genre fans themselves, many of whom will particularly welcome each fantasist's advice to aspiring authors--from the simple, sage words of Ursula Le Guin, "Read. Write. Read. Write. Go on reading. Go on writing," to Jane Yolen's delightfully blunt "BIC: butt in chair!" Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Most of the interviews were done in-person or over the phone. Two were done via e-mail as well. It's a testament to Marcus's skills (and the verbal gymnastics of his subjects) that the casual reader is unable to distinguish between the live and written. In fact, the eloquence of each of these fantasy writers is the most startling similarity they have between one another. The interviews are presented in alphabetical order with Lloyd Alexander first and Jane Yolen last. In between, Marcus includes photographs of each author's early drafts, pictures of them as children, and the occasional shot of what their workspace looks like. Who knew they even made Terry Pratchett figurines? Marcus asks a sets number of questions of each author. What did they read as children? How did World War II affect them? What becomes clear as you read through the book is that the greatest influence this crew ever had was Tolkien. In fact, they have very different opinions on the man. Susan Cooper found his lectures "wonderful" whereas Diana Wynne Jones (who you come to trust in this matter) found them "absolutely appalling". Philip Pullman even had dinner with him, though again the great man does not come across as particularly appealing. Each author mentions what they advise up and coming writers, who their inspirations have been, and what their lives were like. All in all, it makes for a truly stunning series of interviews.
Being the twisted soul that I am, I was most interested in the authors that were prone to saying particularly odd things. If I got to sit down and have dinner with four fantasy authors based solely on their interviews, I think my choices would have to be Nancy Farmer, Diana Wynne Jones, Brian Jacques (a surprise for me), and Terry Pratchett. Perhaps Philip Pullman too, but we'd have to keep the conversation well away from touching on C.S. Lewis. After a while you do feel like quizzing your other fantasy loving friends. "Did you know that Nancy Farmer worked in the lab of a mad scientist, "felt like a fruit fly pimp", and was a holy terror in school? Did you know that "A Wrinkle In Time" was turned down twenty-six times by different publishers? Or that Tamora Pierce has "twenty-two baby name books, plus three URLs for baby name databases, plus a CD-ROM"? It's all true. It's all here.
I suspect that some well-meaning kids will complain about the people not included in this book. Where's Cornelia Funke? Or Christopher Paolini? I, personally, was very very happy at these exclusions. Obviously I would have liked Rowling to have been included but what could she say that she hasn't already mentioned in the roughly five billions interviews she's done worldwide? Less explicable is the fact that Anne McCaffrey isn't mentioned. A quick check of a "Dead Or Alive" website confirms her status of "Alive", so what gives? And what about Robin McKinley? That said, the list Marcus has already come up with is pretty close to perfect. You could argue that Billingsley hasn't done enough to gain a spot with this crew (and Yolen, perhaps, too much) but that's neither here nor there.
Sometimes when I finish a particularly good book (for example, "Fly By Night" by Frances Hardinge), I feel depressed. Like so many other people out there, I'd like to be a writer but I get intimidated by really really good authors already in existence. "The Wand In the Word" had the opposite effect on me. These are the best authors of their field and their advice and enthusiasm is easy to catch. I dare say budding fantasy novelists everywhere will be able to take a page out of Marcus's newest book and create their own entirely new little worlds. It's a wonderful collection and a necessary purchase for anyone who considers themselves a serious fantasy fan.
These glimpses into fantasy writers' lives and works are just a few of the insights gleaned from the interviews collected in THE WAND IN THE WORD. Leonard Marcus, perhaps the preeminent children's book critic, engages 13 authors of fantasies for young people in wide-ranging conversations.
Not surprisingly, many of the questions center on the writers' own childhoods, as Marcus asks almost all of them to describe their childhood, their early exposure to books and libraries, their contact with other storytellers, favorite teachers, or other mentors. One common element is the authors' early engagement with J. R. R. Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS; many authors, such as Susan Cooper, mention the books as major influences on their own works, while others, such as Tamora Pierce and Philip Pullman, note that their books run counter to Tolkien's goals.
Although Marcus poses many of the same questions to several of the authors, these are merely starting places for what become real conversations, not simply interviews. Like good conversations, these are comfortable, dynamic, and sometimes surprising, as new questions grow from authors' answers and lead the discussion in new directions.
Most interesting to older readers (even to the many adults who relish the works of these fantasy masters) and to aspiring writers will be the authors' discussions of their philosophies of writing fantasy, their writing rituals, and their decision-making processes. Among the numerous illustrations are original manuscript pages from the authors' works, where the revision process comes to life in vivid images.
Writers-to-be will find true inspiration and encouragement from these writers' life stories and approach to writing really great fiction for young people.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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informative book about thirteen writers of fantasy.Read more