Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Photo provided by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2010
When I was kid I used to make movies in my head. Many of them were vaguely Arthurian in tone, with a dash of Tolkien reconfigured with strong female characters who liked to read. I tried putting myself in the lead role—warrior princess or pirate queen. But because I am, at heart, a profoundly shy person, even an imaginary spotlight was uncomfortable.
I pretended to be that unusual girl who lives deep in the forest at the edge of the village. In European storytelling, the girl/woman who occupies this space is a healer, or a witch, or a storyteller, and often is all three. She lives alone. She is friends with all of the creatures of the forest. She has magical powers, of course, but they are tools, not the purpose of her existence.
Then I grew up and a funny thing happened. My dream became my reality. I turned into a storyteller, an author who writes in a cottage in the woods. I spend much of my time in the liminal world between your reality and my imagination. This is why my blog is called Mad Woman in the Forest.
My books feature a wide range of characters, from silly picture book heroines and animal-loving tweens to kids caught in intense historical situations to teenagers struggling to come to grips with the real world. This vast expanse of topic and tone confuses some readers. I am commonly asked, “How do you write about such different things? And why?”
Answer #1: it’s easy. Answer #2: it makes me happy.
It’s easy because the condition of the human heart is unchanging. Your age, the period you live in, and your economic or cultural background don’t matter; we are all linked by our need to be loved and understood, and our fear of loneliness and sorrow.
It is clearly more challenging to write about someone whose life is different than mine. I have to approach the research with humility and without assumptions. But the core desires of all characters are consistent; I just have to get the details right.
I spin memory with emotion and weave the shimmering threads into a cloth called “Story” to keep my readers warm. When my stories connect with you, when you feel the threads reaching out to join the fabric of your soul, I have done my job. I can go back into the Forest to spin and weave anew.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Laurie Halse Anderson.
Hear Laurie Halse Anderson tell the story of her name, including how one part of her name is frequently mispronounced.