Process Notes: Garret Weyr on Choosing Magic

I’ll admit, a good storytelling voice is my ticket to happiness. Garret Weyr’s middle grade novel, The Language of Spells, had me firmly in the grip of its dragon paws from the start. Read this little passage:

From The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

By the time Grisha’s shape had been rudely shifted, I was a willing collaborator in the business of creating mental images that we call reading. No wonder the Kirkus reviewer called this book “extraordinary–not to be missed.”

So I asked Garret if she’d “explain the Where, the When, the How Come, and the How Long” behind the narrative voice that drives, modulates, lifts, whispers, sings, and quickens this elegantly crafted, yet completely child-aware story. Here is her reply:

Well, you have asked the question that sings my song.  As a writer, point of view is everything to me.  Who is telling the story, why are they telling it, when are they telling it, and where are they as they tell it?

Normally the process of answering those questions can take me half a draft and/or many many months. 

But this novel was always a story being told by a voice that knew about magic, dragons, and the cost of knowing both.  There are two reasons for this. 

The easiest comes from the rainy afternoon when I ducked into a junk shop and encountered a small china teapot in the shape of a dragon.  The dragon and I looked at each other.  I wondered how the dragon had gotten in there and the dragon, I suspect, wondered if I could figure it out.  So, I bought the little teapot and took it home.

Garret Weyr’s teapot

I should confess that my history with dragons goes all the way back to my childhood. Perhaps even to my father’s childhood. He grew up in Austria, specifically the city of Vienna and had to flee the city when he was eleven and the Nazis were about to march in.

He spent the second world war in England and the US and although he eventually became a US citizen, Vienna still beckoned.  As children, we went with him to visit every year and he kept an apartment there that seemed like our second home. 

My sisters and I liked a bedtime story and he liked to tell them.  Our favorite was about a dragon who lived in a castle on the Danube.  Now my father likes a sword fight, and so his dragon was forever running into battle with mayhem in his wake. 

Inside scoop: Garret’s late beloved dog Henry inspired Grisha the dragon in The Language of Spells.

To this day, my sisters and I are uneasy sleepers.   But we know dragons.  And Vienna.  More importantly, we know how refugees cling to stories of the world they once lived in but no longer do. 

And her imperious cat Dorcas inspired the magical cats

And that is my second reason for this novel being a story told.  My dragons had lost their home. Like large numbers of people who survived WWII, the dragons were refugees.  They had stories to tell. 

Uma: Maybe this is why I found this story so compelling. Because the dragons. struggling to live outside their lost homes, echo the feelings of so many millions of people who are forcibly displaced in our all-too-real world. The UNHCR puts the number at 70.8 million this year, one person forcibly displaced every 2 seconds. Garret continues:

I should add that I thought this would be a picture book.  It turns out, I am not a picture book writer.   I should have known that a book largely set in a hotel bar was not going to loan itself to that format. 

Live and learn.  

Indeed. Thank you, Garret Weyr. I wish you a richness of warm courtesies and the best dragon magic.

Honoring Migrants in a Dangerous Time

Artist Alvaro Enciso has made it his goal to remember and honor the lives of the thousands of migrants who have died in the Sonoran Desert, trying to cross into the United States, trying to get to a new life. Every week, Enciso goes out with a group of volunteers from the Tucson Samaritans to place crosses at the exact location where the remains were found.

This is the narrative behind a brief Arizona Public Media documentary, Where Dreams Die. The question is, if we’re to be honest, if it were any of us, if our lives and our children’s lives were at risk, would we care about borders or would we cross them recklessly, wherever we could? And there are other factors at play. With the immediate reality of climate change, there will only be more refugees. They will not care about borders and how can we, in conscience, blame them?

MangoMoon.jpg

I wish we lived in a time when we didn’t need to write and publish books for children about these horrors visited upon children. But since we live in this dreadful reality, I’m grateful for books like Diane de Anda‘s beautiful Mango Moon.

There’s a full moon out tonight and Maricela misses her father. He’s been taken away from the family, and he’s facing deportation. The hole in the family and the community is made palpable through simple, text and through Cornelison’s tender illustrations. The book ends on a note of hope that comes, not from reality (real life, alas, is all about detention and razor-wire). Rather it comes  from a child’s imaginings and from the moon, symbolically helping Maricela to hold her Papi  in her heart.

For more children’s books on families crossing at the US-Mexico border, check out this list at Erin Boyle’s Reading My Tea Leaves blog.

 

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Mustafa.jpgMustafa, a child refugee from an unnamed country in crisis, finds a friend in his new home. That’s the storyline in this simple, elegant picture book by Marie-Louise Gay of Stella and Sam fame.

The setting in Mustafa is urban, offering the relief of a green park safe enough for a child to venture into on his own. The delight of this book lies in its close adherence to its small hero’s perspective, both in the choice of words and in the finely rendered multi-media illustrations.

Marie-Louise Gay is the gifted author-illustrator of numerous fine books. She shines a loving light on many facets of a new immigrant’s experience—the hugging hijabi mother, the lively younger sibling, the trail of leaf-cutter ants in the park that parallel the family’s own difficult journey, the feeling of being a stranger and invisible.

At a time when more and more countries are resisting immigration and there are forces pushing against the acceptance of refugees in Western countries, this is an important book. It shows not only how children cope with the traumas of displacement but also where the ingredients of comfort might be found.

 

Writers Supporting Refugees in Canada

Writer and author of books for young readers  Robin Stevenson asked if I’d like to moderate a panel she’s putting together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make that date, but the panel is in a cause that’s worth writing about and somehow it seems right to publish this post on September 11.Robin-Stevenson_event_08-30-18-Poster.jpg

20180606-20180606-_M8A1619.jpgI asked Robin to tell me more about her forthcoming event. Here is what she wrote:

Like many Canadians, I got involved in refugee sponsorship back in 2015, when the refugee crisis was headline news. Since that time, media interest has waned, but the number of refugees worldwide has continued to grow. Canadians have a unique opportunity to help: by joining with others to form sponsorship groups, we can help more refugees resettle in our communities. I’ve been a part of two groups sponsoring wonderful families who are now living here in Victoria, and I have started a third group—this one to sponsor an 18 year old girl who fled persecution in her country two years ago, and has been on her own as a refugee since. She is highly vulnerable in her current situation– we hope her case will be processed quickly so she can start a new phase of her life here in Victoria.

Part of the commitment of a sponsorship group is financial: the group commits to supporting the refugee for their first year in Canada. So we are fundraising. And because I am a writer who loves working with other writers, I am working with author and sponsorship group member Kari Jones to organize an event that combines our interest in refugee justice with our love for all things literary. It is called Pathways to Publication: Finding a Home for Your Children’s Book or Teen Novel, and it will take place Saturday October 27, in Esquimalt.

We will have two panels: one of successful authors— Susan Juby, Mahtab Narsimhan, Ria Voros and Laurie Elmquist–and one of professional editors of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels. There will be opportunities to ask questions and chat with the panelists. And there will be door prizes! You could even win the chance to get a chapter of your own manuscript critiqued by a published author.

Tickets are available on EventBrite. (link:  https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/pathways-to-publication-tickets-49233930010) I hope to see you there! And if you can’t come, but want to support this young refugee, please consider donating through our fundraising page. (link: https://chimp.net/groups/victoria-young-refugee-sponsorship-group) Every dollar gets us closer to our goal. Thanks so much!

And thank you, Robin, for those important thematic links of community and home–for writers, for the work they care about, and for these young people who have endured horrific circumstances and whose future now depends on the help and goodwill of strangers.