I am so thrilled to host Anne Ursu today. Her book, Breadcrumbs, is lovely and haunting and I can’t wait to read The Real Boy, due to publish on September 24. Here’s Anne. . .
When I started my last book, I was married and living in Ohio. When I handed the final draft in, I was divorced and living in Minneapolis with my three-year-old boy. I knew figuring out how to be a single mom would be tough, and I knew it would be hard to fit my work around the exigencies of daily life. But, I told myself, I am a writer–I would figure it out so I could write.
But it’s hard for those creative wheels to turn when your brain is so full already. I didn’t even have the attention span to read, much less figure out how to spin words into a sentence. And life has this funny way of constantly changing under your feet. My son was expelled from one preschool, and a few months later was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. There was no room for anything else.
“Why don’t you just try?” people would ask, trying to help. And I’d have to answer, “Because I don’t have any ideas.”
I am supposed to be a writer. But what kind of a writer has no stories to tell?
Then, one night a friend took me to a marionette production of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The show was so creepy and atmospheric, full of shadows, unchecked ambition, and ungovernable magic–and suddenly at one point in the first act the switch flicked:
There is a forest where the trees were made from the spirits of old wizards. There is a magician. There is a boy who does not quite fit in. There is a society in decay. The world is dark and the rules are nebulous and keep changing, and the things that seem the most real of all are really artificial.
It comes in a rush. I can feel it, like a magician is pulling an endless chain of handkerchiefs out of my chest. Everything fills up again, everything flows.
In Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, the characters tell us we are all living behind a veil that keeps us from seeing the truth of things, the world in all its beauty and terror. This is what writing is like–the world looks fuzzy and obscure and then in one moment, for no reason, a corner of the veil lifts and suddenly you see the stories that have been lying there the whole time.
It’s a peculiar and fickle magic–and I know from reading fantasy that it’s reckless to rely on magic. But I don’t know another way. I do know that every book I’ve ever written has been inspired by some experience of art–a play, a TV episode, a fairy tale. As much as life forces us to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, stories help us lift the veil. There’s so much light and possibility out there–stories teach us that. They may not tell us precisely where to look, but they help us realize we can look. Sometimes, that’s what we need most.