Erin Dionne and I share a publisher, and a passion for writing for the middle grade reader. Her books are full of energy and humor, as is Erin! (Do go over to her website where you can see an adorable photo of her in her marching band days!) I am delighted to host her today in celebration of her newest novel, Lights, Camera, Disaster (Scholastic).
Success & Creativity: Ingredients for my DISASTER
When I first began the novel that became LIGHTS, CAMERA, DISASTER (Scholastic), I thought I was writing about fame. Hess was still disorganized and struggling with anxiety, but her filmmaking skills earned her a video that went viral and national attention that devolved into national embarrassment. It was an unwieldy story, with lots of moving pieces. The acquiring editor suggested a few ways to streamline the narrative, focusing on the filmmaking and how that impacted the main character. They were excellent suggestions.
I spent time with them for a while, thinking through them. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t make them work. And then I realized: This isn’t the story I want to tell about this character. This book I was writing was actually about creativity, not fame. It was about how sometimes, people who are really into making things aren’t always understood by others, and how being in school makes that extra hard.
So I basically rewrote the novel.
And I had to break it to my editor: “Remember that novel that you bought that I’m writing…? The one about fame? Well, it’s not that book any more. Hope you like the new version!”
I crossed my fingers.
Thankfully, she liked it. More importantly, she got it.
And when she moved on to work for another publisher, and my amazing editor at Scholastic, Erin Black, fell in love with it and took it over, I had a solid understanding of the story I was trying to tell and Erin was able to help me execute it. My main character Hess Greene is a lot like the students I teach at Montserrat College of Art, where I am an associate professor. Those students are super creative people who see the world a little differently from the rest of us. They have focus and energy and the ability to make things…and what’s disappointing to me is the lack of value that our society puts on those qualities and abilities. Being “the art kid”—the one who sits in the back of the room drawing while the teacher is talking—is a one-way ticket to Strangeville for a lot of children in our traditional K-12 educational system. But it’s those kids—those who think differently, who make connections that most of us miss—who end up giving the rest of us tools to understand ourselves. They create art in response to, and reflective of, the world around us. They are the storytellers and chroniclers of each generation.
That’s why, with this book, I wanted to honor those people in our society. Humans are wired to appreciate beauty, but we’re not wired to appreciate nonconformity. And in order to cultivate their creativity, most artists are a little out of step from what’s “traditional” or “expected”. Lots of times, adults don’t see those nonconforming kids as “successful,” because their success doesn’t follow traditionally laid out paths.
I’d argue that it shouldn’t. I want our artists to watch the world, to learn about it, and to point out what is strange, wonderful, and beautiful. I want them to challenge my thinking and beliefs, and I want to learn from them. It’s difficult to offer all of those things when you are locked in to society’s expectations. That’s why artists are frequently on the periphery, observing, thinking, and creating.
In LIGHTS, Hester Greene knows she’s a good filmmaker, but she’s told that her ability isn’t worth anything because it doesn’t help her pass a test or get good grades. Throughout the story, she not only learns how to value herself, but she shows the adults around her that just because she doesn’t fit in a traditional box doesn’t mean she’s not a success.
She’s the director of her own story.
We all are.
Erin Dionne’s latest book for tweens is Lights, Camera, Disaster (Scholastic 2018). She’s the author of 5 other books for young readers, including the 2014 Edgar Award finalist Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial 2013). Her first picture book, Captain’s Log: Snowbound (Charlesbridge Publishers), will be released in 2018. She teaches at Montserrat College of Art and lives outside of Boston with her husband, two children, and a very indignant dog. You can learn more about Erin on her website, Twitter or Facebook.