Writing for the Inner Child

Monday, January 29, 2007

If you were to fill a backpack with the stuff you really need, what would you put in it?

Author Susan Patron (pronounced pa-TRONE) would be happy with just a pencil, a notebook with lined -- it must be lined -- paper and a thesaurus. Lucky Trimble, the main character in Patron's book "The Higher Power of Lucky," never goes anywhere without her survival-kit backpack, which she thinks is probably the heaviest one in the history of the world.

What Lucky carries around that weighs so heavily on her is more than just that backpack -- it's the sadness in her heart. The 10-year-old's mother has died in a freak accident, and she's living with a guardian in the town of Hard Pan, California. Lucky is afraid she will be sent to an orphanage.

All of that certainly sounds like the makings of a pretty heavy story, but Patron's novel, which last week won the Newbery Medal as the best children's book of 2006, has lots of clever writing and laughs, too. One of Lucky's best friends is a knot expert with the important-sounding name of Lincoln Clinton Carter Kennedy. Lucky, who wants to be a scientist like Charles Darwin, names her dog HMS Beagle after Darwin's ship, even though he is "neither a ship nor a beagle," Lucky notes.

KidsPost's Tracy Grant spoke with Patron about when she finds time to write, whom she writes for and when she started writing.

This book tackles some serious subjects, including addiction and the death of a parent. Are those themes kids want to read about?

"I think basically children understand a whole lot more than [adults] want them to. Like Lucky, they're curious. As a writer . . . I try to reach out to the heart of the reader and hold on to it for the length of the story. [This book] may not be for every child, but it's the only book I could write."

Do you talk about your ideas with kids before you write?

"I don't test with children. I did have a lovely girl of 11 read the book in manuscript, but it was already done. I think I write for the child inside me. I'm the reader at the same time as I'm the writer, and that lets me be 9 or 10 again. . . . It's scary and hard to be that age. Survival is one of the themes in the book, and how we all need community to figure out how to get through life."

What's your writing day like?

"Well, I have a full-time job as a librarian, so I write on weekends and during vacations. I'm too tired to do it before or after work. So I don't write every day; I write when I can."

Are you writing a book now?

"Yes, I'm working on a companion book; it's called 'Lincoln's Knot.' I'm about three-quarters of the way through."

What advice would you give to kids who want to be writers?

"Read widely. Put [yourself] in the story. Think about why the story compels. [You'll] start to understand what a book really is."

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