Sunday, February 21, 2021

My Life in Children's Books: A Rare Appearance by the Legendary Patricia MacLachlan

We are in for a rare and wonderful treat, to listen to our beloved Lin Oliver in conversation with the legendary Patricia Maclachlan. 

Patricia MacLachlan is the beloved author of many books for kids, including the Newbery Award winning SARAH PLAIN AND TALL. 

Lin describes Patricia's work as exquisite, and says that her books are ones we want to last for forever. And Lin thinks we will feel the same about this interview. (I'm popping back to say she was right!)

Lin describes Patricia's language as spare or poetic or taut or restrained, all qualities that other writers aspire to. 

Patricia says this started when she was five and would look at books on her family's bookcase. She would put parentheses around words because she thought there were too may words in the book. And at 4 or 5 years old she would write down titles in her notebook, and she continued to correct other people's writing. She one day wrote the words: My cats have names and seem happy and often they play. Her mom read it and responded, "Oh my, you've written a poem!"

She always kept that in her, and from then on, she wrote in spare ways. It's just part of who she is. "I like books that allow me to enter them. If there are too many words then I don't know where I'm going."

When Lin ask if it's hard getting to the heart of the emotion? Patricia says that the only way she can get into it is with spare language. She believes the spare language invites the reader in too. 

Fun fact: Patricia is writing a novel now, and every day she goes through and deletes words. She's not in love with her own words, unless it's something she wrote long ago.

Lin asks about writing a classic, like SARAH PLAIN AND TALL and quotes Patricia as saying: It's the quiet soft moments of honesty that transcend the years. 

"I do a lot of stripping away. I like stripping." That gets a good laugh, I'm sure at computers all over the world. Later she tells us, "I love my delete button. It's so good."

Patricia says she doesn't think enough authors get into their landscape: the words, the emotional landscape, and where the book takes place. 

And when writing, Patricia tries very hard to create something "for the adult to hold and for the child to grab onto."

When Patricia tells Lin that she doesn't usually know the endings of her books, Lin wonders if Patricia has ever written herself into a corner. Patricia responds with a resounding, "Of course." And when Lin asks what she does then, Patricia says, "I fix it," with a laugh. 

Oh, friends. Patricia is so personable and honest and she is sharing personal stories that make you laugh out loud. If you're not with us live, do be sure to watch the archived replay (available to all conference attendees). 

On getting stuck: "When I get stuck, I go to bed. It always comes to me in bed. What is it about bed?"

Patricia has a writing room at the top of her house, where she keeps her shades closed (she's has significant vision loss), with the birds outside. 

Tip: "It's nice to hear your word read out loud to you." This is something Patricia even does within her critique group, an impressive group at that, one that includes names like Jane Yolen. 

Many years ago, when asked when the most important time in their writing was, Natalie Babbitt, a good friend of Patricia, said it was preschool, that the things she worried about in preschool were things she worries about as an adult. Patricia agrees and shares how her own childhood experiences are being pulled into the book she is working on now, and she shared a quote from that book that is a perfect thought to leave you with.

"The title taps you on the shoulder and the first sentence takes you by the hand."

Thank you, Patricia MacLachlan! 

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