Time-wise, it was a short trip north, to the edge of Maine where the sun strikes the Unitied States before anywhere else. Just under four days of hiking and kayaking and the soaking-in of nature, enough to feel refreshed and at the same time not enough to lose too much traction.
Because I do have a middle grade novel to finish within the next week.
Despite that looming deadline I am also wrestling with a fairly large set of questions concerning the lecture I’ll have to give in January as part of my graduation from Vermont College of Fine Arts. For many students the choice of subject is simply a question of modifying their critical thesis into a presentation format. But where many chose a thesis subject close to their hearts I chose my thesis topic more as a point of personal exploration; I wanted to write (and still do) a picture book biography and wanted better to understand the history and conventions. While I now know a great deal about the current trends in picture book biographies (and the abuses of accuracy therein) I find the topic less exciting to present as a lecture to fellow students and faculty.
Because it’s not close enough to my heart.
This question of heart came up in a private forum discussion among my classmates and it struck a nerve. I had some ideas about boys and boy books coming into the program and I find the subject a minefield that is difficult to traverse in the space of a program designed to teach creative writing. There are issues of gender differences, cognitive differences, issues that I think run deep at the heart of boys failing and flailing when it comes to literacy and reading fluency, with no easy answers and a can of worms at every turn. It’s the kind of thing a social scientist could spend a lifetime exploring, and not generally the province of authors looking to write fiction.
I want to open that can of worms and see if I can’t provide some easy answers at the same time.
Yes, I like tearing into things and biting off more than I can chew.
In actuality, for the past two weeks that I have been mulling this over, I have become more confident that the act of opening the can of worms is one radical enough that the answers won’t need to be definitive. Like the conversation America desperately needs concerning race (though somewhat less important) the need to discuss boys, literacy, fluency, and boy books is one we need to have and keep having until we do have some answers.
I anticipate pissing some people off. I suspect I may even get some things wrong. I’m going to have to step up with both guns blaring and perhaps shock some folks into some uncomfortable thoughts. It won’t be anywhere near as comprehensive as I would like – I’ll be grateful to be coherent for 45 minutes – but it’ll be a start.
Seven days. Forty pages or so to go on the middle grade book, and then some sort of outline about the territory of my lecture, fingers crossed that Mr. Advisor will accept my intentions. I’m rested and ready. I’m anxious and nervous. And for a few brief moments in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep because the brain is fired up and the darkness makes everything seem possible, I feel…
There’s no other word for it. The home stretch, the goal creeping up over the horizon, a glint from the headlights in the distance. I can’t see it but I can feel it.