Friday, April 23, 2010
Genre Hopping and The God of Good Luck
When my first child was born, I came across an anthology called The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha. It’s a collection of mythological stories about the iconic elephant-headed god, a poetic rendering that downplays the violence without losing the original essence of these stories. It’s beautifully done, and I read portions of it aloud to my two-year-old, iffy whether she was old enough to appreciate it. She was captivated, raised lots of interesting questions, and wanted to know more.
I was so thrilled by her reaction that I emailed the author, Uma Krishnaswami, to let her know how much we'd enjoyed her book and that someday, I too hoped to be able to write stories my daughter would enjoy. Why did I throw that last line in? I’m not sure, but Uma replied immediately, something along the lines of, “no time like today. I teach an intro class on writing for children at writers.com. You should sign up.” Whoa. I was thinking some day, not now. I hadn’t expected to start writing right away but why not? It seemed like kismet, and the class sounded both challenging and exciting. So I signed up.
Of course, it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Uma was a wise and generous instructor, and I learned a ton, but I’d sort of assumed reading lots of children’s books to a young child each day gave me some kind of institutional knowledge, like I had a leg up on everyone else taking the course. Not by a long shot, it turned out. I couldn’t quite master the voice to write for young kids. With each consecutive assignment, I began writing towards older kids. First picture books, then middle grade, then young adult. Nothing worked. My style just didn’t fit the genre.
By the time the class ended, story ideas began brewing any way. Already a voracious reader, I started reading a wider variety of fiction to figure out where my voice did fit. It took me another year to find it in mysteries and, now six years later, I've completed a full-length novel and a good chunk of another in the works.
But my journey really began when I read Uma’s beautiful collection of stories. It’s certainly fitting, considering that in Hindu custom, all great journeys begin by invoking Ganesha, the lord of beginnings, the patron of letters and learning, and the remover of obstacles. And maybe someday, I'll be ready to write those children's stories.