Is that crazy muse who lived in my childhood brain still available?
I have caught her trying to pop out and have her say now and again, but I have an ever-growing sledgehammer of a censor that keeps her in her place—hybernating in the depths of long ago.
She popped her head out and opened an eye this week, trying to read over my shoulder. I didn’t reach for the sledgehammer.
I was too busy reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Okay, you and everybody else have probably already read it, but I just met it. I did view the film some time ago. I was duly and profoundly moved, but I never picked up the book until a few days ago.
So here is what I mean by “with Abandon.”
Don’t just sit down and write a story about a little girl caught in the mess Hitler was making of Germany and every other country he could get his hands on.
It gets harder and harder to get people’s attention these days, with all the digital distractions and so forth. Another horrible unthinkable tale from that era told in the the usual way might cause us to shake our heads, but ultimately put it aside. Yes, yes, I know—man’s inhumanity to man—it shouldn’t happen—it must not happen.
But it did and it does and we all know it.
How to get our attention?
Let Death tell the story. Give him a sense of humor, of irony, of pity for the human race. Throw in up-to-the-minute bulletins of what lies ahead, but keep pulling the reader back into the story at hand. Commiserate with the reader—we all know what’s coming, but wait—let’s look at this first. Draw scratchy little illustrations. Keep forcing the reader back into the moments of each person’s existence. But don’t ever let him forget he is conversing with Death.
This book gave my seventy-two-year-old bones a good shake. And it grabbed the interest of that little sleeping muse inside me. Maybe the two of us are eyeing each other cautiously, wondering what the shake-up is all about. Wondering if we have something in common—if we might find a way to work together.
Reading Mr. Zusak’s work reminded of how an open sense of play and anything-goes can be a serious contributor toward getting the real bones of a story on paper.
I hope I have learned something from it.