Julie Berry | Why I Write

Julie Berry grew up in western New York, and now lives in eastern Massachusetts with her husband and four young sons.  Her first novel, The Amaranth Enchantment (2009, Bloomsbury) was a Junior Library Guild Selection and an IndieBound Next Top Ten Pick; her second novel, Secondhand Charm, releases October 12, 2010 from Bloomsbury.  She is also the co-creator, with her sister Sally Faye Gardner, of Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys, a series of comic-graphic for ages 8-12 on August 19, from Penguin Books for Young Readers.

***
I forget sometimes how much I love to write.

Life as an author is unromantic. Moments of joyful creation are few.  They never happen with the right set dressing – no windswept moors, no beaches, no cozy fireplaces. New books are born, in my world, in a tiny office so cluttered you can’t see the floor, or on my half of the bed, buried in unfolded laundry. Occasionally I flee to a library carrel, and sometimes I escape to a friend’s house to hide in her spare room and write. Stolen space, stolen time. I’m more fugitive than artist.

Often other concerns dwarf writing entirely. There are proposals to submit, contracts to negotiate, outlines to revise, ideas to research, deadlines to fret, and manuscripts to revise, revise, revise, revise.

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Revision has its pleasures, to be sure, and anyone who dreams of publishing had better find them. But the rewards of revision are a pat on the back for washing the dishes. The rewards of writing, of pristine untouched virgin writing, can approach the Infinite. On good days.

Then there’s the commercial side of writing. Events to schedule, promote, orchestrate. Events to remember to show up for with an ironed shirt and brushed teeth.  Fun and thrilling in their way, and a necessary part of the process. But they’re a long remove from writing.

All author time is a withdrawal from life, home, and family that must be repaid. It would be far too easy to obsess over all things authorial and allow them to engulf who I was before I started writing. Perhaps I already do. But I try to balance my life in books with my other roles, principally in my marriage, mothering, and friendships.  So payback time is just another factored cost in my writing bottom line.

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I’m lucky and I’m grateful to be an author. I’m fortunate to need to wrangle with contracts and deadlines and revision letters. It’s a privilege addressing audiences, young and old. But occasionally the sheer magnitude and fuss of these roles makes me wonder why I bother, makes me think nostalgically of those pre-writing days when I watched more movies.

And then I find a moment, or a reason, to open a new Word document and start to play. It starts badly. Again I tell myself it’s time to renew my friendship with Netflix. But first, just a few more paragraphs, to see if there’s some salvageable material here.

And then, while I’ve stopped paying attention, in a hum almost too quiet to hear, the joy appears. This bad beginning, this waste of words bends and twists itself into tangibility, like a man of clay beginning to stir. A breath of life brushes across the idea, across characters that were mere names, and they gasp a little. So do I.

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It’s a miracle, and I’m a witness. These stories come from a land I do not own. Not without effort, for it’s a hard rodeo pinning a skittish novel down, but still, they come on their own, and when they do, then I remember. Ah, yes. This is why I write.

That I ever discovered I loved it was a gift my creator gave me.

***

Do you ever get so mired in the unintended consequences (good and bad) of your dream that you forget  why you love your dream — whether writing, painting, running, working, mothering?

Is there anything in particular that brings you back, as Julie described it, to what is “profoundly spiritual and unexplainable, like dew from heaven” about your dream?

Negotiating Our Dreams: Part 4 of 4

In Julie Berry's The Amaranth Enchantment, orphan Lucinda is dressed for the ball in Cinderella-like fashion by her fairy godmother Beryl.  When Lucinda finally sees herself in the mirror, it is as if she is seeing someone other than herself.  “

[Someone] like a princess.”

But when Lucinda stands up from the dressing table, she trips on the heel of her slipper, and confidence faltering, cries out, “I can't do it, Beryl, that's not me.  I'll make a fool of myself.  I can't carry it off.  Please don't make me.  I'm bound to fail.”

“Don't be frightened by your beauty, Lucinda,” Beryl responds. “You haven't, until now, known you had it, and so you're uncorrupted by it.  You can never take any credit for it, or make it your aim.”  She smiled.  “But it would be an act of deceit to deny your beauty or tell yourself that what you see is not you.”

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Source:  istockphoto

When I first read this passage 1 1/2 years ago, I remember thinking, this is ridiculous.  How can Lucinda not be aware of her beauty?  If a girl is pretty, she knows it.  At least I would know something so obvious. Wouldn't you?

***

In my wrap-up for the She Negotiates course, I wrote that I'm nearly always negotiating from a place of weakness.  The good news is — I'm not alone.  According to one of our instructors Vickie Pynchon this belief is typical.  “Every time I train in house lawyers or executives I ask what their biggest negotiation challenge is.  And every time, every time, no matter how powerful the company (e.g. Fortune 500), I get the same answer:  we're always negotiating from a position of weakness.”

It is implausible that Fortune 500 companies are always negotiating from a point of weakness, laughable nearly.  And neither are we.  Just as Lucinda hasn't discovered her beauty, we are frequently unaware of all that is at our disposal to make things happen, to negotiate our dreams.

Elizabeth Stewart Dunford | Solace in Creativity

Elizabeth Stewart Dunford studied music and photography as an undergraduate, and is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts at Harvard, one class at a time.  She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, Michael and their three children with whom she has the opportunity to spend the bulk of her time.  
***

My mother told me never to read anyone else’s diary.

Is that why all the diaries I coveted growing up came adorned with a miniature lock and key?  To ward off all those who didn’t observe social protocol? Ashamedly, I have found myself in this category at times. (I have older sisters). So, when an opportunity to research Charlotte Brontë’s diary arose, my childhood impulse was to call my mom and ask if she thought Brontë would mind.

Charlotte Brontë fascinates me. She already had my attention with Jane Eyre, but after I read the following words from her diary, she commanded my attention.

How few would believe that from sources purely imaginary such happiness could be derived! … What a treasure is thought! What a privilege is reverie! I am thankful I have the power of solacing myself with the dream of creations … May I never lose that power, may I never feel it grow weaker.

Charlotte bronte
(This is my favorite image of her; a chalk drawing by George Richmond, 1850, commissioned by her husband)

Empirical data supporting the healing influence of the arts upon one’s subconscious, thoughts and feelings was not defined until the early 20th century—yet Brontë understood and utilized the healing effects of writing and painting in her life more than 150 years before the advent of art therapy.

A study of Brontë’s life reveals many sobering reasons why she turned to creative pursuits. The death of her mother and older sisters created a void that she felt obliged to fill. It was expected of her to assume the position of mother figure to her remaining younger siblings. It is a burden Brontë shouldered throughout most of her life.  Creative expression is how she dealt with her day-to-day problems.  As her diary firmly establishes, she found solace in creativity.

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I identify with her.

Last summer I recorded some songs that I had written over a five-year period. Recording my songs facilitated a creative process that allowed me to find closure to painful relationships and celebrate current relationships.  As I lost myself in the process and didn’t focus on the outcome, my creative endeavors healed and invigorated me.

The benefits inherent in creative acts are accessible to everyone. Creativity shows up differently from one to another: could be strengthening relationships, could be collecting sporks, or could be creating an edible dinner with what’s left in the fridge.

Creativity is not only available to everyone but easily visible during one’s early years. Think about this for a moment. All children draw. All children sing. In fact, it’s easy to find a 3- or 4- year-old child who will have a go at creating or trying anything. I am lucky enough to have one currently living within my walls—my daughter Ella Sophia’s creations are delightfully present all over the house.

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What happened to us between preschool and the present? We’ve all heard these reasons before—being taught that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do things, others’ criticism and fear.   Even Charlotte Brontë feared rejection of her writing. Shortly after the publication of the wildly successful Jane Eyre, thirty-one-year-old Brontë nervously wrote to her editor “It has no learning, no research, it discusses no subject of public interest.”

So where to start? How can we, like Brontë, find solace in creative pursuits?

Observe the creative process undefiled. Grab the nearest preschooler and ask her to draw. Watch what she does. The preschooler has no fear and is almost always happy about her creation. If the preschooler is still present (hasn’t run off and “seatbelt taped” the Playmobil girl into the car—my recent favorite from Ella Sophia) you’ll notice that she enjoys the process as much as or more than the final outcome. You don’t need to create a masterpiece—a wildly successful novel or painting or song. Creation itself is the therapy.

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What is creating? Your answer will vary from that of everyone else. The point is that you create without judgment. In the context of art therapy, the art created is secondary to the process. Go out and be a child. Create something and remove the critique.

Maybe I’ll get that diary with the lock and key and start by filling the pages with a story about a creative little girl who uses tape for seat belts.

***

Does your creative outlet sustain you through loss, grief, your day-to-day difficulties?

Mine is not a traditional outlet, like painting or composing, but when I can help bring to life to someone's story and ideas on ‘dare to dream', this for me is an act of creation — one that brings me happiness. As Elizabeth said, creativity can take so many forms — what does yours look like?

As we consider gifting the art of expression to our children, you may want to re-read Tie-Dye, Daughters and Dreams.

Finally, when Elizabeth and I first discussed a guest post after Kimberly Carlile's presentation at Fusion (Kimberly's presentation also inspired Julie Berry's Embracing Round post), I had no idea Elizabeth was a composer/vocalist/musician!

Book Club: The Amaranth Enchantment

My ‘I' loved Julie Berry's debut novel The Amaranth Enchantment.

The heroine, Lucinda Chapdelaine, embarks on a feminine hero's journey; she connects to and cares for others AND she gets the guy.

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Because Julie's my friend, you could argue I'm biased.

I am.

But here's what three of the industry's most reputable reviewers, including Publisher's Weekly (note the Starred Review from what industry insiders describe as “Coke to Kirkus' Pepsi”), Booklist and Kirkus have said.

Berry's enticing debut novel teems with romance, danger and suspense. Lucinda, a 15-year-old orphan, leads a miserable existence as a servant until she gains possession of an unusual stone belonging to Beryl, a reputed witch. As luck would have it, the gem is stolen and sold to a prince before Lucinda even realizes it is gone. Most of the plot centers on Lucinda's adventures trying to retrieve the stone from the prince, with whom she predictably falls in love. Fantasy buffs will delight in the author's playful use of fairy tale conventions—unlike Cinderella, Lucinda has the good sense to retrieve her lost slipper after attending a ball (“I considered leaving it there, but one footfall in my stocking feet on the cold granite changed my mind”). But the book's main appeal comes from the revelations of many secrets and unexpected twists, including the truth about Beryl. Lucinda has to work harder than most such heroines to acquire her happily-ever-after ending, but her efforts eventually pay off, while leaving readers with enough unanswered questions to set imaginations spinning. Ages 10–14. (Publisher's Weekly)

“Intriguing characters, fine plotting, and a richly worked narrative.”

“A lively, quick, stylish, engaging first novel.” (Kirkus Reviews)

My 8 year-old, Miranda, and I loved the book-signing; and at the book signing we attended, the young girls were riveted, accounting for nearly all the questions asked.   Miranda and I are reading the book together for a Mother-Daughter book club that we're in; Miranda is also lobbying to have Julie Berry come speak at her school.

When you get a moment, will you go to www.julieberrybooks.com and tell Julie ‘Atta Girl'?


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