The End of All Our Exploring: The Journey of Narrative

M.T. Anderson’s books ask you to question your reality. They demand you take nothing for granted, and they show you a new perspective of the world you thought you once knew. His keynote address at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference was just as powerful in turning the world of writing on its head.  “This keynote,” Anderson began, “will address writing, travel, leaving home, and returning again.” The following notes share the journey of narrative through the unique eyes of M.T. Anderson:

Real Life Adventure Vs. Reading About Adventure…

  • When reading about adventure, Anderson, was not thrilled with the specific moments of adventure, but the vastness of the landscapes that were presented in the story.
  • Anderson spent some time traveling but it did not sit well with him due to lack of knowledge of foreign language, and a finicky appetite wherein the lack of protein in his diet turned him into a rabid crazy person.  “There’s got to be a way to experience exotic adventure and still be able to have cookie crunch readily available!”
  • “Canada is America’s France.” (Funny anecdote).
  • The answer of course is reading and books! Books take you to faraway places.

We Long for Exotic Lands…

  • Do we Americans embrace the landscape of fantasy? We are immersed in the same rotation of Home Depot after Home Depot, Walmart after Walmart. We long for new kingdoms!
  • Anderson encourages you to check out his online interactive map about the state of Delaware. This Delaware may not resemble the one you know, for it is the one featured in his book Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware. Anderson created this interactive map in addition to his books as a way to explore landscape and the world without exploring character. This was a creative way to expand upon the world, and hey, he had fun making it! This wasn’t a marketing stunt, but a way in which to spend time in his exotic land.
  • The Conan books are initially based out of Texas (where the author is from). Take what you know and let it be a basis to inspire your worlds.

Travel as Metaphor…

  • There is something metaphorical about travel in books. They take us away from home so that we can see home. We can only view our home from far away. We must be up high upon the hill looking back for it to actually be viewed.
  • Travel is about understanding the past. Through exploring the geography of a place we learn about the history of that place, and thus ourselves. We discover a new landscape.
  • Good examples of books that explore the landscape and result in self discovery are: Holes, The Arrival, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

Estrangement Helps Us to See the World in a New Way…

  • The definition of literature is that seeing something through estrangement forces us to see the world in a new way.
  • There is so much that we take for granted when we look at our world or think of our homes.
  • Literature restores a sense of the unknown to what we already know.
  • Put any object in front of us and we know what it is, but we do not see it anymore. Art is meant to show us what we do not or no longer see.
  • We perceive things, but not as they are.
  • Literary books are ones that work through estrangement.

Examples of How to Estrange the Reader…

  • The use of a striking image or striking language can show you things in a new way. The language will break you out of a trance so you see something anew.
  • Sean Beaudoin’s book You Killed Wesley Pane creates a new language out of modern slang and 1940’s noir. There is an active language throughout the book. Examples include calling the police terms like “The Snout” (aka: pigs) and the police station “The Snout House.” Or the use of the phrase “Rust apple rust” in describing the color of a car, which is more poignant than simply writing a red car. These demand attention.
  • The Monster Blood Tattoo books are a good example of fantasy and plenitude and language. The world created has its own linguistic history. There is an ancient quality to the language, and it has a life of its own. Example: Sailors are called “Vinegar-oons”. This juxtaposes the familiar and the unfamiliar. The use of the ending “-oons” is familiar, while the term “vinegar” references the fact that the sea is so salty it has turned acidic. By grounding the nickname in the mythology of the world it becomes more powerful.
  • If writing horror, use Freud’s theory of the unheimlich. The idea is that the root of all that is terrifying is something that is also the most familiar. Only you take that familiar thing and turn it on its head. Change it ever so slightly. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a great example of this. The little girl goes into her home where everything is familiar; it’s her house, her room, her parents. But the horror comes when her parent’s eyes have been replaced with buttons. The domestic turned alien now becomes horrifying and scary.

Use the Internet to Expand Your Work…

  • There is artistic pleasure in creating things on the internet. Be open and embrace the new media. There is new expression in using the internet. It can expand your world in a new way, give it new breadth and depth. It doesn’t have to be about marketing. It can be about your story.
  • Again, check out M.T. Anderson’s Delaware Map.

In Closing…

  • Remember, if complex or simple, it is the books that take us away from what we are expecting that show us something new.
  • Press yourself to stay away from the cliché.
  • Take the hand of those looking to see the door and present it to them. Open the door for them. Show them the world.
  • Push your language!

The State Song of Delaware…

  • And in true closing, M.T. Anderson serenaded the crowd with his state song of Delaware. Check out some quick snippets, and see for yourself – M.T. Anderson Singing.

M.T. Anderson has written stories for adults, picture books for children, adventure novels for young readers, and several books for older readers (both teens and adults). His satirical book Feed was a finalist for the National Book Award and was the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize. His first volume of his Octavio Nothing saga won the National Book Award and the Boston Globe/ Horn Book Prize. Both the first and second volumes of the two-part series were Printz Honor Books.

2 thoughts on “The End of All Our Exploring: The Journey of Narrative

  1. Pingback: SCBWI LA 2010 – The Quick Take Away « Ingrid's Notes

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