I’m thrilled to welcome Newbery winning author Rebecca Stead today as my guest blogger courtesy of Walden Pond Press since Guys Read: Other Worlds, edited by Jon Scieszka, is out today and includes a wonderful short story by Rebecca Stead.
I met Rebecca though the Random House Read and Play Community along with Newbery winner Clare Vanderpool on a webchat a few years ago. Rebecca came to Boston as a visiting scholar at Leslie College and I was thrilled to meet her in person. She’s very nice!!
Jacqueline Davies introduced Rebecca and after she read a few chapters of Liar and Spy, she took Q and A. One student asked her if it was more difficult for her to write boy characters. This is her answer:
Her latest book is Liar and Spy. I think the only reason why she didn’t win a Newbery for that is because she won the Newbery for When You Reach Me three years ago. Her debut novel is First Light.
It is a honor and priviledge to have her today writing about grokking, science fiction and what inspires her.
The other day I walked by an old apartment building and looked up at a row of windows that used to be mine. I have lived in many New York apartments, but this was the apartment to which I brought home my newborn sons from St. Luke’s Hospital; the apartment where I stared at the television, disbelieving, on September 11th, my 3-year-old’s first day of preschool; the apartment where I decided to put the law career on hold and write a novel for children. To try.
When I fell in love with books I was a New York City kid, an only child with keys to two apartments, my mom’s and my dad’s. I loved to read about people like me, loved the way some sentences seemed to tap things inside me, things I knew but didn’t know I knew, sleeping things that wanted to wake up.
Science fiction was different.
The first science fiction story I remember reading and truly “grokking” (a Heinlein word, from his novel Stranger in a Strange Land) was Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder, perennial flower of the 7th grade short-story curriculum.
For those who don’t know it, A Sound of Thunder is a time-travel story. It tells of a man who goes on a “time safari” with a dinosaur-hunting party, armed with a big gun and strict instructions to stay on the marked path. Only on this path, it has been determined, will the visitors be able to tread safely upon their own past.
Scared by a dinosaur, the man steps off the path for a moment, but quickly scrambles back to it. When he returns to his own time, he finds the world subtly changed in important ways – a different candidate has been elected president, and the sign on the wall advertises a “Tyme Sefari.” He can’t have been the cause, the man tells himself. Not him. It was only a few steps. Then he picks up his foot and finds, in the muck on his boot, a dead butterfly.
How can I describe the feeling that came over me? I wasn’t recognizing myself, the way I did with the books I loved. I was recognizing ideas outside of myself. It was a different sensation, like standing in a gentle electric rain.
The story had an immediate effect upon the way I thought about the world. Nothing was knowable anymore. I became preoccupied with certain large cracks in the sidewalk, wondering how old I would be when I stepped over them for the last time. Would I be fifty? Eighty? Who would I be then? How many different versions of me were possible?
And, looking back, I wondered: who would I have been if my parents had not put me into first grade a year early? Presumably, I would have a completely different set of friends. Which meant that even my best friend would be a stranger to me. And, logically, it must also be that a handful of the strangers I passed on the street were my best friends in an alternative reality. And here we just looked past one another! How achingly sad. Was life just a series of accidents?
It was an exhausting game that could be played forever. And I have continued to play it. Looking up at those apartment windows the other day, I wondered: What if we had never left this apartment? Our kids might go to different schools. We might have different jobs, another kid, a puppy, more (or less) money in the bank. Good things might have happened, or been avoided. Bad things, too.
The possibilities are distracting, limitless, and good practice for potential writers. If there is one feeling I associate with the act of writing, it is the feeling of not knowing. But here is one thing I do know: If it were not for science fiction, I would not be writing books.
Read Rebecca’s story, “Plan B” in the sci-fi and fantasy edition of the Guys Read series: Guys Read: Other Worlds.
Rebecca Stead has written three novels for children (published by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House): When You Reach Me, winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction; First Light, a Junior Library Guild selection and NYPL “best book for teen readers” (2007); and Liar & Spy, shortlisted for the Guardian children’s fiction prize and a New York Times Book Review Notable Book for Children (2012).
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