Foreign lands, familiar insights

I’m at the SCBWI International conference in LA and easily the biggest draw for me this year was the chance to hear M.T. Anderson speak again. (I am not easily star-struck, but he is a star in the writing firmament for me. The man is a brilliant writer, and no shambles as a speaker — or a singer. Check out the Team Blog entry for an explanation of that bit — unless you live in Delaware. Oh, actually you need this post for the explanation. But look at both.)

Anyway, the point is this: He spoke in large part about the idea of writing about exotic lands and creatures as a way to come home with new eyes… to see the familiar anew, either because the familiar is really lurking in that foreign land, by analogy to our own, or because the experience of being in the foreign land of the story helps us see our own world with a fresh perspective. One example (paraphrased)… perhaps we in the U.S. embrace fantasy lands so warmly because we see so much of one town blending into the next, all chain stores and strip malls and so forth, and we therefore long for cities of brass, cities of fluted towers, places of difference and distinction. Similarly, Ray Bradbury’s MARTIAN CHRONICLES works not so much because it is a tale of people in a foreign place, but because we are all strangers in a strange land.

What of your familiar life do you see in your favorite fantasies? (Or vice versa?)

Or that’s too abstract for a Friday, try this: go to his website and learn things you really never knew about Delaware. And toy with the idea of what that means about, and to, world-building.

— Joni, who got to hand out bookmarks for THE Tobin Anderson today.

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Filed under Joni Sensel, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Foreign lands, familiar insights

  1. Hey, I’m here too and I totally enjoyed his talk. We’ll have to look for each other!

  2. ali

    This is so insightful and I totally agree! I haven’t thought about it in these terms before but now that you’ve opened my mind to it, I think I’ll watch for this in my writing. Thank you!

  3. Natalie Aguirre

    Wow! I so wish I could have gone.

  4. Parker Peevyhouse

    Joni, I’m so jealous. I would have loved to hear him speak. That’s an interesting bit about how we love to “visit” fantasy lands because our cities are so generic. I completely agree!

  5. It’s a bit like The Wizard of Oz for me. When I’m in the midst of fantasy land, I see the familiar personalities (Scarecrow!) in the stories, which is not only reassuring, but means that the story will stick with me longer. It’s a great writing tool that hooks the reader’s subconscious and makes the story feel universal, no matter how exotic the setting. Even with MT Anderson: The kids in his Whales on Stilts books are total caricatures, but I felt like I knew the goofy Jasper Dash and wanted to follow him until the end.

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