So, Libba Bray is funny. Hilarious, in fact. She visited Cincinnati the day after The Diviners released, and I traveled to Joseph-Beth Booksellers where she held a discussion and signing. Instead of reading from The Diviners, she read a *unique* selection from her juvenilia. As a ten year old, Libba Bray wasn’t destined to be a writer, as she proclaimed after reading this four page story in an entertaining fashion. She meant it as a point of inspiration, and that’s how I took it. Not every writer is destined with a Potteresque the-wand-chooses-the-wizard type moment the instant they pick up a pencil at age 4 or 5 or 10. Lucky for us, a writer is what Libba Bray is now. And with any luck (and tons of hard work) maybe I’ll be there someday too. Through the discussion, I noted some of Libba’s lessons that are handy for a budding author such as myself.
World-building comes firstTo build your story world, you have to research. Whether it be little things like: “When did that happen again?”, or big things like: “How did such-and-such event affect the population and inspire change?” It’s been four years since the conception of The Diviners, and in that time, Libba did a lot of research to make sure that her characters talk, think and act like they are from the 1920s. In the journey of this historical fiction novel, Libba also had assistance. As she stated, “when the going gets tough, the tough get a librarian.” Her librarian assisted with the research to ensure that Libba’s story world was true to the decade. It’s important to set up the world through research, to have your facts right and to know the slang and the formative events (I.E. Stock Market Crash, Kennedy assassination, 9/11) that would shape the world in which these characters lived. Then, as you write, rewrite and research some more, your story will become ever clearer.
Write what you don’t knowWe’ve all heard the old adage: “write what you know.” But, as Libba heard Lois Lowry speak of recently, authors should also write what they don’t know. You should write about what you won’t say out loud and what troubles you as you lay awake at night. Write with questions and write to learn the answers. I believe the point here is to be an explorer in your writing. Because our day-to-day, coffee runs, cubicle jobs, humdrum traffic isn’t outstanding. But escape, that’s why we make the trip to the bookstore. So please, be a revolutionary and explore new, frightening, awe-inspiring territory.
Be a Narrative TweakerIn the terms of historical fiction, sometimes history doesn’t assist in the story that you’re writing. There’s a fine line between historical fact (what actually happened) and the story that you’re trying to tell (what could have happened). It’s important to learn from the past, and be true to it. However, Libba suggests that in writing, an author can pull from an actual event (such as a court case) yet create something that they can control. Libba terms this “narrative tweaking,” essentially re-creating an historical event with a different name but with only small tweaks, as it should be made of the truth. In this way, you can use this fictional event to further your story and still be true to history.
Update 9/25: To be true to Libba Bray, I would like to mention that what I refer to as “narrative tweaking” is called “narrative tinkering” in the Author’s Note of the Diviners. The connation is slightly different, so I thought it was important to note.
Read everything… and write everydayThis point may seem obvious, but it’s always worth mentioning. And mentioning again. And drilling into your brain! Libba Bray is a self-proclaimed binge reader. Because reading is like food, and writers need it to sustain themselves. Read in your genre, but outside as well, to gain perspective and fresh ideas. Because “when you read, you become aware of what’s possible.”
Also, write every single day, even if it’s just a little.
Thank you, Libba Bray, for traveling to the Midwest and stopping in Cincinnati for the release of The Diviners. Thank you also for sharing your awesomely weird personality and your writing wisdom.
DISCLAIMER: This post in an unofficial account of the event with Libba Bray on September 19, 2012 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, OH. The views that I present in this article are my interpretations of the event. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of Libba Bray, Little, Brown Books or any affiliates.