Writing Across Formats: Marion Dane Bauer

Learn about Marion Dane Bauer.

What have you learned from writing in a variety of formats?

What I love about shifting genres and audiences is the different kinds of strengths each one requires.

When I shift into a short novella from longer work, I think, Oh, how fun. I barely get into a chapter and I can climb out again.

When I shift back to something older, I think, Now I can relax. I don’t have to get anywhere so fast. I have room to discover.

When I’m writing picture books or novelty books, I love playing with language and rhythm for their own sake.

When I’m writing a story, the story and the consciousness of the character always has to precede the language. There isn’t as much room for simply enjoying sounds and rhythms and word choice.

But each strength that I develop in each different genre carries back to every other piece I write.

I think all of my writing is more lyrical because I write picture books. It is more concentrated for having written 150-word nonfiction. It is more intense for the experience of the shorter chapter books. And when I climb into something longer, the sprawl is utterly satisfying.

What do you think about the pressure on authors to brand themselves by writing a certain kind of book?

I think we all should be writing whatever we most need to write for whatever audience we are best equipped to reach. But in the early years of a career, I suppose the realities of the market support a certain amount of “branding,” though I dislike the term and all its implications.

My pattern–a pattern that was forced on me rather than chosen–was to get myself established with one kind of book, the hard-hitting, realistic upper-middle-grade novel, before I turned to anything else. It’s what I came into the field needing to write.

When my children were grown and grandchildren became part of my life, my emotional focus shifted and I began to have a real need–not just a passing desire–to write younger.

I’m approaching my 71st birthday, and I find myself feeling farther and farther removed from the world of tweets and text messages and all that is so integral a part of the lives of the kids I used to write for.

I don’t think the emotional reality has changed for our young people, but the same emotional realities are being housed in very different vessels.

Thus, I find myself, even when I write novels, moving younger, back into the space where family is central, because that has always been the only territory I know how to write out of. And it’s harder these days to spin a story totally out of family if you are writing about older kids. So I have turned to animal stories or to novellas about younger kids.

Finally, I’ll add another piece that isn’t often spoken of. It’s enormously difficult to support yourself solely with writing novels. They take too long to write, and unless they are unusually successful, they often don’t sell enough to pay for the time committed to them.

My collection of YA short stories, Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), took me two years to write. The publisher and I had great expectations it, but we quickly discovered that it was an equal-opportunity book. There was something in there to offend just about everyone. And while the books flowed out quickly with the first buzz that surrounded the collection, they came flowing back to the publisher with equal speed. So, considered solely in financial terms, those two years were a bust.

For the last twenty-two years of my career, I’ve been supporting myself exclusively with my writing and a little teaching on the side. Writing and being able to sell the younger pieces has made that possible.

And the success of a board book such as Toes, Ears and Nose! illustrated by Karen Katz (Simon & Schuster, 2003) or How Do I Love You? illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church (Cartwheel, 2009) makes it possible for me to write just about anything else I need to write . . . including a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that bombs!

Cynsational Notes

The Writing Across Formats interviews were originally conducted in support of a keynote address by Cynthia Leitich Smith at a fall 2009 SCBWI-Illinois conference.