Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on “Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy”

By Carol Coven Grannick

I’ve been musing about what project I will work on next. Of my numerous ideas, which will take me into the challenging and blissful intellectual, emotional, psychological environment that I’ve been in for more than two years with my middle grade novel in verse, now on submission through my agent?

While I’ve written and revised it many, many times without having the thought of whether or not it would ever be published hovering close to me, now that it’s with an agent, it’s pretty hard to keep it on a back burner.

Of course, not knowing whether or not it’s truly “finished” inhibits me some from beginning a big, new project. And I also tend to rock gently in the hammock the wonderful Norman Lear has described – one that exists in the space between “over” and “next.”

But I try to tell myself the truth – the whole truth – about what I’m going through. It’s best for me, and it’s the best way to communicate with readers of my posts.

And when I wonder with interest (not judgment) about what keeps me from moving forward with a new, intense project, I know that it’s partly because the experience is not just meaningful and joyful. 

It’s also scary.

Because the best of my work includes letting myself sink deeply into the inner life of my character, and her longings, pains, struggles, become my own. That feels wonderful…and also pretty uncomfortable at times.

And I don’t think that’s unusual for us writers. Because the writing I love – others’ writing – takes me to those profoundly intense (joyful and painful) places, too.

As I was musing, an SCBWI-Illinois colleague, Darcy Zoells, posted on our listserv about her new etsy shop – Perilous Places.

The name sent an electric shiver from my stomach to my brain and back down again. “Perilous Places” – what a wonderful, intriguing, serendipitous title for what I had on my mind!

I clicked on Darcy’s link and immediately saw this:

I fell in love, and in my mind, heard the words, “perilous places” as I stared at, and then purchased, the beautiful print. This piece captures the peril and the joy of taking risks, and I could afford to own it.

Because I felt such an instant kinship with this piece of Darcy’s work, I asked her if she’d answer some questions for this guest post about entering that wonderful and yet scary place.

I love her comfort with the process of creating without knowing exactly where she may be headed. Here’s some of what she told me about Morning, which is the actual title of the work above.

Darcy Zoells

The piece, Morning, that you’re referring to, is one of a series that I am working on in collaboration with Dutch composer Sebastian Huydts. These are illustrations for his CD, Delicias de Blancanieves, which is a series of what he calls “Spanish fairy tales for the piano.” Though the title translates to “Snow White’s Delight,” he has said that it’s not referring to any specific fairy tales, so I approached the music with a mind wide open to possibility. 

As an illustrator, I’m always telling a story. In this case, I had no text to start with, only the music, which is infused with Spanish character, so I started looking at visual motifs from Barcelona or Spain (architecture, tiles, fabric). 

I also watched Spanish films. The whole time I was sketching. I kept coming back to the imp and the girl with the wheel. 

There are so many opposites in this image and I guess that reflects a certain philosophy of balance. Life is delicate. There’s a sense of hope, but the figure is also on a precipice. 

I didn’t think of this at the time, but looking at it now, it seems to me that one character is dealing with internal struggles and the other with external challenges. 

I’m still not sure what my next project will be, and I’m not sure from where or when the moments of perilous experience for the sake of joy will come. It’s impossible to know, or to plan.

But Darcy’s work hanging above my desk, reminding me that I want it to be a perilous and joyful place, and that deep work does not allow one without the other.

Darcy’s words express another belief that accompanies the longing to be deeply involved in the intensity (comfortable and uncomfortable) of deep writing – a receptive mind and a comfort with the journey, knowing that it may be uncomfortable and joyful:

Although I have taken classes, I don’t have…art school training, so I don’t think I learned any rules. In many ways this has made my way more difficult and longer. However, sometimes when you don’t have a roadmap and you get lost, you find yourself in a more interesting place than you could have imagined in the beginning. 

So my journey toward the next project continues, into the scary for the sake of joy.

Cynsational Notes

Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, “Reeni’s Turn,” was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and works at an extraordinary early childhood center.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on “Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy”

  1. Thanks Carol for reminding me that there is joy in entering perilous places as well as fear. I once had a dream about dancing on the edge of a bottomless cliff. It was not a nightmare, but a dream of freedom and joy. I think of this dream and aspire to be that dancing girl, dancing with freedom and joy on the edge of the cliff. This is what creativity means to me. I also love Darcy's illustrations and enjoyed hearing more about how she develops her work.

    Great post, Cynthia.

    Sallie Wolf

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