A Well-Crafted Piece
(Note: This article was originally published on Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s blog, http://dulemba.com in November 2013 and is reposted with the permission of the author, Todd Strasser.)
At a gathering recently someone asked me what I did for a living. I said I wrote books for young people. What followed was a conversation every writer of picture, middle-grade, and YA books has probably had many times. He asked if I had ever thought about writing for adults? I said I had and I have. He asked if I’d ever thought about writing for TV. Again, I had not only thought of it, but had done it. Then he asked if I’d ever thought about the big time? For a moment I thought he meant trying to write a best seller, but it turned out he meant writing for film.
There too, I had both thought about it and done it, although I’ve never had anything more than the script for a made-for-television movie produced. In fact, in more than forty years of writing there probably isn’t much I haven’t done. Newspapers, magazines, advertising, public relations, poetry, song lyrics, short stories, novels, book series, TV and movie scripts, even fortunes for risqué fortune cookies (those were actually my first best sellers*).
In the process I have worked alone, in collaborations, and with teams of writers. And, as I’m sure many others have, I’ve pictured myself in “the big time,” writing bestsellers and blockbuster movies, giving lengthy interviews on radio and TV, appearing on the covers of magazines, and sitting at tables in book stores while long lines of fans waited for my autograph.
Now that I’ve reached my 60s most of those fantasies have passed. These days, the idea of writing a movie script, of going Hollywood, and all that implies, doesn’t hold much appeal (except for the medical benefits offered by the Writer’s Guild of America). A bestseller would still be wonderful, of course, but in the meantime I find I’m content to work quietly and by myself in my “workshop,” feeling the way I imagine a craftsman must feel. Mostly, what I dream about now is producing a really good piece of work.
Something akin to a handcrafted desk or dresser…
Please allow me to explain the non-sequitur. For most of my life I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to furniture. It was there to put things on, or in, and I used it like everyone else. Even antiques and museum pieces held little fascination for me. After all, it was just … furniture.
Then one day my wife and I took our children to colonial Williamsburg, Va. In one of the old shops I watched a cabinetmaker work on a replica of an antique desk, complete with inlay and beveling and all the other carefully added flourishes that perhaps only a handful of craftsmen have time for anymore.
After a while the kids got impatient and my wife took them to see the wigmaker and the blacksmith, but I stayed and observed the care and precision with which this craftsman went about his work, the ultimate reward not being the opportunity to give an extended radio interview, nor appear on a magazine cover, but the simple pride and satisfaction that comes with having produced a really solid, sturdy, well-crafted piece.
Even then I didn’t give up my fantasies right away. I had to sign books for long lines of fans, only to see some of those autographed books appear for sale on eBay the very next day. I had to give some long radio interviews and appear on television a few times to realize that so many people do these things now that it hardly makes a difference. I had to walk down the red carpet at the premier of a movie made from one of my books to find out that unless you are J.K. Rowling the paparazzi has no interest in the novel’s author.
I’m glad I had those experiences, because – and I know this will sound clichéd – they helped me to focus on what I now believe are the important things in life: family, friends, and working patiently to produce something solid, sturdy, and lasting.
*In the 1970s a friend and I created Dr. Wing Tip Shoo’s fortune cookies, featuring fortunes with slightly risqué sayings. They were packaged in take-out containers and sold to stores and restaurants. At one point during the Christmas season of 1978 the owner of a gift shop on Lexington Avenue announced that they were her best seller.
Todd Strasser is the author of more than 140 novels for teens and pre-teens. His most recent novel, FALLOUT, was called "exciting, harrowing ... Superb entertainment ... It thrums along with finely wrought atmosphere and gripping suspense," by the New York Times. School Library Journal called it "A Must-Read Middle School Book."