Art and the Crucible
Welcome to Creative Conversations, moving beyond interviews to real-time discussions about the creative process. Today Janet’s talking with author/teacher Molly Blaisdell.
Molly writes fiction and nonfiction picture books, middle grade, and YA. Children’s Book Gallery. YA here. She shares writing and creative tips weekly on Seize the Day. And creates terrific chickens. Facebook The Chickens
Here’s Janet and Molly Chicken (she’s the genius).
Molly’s topic: Art and the Crucible.
Janet- Hi Molly. You suggested this cool topic. I looked up crucible and it said:
Noun: a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
-a place or occasion of severe test or trial.
-a place or situation in which different elements interact to produce something new.
Molly- So life happens. That is the crucible to me. We are all in these great battles in life. Stuff that upturns our every moment. The crucible comes in many forms, but for me, I tend to have three responses.
1. I shut down. I can’t write prose, I write poetry. If I can’t write poetry, I paint or play my flute. Nothing works? I clean house. The crucible makes me seek sanity in the insanity.
2. I work like crazy. Not always a good thing.
3. The ZEN place. I’m living in the pressure cooker, but art is happening to and in some weird way the crucible and the art are in communication.
Janet- Yeah, there is the sense where the crucible drives that need for meaning, and art seems to answer that need in some deep way. I’ve also gone through times when I can only answer with poetry or songwriting, and fairytales call to me. Many of my longer YA novels were shorter fairytales to begin with that grew too gargantuan to smash down into a shorter fairytale form. I’ll talk more about this later, but want to hear more from you, Molly.
Molly- I’m compartmentalized in my life. I think it is a survival technique. In one room there is stuff that involves sickness, long nights, hard decisions. Then in another room is the other me, who is writing stories. I write YA novels, picture books, and sneak in nonfiction, middle grade, and articles. My characters are the sufferers, not me.
My stories seems to come from all kinds of places. My story ideas often come from a conversation, or someone begging me to write about that, or an idea that dogs my heels until I give in. The crucible is there as I roll out the story, like a pressure on my shoulder, it guides me to make stuff real: to make my characters suffer and to remember to laugh. (This is strange but laughter is one of the threads that connects the compartments.)
So Janet, do you find the crucible surrounding your art or do you have different compartments?
Janet- I have to admit that for me I’ve run to writing as a refuge, hoping to find escape from parts of my life I can’t control, but also, hoping to find a path to courage. I allow my characters to face a lot of difficulties, but it’s because I KNOW THE ENDING! Right Molly? I mentioned fairytale above and will give just one example of how story and life dovetail for me.
Our youngest son faced an operation at age 16. He’d had many surgeries before this, but this one was major. I stayed at Children’s Hospital with him as he was recovering. I was also writing a book at the time.
One part of The Dragons of Noor I still cherish is the scene where the ancient forest is dying and crashing down. I wrote it while I was in the hospital with our son. A few lines here:
~In the glade across the river, more trunks darkened; thunderous sounds echoed down the foothills as trees buckled and hit the earth. Deep mist rose above the collapsing canopy, rolling in gray waves toward the venter of the wood. . .
“Kaynumba, eOwey, kaynumba. The ending comes, O Maker, the ending comes” Meers and students from every discipline sang as the trees passed away.~
Writing about this falling forest saved me as I watched my son slowly heal. It also spoke my grief. It did both. The crucible is used to melt metals. Its great heat turns them to molten liquid, so swords can become plowshares.
Molly–I am feeling like a plain sparrow again. Your writing is so beautiful and that you find grace to write in the hospital is impressive to me.
In the midst of the trouble, I tend to focus on the place. I bring my sketchpad and draw chickens or just doodle on any handy envelope, but few words are being written. I have to be in my writing space to write: my red chair, inside the car with the laptop propped on my steering wheel, on my bed. When I am at the hospital, you won’t find me with the pen, except to write notes about when to take meds…
When mom was dying of Alzheimer’s, I wrote a middle grade novel called Crying for the Moon. It is unpublished, but I started writing it to keep me close to her stories. Mom was a fabulous storyteller. She was particularly fond of fairy tales, but I run toward stories that connect to the real of my life. Mom became a little girl in this book: she loved horses and became a horse thief. The crucible of my now squeezed something out of my art.
Janet- Molly, I love that she became a horse thief! When you write lines like “The crucible is there as I roll out the story, like a pressure on my shoulder” and “I am feeling like a plain sparrow again” I breathe in your intoxicating language. I’ve heard parts of Crying for the Moon, and adored it. We need to talk about that book again. I see how drawing, doodling, moving from place and wordlessness heals. I’ve also found healing laughter reading your books like Plumb Crazy. Starring the amazing Elva.
And I’ve been cracking up writing a new middle-grade book myself. Ha!
Finally I have to confess, I have a major crush on your chickens! Facebook The Chickens (Here’s Gandalf Chicken)
Molly- Chickens have been peeking on to the pages of papers since I was in junior high. I am fond of the guys myself.
BTW, you say lovely things about my writing and sometimes I think I will write something that rattles the bones. Your words give me a confidence boost. Anyway, back to the crucible.
I like this quote from Paul Hewson of U2 from the song “Yahweh.”
Take this shirt, Polyester white trash made in nowhere, Take this shirt, And make it clean, clean, Take this soul, Stranded in some skin and bones, Take this soul, And make it sing, sing.
The crucible for polyester white trash made in nowhere, all that pressure is making the shirt clean. I am homespun. My storyteller grandmother lived off the land and not in a upwardly mobile yuppie way. My sister just called me to tell me her stories for the day. I go around and chat with folks to hear their stories. Sharing stories makes my soul sing.
My books are me contributing my verse. I see it as my duty to humanity. I know. I’m like a duty person. The crucible has made me a better person, and hence, my writing has improved because I’ve found the dross removed.The pressure has made me better.
Janet- All I can say to this is keep doing your duty, Molly. I need your stories. They are good bread.
Molly- Here, I’m going to chat about the genius of In the Time of Dragon Moon because I am a big fan. You are a wordsmith, but what really gets me is how your books read like living histories. I forget that dragons are not real and there is no fairy kingdom. You say your writing is a refuge. Not many people create a whole other world for others to lose themselves in. I find your writing sets free repressed stuff in my soul. I find your story words heal. I have a theory that the crucible may have given you this healing touch.
Janet- Thanks Molly. The reader makes the story whole. Maybe we both work to bring that wholeness alive. And somehow the crucible fire forges these gifts in both of us.
Thank you, Dreamwalks reader for listening in on this conversation. If you want to add anything, comment below.
Molly and I are celebrating our Creative Conversation with a three book giveaway.
Molly’s offering: Chickens do not Take Over Halloween, And
Plumb Crazy — “Dating disasters, friendship implosion, and world-wide fanfic humiliation trip her up, but karma happens too.”
Note: To those of you who are new to rafflecopter, the only thing you have to do is tweet. The tweet is written for you ahead of time. You just need to click. Also you need to click “I Tweeted” to confirm the entry. Good Luck All!