Thursday, October 03, 2013

Books Start as Ideas

Joseph Bruchac has written more than 120 books for children, adults and teens. He was written fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Nearly, if not all, of them are about Native Americans, or are retellings of Native American stories. Becoming the author of such a wide variety of stories is not a simple task, and Bruchac's secret might be his dedication to his ideas.

When the idea for a song, poem or story comes to Bruchac, he writes it down. He knows that it is easy to forget ideas, so he gets them written down right away, "even if it means getting up in the middle of the night." The spark for this array of ideas might be a job he had, or a Native American story, or any number of other things. Bruchac says, "for example, I was a volunteer teacher for three years in Ghana, West Africa and that gave me tremendous insight into African history, culture and music as well as helping me see my own country in a different light by living abroad."

Bruchac says, "I'm always getting ideas," but I do not think he somehow gets more ideas than beginning writers, other authors, or anyone else; I think he is simply attentive to them, and acknowledges their worth. Many beginning writers throw out an idea before even giving it a chance.

But it doesn't stop with the ideas. Bruchac puts in a lot of work to create his stories, writing a minimum of two hours every day. He shows strong dedication to his writing, and he lets his excitement for it drive him to write for many audiences.

Bruchac has penned picture books, juvenile and young adult fiction, nonfiction, poetry, songs and even articles. Because Bruchac works with so many of his ideas instead of discarding them, he is able to produce such a wide variety of literature.  I asked him about this variety, and he said each type "is different and special in its own way. I just like writing what  I am writing when I am writing it." He also told me that his favorite part about writing a piece is "when that story or poem is literally telling itself to me and I can barely keep up with writing it down."

Even with these ideas and words coming to him at such a feverish rate, not everything Bruchac writes gets published. "I just write what I write and see what happens. Then if I finish something I let my editors decide."

Before Bruchac submitted to editors, before over 120 of his pieces were published and he won awards, he was a little boy writing poetry for his second grade teacher. But it wasn't until college and creative writing classes that he began to focus on the craft of writing. "My father was sure I was making a terrible mistake when I switched my major in college from wildlife conservation to English. He thought I could never make a living as a writer." And yet, it was there, in Cornell University's student literary magazine, that Bruchac's poetry was first published.

That first poem sparked a desire to write more. Since then, Bruchac has become the proof of the adage "write what you know." He looked back on his Abenaki heritage and found a world of possibilities. "I was lucky enough to know many native elders who shared stories with me over the years." says Bruchac, and these stories were the seeds for many of his books.

Every book starts with an idea. Bruchac keeps all those ideas and with excitement creates a story. And after much hard work, those stories become books. Bruchac has been working very hard, then, because he is "just finishing the text of a graphic novel about a young Kiowa man in 1875 who was taken as a prisoner of war to Florida and drew pictures to illustrate the things he experienced and saw. It's working title is Zo-Tom's Sketchbook" But that's not all. Another of his books was just published on October 1st. It is a "steam-punk post-Apocalyptic novel, Killer of Enemies, which has a young Apache woman named Lozen as the main character".

So keep collecting those ideas, no matter what you think of them in the moment. You never know what they'll grow into.

Click here for Joseph Bruchac's website. You can listen to him read his own poetry!
Click here to see the list of books comes up with as written by Joseph Bruchac.

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