Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lloyd Alexander: "All you can know..."

One of the world's most beloved fantasy authors, Lloyd Alexander, died last week at the age of 83, leaving behind a rich legacy of stories that are sure to entertain and beguile a new generation of readers in the years to come.

In The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy (Candlewick, 2006), Leonard S. Marcus speaks with Alexander about his life and working methods, and here--as a way of holding Alexander's death at bay a moment longer and to honor his memory--are a few brief excerpts from their session together:
LSM: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

LA: When I was twelve or thirteen, I wanted to be a poet. I also wanted to be a musician, and at one point I wanted to be an artist. I dearly loved history, and for a while I wanted to be an archaeologist, too.

LSM: Why do you write fantasy?

LA: Because, paradoxically, fantasy is a good way to show the world as it is. Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level than realistic fiction. It has the same emotional power as a dream.

LSM: When you start a book, do you know how the story will end?

LA: Before I begin writing, I plot my story out in a series of notes. Writing the notes can take months. It's the only way that I have any sense of security. My synopsis is like a blueprint. If I don't have one, the garage is going to end up bigger than the house.
But then what happens--and it always does--is that I will come to a place in the story where I will suddenly realize, This isn't going to work. It's like an explosion. Bam!

LSM: How do you know when a book is done?
LA: I just know. All you can know is that this is the best you can do as of now.
Those words--"All you can know is that this is the best you can do as of now."--are now taped on the wall of my office and serve as a reminder that all any writer can know, really, is what Alexander learned over the course of a lifetime of writing: what we write is the best that we can write at this moment.

That's because, as Alexander tells Marcus, the experience of living and writing changes a person... so that you are no longer the same person that you were when you began scribbling notes or wrestling an earlier draft.

"I have been living my life, having experiences," Alexander explains. "The experience of writing my notes is in itself an experience! And because I'm not the same person, I see things a little differently--things I hadn't realized earlier."

You'll enjoy this remarkably insightful collection, whether or not you love fantasy, because the writers are, as Marcus explains, "passionate, dedicated professionals who know what they're about. All have funny, serious, and surprising stories to tell."

In addition to Marcus' conversation with Alexander, you'll find interviews with Franny Billingsley, Susan Cooper, Nancy Farmer, Brian Jacques, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeline L'Engle, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, and Jane Yolen.

But, before diving into the collection, read the interview with Lloyd Alexander... and savor the sound of his voice one more time, the humble, gentle, witty, humorous voice of a storyteller whose remarkable tales add such joy and wonder to our world.

And the next time you sit down at your desk to write, take a moment to remember Alexander and reflect on his wise words about writing: "All you can know is that this is the best you can do as of now."

For more information about Leonard S. Marcus and his work, visit his website at:

For further details about the life and work of Lloyd Alexander, visit:

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