Sunday, September 09, 2007

One Writer's Process: Carolyn Marsden

In The Silk Umbrellas, her first story for children (although not her first to be published), Carolyn Marsden writes about the exotic lives of two sisters and their family in rural, northern Thailand.

And in The Gold-Threaded Dress and its sequel, The Quail Club, she writes about an immigrant girl from faraway Thailand who is new to America and finds herself trying to fit into her new community while remaining loyal to her family's values.

Her other books involve characters from China, Vietnam, and Mexico.

"I write about these children from other places," Marsden explains, "partly because I was born in Mexico City and partly because I have a Thai husband and our two daughters are half Thai."

Marsden's work often draws on her daughters' experiences as they make their way through school, friendships, and sports.

Her books, which are written in prose that seems as if the words themselves are threaded with gold, have earned her numerous awards, as well as starred reviews in such publications as
Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal.

"Marsden writes with a grave but sly wit that reflects her interest in Buddhism and a poet's acuity that leaves tiny epiphanies on every page," notes a reviewer for The Washington Post describing When Heaven Fell, a story set in present-day Vietnam.

"Through writing," Marsden explains, "I have the opportunity to live many lives."

Marsden was kind enough to take time away from her upcoming projects--books set in remote locales such as Zimbabwe and Italy--to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer:

Each day I plunge into the water wherever and whenever I can.

Because my
editors often present me with 11th hour deadlines, I've learned to work anywhere. That includes at red lights, in the dentist's chair, waiting in line to register my car, or on rough seas on a cruise. I keep my manuscripts 3-hole punched and in binders so they're easily portable. I carry them with me at all times.

Certain settings also
help me get into the water. I love to write at the beach, at the music library, and in coffee shops. I do my edits in those places and go back to my computer in the Airstream trailer to type and print a clean copy. If I'm working on something hard, I need chocolate and something caffeinated!

I stay afloat by working on several projects at once. I never lack for something to tackle. I also choose to write about settings and situations I feel passionate about.

After my kids were born in the 90s, I went through seven years of dry spell. I felt horrible, as though I wasn't really a whole person anymore. It was very depressing. I tried to tell myself that my creativity was being channeled into raising two beautiful daughters, but my soul was tortured.

Once I went to Vermont College, I came out
of the dry spell. In my first semester with Brock Cole, I wrote fourteen different picture books and short stories. Since then, I've had the
opposite of dry spell-- avalanches of stories coming at me!

The hardest part of swimming for me is that blank page. I know there's an infinite number of ways the story/chapter could go. What if I don't choose the best? This is a terrifying stage of the writing. I move as quickly as possible to put some print on the page. I LOVE revision and revise endlessly.

I no longer swim alone. The Jade Dragon is my first book written with a collaborator. When Heaven Fell-- which came out with Candlewick in Spring '07-- is my last book written alone. Upcoming books are written in collaboration with a Vietnamese monk, my Thai husband, my cousin who grew up on a Methodist mission in Rhodesia in the 1960s, and a friend who grew up in a convent in Italy after World War Two.

I also swim with my critique group. We meet weekly and thus hustle each other along.

My advice to anyone suffering from
dry spells is to listen to the story of someone from another country--voila! I love exploring worlds I'm unfamiliar with and making them come to life on the page.

I love it when my first rough draft is done and I can go back in and play! Publication, awards, nice reviews are all certainly wonderful, but I tell aspiring writers that nothing compares to the act of creation itself.

The true pleasure lies in the writing.

For more information about Marsden and her work, visit her website:

For a previous Wordswimmer post on Marsden's work, visit:

1 comment:

gaelwriter said...

I enjoyed Carolyn's interview, and reading of her books. She certainly is adventurous in diving into all those intriguing, faraway places for her stories, and in portraying the immigrant experience here for youths from those countries. I'm looking forward to reading her work.