Friday, March 2, 2012

The Pigman's Influence

History is important. Not the details, per se, but the trends. The things that lead from one thing to another. Sometimes, there are specific events that are important, but, mostly, it's the formulation and growth of ideas over time that really affect us now and in the future. It's true for society, and it's true for individuals.

Yes, your personal history is important. Not just because of how it affects you but because of how it affects your children (if you have them) and those close to you. Why do we do the things we do? What lead us to these events and these places?

But most people tend to... forget... about the past. Put it behind them and not worry about it. That often leads to getting stuck in particular behaviors, but that's not really the point of all of this. And I'm not saying we should live in the past, because we shouldn't. However, we should constantly (or, at least, relatively constantly) review our pasts so that we can form our presents into the futures we would most like to have.

So... a brief history lesson. About me. Some of this, I've covered before, but let's review for those who may have slept through it or been late to class.

When I got ready to write The House on the Corner (see the links to the right or the tab at the top of the page), I needed something on the outside of myself to be accountable to. See, I knew from my own past that I had an issue with pushing through my initial ideas. Basically, I'd have an idea, I'd start writing, I'd run out of said idea, and I'd let the piece sit and sit until I had no interest in going back to it. This was a problem, and I didn't want to have that as a problem anymore (see, looking at my past to figure out what I would need to do in the present to change the future). I decided the best force to keep me writing would be my kids. I mean, there was no way that they would let me start a book, start reading it to them as I was working on it (my plan) and, then, allow me not to finish it.

If I was going to be writing something to read to my kids as I went along (an idea I got from Tolkien, by the way, as that is how he wrote The Hobbit), I needed to write something for my kids. At least, something that was appropriate for them. And, then, why not write something that was about them? Well, not about them but something with characters based on them. That would really get them involved and keep them after me to finish. By the way, that whole thing totally worked (as you can see by the finished product).

But I still didn't have a story or a method by which to tell it. I'm not going to get into the story, at the moment, because what I want to talk about is the method. My problem was that I have three kids, and I needed a way to share the story between the three of them so that there wouldn't be hurt feelings. And that's when I remembered The Pigman. Back to the past again.

The Pigman is a book by Paul Zindel, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds). Pigman was his first novel and significant enough that it used to be on school reading lists (maybe it still is?). In fact, that's why I read it, because it was an assigned book when I was in middle school. At any rate, that kind of dashes that whole idea about no one's first book being any good. And Zindel wasn't even a writer! I mean that in that he was a chemistry teacher and never really had any intention to write at all. But, if you want to know the details about that, you can look him up.

Anyway... At the time, The Pigman didn't really mean a lot to me. It was a fine book, but it wasn't, nor has it ever been, one of my favorites. However, it has always been a book that has floated around the back of my mind. I've completely forgotten books that I liked way more, but I have never forgotten The Pigman. [And, really, I suppose, that's the kind of book anyone wants to write. The kind the reader can't forget.]

Possibly, it's the subject matter that melded it into my brain, but, even more, I think it's the style of the book. At any rate, it's the style that drew me back to it when I set out to write The House on the Corner. Pigman is written in what I'll call a dueling 1st person perspective. Two high school students, John and Lorraine, take turns telling the story, and they tell it just as if they were writing a letter to someone. Or, more specifically, writing in a journal. There are odd bits included, like the snake quiz from the zoo, that are totally like the kinds of things that we would put into our journals when we had to keep them when I was in school. And they sort of bicker and argue with each other within the telling referring to each other and correcting each other.

Now, I don't know if Paul Zindel was the first person to use multiple 1st person perspectives in a novel or not (I did try to look it up but decided I didn't want to spend the time on it as it's not really that important (at least not to me at this moment)), but I've never seen it used anywhere else. And I read a lot. And I have a degree in English with an emphasis on literature, and we never studied anything about anything else even like that. What I'm saying is, as far as I know, Zindel is the only person to have used this particular style in a book (well, was the only person), and it's something that's generally taught as a "no no" in school, but, yet, there we were studying the book in school. And it (the multiple 1st person thing) is something that, over the years, I have often pondered on and found interesting.

And wondered why no one else ever did it.

But, then, when they teach you, as much as they teach you about fiction writing, which is to say not a lot, in school to not use multiple perspectives and to even try to stay away from them in 3rd person writing, maybe it's not surprising that that kind of thing isn't seen more often.

But it held the answer to my issue of how I would go about writing House. I would use multiple 1st person perspectives. That way each of my kids would get a "turn" telling the story, and none of them could complain. And that seems to have worked, too, because no one ever complained, and whoever was going to be "telling" the next chapter would always be sure to be asking me a lot about when the next chapter would be ready. So that worked out, too.

And all of that leads to this:
I really, at the point I started writing House, had no real memory of what The Pigman was about. In fact, last week, I still had no real memory of what it was about. I just remembered it was about these two kids who met this man they called the Pigman, there were some ceramic pigs involved, it dealt with death, and both kids told the story. I figured, if I was going to write a whole book based on my memory of this other book, which I did, I should go back and read it again and see if there was anything else that might have made that book stick in my mind for so long, even if it was something I couldn't remember.

My first thought while re-reading it was, "wow, I bet this book would never be published today." Not that I read a lot of YA stuff, but it certainly doesn't fit in with the things that are big right now. It's not dystopian. There are no vampires. There are no zombies. There's nothing paranormal at all, in fact. It doesn't start in the middle of the action. In fact, it's rather slow, and it may lead you to wonder, for a while, what it's really about. But it is about something, and, although it's a bit dated in its references, it's about important things. The things teenagers have to deal with but try to avoid dealing with. Most of all, it's about dysfunctional families, and that's something that all kids can relate to even if they can't relate to the specific circumstances of John and Lorraine. At any rate, I think the book is still relevant, and  people should still be reading it. It's too bad they're not.

After reading it again, I can say that it's still not going to be one of my favorite books ever. It's just not that kind of book. It doesn't jump up and grab you and yank you in. However, it is a book that lingers. And, now that I have read it again, I'm sure the impressions that it has re-made will bring me back to it at odd moments just like it always has. It's a quiet book that will leave you feeling melancholy even if it doesn't bring you to tears. It didn't bring me to tears. Not like, say, The Bridge to Terabithia brought me to tears when I read that as a kid. Other than Where the Red Fern Grows, Bridge was the only book to bring me to tears as a kid. So Pigman is not like that. It just... makes you wonder. And makes you reflect.

Growing up is hard. It's complicated. I hope I am able to capture the same struggles in my books as I continue on in the story arc I started with The House on the Corner. In the end, I suppose, I would rather write a book like The Pigman, a book that lingers on in the mind of the reader for 30 years, than write a book that flashes and pops but is forgotten in a week. Maybe, that's what I learned from it when I read it all those years ago.

Well... also, I just like the idea of seeing the same story from different perspectives. And I hope I have captured that with House. I think I have. The voices are fairly distinct and people have really seemed to latch on to a particular one that speaks to them more than the others. My daughter's teacher, whose class I have been reading in, picked up the book on her Nook last week while the kids were out of school. And read it. She was telling me about her experience with when we got back to school this past Monday:
1. She really liked it.
2. She said, "I could really hear [my daughter's] voice." Not my voice. My daughter's voice. I think I did as well with the boys (although, I have to admit, and I was really surprised by this, I had the most fun writing the chapters from Ruth's perspective).

Anyway... all of that is really about how interesting I find that a book I read 30 years ago and could barely remember could so heavily influence the writing of my own book. It's good to look back and see how these things from our past have influenced us. Even though House is full of Star Wars references (because Star Wars has been such a huge influence on my life (and the lives of my kids)), I think it's Pigman that has exerted the stronger influence. The Star Wars stuff is just more noticeable.

Now for some NOTES:

1. As I mentioned previously, Briane Pagel is running a great, big Star Wars blogathon over at his blog The Best of Everything. There are still 87 questions to go, so you still have plenty of time to get involved. To make it even sweeter, mention that I, Andrew Leon, sent you over, and you will get 50 bonus points! for signing up to play! How can it get better than that? Yes, just mention my name in the comments, and Briane will give you 50 points! And there are weekly drawings just for commenting. You don't even have to get the correct answer! Just comment, and you could win a prize! This week's prize is A Dead God's Wrath by Rusty Webb, so you should certainly sign up for your chance to win if you haven't already read it.

2. Since I'm mentioning Pagel and since I've been talking about my book (just click the tab! do it!), I thought I'd mention that Pagel is, actually, currently reading The House on the Corner. He had something to say in my comments recently that I can't restrain myself from quoting:
"I have no idea where the story is going but it's a great story nonetheless. At least three times I have thought 'OK, that's what this story is' and then it's not that thing AT ALL.

Everyone who reads this blog should, if they have not done it already, immediately go buy a copy of your book."

How can I not re-print praise like that? And, really, he touched on one of the things I really wanted to accomplish with House. To not be predictable. I didn't want it to be just another one of those formula stories that everyone will know how it ends by  the halfway mark. Thanks, Briane! I appreciate what you said. :)

And that wraps me up for the day. And the weekend. The weekend of not breathing because we're going to be busy straight through it. Seriously. If I don't make it back next week, it's because I didn't survive. But I hope you all have a nice, relaxing weekend! Think of my while you're napping!


  1. I know "The Time Traveler's Wife" uses multiple first-person narration, though obviously it came later than The Pigman. I'm sure there are more examples of it somewhere. I don't think I've tried it yet and I don't really have much impetus to do so.

  2. BTW, you forgot to mention that if you get someone else to play the Star Wars trivia game YOU also get 50 points. I see what you're doing...

  3. Can't think of too many multiple first person books. Actually, can't think of any. I usually don't like first person though. Except Rusty's unpublished novel. That was brilliant. And purchased A Dead God's Wraith ages ago so no need to play. No time anyway!

  4. This inspires me to reflect on books from my childood/adolescence and to think of how they were written, not just what they were about. I'll have to give this some thought!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. I forgot about The Time Traveler's Wife. As I read The House on the Corner I kept trying to think of other multiple first person viewpoint books I've read and I couldn't think of any. But I kept thinking that I KNOW I've read at least a couple like that.

    Not YA at all, but still, that's relief that Grumpy at least thought of one.

    And I think I mentioned this in my review, but I did enjoy Tom's story the most, it can be difficult to do three children and give them distinctive voices, that I clearly had a favorite meant that you did just that.

    I'd like to make something memorable myself.

  6. Hahahahahahahha...gasp...hahahahahahahahhhahahaha! Relaxing weekened, good one! Nap, even better!

    Yep, busy weekend here, too. I don't remember the last time I had a weekend to just sit on our butts, but my goal is to create one.

    Great praise in your comments! I agree that every time you think you've got a finger on what it's about, you realize you're wrong.

    I've never heard of the Pigman, so I don't know if that means it is no longer required reading, or if my school just had a particular issue with it, or what?? What a kick to realize such a heavy influence on your book without having consciously done it that way.

  7. The Pigman isn't a book I'd heard of (I guess it wasn't on English school reading lists) but that's what I'd like to write too, a book that lingers in the memory even if you can't quite remember why.

  8. So much to comment on! I can't even do that thing where I pick out some tiny portion of your post that isn't the point at all and make it the focal point of my remarks.

    First off: "Terabithia" has stuck with ME all my life. There's that scene where the kid and his dad are trying to use the new slotcar track and it's not working and the kid is trying to tell his dad it's okay and I've always found that heartbreaking, so much so that when Mr Bunches and I recently played HIS new slot car racer I got a lump in my throat.

    Secondly: I can't think of any multiple-first-person narrators, either, beyond yours and now this "Pigman" thing. I enjoy the shift, and you do a really good job of giving each person a distinctive voice. I'm about 2/3 through the book and it's still great. I'll give it the highest compliment I can: I LOOK FORWARD to reading it each night. Last night, I skipped watching "Thor" and read your book instead. And I've been waiting to watch Thor for months.

    So your book is more compelling than Asgard.

    Finally, here's what I keep thinking everytime someone mentions YA: Maurice Sendak said he doesn't write kids' books, he writes books that people decide are for kids. I think your book isn't so much a YA book, as it is a book that can be enjoyed by kids on one level and adults on another. It's like Harry Potter that way, and yes, I'm deliberately comparing you to J.K. Rowling.

    Thirdly: Thanks for the Blogathon reference! PEOPLE! The Blogathon lets you win even if you don't know about Star Wars and it's not just a trivia game, as the entrants can tell you. Each day features some commentary on Star Wars, or life, or life in the Star Wars universe. So check it out and win prizes, and, if you are an author -- and everyone is, right -- by taking part you can hype your book and it's almost a guarantee at some point I will make YOUR book a prize, which means you will sell a copy of your book.

    All for taking part.

    That's all the hype I can give out today. Read Andrew's book, and then go to my blog and enter the blogathon. Not in that order.

  9. Andrew Leon, I'm MAD at you.

    I'll let that sink in a moment.

    Here's why:

    I finished "The House On The Corner" today, and I immediately went to the Kindle store to find "Brothers Keeper" and it doesn't exist yet.

    Only you and George Lucas make people wait years for sequels. Given the many Star Wars references you made, I'm sure that was intentional. Or maybe he learned it from you.

    What I'm saying is, the book was excellent. It got better with each page, and thus, when I finished it, I was ready for more and you don't have more yet.

    Which is why I'm mad at you.

    I will be sending you your 10 1/2 questions and will post a review and all, but keep in mind that until Brothers Keeper comes out, I'm going to continue to be mad at you.

    You and Rusty Webb! What gall! And Offutt, too. At least Grumpy has the decency to keep publishing stuff, but now that he's a big shot author making a zillion dollars he'll probably make people wait, too.

  10. I loved "The Effect of..." Never really got into The Pigman though.

  11. Grumpy: I didn't read The Time Traveler's Wife. My wife read it, and she hated it, so I bypassed it. She doesn't remember anything about the perspectives.
    At any rate, my whole point is that there aren't a lot out there. I wasn't able to find anything on a quick search.

    Oh... did I forget that? >grin<

    Alex: Interestingly enough, I don't like 1st person either. At least, not the way it's mostly done at this point, but I have a post coming up about that.

  12. I haven't actually heard of The Pigman!

    So, I LOVE classics. What I find interesting is that, nowadays, many of them wouldn't be published. Charles Dickens? Too many words. King of the run-on sentence - but that's what I LOVE about his writing.

    It's important, I think, to realize your writing doesn't need to be formulaic. Yes, they teach us these things (like you mentioned not to write multiple 1st person), but I actually think that would be interesting to read. In fact, you may have given me an idea... *taps chin*

  13. I've never heard of The Pigman, but isn't it amazing these crazy books, not only how they stick with us, but that they'd never be published today? In fact, after hearing all of these extreme "do"s and "don't"s of publishing, I'm still amazed at what slips through the cracks and gets published - for good or for bad. Kind of makes me thinks these "rules" don't matter all that much, which works just fine for me (writing shouldn't have rules! Isn't that half the fun?).

  14. I really like the idea of needing to know the past so we can learn from it. It's why most writers are in therapy :)

  15. Pish: It's an interesting idea. I'm pretty sure that my general dislike of stories that just jump into the middle of the action comes from that fact that I didn't read that kind of stuff as a kid.

    Rusty: I'm gonna have to remember to flip through Time Traveler's Wife next time I'm at the book store. We got rid of our copy, so I can't go check it. :/

    Shannon: Oh, no, I consciously did it that way. I remembered the style of The Pigman before I started writing which is why I chose the style I did. It was kind of an experiment.

    Sarah P: Yeah, me, too...

    Briane: LOL I think that, about you not being able to find some little thing to expand upon, may be one of the greatest compliments I've ever received.

    Terabithia has been one to stay with me, too. I just, recently, had my younger son read it, and he loved it, too.

    And, wow... better than Asgard and being compared to Rowling. I'm all humbled and stuff. And bouncing around the ceiling.

    And sorry that I've made you all mad and stuff. Yes, this initial story is a trilogy, but the Star Wars references are really there to capture what it was like to be a kid in the 80s, not as any weird foreshadowing. Well... nevermind. You'll just have to read Brother's Keeper.

    And I'm really glad you liked it. :)

    Alleged: I actually need to read Zindel's other work. I've only read The Pigman so far.

  16. Barbara: We call them run-on sentences, now, but they used to just be sentences. That was pretty typical of everything for the time period. Personally, I like longer, more complex sentences.

    I think it's interesting to read :)

    ABftS: The rules don't matter. At all. They just make people feel better. "Why am I not published? I must not be following some rule."

    Lynn(e): Therapy? What's this therapy you speak of? I therapize myself. Yes, I just made that word up.

  17. Hey congrats that is a very nice compliment about your book. I will hop over and do the Star Wars thing as I am a bit of a Star Wars nerd. I have never read Pigman it sounds interesting and I might just have to check it out. If I do i will let you know what I think. Have a great day.

  18. Jennifer: Yes, please do let me know. It's a good book that has let time get away from it.

    And I hope you do get in on the Star Wars thing. Remember to say I sent you :)