Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is it in the blood?

From Sophie: You’re raising a couple of fine young sons. Do they show any signs of wanting to pick up the pen – and do you think a writing gift or inclination is passed down?

Stephen: My boys (aged ten and twelve) are definitely showing signs of wanting to pick up the pen. But I think that has more to do with the fact that they live in a household engaged in a love affair with books. I have this enormous wall of built-in bookcases and the books simply spill out from there, covering every surface, tripping the dog as she tries to come greet me at the end of the day. The most important factor is that my boys have been able to witness their daddy’s struggle and ultimate success. So, they know it’s an attainable goal. I think this is why you see sons and daughters of lawyers becoming lawyers, sons and daughters of doctors becoming doctors, sons and daughters of electricians becoming electricians. It’s not just a matter of following in their parent’s footsteps. There’s a message from the start that tells the kids, “Look, this is something you can do.” My father was a doctor and I knew I’d have support if I chose to go that route, if I set the goal of attending medical school. My father could have provided me with the map that worked for him. But I wasn’t made for medicine. I had to take a harder route, in a sense, because I had no close relationship with anyone who could encourage me to “stay the course.” If anything, my doctor-father encouraged me to “have something to fall back on.”

But my boys are doing some incredibly creative things with story. Since my eldest was about three years old he did this performance thing he called “Imagination,” which was a story he developed in his head and acted out for us at home. It wasn’t long before we realized it didn’t matter if he had an audience or not, the story in his head would continue. At some point he brought his younger brother into the scene and now the two of them spend time every day performing their “Imagination.” The story and the characters have become so evolved that they had to create this giant family tree, with drawings of all the characters and descriptions of how one relates to the other. The plot lines are brilliant and multi-layered. I don’t really think that way. I like a lean, linear story where I can add rich, multi-layered psychological dilemmas. What my boys do is create worlds within worlds and the whole thing becomes this giant, three-dimensional chess game. They have also begun writing their own stories.


Unfortunately, my boys aren’t permitted to read my work. The stuff is just too mature. This is frustrating because they are both so interested in my process. If I ever get any time, we plan on writing a YA piece under a pseudonym, where my boys can really run with the story content and my wife and I can help shape the narrative and writing. It would be a family project. Something like what Robert Rodriquez did with his kids when they wrote “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl.” I hope I get the opportunity to do this while they’re still young.

17 comments:

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Sounds like a perfect household, Stephen!

I like the idea of a kid/grownup collaboration too. Shark Boy and Lava Girl was such a delightfully quirky film, so it can obviously work!

Good luck with that YA project! I hope you squeeze out the time!

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Thanks, Becky! And thank you for adding those extra special touches to my blog, like the image of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Thanks for all you've done to make this week happen, girl!

And congratulations on your TV interview, which has become more popular than the Old Spice commercials! (The Old Spice Guy had 35 million internet viewers in a one-week period).

Kelli Stanley said...

It was such a pleasure to meet your family at the LA Book Fair, Stephen--your sons were so clearly engaged and fascinated with the book world, it was wonderful to see! :)

Glad to hear they're following in your footsteps, and, like Becks, I hope that YA project comes to fruition!

xoxo

Shane Gericke said...

Stephen, I picked her up after that Milwaukee interview, and she bought me lunch. Isn't that just the humblest thing, buying ME lunch when SHE'S a TV star bigger than the Old Spice guy or maybe even SpongeBob?

Shane Gericke said...

Appreciated your comments on growing up in a household where you didn't go into the family business. My dad was a cop and mom a homemaker. I'd wanted to be a writer since as early as I could remember, and they did everything they could to encourage it. They didn't push me to get a job that would provide "security" and "certainty" like dad's government employment. Pretty liberating for me, looking back on it.

Shane Gericke said...

Becky and I had a full house last night in Mequon, last stop on her Chicago/Milwaukee book tour that she invited me into. I got her safely to O'Hare this morning, and she's headed for Denver for her last round of signings. One is a genuine High Tea sponsored by a bookstore, if you can imagine. La Beck looks and is fabulous, even after a month on the road, and the audiences clearly like her. Thought y'all would want to know.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I love the image of the two boys building their imaginary world! They are off to a terrific start.

My brother and I were both writers from early on, but we had such different processes even then that we just perplexed each other. Mike had complex pencil diagrams of the battleships and underground complexes he wrote about...I just...uhhhh....poured everything on the page. Splat. Kind of like I do now.

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

"Splat," Sophie? Like the sound of blood hitting the kitchen floor after a gunshot? You were predestined to write crime.

FYI everyone - I'll be flying to San Fran early tomorrow morning and away from Internet access most the day. I'll try to get in for comments here and there, and I'll definitely jump in late in the evening. Same with Friday. I think tomorrow's blog is the big "sex addiction" post, so it might bring some interesting comments. I'll try to participate in the discussion.

Meredith Cole said...

I love the idea of your family project, too. Sounds like a great experience for both you and your boys. I remember reading an interview with an actor who did a kid's film so his kids could actually watch one of his movies. A worthy goal!

Graham Brown said...

Hey Stephen - great post. Its reminding me childhood which is a good place o go every now and then.

By the way I think its cool that you want to write something for your kids to read. If I remember rightly Eddie Murphy started making Dr. Doolittle and Shreck type movies because he wanted something for his kids to see. That seems to have worked out well. You can always write it for them and whether it sells or not - they can see it.

All the best.

Graham

Mike Dennis said...

Great post, Stephen. It's important to pass on wisdom and inspiration to your kids. They'll become better people because of it, more confident, able to develop traction in life when they grow up.

Terry Stonecrop said...

That family project idea sounds like fun. Your boys are lucky to have such inspiration and encouragement!

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Thanks Kelli, Shane, Meredith, Graham, Mike...it's good to hear from everyone. My kids have also become really supportive of my career--they always want to come to the library readings or book signings and panels. They sit in the audience and ask great questions. I love that they want to be part of the process.
Ain't it great having kids?

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

And thanks, Terry. They give me as much encouragement as I give them, too! I can't wait to get into that YA project.

Michael Wiley said...

A great post, Stephen (I agree with the other Mike on this). I'm curious: at what age will you let your boys read your books?

I too have young kids (nine and eleven) and my mysteries too are for "mature" readers. So far, my kids walk past the copies of my books, exhibiting an admirable self-censorship (that I don't think I would have been capable of at their age), but one day -- sooner or later, probably sooner -- I expect to find them hiding in a corner reading, either pleased or horrified with me . . . or both.

Have you set rules, telling your boys to stay away from Dad's stuff?

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Michael - absolutely. The kids know they are not to read my work. Unfortunately, I can't even find a paragraph that's g-rated enough to share. There are a few moments in Beat that work, however. I found out that my 12-year old was sneaking peaks at Boulevard when it was coming out of the printer, so I had to explain a few things to him. Both boys understand a bit about addiction, even sex-addiction, which my wife and I felt we had to explain a bit since there's so much talk about it in discussions about my work. However, when I do readings, we send the kids out. And I always check the room where I'm reading to make sure there are no kids around.
I think they can read the stuff when they're fifteen or sixteen years old. I wouldn't feel real comfortable with them reading it before that age.

Michael Wiley said...

I've had the reader-over-the-shoulder experience too, usually when I've been writing and one of the kids has looked to see what's on the monitor. Strange to feel the need to scroll away to white space, though it would be worse not to feel that need.

Fifteen or sixteen seems sane.