Tuesday, August 12, 2008
In The Handbasket: Tish Cohen
The writing world is like an enormous, small town. So even though she lives north of the border, I got to know Tish Cohen this past winter when she generously pitched in to make our blog day for Patry Francis such a huge success. It's been a busy few years for Cohen. Even before her 2007 debut novel Townhouse sold to HarperCollins, the film rights sold to Fox 2000 and it's now in development with John Carney (Once) adapting it for the screen. Townhouse was also shortlisted for Canada's Commonwealth Writer's Prize "Best First Book" award. Her new novel, The Inside Out Girl, debuts today. You can find it everywhere, including Target, whose buyers wisely chose it as one of their famous breakout books! Then there's her charming Zoe Lama series for the preteen set.
I asked Tish to tell us what it's like to switch gears between writing for adults and those hungry little preteen minds. Welcome, Tish!
Writing for adults vs. writing for children is quite different for me. Although my two middle grade novels, The Invisible Rules of the Zoë Lama, and its sequel, The One and Only Zoë Lama, required every bit as much planning in terms of plotting, character development, etc., I tended to draw more from the lives of my children as well as my life growing up with siblings way back when. Also, the heavier plot elements such as Zoë’s grandmother having Alzheimer’s and children dealing with the death of a parent are handled with a very careful touch. That said, I think I am able to free up and have a bit of fun with the kids’ books, they tend to be more playful overall. The other advantage for me is I have live-in consultants—my children tend to pull up a chair and a bag of cookies as I’m writing and discover the story as I’m writing.
When I wrote Inside Out Girl I actually drew partially from my own experiences as a mother to two thrill-seeking boys who skateboard, mountain bike, snowboard, and invent all sorts of stunts that baffle the rational mind. (I should have guessed what I was in for when my oldest shimmied up on top of the stove when he turned one. Thankfully, the burners weren’t lit!) Not being the type of mother who handles countless trips to Emerg very well—it takes me a good two days to decompress, post-hosp—I tried as best I could to not only control their wild activities, but to insert my own voice of caution into their firmly helmeted heads.
Before my kids embarked on the next extreme activity, I would open up my great trunk full of worries and start laying out qualms on the table like the battered heirlooms I felt it is my duty to bestow upon them:
-they allow BMX bikers in this skatepark? Isn’t that dangerous?
-too many rocks on that forest path—and look at the size of that divot!
-The hills are sheer ice! Seriously—what’s to stop some hotdogger from losing control and plowing right into you?
Rachel Berman, the single mother in Inside Out Girl, raises her kids in a similarly demented fashion—though her fears are more based in life experiences as she unwillingly gave up a child for adoption in the past and now lives with the constant fear of life taking away another of her children. Rachel can quote injury statistics for any type of accident off the top of her head and refuses to allow her young son to go away to skateboard camp, because what kind of counselors would they have? Half-stoned, pubescent wild boys who could only encourage her son to take even more risks?
Eventually Rachel comes allow Dustin to go to camp and drives three hours from home to drop him off for his first two-week overnight experience. Along with his duffel bag, she leaves him with plenty of well-intended warnings about extreme sports and plenty of extra water bottles. She drives home, proud of herself, only to be called back to the camp as soon as she arrives home because Dustin jumped a parking barrier and broke his wrist.
Even Rachel could never have anticipated such an injury.
Before this summer, I’d never let my son go away to sleepover camp either. But at ten o’clock this morning, we packed Lucas into the car with a Duffel bag full of labeled gear and a head full of his mother’s warnings (baby steps), and my husband drove him to sleepover camp. It might not be the skate camp he’s been dreaming of (hey, they want $900 a week), but it has a solid reputation and isn’t too far should he need to be picked up. Not that I’m hoping for that. Well, I kind of am—but not because anything bad happened! Anyway, the point is, I learned a little from my protagonist and her need to start letting go, even just a little. And I guess that’s where all my books meet up for me—there’s some issue in all of them that I need to resolve in my own life, whether it my for my adult self or that stringy-haired, knobby-kneed (seriously, check out the bio shot on my website!) kid that still lives inside me.