As I borrow from the title of Mary Ann's very thought-provoking post, and I ask you to bear with my extended analogy.
I write for a soap opera. Soaps are going the way of dodo thanks to cheap and tawdry reality TV. Reality TV = bad in the minds of most TV writers.
However, when Mary Ann chronicled the historical fiction heroines of yesteryear, I made an important realization about my myself.
I'm sure I have mentioned before that I was such a Laura Ingalls Wilder devotee -- pig bladders and all -- that I dreamed of visiting her home in Mansfield, MO. (For the record, I still haven't been). Teachers and librarians (and later, I myself) tried to cultivate my interest in similar books. [Remember, I am a slow and, when it comes down to it, somewhat reluctant reader.] Caddie Woodlawn? No go. Pam Conrad? Lovely, but... nope. Sarah, Plain and Tall? It's beautiful and spare and all that jazz (and I loved Glenn Close in the movie), but I don't ever need to read it again. Louise Erdrich? SO wanted to love it... so appreciated it... but I just couldn't get into it.
Lesson learned? A) I'm not really into historical fiction. I've known this all my life. But what does it take to get me hooked? It takes reality! Laura Ingalls Wilder really lived! Another fave, Island of the Blue Dolphins, was likewise based in historical fact. And then there was The Miracle Worker. These stories are beloved by millions of kids, right? Is there not a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award? A Scott O'Dell award?
I, like many kids before me, am a reality book junkie! Aagh!
I was volunteering in my daughter's classroom last week. I had earthworm duty, which was fun, but another mom was supervising the writing table. The kids were reading the fab Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, and Diary of a Fly. And here's an amazing writing exercise (credit goes to my daughter's amazing first grade teacher, Leigh Friedman):
Think about the FACTS the author needed to know in order to write the FICTION.
Subsequently, the kids will write their own Diary of a Mealworm book (after watching mealworms squirm over their desks all quarter) for publication.
Non-fiction, historical fiction, science fiction -- we know that most fiction that we write will involve research. [I will never forget hearing Susan Fletcher say that she based her beloved dragon books on historical fiction and the study of other lands.] There is something in the grounding of a true situation, a true PERSON that makes a book come to life for me -- and surely I am not alone.
Plucky heroines appeal to us because we still need them as role models. Now, as I raise a daughter and watch the dispiriting "culture wars" news during Women's History Month, I remember as a first grader thinking that I had three options for future employment: nurse, secretary, teacher. I am proud to be a teacher, but my, how times have changed! Our daughters have the whole world at their feet -- God love them, and God bless them! -- Jeanne Marie