Jane Smiley: 2010 National Book Festival (Teens)

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 13.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

>> Good afternoon.
Hi. One person is saying hi back so I feel
like I'm getting people's attention.
That's good.
I'm Mary Quattlebaum.
I'm a regular reviewer.
[Sound effects] Somebody's actually clapping for me.
[Laughter] I'm a regular reviewer of middle grade and teen fiction
for the Washington Post Book World and I'm just here today.
Yes, let's all cheer for the Washington Post.
Thank you, just to welcome you to the National Book Festival.
The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the festival
and it has been an enthusiastic supporter for all 10 years
of the festival's existence.
So think about, 10 years
and the book festival just keeps getting more and more exciting.
On author here today who helps ratchet
up that excitement is Jane Smiley.
[Sound effects] Yeah!
Jane is that rare author who can write wonderfully
for both adults and young people.
In fact, she's presenting later today
in the poetry and pros pavilion.
We know her of course, as the author of many acclaimed novels for adults.
These include, A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Other titles, The Greenlanders, Horse Heaven and most recently,
Private Life, but last year Jane Published her first novel
for young people, The George's and the Jewels.
In a star review publishers weekly called it a lyrical medication.
The Chicago Sun Times praised Jane's intricate
and sophisticated knowledge of horses, horses.
Bingo. That's what has made this novel really stand out.
And I was a huge reader of horse book,
all Marguerite Henry's horse books when I was a kid.
The horses in the George's and the Jewels are as believable and flawed
and endearing as the humans.
There's Abby Lovitt, who's the main character who is 7th grader.
But who can forget honoree George,
the trouble-making gelding that she trains.
You can't fake the horse stuff.
Kids know that.
And Jane Smiley is the real deal.
So Jane has a new book coming out very soon called The Good Horse.
Before Jane comes on stage I want to tell you that there are two reasons
to give her a big welcome.
She's a wonderful writer, of course, but also tomorrow is her birthday!
So I'm going to count to three
and everybody here can just say a big Happy Birthday!
One, two, three, Happy Birthday Jane.
[Sound effects] So welcome.
>> Jane Smiley: Well thank you for that.
I have to say in my house tomorrow is the beginning
of the birthday season and all the kids birthdays are coming very
soon too.
Since I'm first I get a little overlooked.
The one who comes last, you know she gets parties for weeks.
This is the cover of The George's and The Jewels.
The Good Horse will be out in about three weeks.
All the series concerns Abby.
The books take place in the mid 1960's when I happened to be a girl.
I am not Abby.
Abby is the girl I wish had been my best friend.
But I didn't know her.

Abby works hard for a living.
Her father and mother have come from Oklahoma some years before
and they are in the horse business.
They are in the import/export business.
They go back to Oklahoma, they find inexpensive horses, they bring them
to California and they retrain them and sell them.
And dad's -- well you'll find out in the first page.
But anyway there's lots of horses in here
and that's what I would have wanted
when I was a girl is just an onslaught of horses to read about.
So I have fulfilled my own fondest desires and I'm going
to start at the beginning.
Chapter One: sometimes when you fall off your horse you just don't want
to get back on.
Let's say he started bucking and you did all the things you knew to do,
like pull his head up from between his knees and make him go forward.
Then use a pulley reign on the left to stop him.
Most horses would settle at that point and come down to a walk.
Then you could turn him again and trot off.
It's always harder to buck at the trot then at the lope.
But, if right when you let up on reigns your horse put his head
between his knees again and took off bucking, kicking higher and higher
until he finally dropped you and went tearing off to the other end
of the ring, well you might lie there as I did,
with the wind knocked out of you and think about how nice it would be not
to get back on, because that horse is just dedicated
to bucking you off.
So I did lie there looking up at the oak branches
that grew beside the ring and I did wait for daddy to come trotting
over with that horse by the bridle and I did stare
up at both of their faces.
The face of that horse flicking his ears back and forth
and snorting a little bit, and the face of my father, red cheeked
and blue-eyed and I did listen to him say, "Abby you okay honey?
Sure you are.
I saw you bounce.
Get up now."
[Laughter] I sighed.
"How am I going to tell those folks that are looking to buy these horses
that a little girl can ride them, if you don't get up and ride them?"
I sat up. I said, "I don't know daddy.
My elbow hurts but not too badly."
Otherwise I was okay.
Well then some horses buck you off.
Some horses spook you off.
They see something scary and drop a shoulder and spin and run away.
Some horses stop all of sudden and there you are head
over heels, sitting on the ground.
I had a horse, we were so high once, that I just slid down over her tail
and landed in the grass easy as you please,
watching her run down to the barn.
I started riding when I was three.
I started training horses for my dad when I was eight.
I wasn't the only one.
My brother Danny was 13 at the time and he did most of the riding.
Kids horse for sale.
But I'm the only one now, which is not to say
that there aren't good horses and fun horses.
I ride plenty of those too, because daddy turns those over fast.
I had one a year ago, a sweet bay mare.
We got her because her owner had died and daddy picked her
up for a song from the bank.
I rode her every day and she never put a foot wrong.
Her lope was as easy as flying.
One the days she was with us I had a 24-hour virus.
So I went out to ride I tacked her up and took her down to the creek
at the bottom of the pasture out of sight from the house.
I knew daddy was about to go into town
and would be gone for the afternoon.
So when I got down there I just took off the saddle and hung it
over a tree limb and the bridle too.
And I laid down on the grass and fell asleep.
I knew she would graze for a while, and she did, I suppose.
But when I woke up, and feeling much better, thank you,
there she was curled up next to me like a dog,
but sweet and large and soft.
I laid there feeling how warm she was and smelling her fragrance
and I thought, "I never heard of this before."
I don't know why she did that.
But now when daddy tells me that horses only know two things,
the carrot and the stick, and not to fill my head with silly ideas
about them, I just remember that mare.
She had a star shaped like a triangle and a little snip
down by her left nostril.
We sold her for a niece piece of change within a month.
And I wish I knew where she was.
But daddy names all the mares Jewel and all the Geldings George
and I can hardly remember which was which after a while.
The particular George who bucked me off had a hard mouth.
I did the best I could with him for another 20 minutes, but daddy said
that probably he was going to have to get on him himself,
which meant that we weren't going to turn this one over fast,
because a little girl couldn't ride him yet, which meant that daddy was
in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
We took the George back to the barn while daddy through out the hay.
I brushed the George off.
He didn't mind but he didn't love it like some of them do.
Then I picked out his feet and took him out and put him
into one of the big corrals.
We didn't keep horses in stalls unless we had to because daddy said
that they did better outside anyway and if you kept them in stalls,
well then you spent your life cleaning stalls rather than riding.
Was that what I wanted?
I always said, "No daddy" and he ruffled my hair.
In the winter though, it bothered me to think of them huddled
out in the rain, their tails into the wind and their heads down.
Of course that's what horses were meant to do
and ours had heavy coats.
But I would like awake when it rained
in the night, wishing for it to stop.
It was worse in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma was where we came from where daddy and mom grew up
and had Danny and then me.
We moved to California in 1957 when I was four and I half.
I could barely remember living there,
though we went back once a year
to see my grandparents and buy some horses.
In Oklahoma there could be real rain and real snow and real ice.
Daddy had seen a horse slide right down a hill once,
just couldn't stop himself.
Went down like he was on skis and over the edge of a creek,
fell on the ice and had to be pulled
out with a tractor; couldn't be saved.
At least in California we didn't have the ice.
It was only five when I got into the house, not even supper time.
But it was January and days were short.
Christmas was over and school would start again on Monday,
which meant I could ride two horses in the afternoon at most.
Now that my shoulder and my arm were starting to hurt from my fall,
I didn't mind a break from the riding.
It was just that I was sorry to be going back to school; seventh grade.
I have never heard anyone who had a single nice thing
to say about seventh grade.

But you know that turns out not to be true because my daughter,
who's here, had a good time in seventh grade.
So she's a strange one.

The next day was church.
We went to church twice on Sundays from 9:00 to 12:00 in the morning
and from 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon
and also Wednesday evening.
Daddy was an elder in the church and the place we'd found
that we called our chapel was really just a big room in a strip mall
with a cleaners on one side and a Longs Drug Store on the other.
Daddy and Mr. Hazen were looking for another place,
maybe a church that was for sale.
You'd be surprised at how many churches get sold
when the congregation decides it needs more room.
But they hadn't found one yet, so between noon
and two we kids wondered around that strip mall and went into Longs
and looked at the comic books until we got caught or the toys
or the makeup or the medical supplies, whatever there was
that might be interesting.
Sometimes daddy drove me home to check on the horses
and sometimes he went by himself.
Mom always offered but daddy said she had enough to do setting
up the lunch for the brothers and sisters.
The brothers and sisters were mostly fairly old,
older than daddy and Mom.
Only three families had kids.
Us and the Hollingsworth's and the Greeley's.
We had me; the Hollingsworth's had Carley, Erica and Bobby
who were all younger than Danny and I.
The Greeley kids were four, two and one.
Sometimes on a really unlucky day Carley Hollingsworth
and I would be told to watch the Greeley's
and then our hands were full
because those Greeley's, even the baby could run.
What mom said if I made a face was, "Sally and Sam need a break,
so you can do your share."
The only thing I like about church, though I didn't say
to this daddy and mom was the singing.
To tell the truth I never knew what songs were really hymns
because daddy, mom, Mrs. Greeley and Mr. Hazen were ready
to sing anything and some Sundays we would sing for an hour at a time,
more like a song fest than a church service.
On those days daddy always came home happy.
We sang Further Along, When the Road is Called Up Yonder I'll be There,
Abide with Me and Amazing Grace.
We didn't have hymnals.
Daddy said we might get those next year
but someone always knew the words anyway and would teach the others.
It wasn't right that the singing would push
into the preaching of the gospel.
But sometimes it did and I didn't mind.
On the days when there was more preaching
and less singing daddy came home in a worse mood.

That Sunday after I fell off I was still a little stiff.
So rather than wander around Longs I stayed with mom
and helped her serve the food.
She had macaroni and cheese, baked beans, some broccoli and carrots,
a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese.
For dessert Mrs. Greeley had made an applesauce cake,
which I liked very much.
The younger women always made a lot of food because mom said,
"For some of the old people this was the biggest meal they got all week.
You know you're going home to a nice supper Abby,
so you watch what you eat, because Mrs. Larkin doesn't have that
and neither does Mrs. Lodge."
I watched what I ate,
but I especially watched myself eat a piece of that applesauce cake.
The second service was more like Sunday school.
The grownups went to one side of the room and studied the bible
and the kids went to another side of the room and did things,
like read bible stories and color bible coloring books.
There was also a felt board that Mrs. Larkin sometimes brought
on which she did felt shows.
There would be a cutout of Joseph say made of white felt
and then a bunch of cutouts of his brothers and some felt palm trees
that represented Egypt and felt house that represented Israel.
She moved the felt pieces around on the board while telling us
the story.
I think she had pieces for six or eight different stories.
For the most part everyone at church was nice.
This was not true of seventh grade.

Monday morning I got on the bus.
Because we had horses to feed
and water before school I was always the last person on the bus
and fairly often the driver had stop after he had already started
and open the door again for me.
The impossible thing was deciding whether to get dressed first
and then do the work or get dressed, do the work
and change again before going to school.
I slept in even a little, I could not get dressed twice
and so my shoes would be a little dirty when I got on the bus.
Sometimes the other kids started yelling, "Hey what's that smell?
Hey, what smells so bad in here?"
And sometimes they didn't but I always expected them to.
I didn't have any friends on the bus so I tried
to read a book or look out the window.
The best thing that can happen to you in seventh grade really is
that you float from one classroom to another like a ghost
or a spirit undetected by the humans.
I thought maybe it would be possible to do that at one
of those big schools in a big town, but our school was small.
The seventh grade had forty kids divided
into two classes and everyone had a slot.
My homeroom teacher was Mr. Jebson, the math teacher.
It did not help that numbers made my head hurt.
If I could sit by myself at night and work
out my problems I almost always got them right,
but Mr. Jebson was the kind of teacher who likes to interrupt,
so..."Abby what's the square root of 64."
And then just when you're opening your mouth to say 8 he says,
"Cat got your tongue today?
Are you thinking?"
And then when you open your mouth again he says, "Well,
what's the square root of 16?"
And now you're in this rhythm.
Every time you have the answer, he asks you another question
until he gives up on you and finally he says, "Billy Russell."
And of course, Bill Russell's been sitting there
for five minutes thinking about the answer and he pipes up,
"eight" as bright as he can be and Mr. Jebson says, "Good boy."
Or if you happen to look out the window as soon as your eyes went
in that direction Mr. Jebson would say, "Abby is the great outdoors
that much more fascinating then this classroom?"
And of course you couldn't say, "Yes."
You had to keep your mouth shut.
Most of the other kids seemed to like Mr. Jebson,
at least they laughed at all of his jokes.
Even so, I had a B in math, A on homework and tests,
C on class participation and that was good enough for daddy
who didn't expect me to be going to college anyway.
[Applause] Have you guys been asking questions?
I doubt it right.
Oh great, that's my favorite thing.
So has anybody got a question?
[Background sound effects] Time is running out.
Yes, over there.
This girl has a question.
>> What inspired you to write this book?
>> Jane Smiley: What inspired me was that I have a lot of horses
and the thing I've notice about them is
that they are completely different from one another.
And they not only seem to think differently from one another
but their bodies are different.
They are constructed differently and they can do different things.
And one of the things that my horsy friends
and I do all the time is talk about the personalities
and characters of our horses.
And so when I was a child and I loved horse books.
That was the thing I loved about the horses.
It was like having horses except they were in books.
And so that's what inspired me.
All the horses that I knew just had to be in books.
They were way too interesting not to be in books.
>> Well thank you.
>>Jane Smiley: Let me say one thing about this series.
You may remember, some of you older people may remember movies
like My Friend Flicka where a horse is trained by the cowboy getting
on him or her and the horse bucks until he's exhausted
and he starts doing what the cowboy wants him or her to do
and that's being trained.
Around where I live in the Monterey Peninsula in California,
in the 1960's there emerged another way of training horses
that has become the dominant way now.
And some people call it natural horsemanship.
And the person who originated it was a man named Tom Dorence who came
from a ranching family but he was rather a small man.
And he didn't want to try to dominant the horses.
So what he did was he watched horses interact among themselves
and he watched how they told each other
who was the boss and how to come along.
And then he used his own body in those ways and the horses woke up.
And we realized hundreds of new things about horses
and how their minds work and that they have minds.
And that they can be interested in and do things
because those things are a pleasure.
So one of the things I wanted to in these books was to show
that transition from the old and what I would consider cruel ways
of training horses to the modern and much more accommodating ways
of thinking about and training horses.
So there's a character in here named Gem Jarrell.
He is based on Tom Dorence and he is probably one
of my favorite characters in the book, so one question for you.
>> What's your favorite book that you have not written?
>> Jane Smiley: That I have not written?
What's my favorite book that I have not written?
You mean by another author or that I'm going to write?
>> By another author.
>> Jane Smiley: Well you know I've gotten to the point in my life
that I have lots and lots of favorite books because I don't feel
that they're terribly comparable.
But when I was -- how old are you?
>> I'm nearly 11.
>> Jane Smiley: Okay so when I was 11 my favorite book was a horse book
and it was called Silver Birch.
And it was about that amazing thing that always happens.
A little girl wants a horse and there happens to be a horse running
in the forests around the farm and nobody owns it
and it's really beautiful.
[Laughter] And so she goes out and tames it.
So I thought boy this is absolute social realism
and where is my horse?
[Laughter] And that was my favorite book.
But my second favorite was the Hound and the Baskervilles,
which is sort of about the same thing except
that the same running around was the dog.
[Laughter] Two minutes.
>> It seems to be a transition from A Thousand Acres to Jewels
and Georges and is that the just the years, you have an interest now
in writing for young adults or how did that come about?
>> Jane Smiley: Well, I've written a lot of books since A Thousand Acres
and all of them were a big change from A Thousand Acres
and A Thousand Acres was a big change
from everything that came before.
So I just like to write lots of different things.
It's more interesting and in some ways you're always finding yourself
at the bottom of the mountain
and climbing the mountain, and I like that.
So those who consider me the author
of A Thousand Acres clearly haven't read Moo.
Those who think of me as the author
of Moo must not have read the Greenlanders.
And so it's just fun -- it's more fun
to write lots of different things.
>> I just want to know what influenced you to become a writer.
>> Jane Smiley: My mother.
My mother was a journalist.
She was the woman's page editor for the St. Louis Post Dispatch
and she was an inspiring novelist
and she always had a typewriter sitting on the dining room table.
And it wasn't that she made me become a writer.
It was that she saw -- I saw through her that this was a possibility.
I read lots and lots of books and none of them were respectable.
I was not the girl who was reading War and Peace at age 11.
I knew girls like that, but I was not her.
I was reading horse books.
I was reading Nancy Drew.
I was reading the Dana Girls and the Hardy Boys.
Misty of Chincoteague, you know the Marguerite Henry books
and in my experience of both as a child and as a mother,
those books are the ones that lead you forward into wanting
to be an author because you love them so much.
When I was a kid and I was reading the Bobbsey Twins
to me an existential question was how come in the Bobbsey Twins
at Home Mann and Burt are eight and Freddie and Flossie are four
and in the Bobbsey Twins at School Mann and Burt are twelve
and Freddie and Flossier are six.
You know I knew how to add and subtract
and I pondered this question over and over again.
So you can see where I was headed you know.
I was headed towards literature.
So I love kid's books.
There is no kid book that is too unrespectable for me.
My daughters grew up reading Sweet Valley High.
I'm going to tell a story I often tell about Phoebe, who's here.
When she was eight I read one of these Sweet Valley High books
in which the good twin falls off the back
of a motorcycle and goes into a coma.
And you know I was shocked.
Here's my eight year old reading about this.
So in the morning she got up and I said, "Phoebe, you know I don't know
that I want you to be reading about this trauma."
And she looked at me said, "Mom, it's not trauma.
It's drama."
[Laughter] So that's the lesson I will leave you with.
I also would say that there is not a single vampire in this book
and you know -- [Applause] Thank you very much.

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