Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Which I Talk About ROOM by Emma Donoghue

ROOM was a brilliant film that has stuck with me since I saw it Sunday. Everything works: the cinematography, the nuanced performances, the lighting, the stark contrast between the first half of the film and the second. It is a tough and brutal story, about a seventeen year old girl who is kidnapped and held captive in what is essentially a sound-proofed garden shed for seven years. She is raped every night by her captor. Two years in, she has given birth to Jack, whose fifth birthday opens the film. And it is quickly becoming apparent to Ma, which is what Jack calls her, although her real name is Joy, that if they do not manage to escape soon, their captor, referred to only as ‘him’ or ‘Old Nick’ will try to kill them. Or at least Ma. As with the book (which I am only now reading), the POV is through Jack’s eyes. Room is his only normal. It is not a prison to him, it is simply his life. And then he manages to help save them, a piece of the plot I won’t give away, although you do see a piece of it in all the trailers.

 If you have been afraid to go see it, go anyway. I will probably see it at least one more time. It inspired me to check the book out of the library and I can say that the film stays very true to the text.

I had not wanted to read the book. I’m not fully sure why except to say that I thought –falsely so—that it would be sensationalistic or lurid or whatever. It is none of those things, although clearly there are larger agendas in the actual text that reach beyond the story of this one mother and son. I am glad that I am reading it now and I’m honestly blown away by Emma Donoghue’s prose, by her narrative choices, her ability to use a five year old to tell this story in a way that makes sense and is in fact, the best way to show the world that Ma has created for him in one 12x12 room that seems to Jack a much larger place. His narration allows the reality of Ma’s horror to wash over use between the lines and it is all the more horrific because of that. Her true situation in contrast to the world that she has created for Jack. And the film (Donoghue wrote the screenplay as well) manages to capture all this as well, also through Jack’s eyes. Including freedom in the 2nd half, because Room is the only world Jack has known and so freedom means something very different to him than it does to Ma.

I’m going to be thinking about this story for a long time, about motherhood and childhood, and the awful things people do to each other and the human spirit that allows us to survive. About how generally impossible it is for us to understand situations we haven’t physically experienced. About this story of a woman and her child forced to make their own world.

Go see ROOM. Then let me know what you thought.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To the Lodge!

Twice a year, a group of us kidlit writers head out to the woods, about half-way between Austin and Houston. For three solid days we write, critique, inspire and read. Okay there’s some silliness and wine and a lot of snack food that sneaks in there. A lot of it, actually! (Full disclosure, we ran out of wine last summer, so I guess this time, everyone made sure to compensate.)

But here’s the important thing: 18 women converge in one enormous, ramshackle hunting lodge with crazy amounts of insane taxidermy. (Think tiny deer arranged in a rowboat with flowers. Mounted heads with smiles.) We range in age from 20s to 50s. We write YA, MG, and picture books. Most of us are multi-published. Some of us are not yet published. Some are in between. All of us are dedicated to our craft. All of us are committed to bringing stories to the world.

We cook meals. We respect dietary needs without making a big deal of it. (“Gluten-free folks, those paler muffins are for you!”) We support and amplify and encourage each other’s careers in ways big and small. We laugh. We write. We dream. We get a little raucous in the evenings. Okay maybe a lot. We celebrate HUGELY our successes.

And as my friend Lynne Kelly pointed out after this past weekend’s retreat, there are no fights. No posturing. No table-flipping and honestly, no cliques or sub-grouping or secret whispers. NONE.  Seriously, none. We would make a really boring reality show.

Because we started with a smaller core group and because we’ve been doing this for awhile now, sometimes I forget the true, kick-ass wonder of this. How much I appreciate these retreats, especially after a difficult, transitional year like this past one where—in ways both good and bad—almost nothing turned out the way I expected. But none of that mattered this past weekend. Only the work and the company and the inspiration of fierce, brilliant women who are my tribe, my people, my collective creative force.

And the occasional misguided squirrel crashing into the window.