November 4th, 2013
Lately , when I wasn’t trying to write, seemingly unable to finish a manuscript, (and occasionally sending it out only to hastily demand it back) I was listening to podcasts. Whether I appeared to be deep in thought on the subway or choosing apples at the greenmarket, I was in actual fact immersed in a conversation on the BBC about what Lauren Bacall might take to a desert island, or a Ted talk that made me love something I previously thought I had hated. Mostly though I hungrily devoured interviews with authors fed me through earbuds. I assumed I did it to get some clue or insight into the secret of how I would finish my novel. As I continued to listen though I began to notice it wasn’t that. In fact I was hardly listening. I’d heard it all by now, and yet I was waiting to hear something else.
I found out what that was one day while climbing a flights of stairs. When asked how she knew when she had finished a novel Maxine Hong Kingston explained she never did finish. For that reason Ms Kingston told her interviewer, her paperback books are often very different from the hardback editions. I stopped half way up the stairs already gloating. Even in bookshops, she explained, she has been known to get out a pen and begin to make changes. Ms Kingston said all of this not as though she thought it was either especially cute, or particularly exasperating, just as a simple statement of fact and for this fact I adored her. I guess I just wanted to one up someone. Because, of course, I would never do that even if I wanted to.
May 7th, 2013
I am in the process of editing a manuscript which will one day be my next book.
My latest favorite way to trick my brain into knowing how I ought to arrange the words, what should be cut out, what needs to be added in, is a little strange. Are you ready? It began when I began to enjoy the pleasures of listening to audio books. That’s something I do now and then, and then forget about for a few years. It’s a wonderful way to take in a book and my daughter and I recently “read” Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence “together” that way, she on the bus to and from her job in Istanbul, me walking the aisles of Trader Joe’s. My audible.com bills were getting a little out of control so I turned to free books on the BBC and iTunes U. Did you know you can now “take out” audible books from your public library (mine anyway) by downloading them and never even have to leave your computer? That was also a source of great joy, as I walked, and did mindless chores which I now tried to think up. Okay so another thing I like to do is swim, but swimming gets boring. Can you see where this is going? Well long story short now I listen to my own writing while swimming and when I do I know how it needs to be changed or if it does. I know it in a way I wouldn’t on dry land looking at a printed page. Maybe it’s just that there is no way I am going to open my email or google something or hear a phone ringing. Maybe I was a fish in a former life. For whatever reason it works and that’s the main thing and no I don’t ever feel the need, or even the urge to begin writing notes underwater. So now you know.
I did warn you this was going to be strange.
March 18th, 2012
What pure joy to get this email from Leander Texas, and on my birthday as well.
I just want to say thank you for writing. I’ve always struggled with my 11-year old daughter and reading. She found your books this week and read Cinderella in one night. I just went and bought Thumbelina for her. I don’t think she’s ever finished a book, so I wanted to say thank you! We’ll keep an eye out for more…
It helps to have a picture in my mind of this and so many other readers as I work to finish the next one, which I can promise will be really REALLY GOOD. In the meantime happy reading!
February 21st, 2012
In order to dig deeper into this business of writing for kids I have been reading more kids’ books. Sort of. Many of them turn out to be “cross over” but officially they are for children. Fascinating how a book I may have read as a child is such a different experience to read as an adult. The Little Prince struck me as overly cute. Almost like it had too much sugar I don’t think I was even able to finish it. Now I’m struck by how original it is and profound. That’s a little strange. Oh but I was older then, I’m younger than that now.
February 10th, 2012
Omaha, NE 6812
February 9, 2012
Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful letter of December 1, 2011. I am sorry that it took a very long time for the letter to get to me and by now you may have forgotten you even wrote it! I am going to do my best to answer each of your questions which I have copied and numbered as you did in your letter, from one to five.
1. Did your mom and dad inspire you to write children and adult books?
Yes, my father used to read fairy tales from a book that was read to him as a child. I think it was called Tales from Afield. I can’t remember any of the stories, but I remember the feeling it gave me to listen and know that however bad things got they would work out all right in the story. My mother believed there were mysterious and special things inside me even when my schoolwork wasn’t particularly good and maybe I wasn’t all that well-behaved either. Also my mother was a very good listener (although she can talk well as well) and children and writers need listeners.
2. When did you start writing books?
I didn’t start until I was 50 years old! Or maybe 49 I can’t quite remember. I bet that will surprise you, it surprised me a lot.
3. What was your favorite book you wrote?
The one I am writing now is my favorite. So far I have written three and that was always true, I hope it always will be. Even as I write that it doesn’t seem possible, but that’s kind of how it felt when I was about to have my second child, I thought, Oh no, help! I’m not going to love this next one as much, which is going to be a disaster. And then I did and that seemed like a miracle—and a big relief.
4. Have you ever written a story about your children?
Everything in my books is kind of like a sandwich between something I completely know and something I have completely made up. My kids are always coming in to my head in different ways yes and lots of things they do and say or I feel about them are in my books (and probably everythin else I do.) For example Cinderella signs her name Pumpkin when she writes to her (dead) mother and Pumpkin is one of my nicknames for my daughter Georgia. I couldn’t have written either of my books if I didn’t know how a mother feels about her girl which is a big part of the two books that have been published. In the book I am writing now there is a silly Hindu god named Brahma who is a bit like me, because he loves a human being named Siddhartha, a hero, who is a bit like my son, Dexter, who is my hero. I worked really hard to help Dexter to learn and grow and be ready to go out into the world, just like Brahma did with Siddhartha. But now that he is ready and all grown up I get scared, just like Brahma did. Brahma has to cover his eyes he is so scared and sometimes that’s what I want to do when my son is driving—even though he is actually a better driver than I am.
5. Do you have any hobbies you do when you’re not writing books?
Yes, I like to go for walks and go to museums with my friends. I like walking and swimming and visiting places that are really different from the place where I live which is New York City. I like to draw and paint and read books and go to movies and plays and all the time I’m listening and looking to see if something could be made into a book or be a detail in a book. Then of course I like answering letters from people such as Allison name witheld.
It was fun to get a real letter and see your beautiful handwriting, but maybe next time you could see if you could figure out a way to write me an email at Barbara@barbaraensor.com and maybe I could respond more quickly. Please put the name of one of my books in the subject line (so I don’t think it is an ad for something like most of the emails I get and never open it up). Please tell me what your favorite color is, if you have a favorite pattern, a favorite movie, anything else that seems important and what the name of the last book you read was.
You also asked for my
which is below. Now since I have done everything you asked I will remain,
PS I like the name of your school, Joan of Arc, maybe because my mother’s name is Joan!
January 17th, 2012
One day, when I was too despondent to remember I couldn’t do it I began to write a book and make my own pictures to go with it. An editor, who was wise and brave, said she would publish it, and helped me along the way. Before very long kids were checking it out of libraries and people like Helena were saying things like “This book expresses so many different feelings at the same time. You know what Cinderella’s feelings are no matter what. When I got this book, it was like I was holding a piece of gold in my hands.When I finished the book I felt so sad that all the story was already gone.” If that’s not a happy ending I don’t know what is and the best part is it was only the beginning.
January 17th, 2012
I love William Steig’s little moments, like the line above, about a mouse out picnicking with his wife on an overcast day in Abel’s Island.
I would not normally look to Steig for big pronouncements. But this one, from the man who wrote Shrek flies my kite.
“Art has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life.”
–William Steig, in his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
December 11th, 2011
In this season of letters to Santa here are some exerpts of letters addressed to Cinderella that recently arrived in my mailbox.
“I know how it feels to write your dead mother. I still talk to my Great Grandma Marie.”
“I wish I was there for you when you were little.”
“Do you get paparatzzi?”
“I’m so dearly sorry your mom died.”
“it was nice of you to take in all those animals at the end.”
“I loved your last note to your mother. It made me cry histaricly.”
“You are a very nice girl and everyone likes you just the way you are.”
May 10th, 2011
BARBARA ENSOR’S PRIMORDIAL HYBRIDS ON VIEW IN THE GREAT ROOM GALLERY AT THE OLD STONE HOUSE THROUGH JUNE 22, 2011
Creatures part human and part animal gaze out from carved frames in Primordial Hybrids, an exhibit of three dozen new silhouettes on paper by Barbara Ensor. “He had climbed out of the primeval muck,” “She was not like the others” and other wry comments are written below in civilized antiquarian hand, but with enough tics and ink splats to suggest a chaos lurking just beneath the surface. No stranger to folkloric imagery Barbara Ensor is author of Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know the Story)? and Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride, both published by Random House Children’s Books. She makes the pictures for these books, as well, cutting them out of black paper with a pair of sharp scissors in a style that is part history, part magic. “Even a child who had never heard these stories before will sense they are familiar,” says Ensor, “because they echo the way it feels to be alive.”
The same could be said of the hybrid creatures in this exhibit. “I immediately felt like I was looking in the mirror,” says Ensor “when timidly these odd creatures began to show up in my work.” At first, she admits, “I thought it was just me.” Ensor speculated that maybe she identified with the creatures because of a sense of not fitting in as a result of frequent moves when she was growing up. When she began to realize how wrong she had been, “It was comical,” says Ensor, “ how suddenly I couldn’t get away from them. I’d turn on the television and there’d be Mickey Mouse with those human hands in the white gloves or I’d glance up at a building and see a winged lion with the breasts and face of a woman staring down at me.” Even the earliest cave paintings mix up humans with animal parts it turns out, “and don’t forget the devil has horns,” says Ensor.
The process of making the art for this solo exhibit (her third in as many years) “was like searching for something that was already there—almost like an archeological dig,” says Ensor. “With the paper cut-outs I’m literally removing (with scissors) what isn’t the picture, like sifting through the sand to find a skeleton.
The Old Stone House, a modern reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, a 1699 Dutch stone farmhouse, is an active, not-for-profit cultural site and presenting organization dedicated to creating a strong sense of community through place-based history, environmental education and the arts. It is located in Washington Park, mid-block on 3rd Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The House is accessible by the R and F trains, as well as the B63 Bus. Gallery hours are 4 pm – 6 pm on Friday afternoons, or by appointment. A reception will be held on Tuesday, June 7, from 6-8 pm.
For more information, visit www.theoldstonehouse.org or call (718) 768-3195.
Barbara Ensor’s website is BarbaraEnsor.com; she can be reached at (917) 604-8732
May 9th, 2011
I hope you’ll get a chance to check out an exhibit of about three dozen new works on paper. The solo exhibit (my third in three years) is called Primordial Hybrids. If perchance The Old Stone House (theoldstonehouse.org ) in Park Slope Brooklyn is a little out of your way check out a selection of pictures by clicking on that framed picture to the right of this post—the one with the lizard who has a human face. You can send me an email telling me what you think by pressing that button to the right–the one that looks like a real button.