This, above all:

This, above all: To be God's best for The Coach and for Anna

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why I am not a children's writer

Because I stink at it, that's why.

But, see, I didn't know that in 1999. So the very first story I wrote in my entire life was, dum-dee-dum, a story for children. I thought it was easier to write for minds still developing. Mistake. Big one.

It was about a question mark.

"A what?" my buddy Abet asked. We were waiting for our tapsilog with extra egg at Rodic’s, the UP institution of our dormitory life; sixteen years after we met in 1983, and we still couldn’t wean ourselves from Rodic’s.

"It's about a question mark," I repeated. I had not written the story yet. It was just in my head, prowling.

Abet smiled. It was so easy for me to be vulnerable to this friend. He too was a soul-seeker, restless in either of his two professions, engineering and lawyering. He and I connected: we had the same woes.

“His name is Quentin. Quentin the Question Mark. And he’s very sad because unlike the other punctuation marks, he was rarely used. And if he was, it was always with a quizzical note at the end, as if people were perplexed or doubtful. Like, ‘Where am I?’ or ‘Are you there?’”

I said it all in one mad rush so that Abet, with his genius IQ, would not have time to object.

Abet chuckled. I was getting a little desperate to prove to him that, hey, this could be a great story. “Quentin wasn’t like, say, the period, which was declarative, with such a stabilizing effect, so calm and dignified. He spoke with authority. And Quentin wasn’t like the exclamation point, which was sparkling and energetic, so vigorous. You use the exclamation point and you’re like jumping cartwheels, ‘What a life!’ or ‘Woohoo!’”

By this time, Abet was laughing, apparently also using a lot of exclamation points while he did.

“So on Quentin’s birthday, when no one in the Land of Grammar remembered that it was his day, he decided to leave, just like that.” I snapped my fingers, hoping the extra action would add, well, more action to the story. “At first no one in Grammar noticed he left. And when they did, they thought it was cool. The students had a blast because the teachers could no longer ask questions. No exams, no recitation.”

What the heck, by this time, I was laughing too. It did sound ludicrous, but I was on a roll. I didn’t know better.

“Slowly, things went berserk. The TV game show hosts could not ask questions. Jeopardy! was cancelled. People could not ask for the price of broccoli. Many who could not read or follow maps got lost.”

Abet was guffawing, like only he can, without restraint and with tears in his eyes—what, for me? We were seated at the table jammed next to the mirror, so there were four of us doubling up, having hysterics. It was a laugh party, and we had immense fun even before our beloved tapsilog arrived.

Maybe I should’ve taken that delightful dinner as a hint, but since I didn’t know better, I went ahead and finished the story in 2001 for a writers’ workshop in Dumaguete…

…where it did not necessarily fare better. I’m still puzzling over the effect, really, of Quentin. It was the third and last week of the workshop, and Quentin was, oh I don’t know, probably the last story to be critiqued, and everyone was most likely tired of objective-correlatives and donnĂ©es. Anyway, when it was Quentin’s turn to be workshopped, the entire panel of distinguished writers—lemme see, there was the poet DM Reyes, fictionist Susan Lara, and probably award-winners Ernie Yee, Bobby Villasis, and Sawie Aquino, too, and, oh I don’t really care to remember who else—they all looked at each other, conspiratorially. Then Susan Lara counted aloud, “One, and two, and three…” and the entire panel, mercy!, broke into song, putting their hands in the air and swinging them about, singing “Quentin the Question Mark” to the tune of (I think it was) Popeye the Sailorman.

What a sight.

I should probably have abandoned children’s writing right about then. But the Polymath, one of two child wonders at the workshop, piped in helpfully at my right. “Mudra, you can also write about Ulrich the Umlaut.” I laughed. Of course.

Germaine, to whom I told the story afterwards, was another big help. “You can write about Anna the Ampersand,” she said. And I said, “Yes, and let’s make her a matchmaker. She connects people to people, like Mark & Susan, John & Alice.” A series of children's books, why not?



Giselle said...

Jan -- you got me laughing! Ulrich the Umlaut, that's a good one. Actually, it really wouldn't be a bad thing to write about. It will not only teach kids but also entertain parents! Think about it!

p. said...

yikes, did ulrich really come from me?

i forget who made the suggestion, but a dusky, probably hispanic character called tilda the tilde also came up.

Maryanne Moll said...

Janet! Welcome to blogging! Link you to mine, ha. Now na.

janet said...

Giselle: Yes, I actually am half in love already with Ulrich. Can you imagine him, all sunny and cheerful, with the two tuldoks over his head? Lovely little guy. =)

P: Tilda the Tilde! Of course! How could I forget? Awright--a series of 4 books. Hah.

Maryanne: Yey, you're back! I have been logging on to Sensibilities since March 31 and you haven't been updating. Where have you been? =)

the spy in the sandwich said...

you really, really should write these stories, trust me :)

janet said...

Hi Ian! I'm half-convinced, actually. But I'm not sure I have the sensibility for children's writing. =) But will give it another shot!

Alvin said...

If you ever do go back to writing kiddie fiction, make sure you don't give it to Natasha V. for critiquing. :)

janet said...

Aaaarggggh. Yeth, I remember how the Natasha *flunked* me in children's writing. Still smarting about that. =( I will write about it sometime.

the penuriously periwinkle witch said...

Hi Mudra!

Maybe you punctuation series will make kids like punctuations...

Anyway, I haven't seen Le Guin's A Wave of the Mind anywhere yet, but sooner or later it will appear sometime, hehehe :)

Michelle said...

Quentin the Question Mark? Bwahahaha! Janet, you're hilarious! :-)

sairo said...

wow i wanna read those stories too

Maryanne Moll said...

i've been swamped! but i've a new post now. thanks, janet!

jonjoaquin said...

ey nitz. been reading your blog but never got around to leaving a comment. can you email me a copy of your story on quentin the question mark? should be good for a couple of laughs... and maybe a question or two... :-)

by the way, i've added your blog to my links -- hoping you'd return the favor...

and... "children's writer" or "children's book writer"?

ayen said...

Hey! I liked the Quentin story. Alangya ka, Janet. Kakaiba.

I do have some, urmm (clears throat), reservations. Sammy the Semicolon, Herbert the Hypen, Appi the Apostrophe, where were they?

And you still have a possible unresolved subplot: could Quentin the Question Mark be related to Quejano the Quotation Mark?

Ayan tuloy, humaba na. Good luck with your novel. Haha!

color_blind said...

sulat lang ng sulat! :)

by the way, i linked you na. oh and maritess and i met at the waldorf conference last week. brand new maritess! :)

Migs Villanueva said...

hey, i know that story :) that was around the same time i wrote a nursery rhyme called "Juana, Do You Wanna?" Hah!

dai said...

hi mama j :) ang tagal ng update ulit ah. parang nasa harap lang kita at nagkukwento habang binabasa ko ang mga entries mo. masaya dito :)

janet said...

Ely: You're right. Could work that way.

Michelle: Can't access your blog/maleta! Why?

Jon: I knew you will react!!!! :D You are one with whom I can harp about "healthful" vs. "healthy" and question why one who returns is called a "returnee" instead of a "returner." Hah. And, yes, I suppose I should say "writing for children," pero ang haba eh, so I do what others do: children's writer na lang. Same way I say "lawyering"--shortcut.

Irwin: I will dedicate the Sammy the Semicolon story to you. Heh.

Tin: Linking you. Thanks!

Migs: "Juana, do you wanna?"--how absolutely cool is that?!?!?! Di ko pa yata nabasa 'yan. What I read was your beautifully illustrated Amihan book. Did you ever finish that?

Dai: Hey! How are you? Emailed you a few times na. Didn't get a reply.