10 Under 10: Writers to Watch

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The American Reader is proud to feature ten emerging writers, whose work speaks not only to the variety but the vitality and inventiveness of contemporary American literature. Each of the writers answered a brief questionnaire explaining their background, work, and sources of inspiration.

 

 

 1) C.C. Lewis (Age 7)

“What the Unicorns Forgot”

Where were you born?

Cleveland, Ohio. 

Where do you live now?

We moved to Akron about a year ago.

What was the first piece of fiction you read that had an impact on you?

Scott O’Dell is a master of the form—I like to think I’m continuing the work he started. I’m not so wild about Island of the Blue Dolphins, though. The themes established in Island are put forth with greater elegance and force in the later works—My Name is Not Angelica, in particular. This question of identity…the fantasy of a name…

How long did it take you to write your first book?

Two years. I changed a lot in the process. I grew with my characters. 

Did you ever consider not becoming a writer?

Last week I thought about being a nurse.

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?

Economy. Take O’Dell in Angelica: “In the fields, under the hot sun, slaves don’t last long, perhaps a year. So show your white teeth, Raisha, smile a lot, and don’t say anything unless you’re asked.” The economy of phrase allows for the adjectives—hot, white—to stand out, to mean something. Of course, economy doesn’t mean you have to write like O’Dell or Hemingway. I think every good writer finds her own version of economy.

What was the inspiration for the piece included in the “10 Under 10” series?

My best friend Jessie is obsessed with unicorns, but I always found them unnerving. You have these great mythical beasts—supposedly so beautiful—but their distinguishing, special feature is a piercing horn. That got me thinking: what’s the relationship between fantasy and violence?

What are you working on now?

A collection of short stories.

Who are your favorite writers over ten?

O’Dell, L’Engle, Sendak…and Seuss, for his wit.

 

2) Daniel Yu (Age 5)

“The Case of the Missing Pajamas” 

Where were you born?

San Jose, California.

Where do you live now?

Same place in a different time. 

What was the first piece of fiction you read that had an impact on you?

Are You My Mother?, undoubtedly. I recently read Maniac Magee and was undone.

How long did it take you to write your first book?

Eight months. It was premature.

Did you ever consider not becoming a writer?

I might have had some luck as a short-stop, but those days are gone now.

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?

Show me a piece of fiction that works. In the end, it’s all failure: you swirl some glue on it like so much construction paper, sprinkle glitter and spangle…some of that glitter reaches its destination—it is preserved in the Elmer as a fossil in amber. Then there is that spangle that sticks to the sweat of your hands, your fingertips. That’s the prize of a writer: spangle and sweat—sometimes simultaneously, most often not.

What was the inspiration for the piece included in the “10 Under 10” series?

It’s all very simple, even pat. I couldn’t find my pajamas anywhere (it turns out my little brother had stuffed them behind some godforsaken Tonka). My mother gave me an oversized shirt to wear instead, my father’s. I slept fitfully that night. At the most hopeless moments in that anxious fidgeting, I feared that my pajamas, which seemed so incidental, were in fact essential to my sleep—that it was they and not I that had licensed me the dreamland to which I had nightly become accustomed. And so I wrote out that midnight fear: a boy who never finds his pajamas, and so, never sleeps.

What are you working on now?

A collection of short stories.

Who are your favorite writers over ten?

Proust, Kafka. Have you read Leaving the Atocha Station? Ben Lerner is brilliant.

 

3) Owen Tinder (Age 6)

“My Driveway”

Where were you born?

Teaneck, New Jersey.

Where do you live now?

Bushwick.

What was the first piece of fiction you read that had an impact on you?

As I Lay Dying.  I was captivated in a way I just wasn’t by the books assigned in class. I saw for the first time how deep a connection you could have to a fictional character, how involved you can become in a plot. The book exposed me to how immense the world is and how complex human relationships can be. Plus, I learned a lot of things that my parents told me I was too young to know about. I think that was the time when I realized I could always go to books for refuge and information.

How long did it take you to write your first book?

About a year. There were periods of immense productivity, such as Christmas Break, when I really had a lot of time on my hands, and periods where I almost stopped completely. I’m a very needy, sensitive writer, so the better grades I get, the more consistent I am about maintaining a daily practice.

Did you ever consider not becoming a writer?

I still want to become a fireman.

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?

I’ve always been more of a prose stylist than a storyteller, so for me truly compelling writing uses language that really just knocks you on your ass. I’ve always been less concerned with plot, and more passionate about sentences that are beautiful, even at the expense of clarity.

What was the inspiration for the piece included in the “10 Under 10” series?

“My Driveway” was really tied to the advice to “Write what you know.” I knew that I could write the best piece of fiction about what I was deeply familiar with. I think that’s what gave the book that deep sense of intimacy, especially the now-infamous gravel scene. I find it helpful to limit myself to a subject or an area and work within those boundaries. It’s too hard to just sit down and say, “I want to write about Teaneck.” It’s just too broad a subject. Imposing those limits, from the garage door to the end of the curb, is what inspired the novel and allowed it to function. In the end, the fact that I’m not allowed to cross the street by myself turned out to be completely inspirational.

What are you working on now?

It’s called “My Street.” I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

Who are your favorite writers over ten?

Of course I adore Cheever, because he’s so focused on a certain area, on really rounding out one place, giving a full portrait of it. Virginia Woolf is a favorite as well. She works so quietly, so patiently, within her own framework, especially within her essays like “The Death of a Moth” and “Three Pictures.” Her prose, in my opinion, is some of the best around. I’m still working my way through the canon, of course. I look forward to being able to answer that question more fully in 6th grade.

 

 [7 MORE WRITERS TO WATCH  >>]