Quotable Tuesday-Cynthia Levinson

Cynthia Levinson

Today I am thrilled to welcome friend and fellow Austin author Cynthia Levinson to Quotable Tuesday. Cynthia has written what I think will  become a seminal book in children’s literature. The book, We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March tells the story of this historic march through direct accounts from four of the arrestees and many pictures. The reviews have been glowing. The Sunday New York Times Book Review featured the book for two weeks in a row. We’ve Got A Job is the kind of book which not only tells a great story but may inspire greatness in the children (and adults) who read it.

When I asked Cynthia to share a quote that has inspired her as a writer, this is what she said:

Steve Harrigan, who writes fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays, said at a book signing I attended,

“Writer’s block comes from not having done enough research.”

“As a nonfiction writer, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear this. For us tellers of true tales, there’s no such thing as “enough research.” That’s why we have deadlines. Nevertheless, his statement raised the barometric pressure over my head, and the clouds that had been befuddling my vision (block that metaphor!) of my work-in-progress dispersed.

“No wonder I had been making stuff up, as I drafted the proposal for my agent. (Since I don’t know the exact color of the carpet, I’ll just call it “neon red.”) No wonder I was considering switching the project to historical fiction. (If I can’t find enough bad things that have happened to the kids in real life, I’ll make their virtual lives untruly miserable.)

“Except, what’s magical about the true stories I was investigating is that—they really happened. And, I didn’t want to relinquish the grip of the facts. Steve simply pointed out to me that I didn’t own enough of them to write the truth with verisimilitude.

“His comment also struck me because the book he was presenting was a novel about an early 20th-century sculptor in West Texas. Of course, fiction writers do at least as much research as nonfiction writers. (A reason that I don’t undertake fiction is that I think of it as a double-whammy. It has to be not only right, like my work, but also creative.) But, he wasn’t talking, at that point, about researching armature or West Texas wildflowers. He was talking about his main character. He had to research something that didn’t exist to bring it—Gil—to life.

“I knew about the “exercises” that novelists do on behalf of a character. What kind of cereal does he eat for breakfast? Would she kill someone with venom or a machete? I had just never thought of these imaginings as research.

“Hearing Steve talk about his own creative research, impelled me to take three more research trips, not only to gather details about colorful carpeting but also to explore what it means that my subjects eat three eggs and a vat of oatmeal for breakfast. Unfortunately, none of them has murdered anyone; the misery would be so delicious.”

Now get out your calendar. Cynthia is launching We’ve Got A Job in Austin this Sunday, March 4 at 3pm at the George Washington Carver Branch of the Austin Public library at 1161 Angelina St. Don’t miss it. Cynthia Levinson is an extraordinary woman with an extraordinary book. Being a part of a book’s bright beginnings is not to be missed if only for the joy of being able to say, “Oh I was there at start. I got to hear Cynthia talk about the book before it swept all the awards in children’s literature.” Just saying…

EXTRA! EXTRA! Just got a note from Cynthia saying that one of the four marchers in the book, Washington Booker, will be in Austin for the debut on Sunday!!! I’m very excited.

Cynthia debuted this video at the book launch on Sunday. It was scripted, narrated, sung, and marched entirely by Christa Armantrout’s very talented and gifted fourth-grade class. Bravo!

3 Responses to “Quotable Tuesday-Cynthia Levinson”

  1. Meredith Davis

    Cynthia, thanks for giving me some ammunition for the next time I find myself blocked! I can’t wait to dive into We’ve Got a Job, the reviews have been amazing. As for researching my fictional characters so I can write with verisimilitude, it is a trip to find out more about them as I write their stories. It’s almost this dream state, where all the experiences I’ve had, books I’ve read, people I’ve encountered, conversations I’ve heard, all come together in the pot and get stirred up a bit. And the more life I live, the more characters I can make.

    Thanks for bringing us another quote, Lindsey, and a lot more to think about.

  2. Cynthia Levinson

    Meredith, I’m in awe of fiction writers. I would love to know how you enter that state where characters transmogrify from idea to hologram.