Today I am delighted to have children’s author and biographer Jane Sutcliffe as my guest. She’s here to celebrate the April release of STONE GIANT: MICHELANGELO’S DAVID AND HOW HE CAME TO BE (Charlesbridge). She and I also share a book birthday! Her next book, THE WHITE HOUSE IS BURNING: AUGUST 24, 1814 (Charlesbridge), and my GOODNIGHT, ARK both hit shelves on August 5th! We’ll have to blow out some virtual book birthday candles together! In the meantime, in honor of STONE GIANT, I’ve asked her to ponder the arts of sculpting and writing. Take it away, Jane!
Like a lot of nonfiction writers, I have a serious research habit. I never seem to be able to avoid getting pulled into my subject until I’m up to my virtual elbows in quotes and anecdotes. It’s not that I’m procrastinating. (Well, OK, maybe a little.) It’s my way of getting a handle on my subject before I start to write. There is a certain comfort in knowing that, if I’ve done my research well, my story is already there. It’s right there in all those details, just waiting to be revealed in the writing.
Michelangelo would have understood perfectly. When I researched and wrote my picture book Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be, I was struck by how similar sculpting is to creating a nonfiction story. The first time the artist saw the stone that would become his masterpiece, he saw more than a huge block of weatherworn marble. He saw David—his David, the David we have come to know so well. Michelangelo saw his task as simply carving away what was not David.
Well, maybe not simply. The David is about as perfect a sculpture as perfect gets, after all. Not all sculptors had Michelangelo’s vision or genius. Sometimes mistakes were made. Sometimes a bit too much of the stone was chipped off. When that happened some sculptors disguised their blunders by mixing a bit of stone dust with wax and then working the mixture into the void. Needless to say, this made for an inferior sculpture. A sculpture without any such imperfections was much more highly prized and could be advertised as being sine cere, literally “without wax.” It’s where we get the word “sincere.”
What a perfect word to describe the responsibility of a nonfiction writer. I am sort of a sculptor of words. My job is to recognize the story that’s waiting in the research and to carve away whatever doesn’t belong. And never, EVER, to add anything extra. I will never write anything as perfect as the David, but I will always write sincerely.
Jane Sutcliffe is the author of over two dozen nonfiction books for young readers. Her most recent picture book is Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be (Charlesbridge). Look for The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814, to be released by Charlesbridge this summer. Jane lives on a farm in Tolland, Connecticut, with her husband, two sons, three goats, and one very spoiled dog named Willy.
*Please note: I will be taking a blog vacation for the remainder of June, but will be back on July 7th with a brand new post! Happy writing, all!