What I Learned at the Blueberry Festival

A mother was dragged by two little boys to our booth Saturday. She informed me that “Smelly” is all they ask for when it comes to bedtime stories. My first thought was, “why?”

I know that’s probably not the best confession to make on my own website. But when I think back to my own bedtime favorites, the greats — Narnia, Green Eggs and Ham, The Little Mermaid — come to mind. Incredible tales preserved by plenty of children before me, these were tried, true, comfortable friends that guided me into my love of storytelling. The thought that these are replaced, even for a night, by an upstart writer’s attempt to gently tease her lawyer father and introduce vocabulary to kids and adults alike seems strange at best. At worst, it feels wrong.

I believe this reaction comes from the idea that something has to belong to a tradition to have value, and that’s a concept that’s currently killing the writing industry (along with, y’know, TV). When a reader faces the overflowing market of children’s, YA, or even adult literature, new authors threaten to waste money and time with inexperienced play with tired tropes. Another YA fantasy novel about a princess who’s returning to her throne!! Oh, what whimsical creature is learning the power of friendship now? It’s safer to read what you already know than risk that horrible feeling of boredom and cheapness that overwhelms a reader when a story is told for the telling, rather than for the story.

So this is starting to sound like I’m against trying new things. To be honest, it’s a struggle. I like staying safe.

But if I stayed safe, I wouldn’t have read some of my favorite stories of all time.

If I refused to give new authors a chance, and instead only trusted the traditional voices “everyone” says you have to read, I would never have read The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Landover, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Challenger Deep, or every wonderful webcomic I’ve stumbled upon on various sleepless midnights and read until the end. I certainly never would have found my favorite short story author, (a hard title to bestow, but one he deserves) Ken Liu, and his phantasmagorical genre “silkpunk”. Even in the traditional voices, there are authors and hidden short stories that escape the everyday bookshelf. These deserve to be discovered.

Sometimes, it’s worth it to try something new. I’m relearning that from the kids who believe in Smelly Davis.

What books take you out of your comfort zone?

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