For some of you the name Dar Williams will strike up very distinct memories. On my part, it’s of listening to parts of her albums (The Honesty Room or Mortal City, most likely) on mix tapes in my 1989 Buick Century. Others of you will know her for her fun middle grade children’s book Amalee and its sequel. Well, when the chance came up to interview Ms. Williams for this Summer Book Blast Tour, you can bet your keister I was all over that. Here then is one of my college idols.
Fuse #8: If any of my readers are like me (late 20s, early 30s) they know you best for your songwriting. If my readers are kids, tweens, and teens, they may know you best for your Amalee books. The leap from songwriting to authorship is wide indeed, but your songs have often had a narrative bent. Why were you inclined to write for kids?
Dar Williams: Scholastic was taking the wealth of being "the Harry Potter people", as they described themselves, and putting it into a few risks. I was one of those risks. Since I had written narrative songs about all different ages of kids, they decided to take me out to lunch and offer to look at anything I wrote for any age of kid. They were very friendly, and there might have been margueritas at this lunch. I walked out of the restaurant confident that I could give this a try.
Fuse #8: Follow-up question then. Were you ever tempted to go the "easy way" and just settle for writing a picture book?
Dar Williams: Hey, what’s so easy about a picture book? The truth is, Madonna had just entered the world of picture books, and I didn’t want to get any of the Superstar backlash that she got. And also, I love stories. I love telling stories, and because mine are usually less than five minutes long (songs), I was really excited to get into this more complex world of many characters, many plot kinks, and more space for everyone to grow.
Fuse #8: I saw on your website that you do author visits. How have those gone for you? Do you generally find them a useful way to connect to your fans?
Dar Williams: I love, love, love the kids I visit. Usually, the teachers and librarians have brought me there, and the kids don’t know what to make of me. I use "The Babysitter’s Here" and "End of the Summer" to talk about how ideas have come to me, and how I’ve found myself developing them. That helps shift things from a lecturer-student relationship to a big room of writers in process. I also read for one or the other of the Amalee books and talk about how Scholastic asked me to lunch, how I almost said no, because I didn’t think I was "that kind of writer," and how a friend said, "If Scholastic asks you to lunch, you say YES." And I talk about how I have a muse who requires hot chocolate (or a mocha) and a nice view in order to start writing. Then kids ask questions, and then I sing a little more. Usually the ten year olds ask me if I was like Amalee, while the eleven year olds ask about the editor, and the twelve year olds ask if I have a platinum record. Every group has been wonderful.
Fuse #8: Will we be seeing a third Amalee book in the works at some point? I assume that your young fans have asked for it. Or are you working on something different?
Dar Williams: I just finished another album, and I’ll be touring with it over the summer. Also, Lights, Camera, Amalee comes out in paperback in June, so I’ll be doing some book signings as well. I’m working on a few things, but, alas, no Amalee III! I have this awful feeling that there would be more sex and drugs (even if it’s just in the form of pressure or discussion), and I’m a fraidy cat about that stuff. I’m afraid of angry parents!
Fuse #8: And finally a completely self-indulgent question. The song The Christians and the Pagans… my husband says it has an unreliable narrator. I say she’s *completely *reliable. Who’s right?
Dar Williams: I don’t know many truly unreliable narrators, right? It’s not used a lot. I say completely reliable, but biased. She takes the family, warts and all, and chooses to see this event as a sign of an expanding social frontier. The uncle is still a little phobic at the end, perhaps, and the aunt might be freaked out, but they’re not coming down on their niece, and ultimately they embrace her, as well as their confusion. What did he find unreliable, or is he just trying to flatter me…isn’t Faulkner a good "unreliable narrator" writer?
Fuse #8: Damn right he is. Faulkner, I mean.
Lights, Camera, Amalee is due out in paperback in bookstores this June.
And in case you’re curious about her music, here’s Ms. Williams performing the very song I mentioned:
Be sure to check out the other interviews today as well!
Elisha Cooper at Chasing Ray
Jennifer Bradbury at Bildungsroman
E. Lockhart at The YA YA YAs
Mary Hooper at Miss Erin
Charles R. Smith at Writing and Ruminating
Mary Pearson at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
And the daily round-up is done by Chasing Ray.