Liesl Shurtliff

Acceptance Speech

Sometimes my husband and I like to play the "Would You Rather" game. Would you rather have a roach infestation or termites? Would you rather a Caribbean cruise or a trip to Paris?

Shortly before Rump was published, my husband posed this question: "Would you rather be a bestseller, or receive awards and critical acclaim?" I thought about it for a moment, and then said, "I want it all! Now go do the dishes, I have another book to write."

We writers work really hard for many months, often years, to write and publish our books. So much work would usually indicate that we hope for some kind of return on our investment, but what kind of investment are we making and what kind of return are we really hoping to receive?

I’ll return to that question a little later. First, I want to tell you a little bit about myself and how I came to write Rump. Two questions I am often asked: "Where do your ideas come from?" and "What is your process like?" To the first, I usually reply the same way 10-year-olds respond when I ask them where their ideas come from: My brain, of course.

To the second I reply, do you want to know how your sausage is made? This is a hint that my process is quite haphazard and frankly, a bloody mess. But that’s okay, because really, no one cares how the sausage is made. They just want it to taste good.

I don’t outline and I have no method or order for what scenes I write first or how I put it on the page. I work intuitively. I write and delete and rewrite, revise and start again, until I feel I have the characters and story that I believe were inside me all along. It’s a great excavation, and after all is said and done I can make some pretty good connections between my story and my own life.

One of the prominent themes in Rump is names and the influence they have in our lives. When I was born I was supposed to be named Megan, but as it happened, on the same day in the same hospital were born three other girls, all named Megan. My parents decided that three Megans was enough for one day and chose a very different name for me: Liesl. To this day I wonder if I had been named Megan, would I be the same person I am today? Would I have the same personality? Would the same things have happened to me? I’m not certain, but my instincts tell me that things would have been somewhat different for me, if only because I never would have been called Liesl the weasel, or Liesl Diesel. I have always had a fascination with names, and I believe it was my own name that led me to want to write a story set in a world where names have enormous power over one’s destiny.

As a child, I loved adventure and fantasy. I spent my summers on mountains and beaches, fishing, hiking, and collecting seashells, sand dollars, and starfish. It felt very magical, however for all my whimsy and imagination, I struggled to read as a child. This worried everyone. My teachers assigned extra reading assignments. I was given a private tutor at school, but I continued to struggle all through second grade. Part of this was likely due to my being among the youngest in the class, as well as the fact that I moved four times between kindergarten and first grade. Aside from that, I didn’t always connect with the material teachers wanted me to read. Much of it was, I’m sorry to say, quite boring, so I didn’t really see the point. Why should I put forth so much effort to read something I didn’t see worth knowing at all?

It wasn’t until 3rd grade that I discovered The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I found it in my basement, probably left by one of my older siblings. I devoured this book. I read it over and over. I wanted to run away and live on my own in the woods in a boxcar. I longed to go to the junkyard and find my own dishes and other treasures. It was this book that showed me the worth of a good story. It could transport you to another world. It could reach inside of you and help you experience things you would never experience otherwise.

Soon I discovered there were other books I could love equally as well. My fourth grade teacher read aloud Matilda by Roald Dahl. I can still hear her voice reading this book. From this I learned the power of listening to stories, not just reading them, and experiencing a book as a group.

At the library I discovered Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. I loved this book so much I checked it out from the library every chance I got. I was disappointed if it was not there. It was this experience that showed me that libraries are rooms full of treasures to be hunted and hoarded, and for every child there is a book meant for them.

I recently read The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Early in the story, the main character, Sage, is being questioned about his education and his ability to read. He states, "Give me a book worth reading and I’ll make my way through it."

So to my original question of my writing goals and hopes for "return on investment", my goal has always been to write a book worth reading and my only hope, that others, especially kids, would see my story as a book worth reading. Thank you for seeing Rump as such a book. Thank you for the work you do to find worthy books for children, book they will read and feel are for them.