Q & A with Marion Dane Bauer: RUNT

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Let’s welcome Marion Dane Bauer to Dog Reads today! RUNT is written for the very young reader. When I first started the MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, everyone there raved at how well written RUNT was, as well as what  a good story it was. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical because at that time I was mostly reading young adult novels. Well was I wrong to have even an ounce of doubt! RUNT pulled me in from the very first page and kept me there until the last period. It isn’t often that I reread a book multiple times, but I read RUNT many, many times and studied its plot structure. Wow! Did I learn a lot about plot in RUNT. It is so well structured that I use it in the writing courses I teach at UC Berkeley and Stanford. RUNT has been one of my favorite teachers and it’s no wonder. If you have ever heard Marion speak, she is logical in her thought process, as well as how she communicates her thinking. If you haven’t read this book for pleasure or with a critical eye, you are missing out.

imagesAOB: What is the title of your book? Pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group? Illustrator?

Runt, 2002, Clarion Books, fourth through sixth grades, no illustrations

AOB: Who is your key dog character and what kind of dog is he/she? Tell us a little more about him/her.

Runt, not a dog but a wolf pup.  He is the runt of the litter and named as such by his father.  He spends his early days trying, and mostly failing, to win his father’s approval.

images-3AOB: In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Runt is born, the last and smallest of his litter, in the forests of Minnesota.  He struggles to learn the ways of the wild alongside his brothers and sisters, but often makes mistakes, many of them serious. Feeling the displeasure of the other wolves, he withdraws more and more.  This is a story of the way he comes to find his place in the pack.

Starred reviews:

Publishers Weekly described the book as a “tightly plotted, swiftly paced tale”, while the School Library Journal called it “[b]eautifully written”. In a starred review, Booklist said it was a “compelling, poignant story” and that “Bauer precisely and vividly conveys the wolves’ wild world”.[


felix-salten-bambiAOB: What inspired you to write this story?

I remembered my own love of animal stories as a child, especially Felix Salten’s fine books such as Bambi.  I remember reading his books with such intensity that, when I got to the last page, I almost cried because there was no more.  And I wanted to recreate something of that experience for my readers.  So I decided to work as he does, putting the animals in their natural setting, having them behave as they would in that setting, but, for the sake of developing the story, giving them speech.  I think this choice was the right one for this story, but later, when I considered writing a sequel and returned to my wolf research to prepare myself, I grew so fascinated by–and respectful of–the complex ways wolves really communicate with one another without human speech that I found I didn’t want to return to writing the same way.  I also felt respectful of what I had created the first time and didn’t want to take the risk of following it with a lesser effort.

images-1AOB: What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

First, learning deeply enough about wolves to present them living their own lives in a way that would be valid.  Second, trying to figure out where to draw the line between an animal’s consciousness and that of my readers’.  At times I found myself bogged down trying to describe the world through the eyes of someone who had no vocabulary for it, so something such as a fence could require endless description.  Or should I simply give it its name?

AOB: What other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones? AOB: What are these stories about?

I have written many YA/MG books, but the only other that features a dog is my recent verse novel, Little Dog, Lost.  It’s about . . . well, the title says it.

AOB: What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?

Right now I am working on two novels.  I’m just finishing another verse novella, a young one called Patches.  (I’m looking for a better title.)  Patches is a calico cat who leaves home one bright autumn morning when she chases a leaf whirling in the wind and has adventures. The other is a Y/A, Blue-Eyed Wolf.  It is set in 1967-68 and deals with an 18-year-old boy who enlists and goes off to Vietnam, seen through the eyes of his 12-year-old sister, his 18-year-old girlfriend, and the mother of another boy who enlists with him. (Also through letters he writes home.)  Another important theme is the destruction of the wolves in northern Minnesota. (The reason I’ve ended up working on two novels at once is that I broke my arm falling on winter ice and had to turn to dictating through Dragon for a while.  I decided a verse novella was more conducive to dictation, so switched gears.)

BOOK-COVER-HIGH-RES-LarasGiftAOB: What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

Just that I was once Annemarie’s teacher at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program, and I am an admirer of her upcoming book, Lara’s Gift.

AOB: Thank you, Marion. That is very kind of you to say.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

There were so many it’s impossible to name one, but I’ve already mentioned the Felix Salten books.  I grew up in a very rural world, at the edge of a woods at the edge of a small town, and the natural world and any stories I could find about the natural world played an important part in my psyche.262262

AOB: Where can readers go to find out more information about you and/or your books?

I have a website and can be found on Facebook.  My blog, Just Thinking, comes out every Tuesday.

Thank you so much for joining us today at Dog Reads today, Marion Dane Bauer. You are beloved by many. I’m proud to be among this community and one of your biggest fans. Thank you for all that you taught me and for working so closely with me on my critical thesis. I wish you continued success in all that you do, as well as good health.

Big, big hugs to you, Marion.

 

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