Given some of the more intense scenes and themes in Margo Lanagan’s dark, boundary-pushing, and extravagantly written Tender Morsels, it wasn’t outrageous to expect something a little scandalous in her acceptance speech at the 2009 Michael L. Printz Awards (administered by ALA Young Adult Services Association and sponsored by Booklist). Instead, Lanagan went for the reverse shocker and offered a more personal, and rather disarming account of how the book came to be.
She talks about how after her previous book, Black Juice, won a Printz Honor in 2006, publishers started pushing her for a “proper novel,” and the spotlight started to seem a bit over-bright. She opens up not only about her apprehension over writing a full-sized novel but also the struggle to find something worthy to write that novel about. While she claims to have taken the advice “If you have no particular story to tell, borrow one from someone else,” and found the seed for Tender Morsels in the intersection of a Brothers Grimm fairytale and a documentary on a Pyrenees bear festival, I doubt anyone in the room believed for a second that Margo Lanagan ever has no particular story to tell.
I had to pretend to myself that there was no pressure on, that the whole thing was a kind of wonderful, fun exploration, that anything went, and that anything, once written, was open for deletion, renegotiation, rewriting for time or changing the point of view. For any plot issue that presented itself I had to choose the solution that seemed at the time the most fun to pursue, the one that would multiply my choices rather than reign them in, the one that would allow the story to progress in the weirdest, wildest, and most interesting way.
Once the novel was written and unleashed upon the world, she found that winning her first Printz Honor, if anything, made the process nearly unbearable the second time around. How often do we hear award-winners trot out the old “Oh, I had no idea that the award was even being announced that day—then the phone rang. Quelle surprise!” Lanagan admitting that she was expectantly perched next to her phone and checking for live-blogging updates is rather refreshing. She proves that having high expectations for a book you know is good isn’t mutually exclusive from having a natural sense of humility and grace, and not least, a terrific sense of humor, when that book is recognized.
[The Printz Award speeches appear on Booklist Online with the permission of YALSA.]