SELECTIONS FROM BETH NIXON WEAVER’S LIBRARY
Rooster, Winslow Press, 2001.
Moonmilk Cave, TBA.
When Beth Nixon Weaver was in ninth grade, two English assignments changed her life. First, she read the play, Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, and never laughed so hard in her life. Then, she read The Scarlet Ibis by William Hurst and cried when Doodle died because his brother pushed him to become somebody he wasn’t meant to be. Weaver says, “I learned what a profound influence a good story can have on your life. Learning about Doodle gave me the courage to become who I was meant to be in spite of overwhelming peer pressure to be like everybody else. . .The seeds of Roosterwere born that day.” Weaver strives to infuse the painful scenes in Rooster (Winslow Press, 2001) with laughter, “not to trivialize,” she says, “but to give hope. The harder we laugh, the harder we can cry. The more we cry, the more we are capable of living fully.”
Weaver mined other elements of her personal life for Rooster, a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and a Booklist Top Ten First Children’s Novel. The story is set in Central Florida during the 1960’s—the setting of Weaver’s childhood. She remembers the hot, humid summers without air conditioning, and days when she was more comfortable outside than inside. “There were bamboo thickets, woods with swinging vines, huge flowers. . .cool lakes and oranges you could eat right off the trees.” Weaver provides Kady in Rooster with some of these same experiences, acquainting readers with the Florida of her youth.
Childhood memories also supplied the inspiration for Weaver’s upcoming novel,Moonmilk Cave. Weaver’s grandfather lived near Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee and told tales of butterfly fairies and dogs who could talk. According to Weaver, “these stories set my imagination on fire. I couldn’t stop chasing butterflies, looking for fairies between their wings.” Moonmilk Cave is about Rhodora, a Cave Trog, who lives in a cave so deep in the earth, she’s never seen the sun. When she finds out her mother was a fairy, she journeys to the surface to find her place in the world.
Weaver looks forward to the day when she will not only write a book, but illustrate it as well. Watercolors are her chosen medium and her living room walls are her canvas. Over the last three years, Weaver has painted a rainforest on one wall, complete with sloths, red howler monkeys, parrots, exotic flowers, and banana trees. Painted butterflies fly among the vines with huge leaves that curl around the other three walls of her living room. “I don’t have any wild animals I don’t like. No snakes. No crocodiles. I have a dreamy rainforest.”
According to Weaver, finding ideas to write about is easy. She has trained herself to tune into details that others ignore. She listens carefully to sounds. She examines the little incongruities of people, those tiny, telling details that give her a glimpse into someone’s character, like whether a woman’s shoes and handbag match. Weaver strives to rid her writing of clichés, which allows her to see everything in a new light. But in order for Weaver to distill her ideas to their essence and put them together into a story, she needs time for them to sit and take shape. While she’s waiting, she might peer into her kaleidoscope marveling at the variety of shapes and colors made with only a few rocks. Or she might put on her Walkman and fast-walk, trying to work out some of the kinks in a story. According to Weaver, the kaleidoscope and the music reorder her thoughts. “I free-associate for awhile until a new pattern of ideas finally pushes forth.”
Much of what Weaver writes never makes it into her books. She’s written pages and pages of dialogue between her characters, only some of which are published. “I get to know my characters best by dialogue. . .I learn about them by writing and writing and writing until they become clear, then I can take off with them.”
Weaver currently lives in Orlando with her family. Before writing for children, she worked in Los Angeles for the film industry in production jobs and as a bit actress. High school English teacher, swim instructor, and journalist are among her other accomplishments.
Weaver’s writing philosophy can be summed up simply: “It’s not the great idea that matters, it’s the great understanding of children that matters.” For would-be children’s writers, she advises getting to know children, to respect them and to love and appreciate who they are.