When Sharon Creech and her editor, Joanna Cotler, talk about how they began to work—and continue to work—together, they both say that it all boils down to trust. Sharon needed to know she could trust Joanna with her words; Joanna needed to learn how Sharon liked to work so that she could earn Sharon’s trust.
The parallel struck me that this is just what children face at the beginning of each school year. Can I trust my teacher to look at my work and see what I’m trying to do beneath that? If I make this new friend, can I trust him or her? Young people may not express it in quite that way, but that’s what is happening—we know that as adults. It takes so much courage to begin to trust. Georgia O’Keefe, whose glorious paintings often feature one flower that dominates an entire canvas, said, “To see a flower takes time./ To make a friend takes time.” Friendship, and trust itself, means seeing someone fully, listening closely, observing carefully.
This is the theme of The Unfinished Angel, Sharon Creech’s novel published this month. Angel observes the little town of Ticino so carefully and over so many hundreds of years that Angel knows its “peoples” and all of the small events that have shaped each one. So when young Zola comes along and notices a group of orphaned children taking refuge in a nearby shed, Angel has trouble believing it. How did Angel miss that turn of events? And who would let a group of children fend for themselves? This becomes the turning point in Angel and Zola’s relationship, and also in their growth as individual beings (one otherworldly, one human). Through that experience of trying to protect the children together, Angel and Zola begin to trust each other.
In this video of a conversation between Sharon Creech and Joanna Cotler, they talk about how they developed that trust, as writer and editor, and they use the example of Love that Dog. But when they move on to talk about its companion, Hate that Cat, they demonstrate what can grow out of that kind of trust--the ability to delve into deep questions together. Joanna asked, of Jack (the hero) but ultimately of Sharon as author, “Why do you write?” Often it’s not about giving someone an answer, it’s about asking the right question and then companionably standing by while she plumbs the depths to find the answers for herself.