When I saw that Random House was hosting a live event with Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, a beautifully written YA crossover book, I knew I wanted to be there. I didn’t have a ticket, but I trusted in the writing gods and just assumed I’d get in somehow. Happily, I did and spent a magical afternoon listening to Markus talk about writing.
Since it was published about 8 years ago, The Book Thief has sold 8 million copies in 30 languages and become a beloved classic. No one is more surprised by this than Markus, who freely admitted: “I always thought this would be my least successful book. I thought it would sink like a stone. I imagined people telling their friends: ‘It’s set in Nazi Germany, it’s narrated by death, it’s 550 pages, nearly everyone dies — you’ll love it!’
But just as JK Rowling said she didn’t write with a reader in mind, so Markus found himself writing the story he needed and wanted to write without thinking about whether it would find an audience or not. At some point, he observed, you find yourself telling your reader, ‘I’m going to take you somewhere, you have to come with me.’
Weaving together a complex plot posed some thorny challenges, which is par for the course in writing says Markus: “Everyone thinks to be a writer you have to have a great imagination — you just have to have a lot of problems.”
And when you work hard at it, the muses shine on you: “One of the most important things about being a writer is knowing when you’ve had a lucky moment. The first rule of writing: don’t think at first. Often you hear the voice of doubt or ‘You’re useless.’ But sometimes you have a moment where you say, “I like that” and you have the good sense to leave it alone. When I thought, ‘I’m going to use death as the narrator,’ it excited me as a writer.”
Here’s a final powerful piece of advice from Markus: Write something that no one else could have written but you: “Make it your own.” Bravo, Markus. Write on!