Author Orson Scott Card speaks to more than 400 at Ferguson Center

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Author Orson Scott Card says that he doesn’t write for teens or children, but that he writes for people.

Card, the best-selling author of “Ender’s Game” and many other works, explained the difference at an author talk and book-signing Oct. 28 at Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts.

Card, a North Carolina resident, writes science fiction, contemporary fantasy, biblical novels, poetry, plays and scripts. He also teaches classes and workshops and directs plays. His author talk and book-signing was presented free to the public by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium with support from various local organizations.

Card said that one of the first children’s books he encountered was “dreadful,” because the author was talking down to children, using her “sweetest, most special voice.”

“Do you know what children think when you talk to them like that?” Card asked the audience of almost 500. “They think you’re an idiot -- And they think that you think they’re an idiot.”

Card explained that before Victorian times, there was no specialized children’s literature, only literature in general. And what he was engrossed by as a child – works such as “Bambi,” “Treasure Island,” “Little Men,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Prince and the Pauper” – were not written for children, but became known as children’s literature much later.

“I resented being treated like I was darling,” Card said of his childhood, spent in California, Arizona and Utah. “I was darling … but that stopped when I was 4. … Children’s lives are full of pain, tragedy and drama,” he said. “Just like yours.”

Card explained that children aren’t jaded, and they are forgiving of bad writing because they read slowly and don’t realize that the story isn’t progressing or that the writing doesn’t have cadence. But, Card said, they have no patience for twaddle that stops the story from unfolding.

He said that the only change that makes his upcoming “Pathfinder” a children’s book is that he removed the twaddle.

Card’s humorous and sometimes cutting descriptions of some well-known books met with applause from the audience, including pointing out the similarities between “Harry Potter” and “Ender’s Game.”

 “I enjoyed the first book, because obviously, she had read ‘Ender’s Game’,” Card said of the author J.K. Rowling. “Through the stories, you can see the evolution of her as a writer. Her entire career is expressed.”

He said that the first Potter books were written for children, progressed to epics and later suffered from a lack of editing. He said the fifth book in the “Harry Potter” series, “Order of the Phoenix,” was the best, and described reading the book in the airport while traveling home from his oldest child’s wedding.  “Let’s keep our priorities straight, people,” he joked.

Card said that it makes him uneasy that “Ender’s Game” is sometimes required reading in classrooms because that puts it in the same category with “The Scarlet Letter.”

“Pain is required of anyone who requires anyone to read Nathaniel Hawthorne,” Card said, adding jokingly that it should be given to terminal cancer patients, so they are happy to go.

He said that nonfiction teaches the facts of history but not the why, which is learned by reading fiction.

“Children are learning why people do the things they do,” he said. “It gives them a picture of their world. Children are desperate to get stories that will explain the behavior of other people.”

Card explained that science fiction is a natural fit for adolescents because it allows them to try on new faces and explore other worlds. He advised parents to not worry about kids who read only science fiction or only one author’s work.

“Don’t worry if you think they should be reading something else, something better,” he said. “I want to ask you as nicely as I can -- shut up!”

Answering questions from the audience, Card said that an “Ender’s Game” movie is getting closer, that he doesn’t have a favorite book – “Author’s opinions of their own work are absurd. It only matters what you think” – and that he enjoys listening to books on his iPod nano.

“I’d rather you listen to my books than read them,” he said, explaining that his daughter narrates some.

Card said that he dislikes his character’s words and beliefs being taken as his own, but that he isn’t concerned with being politically correct.

“My characters have their own opinions,” he said. “They do things that I disapprove of, but I let them have their lives and beliefs.”

He said that doesn’t reread or “fix” his older works, so he “mercilessly exploits fans” by asking them to research for him what he doesn’t recall about earlier books. “And if anyone is really bothered by the inconsistencies,” he said, “do remember that I did make it all up.”

Advising the audience to jot these down, he recommended other science fiction authors, including Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Ken Scholes and Neal Shusterman. Committed to signing every fan’s book, Card stayed for more than three hours after the event.

One of the fans in the never-ending book-signing line was Melissa Sale of Newport News.

“I’m a writer, so I enjoy hearing other writers,” she said. “We’ve been to all of the Consortium’s author events, and they’ve all been very enjoyable. You learn a lot, and it’s been very entertaining.”

Card was the fourth major author to be presented free to the public by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium, which consists of the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College.

Formed in 2006 to promote discussion about books and to bring together all types of libraries on the Virginia Peninsula, the Consortium presented Amy Tan in 2007, Walter Mosley in 2008 and David Baldacci in 2009.

For more information about the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium and its other author events, please visit the Consortium’s website, http://www.thevplc.org/ tosign up for the emailed newsletter,or call the administrative offices at 757-926-1350.

The Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium brings together the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College, collectively serving all residents of the Virginia Peninsula. Programs presented by the Consortium are free and open to the public. For more information on Consortium programs, please call 757-926-1350 or visit http://www.thevplc.org/.