In the box, out of the box

There’s nothing more fun and exciting than a brand new cardboard box to play in– just ask my kids, they’ll tell you. The day their father built them a house from the big old box the new washing machine arrived in, made for some pretty fun times in the Best household. Of course it took up a lot of space in the house but I knew it was temporary. I could put up with a little inconvenience for the sake of my kid’s pleasure, (Okay, I’ll be honest here)  that and the fact that it kept them out of my hair for hours on end.

Over the years the kids in my family have played in Carnation milk boxes, banana boxes, the aforementioned washing machine box, and in general any box large enough for a toddler to sit in without breaking the sides. Here’s a Cornfake box Guppy brought home form the store for Miss Charlotte.  It was a real hit.  She even took her “wittle house” home and how has it set up in her own living room. I’m telling you, these things are great. You could say I come from a long line of cardboard box enthusiasts. They’re fun, their free, their even biodegradable. What’s not to love?

Now as much as the kids in the family love to play in boxes, and no doubt I was one of them back in the day, today I’m not so enthusiastic about boxes.

Today, when I got to thinking about that washing machine box, I started to think how ironic it is that, while kids love to play in boxes, most adults will do just about anything to stay out of the box. Being placed in a box is constricting, and leaves little or no room to move. Being in the box finds us labelled as this or that, people begin to predict our movements, there is nothing left for the imagination.

Last year when my book was short-listed for the Bilson Award the news came over facebook and twitter. Some of the tweets referred to me as kidlit author @ laura_a_best. I gotta say it sounded a bit weird. Felt a bit like I’d been suddenly placed inside a box and right away I knew I wasn’t happy there. Before that tweet I’d considered myself a writer, one who happen to have written a young adult novel. That day I felt the walls come up around me. I’d been labelled a “kidlit author.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re a writer and you’re happy calling yourself a kidlit writer, children’s writer or any other classification of writer, without feeling any restriction, that’s perfectly fine. But what if, like me, you do not write exclusively for kids, would you mind be labelled then? If I only wrote children’s stories I can’t say I’d mind. But I also write for adults.

I’m sure some of you are thinking what difference does it even make, you’ve been published? Stop whining. You’re probably also thinking that each author needs to have their own brand. I’ve had some time now to think about all this. While I still do not personally like the term “kidlit author,” I’m slowly coming to terms with who I am as a writer. Lately, I refer to myself as a YA writer, and that feels okay. Most of the projects I’m working on at the moment are in the genre. Just so you know, I don’t mind being in the box from time to time, but I reserve the right to come out and look around whenever I want.

Sorry, there are no photos of me in the Cornflake box for you to feast your eyes upon.. Maybe next time Miss Charlotte is home.

How do you feel about being labelled? Do you think it is a good thing or do you find it restricting?

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  2. Good question, Laura. I’m with you, boxes are tight and claustrophobic. When I self-published my first novel, I was labelled as a self-published author. It sounded dirty enough though I felt good about my book. Now I’m being labelled as a Metis author. I guess I’ll stick with the idea that being published is nice and they can call me whatever they like as long as it isn’t late for dinner.

    • It seems as though many people do like to label others and put us in categories. In some regards it probably is a good thing as long as we don’t allow ourselves to think only in those terms. Maybe the labeling can be only as restricting as we let it be.

  3. Kids and boxes just go together, don’t they? Simple enjoyment.

    • My dad always said that people could save lots of money at Christmas time when the kids were small by giving them the box the toy came in rather than the toy itself. I tend to agree.

  4. Labels have always bothered me, but I try not to let them define me or my writing. I go where my muse leads and maybe a few readers will follow, too. :-)

    This post reminds me of great childhood memory . . . my grandparents saved a large refrigerator box that my sister and I turned into a fort. We played with it for months and our imaginations went wild. :-)

    • I agree C.B. we should go where our muse leads and not let ourselves be defined by others..

      Glad this post brought back some fond memories for you. :)

  5. Sweet photos! I think the favourite box in our household was from a refrigerator. What fun the kids had with it. I think it ended up in later years as a Halloween coffin.

    I’m not in the position to be labelled yet, although when people ask what I write it’s already difficult to pin it down to a quick answer. It might be easier working with an agent to develop a brand, but so far I’ve said, “contemporary novels”, and only elaborate if there’s a need. The one YA story I submitted was published under a pseudonym, and perhaps that’s an option if you plan to be published in widely diverse genres???

    • Glad you enjoyed the photos, Carol. It was fun to see how much Miss Charlotte enjoyed the box.

      Many people do use a pseudonym, I’ve never considered it. Have you? Right now, I’m concentrating on writing for young people, not necessarily because I aspire only to write for kids but because, as C.B. mentioned, this is where my muse seems to be leading me. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever feel the urge to write another short story. It’ll be interesting to see.

  6. Yes Carol, I remember that post now! Quite clever if I might say so. :)

  7. I played in a box once when I was a kid. It was from a spankin’ new water heater. Water heaters have fiberglass insulation. I itched for days. Helped to make me the man I am today – grumpy.

    As for being labeled, well …. can’t get past grumpy. For writing – who knows? Can’t argue with YA author since that’s what I do, though grumpy YA Author has a truer ring to it.

    I see Miss Charlotte’s got the lap top crankin’ already. Just what we need, more competition. Bah!

    Glad you enjoyed your visit.

    • Hi Dave, I read your comments 5:30 in the morning and didn’t have time to respond. Okay, so you made me giggle. :) Thanks. A great way to start the day.

      That laptop of Miss Charlotte’s is something. Makes me think that she probably is getting just as much enjoyment out of her “wittle house” as she does that, and the “wittle house” didn’t cost a dime.. LOL.

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