Paul Acampora (acampora) wrote,
Paul Acampora

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a date with Kate DiCamillo!

I have a date with Kate DiCamillo! Okay, not that kind of date. Besides the fact that I’m happily married and my son will be joining me, Kate doesn’t even know I’m going to be there. I’m still excited though. She’s one of my favorite writers.


I’ve always been intrigued with writers. Even as a kid, I wondered what sort of mental case was behind Green Eggs & Ham. That said, I never felt like actually meeting these people. Just reading their stories was enough. But that all changed when I decided to try and write stories of my own.


I wanted to hear these writer people speak. I wanted to know where their ideas come from. I wanted to ask about their word choices, work habits, reading preferences, and personal philosophies. Sometimes, I just wondered what combination of heart/mind/soul/skill would be required to create this stuff. I wanted to know so I could figure out how to do it myself.


And so, during the past few years, I’ve attended dozens of author events. I read biographies and autobiographies (dead writers are no less interesting to me than live ones). I check out newspaper interview, podcasts and blogs. I could probably put together Newbury/Caldecott collector cards featuring award winners and honorees from the last several decades.


For me, taking a hard look at the people who create books for children has been, in general, a very positive thing. It has made a difference in the ways that I approach my work. Not only that, it’s fun. And these are mostly pretty nice people too. I mean what could be better than listening to Patricia Reilly Giff? In an accent that sounds like the Brooklyn Dodger’s New York City, she tells a tale of standing on the step of her great-grandmother’s tiny house in Ireland, surrounded by wide green fields, and promising the sky that she’d tell her family’s history. Then she goes and writes Nory Ryan’s Song and Maggie’s Door.  Or how about Richard Peck in his own grown-up Huck Finn voice exhorting writers to help children remember a past that they cannot reach without the help of great fiction. And Peck does it himself again, and again and again and again and again. With humor and insight and empathy and excitement. Wow. When I hear these authors speak – in person, on tape, in writing – I rush to my notebook and write about teen-age boys who build their own airplanes, Houpt-Rockwell automobiles, a game called wicket, and then I write down as many stories as I can remember that were told to me when I was young. Or how about watching Joyce Carol Oates argue with Adam Rapp and Christopher Paul Curtis about whether or not kids books should have a happy ending? Ms. Oates – who keeps this Henry James quote above her desk:  "We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."  – feels strongly that if she’s writing for kids, she needs to end on a hopeful, happy note. Christopher Paul Curtis and (even more so) Adam Rapp… not so much. They made me think hard about what I want for my own characters, for my own readers, for my own endings, and even for my own kids.


I will admit that I have never heard a writer deliver any heart-stopping, life-changing instruction regarding the actual act of writing. (Though I do love how Jack Gantos describes his book writing style: “I write the juicy stuff first.”) Writing rules and advice all sort of boil down to: read a lot, write a lot, join the SCBWI, submit your best work to the right editor, break rules when necessary.


More than anything, when I take a peak behind the curtain to see and hear the people who create books for children (and I include editors, agents, booksellers, and kids librarians on that list), I see passion, commitment, a sense of both wonder and vocation, and an oddly refreshing relationship with reality (maybe that’s a requirement for creating fiction). In any case, it’s not what I expected from folks whose work might begin with “Once upon a time” and end with a nice hot supper.


I’ll post a note next week about my Sunday afternoon with Kate... UPDATE: and here it is.

Tags: writers, writing

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