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
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.