Saturday, February 14th, better known as Valentine's Day to some, is also known as Kids-heart-Authors Day. All over New England, authors flocked to independent booksellers to show their love and support to these last safe harbors of informed discussion related to the children's book industry. I don't mean
to demean the efforts of the big chains, but my heart still clamors for those small places in our world where children and books can be celebrated for their own sake...and under one small roof. Because, after all, I am still a kid.
On Saturday, I went off to my favorite independent bookstore in
Fairfield, Connecticut: The Dinosaur's Paw, Jimmy Giff's store, where I am regularly delighted with the presence of my mentor,
the Newbury Honor Medalist, Patricia Reilly Giff. Pat's class is a treasured part of my writing life. I'm a regular there...and so are my
good friends, many of whom have become recently published! But none of that matters when we're there. What matters is Pat. Her soft voice, her gift of story, and her keen sense of the market are all that
matters. She's amazing! Just hearing the words I've written in that New York accent of hers is a treat. It gives me a real sense of possibility...of hope.
I spoke to Pat during the break this week about an idea she had for my work. It was, as always, just the right thing to do. I spent this week deconstructing and then reconstructing parts of the book and now I see the characters in new ways...as they relate to one another. It works!
But then Pat asked me, in a very quiet voice, "Why did you stop [writing]?" She'd never asked me that before. I've been with her for many years, but I went AWOL for about five years. I had no reason good enough...so I just told her I was a dope, that's all. She smiled then. "It'll probably make for good story in the long run. Nothing ever gets wasted, you know."
We had a good laugh about the stupid things that take us away from ourselves. But as always, she got me thinking. Why did I stop? Well, I didn't stop writing, I just stopped pushing toward the finish line. I went to my critique group monthly and I did go to SCBWI conferences; Whispering Pines, New Hampshire. I spent a few sessions with Anita Riggio and learned to add depth to my work. (I-heart-Anita too!) But I stopped working toward the outside realm...with a real audience in mind and publication. I stopped understanding the buzz of the business. And worst of all, I stopped this terrific connection with Pat. My husband's illness, raising my kids, managing my teaching career. Sure, I was busy. But none of that is a good enough excuse. You have to write toward the finish line, no matter what. And that's what I get from Pat. She's right. There's nothing more satisfying in the world than the writing itself.
So...I, the kid, heart all you authors out there--published or otherwise! I no longer have that need to distinguish, although I'm in awe of all those that do make it over the finish line. They do it one idea, one word, a string of sentences...and with a butt in the chair, every day and always.
And of course, I *heart* Patricia Reilly Giff, what a master she is!