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I had one of those days yesterday (they come on me from time to time) when I asked myself some serious questions about the writing life. Does it matter, this thing that I do? Would life be simpler, less angst-producing, less panic stricken, altogether more orderly and calm, if I stopped writing stories down in favor of living more fully? Have I, in the end, achieved what I set out to achieve—or did I ever actually have a plan? What should I have done that I didn't do? What is still possible? Why, after all these years, is writing so hard? I write young adult novels (among other things), but I don't write typical young adult novels, as the gorgeous (inside and out) Booking Mama so poignantly points out on her blog today. I care a lot about the sort of things that many readers pass right by. I once tried to write a book that shimmered with big-time commercial possibility. I failed. Miserably. For the life of me I do not know how such a thing gets done.
For a long time I sat in a quiet place thinking about these things. I'd hear the ping of email coming in from across the way, but I didn't rise to find the news. Finally, feeling no less good or smart for all my mental meanderings, I returned to my desk, opened my email, and was forcefully reminded of why I am still, after all these years, a writer. Because I cannot help myself, for one thing. And because my life would be bereft without the many kind and intelligent souls that writing ushers in.
Yesterday my email was full of saving graces. You, you graces, know who you are (Julie P., you are pure grace, too), and how grateful I am. Among the emailers was one James Lecesne—author, actor, activist, man of great heart—who wrote to say that he would be coming into town today to share his remarkable documentary film "After the Storm" at the offices of one forward-leaning law firm. Maybe we could get together beforehand, James said. Absolutely, I thought. Absolutely. And so today, that's where I'll be—downtown breaking bread with James, a man I'd have never had the privilege of meeting had it not been for books and book festivals and a shared interest in writing stories that are invested in language and spring from the heart.
Those of you who read this blog know that I was given the enormous gift, in the publishing of Nothing but Ghosts, of the extended, active friendship of bloggers who joined together to lift this book and me from one realm into another. Kindness such as this is revelatory. It is touchstone kindness. The memory one returns to in darker times.
This morning I discovered two bloggers who, inspired by My Friend Amy, bought and read Nothing but Ghosts and had deeply touching things to say about it. I am constantly afraid, with this blog, of seeming to be self-promotional. But I am equally afraid of not honoring the kindness of others.
And so: Today I honor Beth Fish and BookingMama for their extraordinary words—words that taught me something new about a book I'd written.
I also wish to extend a virtual hug to Em of Emsbookshelf today. We became blogging friends early in this journey, and she's now like a sister to me. She was among the first to read House of Dance in galley form, one of the first to read Nothing but Ghosts, and, this week, she became the second reader that I know of (outside my editor and copyeditor) to read The Heart is Not a Size, the Juarez novel due out next March. I hold my breath until I hear from Em. She says that I can exhale now.
Thank you all, and now, finally, a postscript. I wrote earlier today about the boy and the girl at the dance studio—how she anticipated an argument, acquiesced to a decision, and danced happy. I should have noted—it's essential—that their relationship seems to be of that wonderful reciprocated type. For later on, during the photo session, the young girl taught the young man some new steps. He watched and listened carefully. He respected what she had to say. He was grateful for it. And then he stepped from the sidelines, and together they danced. Thank you, Beth F., for urging a fuller telling of that story.
I put the finishing touches on the Penn syllabus yesterday, then took my readings to that leafy campus to have them readied for Blackboard. I am teaching, as I have noted here, about vulnerability—about the ways in which we open ourselves and our words to the world. I am teaching heart and I am teaching craft, and Edith Wharton's words, here, inspire: As to experience, intellectual and moral, the creative imagination can make a little go a long way, provided it remains long enough in the mind and is sufficiently brooded upon. One good heart-break will furnish the poet with many songs, and the novelist with a considerable number of novels. But they must have hearts that can break.
I came home to a gorgeous review of Undercover by the phenomenal reviewer/reader known to so many as Booking Mama. She made me think, with her words, about the journey that I have taken since I began to write young adult novels a few years ago—about where I have gone with my characters, and what I, in writing The Heart is Not a Size (due out next March), decided to return to. Thank you, Booking Mama, for that.
I left the house at 5 AM yesterday, and walked, in the breaking dark, toward the train. The carnival lights from the Devon Horse Show grounds were shining just for me.
I arrived early to the Javits Center and took a walk first within the silence, then among the onslaught of crowds. Soon I was at the Egmont USA booth, interviewing the wonderful Rob Guzman, part of the Egmont USA marketing team. (Later in the day I had the privilege of interviewing Egmont USA's Alison Weiss.)
In impromptu fashion (under Rob's raised eyebrow) I began signing books right there at the Egmont booth, flashing my spanking-new bookmarks whenever I could. It wasn't long before I was in the presence of Florinda, a beautiful book blogger and a member of the Armchair BEA team. We had a conversation, Florinda and I, and, thanks to Elizabeth Law, our dialogue was captured for all of time on film. Check the Armchair BEA blog later today to see what Florinda and I had to say.
Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA was my guide throughout the morning; in the rush of my signing, Florinda of The 3Rs took our photograph. Soon, were we joined by some beautiful people—librarians, teachers, readers, parents, and blogger friends. There I am with Kathy of BermudaOnion (I finally met her and she's as lovely as I knew she would be) and Display CommentsAdd a Comment