I felt like I’d somehow stepped into an alternate universe. From my seat on the bleachers I saw kids reading. They were not staring into the blue, hypnotizing light of ipad screens or iphones – they were real boys and girls with their noses in real books, oblivious to the whirl of activity happening around them. Whole families showed up and spread blankets on the gym floor, they read together while waiting, up to an hour, for the honored guest. A long line of shoppers anxious to get the most recent release chatted with one another. Where was I?
This is not the world I live in. In my world getting kids hooked on literature is an epic struggle, and getting parents to commit to the importance of carving out reading time in their homes is just as daunting.
Just recently I visited small town, with a big library/community center, to see children’s author, Kate DiCamillo . North Liberty, Iowa, population 18, 813, was able to host two- time Newbery Medalist and author of eight juvenile novels, two early reader chapter book series, two picture book stories and several other short stories (typically printed in children’s magazines.)
She’s accomplished to say the least. How this small town snagged her, I don’t know. But since she was speaking a mere 50 minute drive from my home, I of course, went; to hear a master of the writing craft speak is an opportunity that should not be missed!
Unassuming and small in stature, she appeared comfortable in a pair of jeans, black long-sleeve tee-shirt and a plaid blouse. The only thing new were her shiny black leather clogs. She was also very comfortable speaking to the crowd of about 600 people. After a short talk she asked a girl in the front row if she could borrow her Edward Tulane, which happened to belong to the young reader’s mom when she was a girl!
Ms. DiCamillo shared that she couldn’t read her favorite part, which is the end of the book, she’d tried that before and it went bad because she started crying. So KDC (Kate DiCamillo) started at the beginning and introduced us to her character, Edward, as well as, for me, her definitive writing style.
Then she opened the floor to questions. For forty minutes she walked among the crowd answering questions from her fans.
Here’s the gist:
On coming up with ideas: “I eavesdrop and people watch. The city bus is a great place to get ideas. I always carry a notebook with me to write down ideas and interesting words.” She was on a plane when the pig face and name for Mercy Watson series came to her. A friend who “went on and on” about the virtues of buttered toast gave her the idea that Mercy Watson, the pig also loved buttered toast. It’s that one idea that helped bring Mercy Watson to life.
On her favorite book she’s written: “I love all my books for different reasons. They’re all flawed, but I love them.” Because of Winn Dixie is a favorite because it’s her first novel and it takes place in her home state of Florida, which allowed her to go back home (in her mind from Minneapolis) for a while. She loves The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane because that book wrote itself, “..and that’s never happened again.”
On her writing regime: “It’s the first thing I do in the morning before I can talk myself out of it. Dorothy Parker once said, ‘ I hate writing but I love having written.’ I feel the same way. Also life makes more sense when I write.” KDC also shared that when she sits in her writing room, “I think: I don’t know what’s going on here…”
On the revision process. “I know the first draft is really bad. But the second draft is a little better. I write around five drafts before I let others read it. Then after the 6th or 7th draft, I let my editor see it. And she sends about ten pages of notes back. And I’m mad at her for that. And I think if she thinks writing a book is so easy then she should do it. But then I go through all of it and make my story much better because of my editor’s insights.”
What I loved about the woman, this author, is that she was so real about the struggles and triumphs of writing and publishing a book. She was still somewhat amazed that it’s all happened. I was buoyed by the fact that, even after all of her success, she still had doubts, fought procrastination, had to do rewrites and trust others to see the big picture (flaws and all) of her story.
And her love for literature was contagious! People cheered and applauded as she talked. Way cool alternate universe
And, on a separate note, since I’ve switched from blogging weekly to monthly, so that I would have more time for my other writing, I thought I should share my progress with you. It will be entitled “Writing Update:” (Creative, huh?)
Last month my word count was around 7,000 words. A friend (a numbers guy, and engineer) asked me what percentage of that was completed book. I told him a full novel averaged about 70,000 words. “So your 10% done, huh?,” concluded my friend. Egad! That was a real wake up call. So. Far. To. Go! I am not a person that thinks in numbers. It’s annoying. However, as of this writing, I am at 9,411 words. Not as far as I’d like to be, but it is progress.
Until next time,
Be Good to Yourself.