Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Craft 101

This morning I drove in to town before the sun was up to put my mother on the plane home to northern Florida.  She had made the trip, despite age and vision problems, to attend the BPL's Writer-in-Residence reception last Wednesday. The evening reception honored the wonderfully talented outgoing Writer-in-Residence, Sarah Winifred Searle, for her work on the graphic novel, Under The Apple Tree, a mystery set in small town Maine during World War II.  Sarah talked about her writing process, showed slides of her amazing artwork, and discussed her beloved Kenebunk and the local history which inspired her story. Sarah described her time as WIR as, "pretty much the best year of her life," and it was clear from her work that not a moment of time was wasted as she labored on her story and artwork. Sarah also held workshops at various branch libraries, which were a thrill for both teacher and students, and provided the WIR office with some pretty terrific artwork to boot!  To see some of Sarah's work, and find out what she is up to now, visit her website at .

The reception was also a lovely welcome for me, and chance to read a bit from the work in progress, Saved, surrounded by the grand murals of the Abbey Room and my family and friends (old and new). I was able to thank the Associates not only for the gifts they've given me, of time (every writer's dream), of space (my beautiful office beyond the swinging doors and this amazing building full of treasures), and of support (financial and spiritual). But also for the message the program sends to the wider world about the importance of children's literature and the work we do as writer's for children.

In true Oscar Night fashion, I had a few other thank you's as well.  Especially for my mentors, the wonderful writers, Liza Ketchum, and our dear, dear Ellen Levine, friend and advocate extraordinare, whom we just lost this past spring. The gifts they've given are too many to count.

 And there was one other to thank...

My first stories were from my mother.  She was a nursery school and kindegarted teacher for many years, first in her own school, in the the little town of Bridport, Vermont (where my first novel, The Curve of The World, is set), and then at the Brook School, in Concord, Mass, where I grew up. She made books come alive for all of us, but my favorite stories were those she created herself; "The Holly Stories," about a very tiny, elf-like girl, who is found in the woods and adopted by a large, noisy family not unlike our own.  Of course she gets into all kinds of trouble, falling into the cake batter and dodging cats, that sort of thing. But she has her own dollhouse to live in. And she saves herself and the day more than once. I was entranced by that Holly; the brave one who has many adventures and overcomes many obstacles, despite her poor impulse control and very diminutive size.

From that Holly, and the woman who created her, I learned that good stories (like life) are about overcoming obstacles, or at least coming face to face with them.

For that, my first craft lesson, I thank you, Mom.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bright Lights

On Sunday, the Associates of the BPL hosted their annual Literary Lights for Children event honoring four outstanding authors in the field of Children’s Literature. This year, the honorees were Gary Schmidt, Kevin Hawkes, Christopher Paolini, and Mitali Perkins. The Bates Reading Room, upstairs at the BPL was transformed into a resplendent dining room, not unlike  the great room at Hogwarts at Christmas, complete with dragons, and white table clothes, and mysteriously replenished delicacies. Gregory McGuire was the warm and welcoming master-of-ceremonies, and the authors were all those things you would expect from such talented writers and artists; witty, thoughtful, and inspiring, a delight to children and adults alike. Gary Schmidt took us by the hand, and walked us through his writing day, his very sensible Yorkies scrambling around his feet. Mitali Perkins reminded us that the readers job is just as important as the writer’s in creating story. Christopher Paolini showed us that what we are most passionate about usually makes the best stories (and, hey, writing is better than digging holes in the backyard anyhow). And Kevin Hawkes explained how and why the landscapes of his childhood are still his favorite places to visit for inspiration. (He also wowed us by sketching on the spot; a wizard-like face, with a bit of glare and a chicken for a hat.)
I don’t think these authors would mind me saying, however, that the real stars of the afternoon were the four presenters; the four Boston area school children chosen to present the authors with their awards. I was humbled, in awe, of these middle schoolers who stood up before nearly 400 people to talk about their favorite authors and their work. More than one wanted to become writers themselves, and all were passionate readers who talked about the value of story in their own real time, real life worlds. It was a magical afternoon and a reminder of why we writers spend our time and lives stumbling around in the world of story in first place; for the lantern raised over the top of the hill, for the fellow traveler well met, for the connection. 
 Bright lights indeed.