I’ve been trying to come up with a true story about my writing that won’t depress us all. I threw out the story about how one of my contests entries missed winning by one point because I’d submitted the wrong synopsis. And the time I finished a revision request for an editor in the same week she got laid off. And the time I…you get the picture.
I finally remembered something that happened when I attended the Highlight’s summer workshop in Chautauqua. Highlights throws a great workshop with fantastic classes, excellent teachers and really, really good food! But the best part is being surrounded by 100+ other writers all week long. I met a gang of wonderful author friends with whom I still correspond daily—yes, daily. There are eight of us in all and we each bring something unique to the table. Robin, the mama of the group, labeled us The Wad because we weren’t classy enough to be a clique. The group wouldn’t be the same without every one of us. I’m not sure what I bring to the table. Robin insists on calling me Major Moron, but I think she says in a very loving way.
Anyway, if you’ve ever attended this workshop, you know the counselors (well-known writers, illustrators and editors) are expected to mingle with the campers during meals and outside of class times. One sunny New York afternoon, we found ourselves munching barbecue chicken with Jerry Spinelli. (I was going to add some adjectives like ‘illustrious’ and ‘incomparable’ but the list got too long and really, doesn’t ‘Jerry Spinelli’ say it all?) Mr. Spinelli is a wonderful, funny genuinely friendly person. We chatted through the meal and one by one got up to get in the dessert line. Suddenly, our Wad-member K (who was a little star-struck by the literati ) found herself all alone, staring across the table at one of the best children’s writers of all time.
He smiled. She smiled.
She struggled for something to say. Her palms began to sweat.
But hey—they were both there to talk about children’s literature. And she’s a writer, right? Writers come up with stuff all the time. Clever stuff. Really ding-dang witty stuff.
So what did she say? “Mr. Spinelli, did you know there are more swimming pools per capita in Buffalo than anywhere else in the country?”
As it turns out, Mr. Spinelli did not know that fact. Nor did we, until we came back with our desserts to find Jerry long gone and KS with her head on the table. I would have been just as tongue-tied as KS (who we now call Pool Girl), but I learned over the course of the week that those big-name writers, yes even the Rock-God of Middle Grade humor, Jerry Spinelli, enjoy talking about writing.
After that, I made an effort to speak to the presenters at conferences, which is very hard for an introvert like me. Every single one of them, right down to Ellen Hopkins, seemed genuinely interested in our conversation. Some even passed along their email.
So next time you find yourself face-to-face with a big, famous writer, just say hi. Ask them about their writing. And if all else fails, be sure to have some home-town trivia on hand.