TRAVELOGUE #43: Atlanta 2016

FEED YOUR WISH

I harbor the secret wish (not so secret now) to be a children’s book writer and each time I get the chance to hear an author speak candidly on craft and process – like, say, S.E. Hinton just a few months ago – something inside of me gets fed.

And when author Mitali Perkins tells you that it took 11 years and 22 editor rejections to get to her second book, you need a good Hinton success story to restoreth your writerly soul.

And it’s not every day that you get to hear an author talk about how a book came to be, especially when the book is The Outsiders.  

“I’m not going to tell you how old I am but I will say it’s way too early to develop onset anything,” says Hinton.

“I’m one of the few women alive who gets hugged regularly by Rob Lowe.”

Oh Susan, you know how to make a crowd laugh.

“First write a good sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter,” she said. “It’s so much more than just sitting down and writing a good story,” she added.

Indeed. Yes, indeed.  

“At 15, I first wrote 40 pages single spaced.”

“In my junior year, I added details and flashbacks”

“In my junior year, I failed creative writing.”

            Just imagine being that teacher.

“In class I remember Frost’s line ‘nothing gold can stay’ and I thought hey, that sounds like what I’m trying to say so I stuck it in there. It floored me.”

           

            And it fed her, really. Actually, the teacher who failed her – who, no doubt, was criticized in interviews on her student’s success as a writer storyteller, was the one who brought Frost’s words into her mind space. That line that we love so much - stay gold Ponyboy stay gold - came from someplace from an 11th grade teacher somewhere. It was undeniably the grist to her story mill.

“My friends where boys, so maybe I have a male mind. Writing from the male perspective felt easy to me.”

“Girls bragged about what car their boyfriends had. I wanted my own car. My sister said submit the manuscript and maybe we can get a car.”

            This line, I loved:

“I wrote it because I wanted to read it.”

            This line surprised me:

“My mother never read it until it was published.”

            And this line made a roomful of teachers sigh a deep sigh:

“My student-teaching taught me that I couldn’t teach. This kid will flunk, this girl’s with the wrong guy. I would take it home with me. And worry.”

            And worry we do. Some of us. A lot of us, actually.

“Hard to imagine it now all these years later, but The Outsiders started out as a drugstore paperback on one of those spinners. Young adult literature as a genre did not exist back then.”

“I didn’t expect to like movie people. But I’m still in touch with all my outsider boys. The best thing about the movie was making friends.”

            My outsider boys. Let me tell you; there was a whole lotta warmth in those three little words.

“Discover your subject – not what you can write about but what you should.”

            What you should.

             

            To Christopher Meyers who spoke the next day, we should write books on what it means to be human. “What is the literacy of being human?” he asked a roomful of teachers and writers.

And what literacies expand the boundaries of our understanding of what it means to communicate? He asked. Then listed: computer literacy, financial literacy, political literacy, cultural literacy, civic literacy, sonic literacy, etc.

Sonic literacy?

As it happens, Myers has been travelling the world capturing – recording – what it sounds like when you’re selling knives in Brooklyn, fabric in Cairo, banana cakes in Saigon, shoes in Rwanda. Recording how people sell. Making a sound portrait of where people live. You could tell from his talk that this sound portrait is feeding his wish to write a book that truly connects people.

He talked about having a conversation with a 13-year-old refugee girl who travelled from Greece to Macedonia to Germany and drew all of the flags from countries she had travelled through. He asked, “What happens when we have no clue how millions of people live? When people are proud that they don’t know how others learn or don’t care. We continue the desperation if we don’t care. We don’t need a McGuffy reader on how to challenge civic literacy. We need to tell whole stories and to see how we overlap.”

See how we overlap.

Love to all,

Rebecca

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© 2017 S. Rebecca Leigh

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