Thursday, November 01, 2007

Gail Leaves The Office, Part III

Sorry, folks, but I'm not quite finished purging my file on Rabbit Hill. This post ought to do it.

In addition to the morning panel, I attended two afternoon programs conducted by individual authors.

Rick Riordan is a superstar in kidlit. He's not quite a phenomenon like You Know Who, just a superstar who has a few million books in print. I suspect he was the big draw for the kids in Saturday morning's audience. A number of them were at his presentation in the afternoon. In fact, it appeared that a lot of unregistered walk-ins showed up because one of the Festival administrators tried to thin out the crowd before the show got underway. Nonetheless, people ended up sitting on the floor and some of us stood for the whole thing.

Riordan's presentation was all questions and answers. What was particularly interesting about it was the amount of meaty information the questions generated. For instance, from his answers, you could definitely see how Riordan's life as a teacher has had an impact on his work. He also explained that he only writes about three hours a day. I was delighted to hear that because that's usually the case for me, too. Of course, the rest of the day, Riordan spends doing things like talking to his publisher and arranging speaking engagements while I spend the rest of my day surfing the net and checking my e-mail. But other than that, I can believe I work like a superstar.

Gail Carson Levine's afternoon session of questions and answers revealed that she spent ten years writing before she could get anything published. During that time, she took writing courses, which I believe she only recently stopped doing (Some of the people I had lunch with know her either through a class where they too were students.), and formed critique groups. I've run into a lot of people over the years who wanted to write, but prior to this past weekend I've only known a couple who were willing to work that hard in order to do so. I suspect a lot of them may not have even realized that they needed to be studying or critiquing in order to write and get published.

Levine is also a star in kidlit, yet she volunteers every summer teaching writing to kids in her town. I came away a bit chagrined because I'm not doing more right now.

Final thoughts on the whole thing. The press loves stories of early success, which, I think, gives many of us the impression that it should come early and fast. High school students are shepherded into writing conferences and encouraged to enter writing contests. Elementary students "publish" their work. People barely out of college teach workshops on how to get a novel published. Yet here are the kinds of things I was hearing Saturday from very, very highly regarded and popular writers:

"I wasn't a good student."

"I couldn't finish anything I wrote."

"I wanted to write, but I didn't really have anything to write about."

"I read below grade level."

"I submitted to everyone."

I'm thinking these writers' experiences say something about the value of perseverance.



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