Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Middle Grade Debate

No, I did not see the presidential candidates debate. Instead, I headed over to 57th Street Books, where Rebecca Stead and Blue Balliett talked books and writing. (They each have a really fancy website with terrific graphics that make noise when your cursor moves over the page. Maybe I will be fancy like them some day.) The bookstore was calling the night a "debate" between these two talented writers, but really, it was more like a chat with old friends. I love being in the basement of 57th Street Books. Everything feels at arm's reach, including visiting authors.
Blue commented about how both she and Rebecca had blogged about the same article in the New York Times. Great minds! It is a fantastic piece by Cal Newport called "Follow a Career Passion? Let It Follow You." Mr. Newport ends with, "Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world." His article resonated with both writers, as it probably would for anyone who has worked long and hard at something they love (or, as he points out, don't love). I see it as owning your choices, something that's important for a writer to do.
The discussion veered to choices Rebecca and Blue make as writers. Blue has learned to let go, that holding on to a story too tightly can strangle it. Rebecca uses memories and experiences and finds ways to use them in her writing. They both made a point of how special--even magical--a middle grade reader is. Kids at that age are very deep thinkers. Life has not yet gotten in the way and distracted them. They are not too busy yet. They think in abstractions. Everything is possible. These traits make for excellent readers! The evening was most fun because of all of the young people in the audience, unafraid to ask questions like "What is your favorite book that you've written?" or "If you were stuck on a desert island with only one of your books, which one would it be?"
The authors in the room weren't the only ones giving out tips. The kids also had some good ones. Like this: If you want to get out of doing chores, tell your parents you're in the middle of reading a really great book. I think I am going to steal that for myself the next time dishes in the kitchen sink are calling.

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