Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yes, I did

This weekend in L.A., I had to take several slow breaths before walking over to Leonard Marcus. That doesn't happen to me much.

My life (of constant moving) has forced me to talk to people I don't know all the time. But this was different. I was meeting someone who had changed my life. Someone who had inspired me---in the more powerful archaic meaning of inspire which is: to breathe life into.

At a low point in my life, I had given up on writing. I had been rejected (in rapid succession) from an MFA in Poetry program and by a national first novel contest. I had spent many months studying career books, taking quizzes and journaling, trying to come up with some other way of navigating this life other than writing. My manuscript had gone out after months in the drawer...and been rejected.

But...I owned a copy of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, written by Leonard Marcus. I had devoured it with intense longing, as if I were eavesdropping on love affairs instead of business letters. The correspondence between this legendary editor and her many writers was in the language of passionate devotion, to words and books and young readers. I could swear up and down that I might succeed at another career, but those letters made it achingly clear what I would be giving up if I did.

So when I saw the contest announcement for the first Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest at HarperCollins, I entered my not-perfect, not-even-quite-a-novel manuscript. As I wrote in my journal that day, I had to "keep hope alive."

When I won the contest, I didn't write in my journal for several days. I couldn't even admit to myself that my dream had come true. But it did. That manuscript became my first book, Letters From Rapunzel. And it would not have if Leonard Marcus hadn't breathed life back into me months before and shown me, on the page, what I truly wanted and needed.

So, I took those breaths and walked over and told him so. Because how many times in your life do you ever get to tell a person such a thing?

P.S. Jules and Eisha: thank you for challenging me to do brave things.


  1. wow! I feel that way about Jerry Spinelli. His book, Maniac Magee, helped me navigate a very challenging racial situation when I was teaching the 8th grade. I always felt that it was a brilliant, healing piece of fiction that addresses difficult issues in such a beautiful way. I felt, and still feel, if I could somehow put something in writing that would even approach the helpful nature of MM, it would make my life worthwhile, you know? Well, the first time I met him was at a conference in NY. I geared myself up and approached him. As soon as I introduced myself, I started BAWLING. I couldn't even talk. I just boo hooed and boo hooed. I finally had to excuse myself without saying a word (although he did sign a book for me). Then I was in Chautauqua with him and his wife for a week. They are so awesome. I can't even tell you. I even sat with them at dinner the first night. Well, in one of my application essays I wrote about my admiration for Jerry Spinelli and told the story of the merging of schools in Durham, the racial unrest in the city, etc. and what a healing balm Maniac Magee was. My mentor said, "You must tell him. You must." So even though I had casual conversations with him several times a day, I could never go there. So the last night, I screwed up my nerve, marched across the room, and told him I wanted to tell him a story. Then, guess what, I began to bawl again. I couldn't stop. So I just dug the essay out of my bag, tore it out of the packet, handed it to him and left. I felt like such a freak. So what I'm saying it, I'm impressed. Way impressed. I'm so using this story in a speech somewhere one day.

  2. Wow. I've got the chills. Though this was your brave, once-in-a-lifetime moment, I'm sure your telling him made his day, too.

  3. Oh, that is brave. I probably would have cried or something. I have no presence of mind in intense situations like that.

    And now I want to read Dear Genius.

  4. Isn't it amazing how one person can make a difference in our lives? What an opportunity for you to be able to meet him. I hope I can make a difference in another person's life like that. Congratulations! A little bravery goes a long way.

  5. Sara, I felt the same way about Awakened by the Moon, and a class I took with LM a long time ago. Inspired by you, I got up the nerve to talk to him at the end of the weekend and thank him as well.

  6. Wow. I feel a flash of static in my belly over that!

    Brave things. Yes. I can surely see the need for that in my own life.

    SCBWI is a great place for that - in NY I didn't talk to a soul and at this conference I decided I just had to try. And look what I got? A whole new community.

  7. what a wonderful amazing story. i'm so thrilled for you, sara! and i put that book on my wishlist! i really enjoyed his speech.

    also, FOOD FOTOS are up on my site. haha!

  8. That's the best be-brave story!

    Adrienne, you'll LOVE it. Read it read it! (and I say that gently, knowing you probably have a big 'ol book stack)...

  9. Kudos and congratulations, Sara.

  10. I am beginning to feel I could fill a room with such "greats" in my life. This week, I've decided that editors are probably angels in disguise.

  11. Yea for you, Sara! Great story, and I bet Leonard Marcus was thrilled to hear the impact of his book and award.

    I'm catching up on blog reading--thanks for posting bits and pix about the L.A. conference. I missed it! Looks like great fun!


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