Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I met Kate the Great on Saturday.

Kate DiCamillo, that is. And she was FABULOUS. I might even be understating the case a bit.

Here's the scenario: I'd been waiting four weeks for this event, which took place at Bookpeople, our local (huge) independent bookstore. You can't listen to the audiobook version of A Tale of Despereaux, for instance, without falling in love with its author. It simply can't be done. I dare you. So even though our family car was otherwise occupied, Eliza and I rode the bus downtown, walked five blocks past bars full of TX-OU game fans, and secured our seat in the audience, an hour in advance (oh, and I had gone at 9:00 a.m. to get us wristbands, which turned out to save us a ton of time later).

We met our young friend Penelope and her dad there. I had to avert the girls' attention from the length of our wait by reading Babar Visits America to them.

That Babar. He's just so riveting.

Finally, Kate arrived. Y'all, she was so adorable. Not only was she cute in terms of size, but also she was wearing really dapper jeans and cowboy boots. I just think it's important to pass on all the pertinent information.

She read the first half chapter from her new book, The Magician's Elephant. Then she took questions. And I took notes. The highlights of which I will share with you.

Guess what Kate did for a living in her twenties? She worked at Disney World, telling people to "watch your step; look down" hundreds of times a day as they entered Space Mountain (I think).

At age thirty, she decided that if she were really going to be a writer, she needed to actually write. You may think that's funny, but some of us could relate to that logical disconnect in which she had been living. So, she began sending out short stories. Guess how many rejection letter she got before Because of Winn Dixie, her first children's novel, was accepted by a publisher (on its first try, incidentally)?


Yes. As in, four hundreds, seven tens, zero ones. Hurrah for expanded notation!

She bought herself a dartboard and every time one of those letters arrived, she'd tack it up there and hurl a bunch of darts. Then she'd mail that story right back out.

Now, even though she's won the Newbery Award and scads of other honors, guess what she has to force herself to do every single day?


Two pages a day, she does, feel like it or not. She gets up at 5:00 a.m. so she can start writing before her inner critic, the voice that tells her she's fooling herself to think she's a real writer, what she's producing is junk, etc., arises to full consciousness, which happens around 6:30 a.m. And this from a Newbery Award winner!

I asked her whether there was a particular incident that had inspired her picture book, Great Joy (a favorite of Caroline's). She talked about two different experiences of witnessing homelessness as a child and feeling so disturbed by what she saw. She also quoted the sentence that popped into her head to begin the story -- a sentence which eventually met its demise on the chopping block.

A book she called perfect: Charlotte's Web. In an interchange with the audience, she asked why Stuart Little is great, but not perfect. Our friend Penelope pointed out that at the end, we don't know whether Stuart finds what he's looking for. Kate thought that was brilliant. She made Penelope's day.

When we made it up to the front to have our book signed, I commented to her something about the parallel endings of two of her books. She was super friendly and didn't say, "Yeah, DUH!" or anything of the sort. Then I thanked her for the writing advice and she lit up and said, "Are you a writer???" I told her that I had a little collection of those very special letters she had referred to. She looked at me and said, "You MUST read this book," and scribbled this name on a piece of paper. Then she had to graciously tend to the 200 people who were waiting.

She made my day. Maybe my month. Maybe my year. I think Eliza liked the experience too, and we both enjoyed the one on one time, but just between us, I think I did this one more for me. Mom's prerogative.

Long live Kate!

[Edited to add: A reader emailed me to ask about the audio CD of Despereaux. It's the one read by Graeme Malcolm. This is a public service announcement. Finis.]


Stephanie said...

I can't believe we missed this event! Arrggh! We caught Mo Willems last year (two years ago?) at Book People and it was absolutely fantastic. Jared would have loved seeing Kate DiCamillo. My favorite is the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. For some reason did not fall hard for Despereaux, but maybe I'll give that one a re-read. Thanks for the review.

Eclectic Mama said...

Oh man, I'm so bummed that we missed this! What a treasure for you!

Sarah Chappelle said...

How fun!! So glad you got some encouragement. Can't wait to read your first book!!

Moxy Jane said...

What a fun experience! I absolutely loved Because of Winn-Dixie but have yet to read any of her other books. It's always such a joy when our favorite authors turn out to be lovely people in real life!!

Beck said...

Lucky! I laughed at her revelation, since it's one I had myself. She's a wonderful writer and how lovely to meet her!

sarah said...

It should be considered a sin that I missed this event. I will have to hand over my librarian badge and duck my head in shame. However, after reading your post I feel as if I were there so no harm done. What a wonderful experience!

Julie said...

Again. Wow. I loved your post as always, mostly because it was encouraging. I'm embarrassed to say I've been slowly writing a book and for some reason feel like it is the dumbest idea I've ever had..that I could ever dream getting it published. So instead it will remain nicely hidden on my computer forever...maybe. It's good to know other writers have felt the same way. I agree with the comment from Sarah Chappelle...I can't wait to read your first book either!:)