Conference, networking, and social events seem to be challenging for most writers. I mean, most of us seem to be introverts who hardly even talk to our family members, let alone strangers. It struck me as funny and comforting when others looked a bit uncomfortable at this huge event and when we did “network” how open we all were in discussing the awkwardness of trying to connect with others. I mean, really? Handing out business cards? The concept (while smart) just seems so weird to most writers.
Of course, we’re not all the same, but we do share many similarities. This really struck home when Lois Lowry took the stage. Of course I’ve heard of Lois Lowry. Of course I’ve read Lois Lowry. She’s Lois Lowry for goodness sake. But I’d never seen Lois Lowry and truly, she just seemed more of a legend to me than a real person. Suddenly, though, she was right there, a few feet from where I sat and she was talking to me (okay, me and about five hundred other people) about her writing life, telling us about her personal life, her inspirations, and specific life experiences that bled onto the page and became the basis for some of her books. It was pretty cool. My favorite part was when she talked about how lying at summer camp one year was one of her first experiences with the power and fun of fiction.
Ms. Lowry explained that she observed how the female counselors at camp paid better attention to those campers with older brothers, so she made up an older brother who went to an Ivy League college, drove a flashy car, and quite possibly might visit her at some point during the summer. I really appreciated this story about lying because not too long ago, I wrote here about how lying as a child was one of the reasons I fell into fiction. Having that connection with someone like Lois Lowry made me feel similar to her, like we were made of the same cloth, like writing powerful literature was not simply for people who were these superhumans. It was possible for everyday kids, who have fun crafting lies, who learn how to make them better, who purge them onto paper…who grow up and become writers.
So, okay, Lois Lowry didn’t exactly give us a lecture on how to become great liars. In fact, she went on to discuss how several of her books stemmed from a real life experience, which made me think of this Toni Morrison interview I read a while back. In it, Morrison discusses how when she’s working on something or about to begin a new project, she sees the world in a new light—paying close attention to everything, looking for something in this concrete world that will somehow morph into the imaginary world of her stories. This was what I remembered as Lois Lowry explained that Anastasia Krupnik was actually a version of the first daughter, Amy Carter, and herself. And how A Summer to Die was how she “gave sorrow words” after the death of her sister. And how in his old age, her father would see a picture of his deceased daughter and ask about her because he’d forgotten she had passed, and that spawned the idea for The Giver.
This is what writers do. This is what legends do. This is something I’m sure you do and something I do. We keep our eyes open, our hearts open, so we may give words to what we see, what we feel… and we intermingle that truth with lies. And isn’t that something? I mean, in some small way, we are doing exactly what all writers before us have done and someday perhaps, if we learn to do it very, very, very well, well…who knows?
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