Once upon a time, I was invited to be one of fourteen authors selected by Laura Bush to be part of Celebrate America’s Authors day. Being here again in the DC area this week is making me remember. I didn’t know that the First Lady got to choose the day before inauguration to shine a spotlight on something dear to her heart. There was talk about bridging gaps, reaching across aisles (remember that time?), pulling people together. And Laura Bush was an outspoken advocate for books. I thought the next four years might lead to a joyful splash of reading in classrooms and libraries, new public money for children’s books, mini-explosions of creativity (due to newly open doors) for writers and illustrators.
Wowee, was I wrong.
I thought about that as I read author Susan Fletcher’s fascinating post about backward steps at http://writeatyourownrisk.posterous.com/
It’s definitely fun, productive–and, yes, embarrassing–to think about having been wrong.
An author friend laughs as she remembers talking with Kate DiCamillo about an idea Kate had for a first novel…when my friend was signing and Kate was hauling other people’s books around a warehouse. It seemed as if Kate had some interesting ideas–but that title? My friend says,”I knew Because of Winn-Dixie would never work as a title.”
I can remember similarily embarrassing pronouncements that I made–I think only in my own mind–I hope only in my own mind about various creative projects I encountered over the years.
THAT will never fly.
I’m notoriously bad at guessing how my own books will do out in the world, too. It was comforting to read that Mark Twain kept humiliatingly-nervously waiting and hoping with each new book that this would be the one that would make it big, big, BIG and ease his money worries.
Every time a new book comes out, I think THIS ONE. No more starving artist. (By the time it happened to Mark Twain, he had endured so much tragedy that he almost couldn’t enjoy the sumptuous success.)
As any bookseller can attest, just about the time you think you have consumers figured out and you order a bunch of copies of one title, it’ll be something else entirely that catches the fancy of the people attending that particular event. It’s very hard to guess people’s tastes and what will tickle their fancies. If it weren’t that hard, every book that authors, illustrators, editors have invested (often) years of their lives to create would make it financially out in the big, bad world.
Wowee have I been wrong about how readers would react to this book or that. My editors have been wrong, too. Publishing is a gambling enterprise.
Every once in a while, I’m right.
Several years ago, I met this photographer and his niece (a reading specialist) at a DC event. I thought then they were the kind of people who had big dreams and might be able to help sometime with my dream of getting books to Ethiopian kids. Last night, I met them again. Andarge Asfaw and his wife hosted an Ethiopia Reads event at Spa Mesu, their business. They were generous hosts in an elegant place, and I walked away feeling energized and thrilled by all the volunteer effort that goes into Ethiopia Reads, from adoption families, Ethiopian Americans, and those who love reading and writing and children.
How did I know?
Well, I’d worked with Bete Yilma, one of the organizers before. I met one of the adoptive moms at Julie’s event in LA last spring. But I also knew they didn’t have much time and that it’s terrifically hard for volunteers to plan and organize and run something (especially without much time) and that people who might come to an event like this are insanely busy.
We all are.
On Thursday at 7, I’ll speak at Jefferson Middle School in Arlington and we’ll do a drawing for a Lanie doll and the school community will think about how they want to get involved with Ethiopia Reads in the coming year.
On the 12th, I’ll have the fun chance to meet (and present with) the artist who drew the pictures for the Lanie books and the girl who posed for those pictures. We’ll talk about the creative process–what it’s like to be a writer, an illustrator, a model. That event (hosted by Covenant Church in Doylestown, PA) will also be a benefit for Ethiopia Reads.
The Spa Mesu event is sending me into those events with a smile because wowee, was I right! It was terrific.