I did just about everything wrong as a new writer. I won’t bore you with all my mistakes; just join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators so you can avoid them. But the one thing I did do right was read. I read like I used to as a kid – forgetting my chores and just about everything else. Though I was writing mainly picture book manuscripts back then, I was mad for middle grade fiction.
One of the first writers to hook me was Jamie Gilson.
I don’t remember in which order I read her books, but suspect I started with Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, working my way through 4B Goes Wild, You Can’t Catch Me, I’m the Gingerbread Man, etc. (she has over 20 titles). Her writing was fun and funny and fresh and, though she kept a page-turning clip, she also made me care tremendously about the characters. I read and re-read her work as I puzzled out what it mean to write a MG novel.
Fast forward a few (over twenty!) years: late in 2013, four Nerdy Book Club folks — Franki Sibberson, Katherine Sokolowski, Colby Sharp and Chris Lehman – had a Twitter conversation that morphed into Nerdultions: the commitment to do one thing every day for 50 days. I signed on, committing to write letters to 50 of the people who have had an impact on my writing life.*
One of my first letters had to be to Jamie Gilson but I could find no contact information except an email address. And I wanted to send a letter. When I discovered that she would have a new book out in December (My Teacher is an Idiom) from Clarion, I wrote her care of them.
Within a few weeks, I got the sweetest email from her: How is it possible that I could ever have had any influence over you and your wonderful words? Though you say so, I find it hard to believe. But, I thank you for writing to tell me. Her reply also included this line: It’s lovely that we know each other through our books, though Hattie and Hobie are a most unlikely pair to have introduced us.
I nearly fell off my office chair. I quickly swiveled around and pulled my dog-eared copy of Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub from the shelf. The book’s main character is named Hobie Hanson.
Hobie Hanson. Hobie Hanson!!!
For my latest book, Duke, I had wrestled and wrestled, searching for a 40s moniker for the main character. One day, the perfect name came to me – and guess what it was?
Until Jamie’s email, I had believed Hobie’s name came out of nowhere. But now I know it came from the spot in my heart that holds dear those books that made an indelible impression on this fledgling writer.
But what if Jamie saw it differently? I had to confess this “coincidence” to her. Here is her delightfully kind reply:
I, too, am amazed. And, as Aunt Ivy might say, I’m tickled pink, pleased as punch and proud as all get out. Okay, Aunt Ivy might not have acknowledged being pleased and proud, but I do. . . .Now with substantial proof, I’m willing to believe that I’ve had at least some sub-conscious influence on what you’ve written.
*True confession: I have not kept up with the 50 days in a row part of the Nerdlution pledge but I have gotten over breaking that rule.