How is it possible to love a city as much as I love New York? It’s not even my home town. I only lived there for a few years, twenty years ago, yet each time I return the same rush of joy courses through me, accompanied by an overwhelming eagerness to return to all my favorite places, like revisiting old friends.
It may have a lot to do with the intensity of the few years I spent there. Not only was my son born in New York, but it was my first experience of living abroad with my young husband far from home, friends and family. It threw us together, made friendships more important, and everything had the thrill of discovery, the shine of the new. But mostly it was the thrill of discovering that New York, that bustling metropolis depicted in so many iconic movies and books, was not a myth. It was real. And I was living in it, becoming part of its never-ending story.
Last week I spent five days back in New York for the Society of Childrens Writers and Illustrators Conference, and the best part wasn’t even the conference; it was being with friends who are also writers; it was hanging out in the bar talking shop; it was meeting those who have ‘done it’, reached the top, like Libba Bray, and discovering those mythical creatures (famous editors and authors) to be personable, kind, funny, and REAL.
Why was that so reassuring? Because it means my dreams of publication can be real, too. It’s not all a house of cards built of fantasy and unrealistic ambition. If you work hard and you have a killer premise, you, too, could be shaking hands with a starstruck wannabe with the bemused smile of a New York Times bestselling author caught unawares.
And what did I have to say to Libba Bray when I finally met her? You don’t want to know, but it had something to do with udders. Everything intelligent I could have said left my brain and only the memory of her in a cow suit promoting GOING BOVINE on video remained. Sigh. What a twerp.
I had better luck with my hostess for the weekend, editor Emma Dryden. But that had a lot to do with the informality of our visit, and the fact that I was there by the grace of YA author Ellen Hopkins, who has an endearing habit of mentoring upcoming writers like myself and fellow writer Tracy Clarke, winner of the SCBWI’s WIP grant.
Ah, what fun we had! VIP parties, tequila-fueled confidences by firelight sitting on the floor in Emma’s gorgeous flat on the Upper West Side, going to see Jersey Boys on Broadway, and even, yes, attending the conference.
Speaking of which, I wouldn’t even have been able to go to the conference if it hadn’t been for the tuition donated by Aaron Hartzler, SCBWI’s Creative Director and my co-administrator of SCBWI’s official Facebook fan page, which he claimed was in thanks for my contributions on Facebook.
It’s precisely this spirit of support for writers coming up the ranks that distinguishes SCBWI from many other organizations that sometimes concentrate more on their celebrity members. Perhaps this appreciation of how ‘great oaks from little acorns grow’ has something to do with the way SCBWI founder Lin Oliver developed the organization from her kitchen table, years ago, and grew it into the huge, multi-national organization it is today, one that still has no peer in the world of publishing for children and teens. What an astonishing achievement for one lifetime! And she writes, too.
Lin recently underwent a major operation on her heart, and the first thing she asked when she came round from the anesthetic was: “Will I be able to attend the New York conference?” This is the kind of single-minded dedication it takes to grow a cottage industry into a multi-national organization. It’s also the kind of dedication required to develop a wannabe writer into a published author. But in both cases determination alone is not enough. It’s the people who help you get there, the Lin Olivers, Aaron Hartzlers, Emma Drydens, Ellen Hopkins’, and Tracy Clarkes that nudge you forward when your resolve wilts—they are equally responsible for your success when it comes. Their combined belief in you, support of you, advice, encouragement and investment of time, make it impossible to give up. And over time, the intensity of the combined effort required to create a new author forges friendships more intense than many others in life. Much like my love affair with New York. It’s about reaching for something bigger than yourself, sharing a dream, and participating creatively in the never-ending story.