In May of this year, I got to meet one of my writing idols, Laurie Halse Anderson. I discovered her books years ago, when my son, who we’ll call The Possum, was only about four. We had spent so much time in bookstores over the years that The Possum had become an excellent book browser by age four. He could out do me. So, while he browsed books in at a local children’s bookstore, I wandered bored. I assumed there was nothing for me to do.
I struck up a conversation with a bookseller, Liz. Liz should have reminded me of a stereotypical librarian – small glasses, whitening hair, a passion for books – but she is not anything like the shushing, stern librarian I knew in grade school. (The librarians I meet nowadays seem to be about breaking those stereotypes). Liz is warm and has a great ability to sense what books will appeal and finds the best about every book.
When I asked Liz if she had anything for adults, she looked me over and then grabbed Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson’s debut novel. What I discovered, when I went home and read it, was that the world of young adult literature had changed from the time I read it as a child. It had become voice-y; it had become an arena for authors to push what was acceptable in literature, both in terms of content and in terms of form.
Two days later, my son and I were back at the store, only this time he had to drag me out, clutching 3 more YA books. Speak snared me. I started reading YA, and lots of it, listening to many of Liz's recommendations. And, now of course, I see it was what got me writing YA.
When I heard that I could meet Laurie Halse Anderson at a reading she gave at the Loft, I pulled every string I could think of to make sure I wouldn’t be just another face at the back of the signing line. One of the Loft’s staff, who has known me for a while, picked up my excitement instantly and suggested that I introduce Laurie instead.
When Laurie arrived and we were introduced, (“Halse, rhymes with Waltz – Halse”), I had to work hard not to gush. But I was rewarded for my self-control because I got to listen to her, not myself. I learned that Ms. Anderson is generous, freely giving me advice on my second book fears and agreeing to an interview, which will be featured on the More on Mondays blog on Monday, August 31.
She looked as I expected: she is slender and seems gentle in her tone. Then when she read to her audience (and make no mistake, it was her audience), she rejected the mic in favor of a strong voice, engaged the audience (answering all their questions, but asking a few of her own) and demonstrated a level of respect for the many students who came to see her.
Most heroes pale upon meeting. Laurie Halse Anderson did not.