Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Making Friends

Last month I wrote about the joys of tax-deductible research and the helpful experts we meet, if only via email and telephone. This month I’m feeling just as joyful about the great friends we make in this writing-for-children gig. A few weeks ago I went to the children’s author breakfast at Book Expo in LA. Sherman Alexie’s opening comments expressed his amazement about how nice children’s authors are – much nicer than that ‘other’ writing world he also inhabits.
I expect all of us can tell stories of colleagues going out of their way to read and advise, to encourage and commiserate, even to introduce us to agents and editors. My first book contract came about that way. One of our fabulous INK writers, whom I haven’t even met in person, has offered to open a door for me.

At the moment I’m in Montana visiting my son. After a few sublime days in Glacier National Park, I’m soaking up the scene and the sun in Missoula – biking around town, meeting with the organizers of the fall Festival of the Book, and making a new friend.

About a month ago, while researching a new book, I emailed Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, renowned author of 130+ nonfiction books for kids. One of her books is related to my research subject. Emails flew back and forth as she gave me leads to follow, people to contact. When I told her I was coming to Missoula, she invited me over for tea. After driving back and forth along the highway, trying to find her little mountain road (obscured by orange construction cones,) I finally arrived at her home on the top of a ridge with a glorious view of the mountains. (The 2007 fires on those mountains came within a mile of her house, she said.)

We began by talking about the state of children’s publishing. What happens when publishing houses are bought by conglomerates that have nothing to do with books. The uncertainty and disorder that reign when two big publishers with multiple imprints merge. Which will survive, how will policies change, who will stay, who will go, what will it mean for future of our books? Then we talked about small independent presses whose only business is books.

Soon after, because it’s what women do, we talked about our children, agreeing that they are all much smarter than we are. Typical proud mother talk. Then travel tales, future writing goals, doing school visits vs. writing, her fellow Montana writers, a browse through her library for useful books for me, the prospect of sharing a panel at the upcoming Montana Festival of the Book. And finally, an invitation to stay at her house if I do come to the festival.

In ninety minutes, another friendship kindled by writing nonfiction for children.

P.S. Coincidence or what?: Dorothy herself will be guest blogger right here next week!

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