Thank a Writer: A Few Seconds Can Make All the Difference

Last week I wrote a special thank you on the blog to the author who has the biggest impact on me, Roald Dahl. A few days later, I received a truly touching mini-essay from reader and frequent long-form commenter Katie about an author that had an unexpectedly large impact on her, and I’d like to share it with you. I have a few thoughts and a mention of another writer at the bottom.

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last was lloydAlthough I grew up in a fairly small town, I was lucky to have a good university nearby that occasionally held some interesting events.  When they began the Children’s Literature Festival, I was in 3rd grade.  They would bring children’s authors to the campus and we’d take a field trip there to listen to them speak, read excerpts from their stories, and sign our books afterwards.  There would be about 3 or 4 authors at the book fair each year, and even though I was a voracious reader, I hadn’t known any of the ones that had been present the first time.  That all changed the next year though.  As my teacher began to read off the list of authors, she said, “And the last one is Doris Buchanan Smith, author of A Taste of Blackberries and…”

Last Was Lloyd!” I blurted out.  “I have that book, I have it!”

Last Was Lloyd was a book that had been my older brother’s until he passed it down me.  Lloyd is a chubby outcast that is always picked last for baseball, despite having some secret skills.  Over the course of the book, he gains independence from his overprotective mother and starts to have more confidence in himself.  Although my life wasn’t necessarily like Lloyd’s, I loved the book and read it often.

I was thrilled when I found out the author was going to visit my hometown.  And I would be there, face-to-face with her.  A real-life Writer with a capital W.

The day of the literature festival came and I picked out my coolest acid-washed jeans.  I sat anxiously through the readings that morning, clutching my copy of the book and waiting for the signing.  The authors were in a separate room, and just outside of that room they had copies of all of their books available to purchase.  Each year, there were always a few parents who would chaperone us and they would buy their kid every book from those authors so they could get them signed.

I was not one of those kids.  Although I was always a little jealous that they got to go home with a ton of new books, it never really bothered me otherwise.  Besides, I had my own book to get signed that year.

However, as I stood in line to meet Doris Buchanan Smith, I glanced around and saw the shiny new covers of their recent purchases.  I looked down at my copy and suddenly felt ashamed.  It was several years old and had a completely different cover than the ones being sold that day.  The binding was slightly cracked, the edges were a little bent and there were more than a few pages that had been dog-eared.  I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.  What if she was upset with me for not taking care of the book?  What if she refused to sign it?  I suppressed the urge to turn and run, swallowed my tears and braced myself.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to her table and set my book down.  “My name is Katie and I’m from Mary Immaculate,” I announced, pointing to my school t-shirt as if she couldn’t read it herself.  I immediately felt stupid.  She was an important writer, and here I was, wasting her time by telling her what school I went to.  This was not going well.  She opened the book to the cover page and I knew I had to acknowledge the truth before she called me out.  “I’m sorry my book doesn’t look new like the others,” I said, hanging my head down.

Doris looked at me and told me in a reassuring voice that there was nothing to feel bad about.  She said she appreciated that I had obviously read it so many times.  A little wear-and-tear just meant that I had loved the book that much more.

That moment took place more than 20 years ago, and I still remember it.  I can recall the sense of relief I felt at that moment, and how my shame turned to pride after a few words from her.  I walked out of that room with my head held high.

Looking back, I see how foolish I was for thinking she would be upset with me.  I’m sure she became an author because she wanted children to read her books, and what better proof of that could she find than a little girl with a dog-eared copy of one of her novels?  Although she spoke only a handful of words to me, they were just the right ones, and her kindness made all the difference.

Thank you, Doris Buchanan Smith, for reassuring a nervous young reader (and future wannabe author) that day.  I’ve often looked at that cover page you signed and remembered how you took the time to say a few comforting words to me.  Your books always made me feel like you understood how hard it is to be a kid sometimes.  After meeting you in person, I knew you understood it more than ever.

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Thank you, Katie, for sharing that story. You captured the hopes and fears of your younger self incredibly well–it was really beautiful.

Another author friend of mine is hoping that her latest novel, Shadows of the Hidden, will someday be that dog-eared, treasured paperback (or ebook). It’s currently making its way up the Amazon ranks. I read the original, self-published version about a year and a half ago and liked it. It was later picked up by a publisher and revamped in a few ways that built upon the solid foundation Anne had created for the self-published version. Feel free to check it out!