Thursday, June 10, 2010

High School Confidential

***News Flash!!**

Our own Sophie Littlefield and Rebecca Cantrell have been nominated for Macavity Awards!! Let's hear some hoopla out there, and congratulate these two on two stellar books!!

**End of News Flash**

OK. Back to work. The question is what I'd tell a group of high school writers. The funny thing is that I had the honor of speaking to a high school creative writing class just a couple of weeks ago.

First, a little background. When I was in junior high--and junior high and high school were in a very rural community, tiny and remote--an author came to visit.

At the time, I was writing for the school newspaper, and of course books were like air to me. I read from a young age, and read voraciously, everything from comic books to Little House on the Prairie to Valley of the Dolls. Like most kids in junior high, especially the smart ones, I felt like a freak. That's the junior high gift, really ... suffering through early adolescence under typical junior high conditions allows most people to understand what alienation, despair, self-loathing and awkwardness is all about, and why creative, intelligent and sensitive young people in the world feel that pain so keenly.

So there I was, clutching my note pad, and thanks to the care and attention of our school librarian (I love you, Mr. McKay!), I was able to interview Ms. Maureen Daly.

Now, I was tremendously excited--I'd read her short story "Sixteen" not too long before, which had won an O. Henry Award (when she was still in high school herself). The story was written in '37, but was as timely to adolescence in '77 as it was forty years before. Besides, I loved it even more *because* it was set in '37 -- that era has always been a part of who I am.

A lovely, vibrant and cigarette-voiced redhead, she spoke about journalism--she was a journalist, as you can read if you click the links --and about writing. She spoke to me not as an awkward thirteen year-old, but as a newspaper reporter and as a fellow writer. She made me feel good about myself, and for those of you who remember what it was like to be thirteen, that took some doing.

She also told me never to give up, to keep going, to keep exploring, and filled my head with stories of her own travels and adventures with her husband.

Turns out her husband was noir writer William P. McGivern, author of three sublime noirs that became film noir classics: The Big Heat, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Rogue Cop. Mr. McGivern was an Edgar winner for The Big Heat, which won for best motion picture in 1954. I don't remember him, really, except as a quiet man who was also very kind.

But I like to think that my encounter with this generous and wonderful couple was a blessing, of sorts. They were the first real writers I'd ever met. And they inspired me, though life took me different places to learn different things, and I've never forgotten them.

So when I was invited to speak to a high school creative writing class at University High School in San Francisco--the school has an amazing history and quality of education and is ranked something like #23 in the nation--I was honored and thrilled to to do it.

These would be kids who were older, juniors and seniors, about to head to Harvard and Stanford and Cornell, and they weren't from an impoverished public school in the redwoods. But their needs would be the same as mine were at 13: they needed to be listened to, not lectured.

And I did listen ... I got a chance to hear about their writing projects (all of which sounded so creative and good that it made me much more sanguine for the future than I normally am). I told them about some of the challenges facing writers, about the business end of things, about experience and life and I answered any questions they put to me.

Most of all, I told them not to give up. And I treated them as colleagues and adults.
As Maureen Daly had treated me, thirty-three years before.

Thank you, Ms. Daly and Mr. McGivern. I am honored and proud to carry the torch you gave me ... and I'll always do my best to pass it forward.


Bill Cameron said...

So cool. My first writer encounter was my freshman year in college, but it was similar to your in terms of its impact on me.

Writers are cool.

Kaye Barley said...

Oh my - I love this story. Thank you, Kelli.

The kindnesses shown to people can have a very long and lovely history. And startling impact. Isn't it amazing that the "givers" possibly never realize to what extent their generosity has reached? what wonderful things they've done? They just continue through life "giving."

The first writer I ever met was John Barth. When I was in high school I worked for his dad, Judge Whitey Barth, in his small restaurant/candy shop on main street in downtown Cambridge, MD which was named, appropriately, Whitey's. Our meeting was not, however, anything close to the experience you had, Kelli. Whitey introduced us, I dropped my head and said "love your books." He said, "thank you." end of story. Pfft!

and while I'm here - Happy Birthday, Honey!!!!!! Here's a hug!

Sophie Littlefield said...

what a wonderful story, Kelli.

I too remember the teachers who were kind or who encouraged me during the hell that was jr. high/high school. I wonder if they knew how much they touched my life...and I try to remember that whenever there's a non-Littlefield kid in my house. over the years there have been some awkward little mutts who have come and gone...and yes, I am drawn to the mangiest among them; I want to scoop them up and tell them, as Becky said so beautifully, that it IS going to be okay, that brighter days are ahead.

For some reason, lately, I have been looking at all the high school kids and seeing the unfinished souls inside. They really are children, I don't care if they are 18 and driving their jeep to the store where they know they can buy beer on the sly, or glossy-haired and gorgeous and driving all the boys crazy, they are still such tender things. I am glad there are people like you out there to remember that and encourage them...

Shane Gericke said...

Wow! Is that first photo of Maureen Daly? If I'd known reporters were that HOT, I'd have never left newspapers :-)

Oh, and terrific post, Sophie. So much of our outlook in life at that age is guided by the kindnesses of people who have no reason to be kind other than that's their nature. You got a great moment in meeting the Dalys.

Shane Gericke said...

And congrats to Sophie and Rebecca, who make us so proud with all their noms! Though they would even if they didn't get a single one cause they're both so COOL ...

Kelli Stanley said...

As are you, Mr. DAY ONE scribe. :)

Writers are generally some of the coolest and nicest people around, especially ones who write crime fiction or YA ... which describes the Dalys.

Maureen, I discovered later, is a sort of founder of YA before it became recognized as such. :)


Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you so much, Kaye darlin'!! :)

I could feel the hug from here. :)

You're so right about the small acts of kindnesses that ripple through humanity, spreading goodness to distant shores ... reminds me of a line from (I think) the Merchant of Venice:

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.


Thanks for stopping by, sweetheart and many xoxo for you!!

Kelli Stanley said...

And Sophie, sweetheart, I'm glad there are YA writers like you who will write words that adolescents today and tomorrow will savor ... Maureen Daly is still in print, and I have no doubt you will be, too--in both genres! :)

I remember reading a quote from someone recently (can't remember who it was)--something to the effect that we all carry our childhood and teenage and young adult selves with us as we age, that they're still there, buried but able to be hurt or comforted. When I looked around the classroom, that's what I was thinking.

All people need nourishment for growth, particularly when young ... but the need (and the ability to grow) never goes away. :)


Kelli Stanley said...

LOL ... Shane, Garbo is mentioned in Maureen's story "Sixteen", which is why I chose that photo ... but the one on the bottom of the post is a photo of the author (from her obit in the NY Times - it was taken around 1942).

I'm a sucker for journalists--always have been. His Girl Friday is one of my very favorite movies. :)


Daisy said...

I went to high school in Marin, and one time Anne Lamott came and talked to my short story writing class. This was just after "Bird By Bird" came out* and her presentation was mostly taken from that book, but I found it incredibly encouraging and inspiring. Even now, since I've read the part where she compares genre writing to "working in a candy factory" and developed my own corollary to her theory of shitty first drafts (that the problem with it is that, when you're done, what you have is a shitty first draft), I still think of that class with gratitude.

*Yes, I am a tiny, tiny baby.

Tawna Fenske said...

Love this story!

I think my author fangirl moment was when I saw Gordon Korman speak when I was about 11. I barely remember what he said, except that he made me laugh (both on stage and in his books) and I knew I wanted to do that, too!


Kelli Stanley said...

Great story, Daisy!! :) And btw--it's wonderful to see you here on CM!! :)

I think "Bird by Bird" sounds like a must for every writer! I haven't read it yet (and it's a movie, too, right?)

"When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader."

I love that quote--and she sounds as caring in person as she is in prose. :)

Thanks for the inspiration, sweetie!!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks so much, Tawna!! :) Making people of all ages laugh is an absolutely noble enterprise, and I really admire those entertainers--writers, stand-up comics, actors--who do it so well. :)

We need more of it in this crazy world!!

So cool that Gordon Korman inspired you ... would love to hear more about your books, so we can add them to our TBR piles! :)

Terry Stonecrop said...

Kelli, You actually made me cry with this post. So touching. The way Maureen Daly and her husband inspired you and, I guess, validated you. Then you passed the same kindess on to other kids.

And Maureen Daly. My seventeenth summer was enchanted, too.How did I miss this author. Thank you so much for introducing her to me.

And for a lovely, wonderful post. :)

Terry Stonecrop said...

And kudos and hoopla for Rebbeca and Sophie. Congratulations!

Kelli Stanley said...

Aw, thank you, Terry. :)

I think there's an awkward thirteen year-old inside all of us ... we build armor to protect her, cultivate sophistication to shield her. But she's there, and the people who really touch us are the ones who reach out to her with compassion. :)

Thanks for everything, doll, and I hope you enjoy Ms. Daly's works!!


Kelli Stanley said...

And another news flash!!

Rebecca and Sophie have been nominated for BARRY AWARDS, too!! -- is this the coolest writing spot in the blogoverse, or what?? ;)

Terry Stonecrop said...

The coolest blog! Congrats again, authors. Good show!

This blog really does inspire me. I so look forward to it. I don't follow on weekends because I have a rule about the blogosphere...that may change yet.

I'm a few moons past my teens but your advice to young writers still applies to me. When you're new at something, you might just as well be sixteen and clueless all over again.

Graham Brown said...

Awesome story Kelli - pay it forward is the way to go. funny how well people respond when you treat them as equals.

Gabi said...

You make me want to call the school around the corner and see if they want to talk next fall.