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.