There are no guarantees in life. If a formula existed for becoming a best-selling author the market would be flooded with best-sellers to the point that “best-seller” would cease to have the meaning we presently give it. I’m certain there are successful writers who followed a path to fame and fortune, who sought publicity first, placing the goal of being a “best-seller” above the deeper goal of communicating profoundly with other members of the human race, and I’ll bet some of them are quite satisfied with their choices, but it would not be my advice to you to follow that path. Perhaps a better goal would be to write books on subjects and themes you care deeply about. Dig down into your material, dig down into your understanding of yourself and of the world. Understand that there are mountains, beyond mountains, beyond mountains, that the superficial has its place but may not be as enduring, or as gratifying as the longer view. Write what’s in your heart, write what’s on your mind, and if it becomes a best-seller, you have that, too, to celebrate at the end of the process.
Over the course of a lifetime we accomplish so much. What seems like a great achievement to some people might seem quite small to others. And what seems quite small to some might seem great to someone else. When one looks back over a lifetime, perhaps then it is possible to get some perspective. Certainly my marriage and family feel like a very great achievement. My publishing career, also, fills me with awe when I take a step back and look at it. My friendships have felt very significant in the measure of my life. If you wrote each thing you accomplished in a single day on a slip of paper, if you did that every day over the run of your lifetime, if you put all those slips of paper into a hall the size of the hall pictured above, if you randomly pulled out one slip of paper each time you were asked such a question as this, any of those slips of paper, any of those achievements would be a valid response to this question, don’t you agree?
Absolutely not. No writer knows how their work will be viewed by the world. Such recognition comes like a lightening strike from out of the blue. It can stop your heart. It can also fill it with incalculable gratitude.
This award is an extraordinary gift. I have spent so much of my life writing books. For two years or more a single title consumes me. Then it’s published and perhaps it receives some attention, perhaps it does not. There is a certain amount of grieving that goes on when the work to which you have dedicated years of your life vanishes from book stores, library shelves, reading lists, and people’s hearts and minds. To have a committee pluck your book out of heaps of old volumes, hold it up to the light, and proclaim to the world that this book is a thing of value, worthy of a second look twenty years after its publication…it is remarkably moving and I am grateful beyond measure.
for additional information: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award
When I was a child, escaping into books helped me through some challenging times. Creating worlds of words gave me both the power to comfort myself and a platform on which to construct a universe I controlled. Writing as a profession was a natural progression from that early childhood relationship with the written word. In my career as a writer I have loved the idea of opening young minds to new experiences, to helping them understand that survival is possible even under the most difficult circumstances, and to assist them in the evolution of their own innate compassion. It has been a blessing to do this work that has given me so much and to know it has been meaningful to others, too.
For additional information: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award
Several times I have spent years researching, writing, and revising a book only to decide it was not worthy of publication. Sometimes, after spending months immersed in a time period or a set of characters, I find I’m not engaged enough. If I’m not compelled by the setting and story, I can’t possibly expect you to be. Honestly, a good part of the joy for me is in the writing process itself. Of course I love when a book is published. But I am not the least bit angry when a book I’ve dedicated my time and spirit to never sees print. It is enough for me to have taken the journey. There is not simply one reward for hard work. Rewards are complex and surprising in their manifestations.
In elementary school I was the shy girl with buck teeth, skinny legs, and a freckled nose. I rarely spoke in class but I loved being there, loved learning. I suppose my schoolwork revealed more about me to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ball, than I revealed in my behavior day to day. Near the end of May 1963 Mr. Ball asked me to write the graduation speech for our class. I recoiled at the thought of standing in front of an auditorium full of people but he told me, “Just write it and we’ll see what happens after that.” I threw myself into the task, writing and rewriting feverishly. Finally I gave Mr. Ball what I’d produced. He miraculously gave me in return the confidence to read it from the stage. My mother wept, sitting in the audience. She said afterward, “I had no idea you could think like that, write like that.” Mr. Ball looked like the cat who’d swallowed the canary. He wore such a warm, wonderful, proud, mischievous smile that day. I am so grateful to him for the way he nurtured me in his classroom. Years later, after I’d won the Newbery Award, I found an opportunity to seek him out and thank him. When we reunited, once again I saw that glorious smile of his. He was the best.
And that sixth grade experience is the one that most likely influenced me to become a writer. Thank you so much for asking.
I fainted! Really! I lost consciousness for about ten seconds. When I regained my senses and truly began to comprehend what Ellen Fader was telling me, I began to weep.
After hanging up the phone with Ellen I felt as if a parade was marching through my heart
with bands and floats and jugglers and stilt walkers and beautifully groomed horses and clowns
and every child who had ever read one of my books.
It was pretty glorious.
I am so grateful for the doors OUT OF THE DUST has opened for me. I am so honored to have this book read and studied by so many. I am in awe of the fact that hundreds of years from now when most of my work will have been forgotten, there might still be a footnote citing OUT OF THE DUST (whatever footnotes might look like in several centuries). But OUT OF THE DUST is not my favorite book. None of my books could be given that distinction. I have labored exhaustively over every one of them. They have each emerged from years of intense work, time I’ve taken away from other things, like spending time with my family, like living life. Consequently I am fiercely loyal to all of my books. I could, and would, never choose a favorite.
No. I’ve always written what I “had” to write. When a story won’t leave me alone. When it won’t let me put it aside, or ignore it, or discard it. When it haunts me until I have no choice but to write it, I surrender in the end and give the project my complete heart and soul. That’s my process. Winning the Newbery Medal and the MacArthur Award changed my life in many, many ways, but it did not change how or how much I write.