Today I want to talk about two ladies from the Austin community who have revolutionized the way I approach writing. They are people who love their community, and who embraced me immediately when I moved here and became a bookseller. When they found out I was a writer, they urged me to stay in the loop, to get involved, and they have supported me throughout the past two years here in Austin, TX as both a fellow author and a fellow person. I’m so thrilled to call these girls friends.
I met Jessica Lee Anderson at an SCBWI event at BookPeople when I was an employee. Another employee knew her from college and I, creepily as ever, mentioned this and complimented her cover for Trudy. It wasn’t long before Jessica and I were chatting like old friends, and started talking about critique, as we were both looking for in-person critique groups. And it was through Jessica‘s persistence — leaving messages on Facebook, reminding me every time she came in to shop — that we eventually started meeting regularly. I feel so privileged to be able to work with Jess, and I really, truly, honestly believe that it’s through her encouragement that I was able to complete my first manuscript last fall.
Jessica‘s writing is brilliant, written with a genuine voice that is unique to her characters. And while she may be one of my best friends, when I’m reading one of Jess‘ books, I forget that she wrote it. I feel like her world and her characters are telling the story all by themselves, and this is a sign of truly accomplished writing. She’s not scared to tell real stories — TRUDY tackles a young girl’s dealing with her father’s Alzheimer’s, and BORDER CROSSING is a striking tale of a mixed-race teen with schizophrenia — in a real voice. As a young writer, I confess, issues like this are terrifying to tackle. But Jessica does it with grace and style. I cannot wait for her next YA book, CALI to come out. And, believe you me, I’ve had a peek at her next middle grade, and it’s pretty much made of awesome.
Jessica Lee Anderson, thank you for being such an advocate for the underdogs in your stories, for loving your community of writers, booksellers, readers, and librarians, and most of all for bugging me until we could find a time to get together and WRITE, and for believing in my books and me. I adore you!
If you’re into kidlit, and you haven’t heard of Cynthia Leitich Smith, leave my blog immediately and check out hers, Cynsations, where you are sure to discover why she’s such a pillar of the children’s literature community. I met Cyn pretty soon after I moved to Austin, and I will never forget our first conversation. She was signing stock at the store and we were talking about writing. I told her that I also wrote and she asked me if I wrote YA. I said “well I’m working on something…” and before I could claim that I wasn’t really that much of a YA writer she said to me, “Well, then the answer is yes.” And that’s just how Cyn is — she believes in her community, is full of encouragement and joy for everyone out there contributing to the field of literature for young people. She has a fiery spirit that cannot be extinguished, and I consider her to be the Fairy Godmother of children’s writers.
Cyn is also one of the first people I contacted when a fellow bookseller’s neighbors lost their house in a freak gas explosion last year. They lost all their books. The family had two children, a toddler and a teen, and I thought, well, Cyn knows everybody. Maybe she can get the community to donate some books to this family. So I emailed her. A few days later she and her husband Greg (also a fabulous Austin author) brought in a big box of books for the kids. I was gobsmacked by their generosity.
I don’t know how Cyn has the time to do everything she does — between her blog, her bestselling books (ETERNAL, the second in her gothic fantasy trilogy, just made the New York Times list. Yay!), her active participation in SCBWI and local author events, her advocacy for Native American lit, teaching writing for children and young adults at Vermont College, and on and on and on…I don’t know how she keeps everyone’s names straight, let alone finds time to be that aforementioned Fairy Godmother to all of us.
Cynthia Leitich Smith, thank you for being such an active member of our Austin SCBWI chapter, for writing amazing books in so many different genres, for reaching out and encouraging all of us from day one, for your amazing blog, and, of course, for being my friend. You’re pretty awesome.