Thirty years ago I started a writers group. The writers threw a party and asked me to speak. Instead of a writer’s manuscript or an artist’s portfolio, I became the center of the group’s attention. I shared from my experience and my memory, but mostly from my heart.
Kay’s Thoughts On 30 years
You can’t imagine how happy and proud I am, just standing in this room with all of you – and I do mean all of you. ALL of you. Such a wealth of dear friends, writers and illustrators with whom I’ve bonded over shared dreams and trust.
But each of you is so talented. That means that hovering just above each of you and almost out of sight, is a muse. Don’t worry if you can’t see them, for I can. I hear the hum of their tiny wings or perhaps it is the whisper of inspiration they are feeding into your ears.
And standing close to you are your characters, children of your literary loins that taken on a life of their own in my mind, at least. Take Leslie Connor – if you look closely, you can see shadows of her unforgettable characters, Perry and Bettina hovering close by her side, Miss Bridie and Addie, Dewey and the ghost on town line. Leslie’s entry in the 15th anniversary book reflects her frustration on not selling a single book – yet now here she is, the author of six stat-studded books. She and her published cluster of characters standing together. Dear friends, their muses, and their characters, you all are so inspiring to me! I come home after meetings buzzing with a contact high from YOU.
How I Became a Writer
That’s how I became a writer – that powerful contact person to person. I was at my first SCBW Conference. The famous Jane Yolen organized the whole thing (211 people!) and at the end of that exhausting day I was fried, but convinced I would someday write. Maybe. I slumped along in a line to get my book signed (I’d never had a signed book or met an author before) and finally Jane signed it. I turned to leave but glanced at the inscription. “From one writer to another” My feet literally froze in place. My fate was sealed. From that moment I was a writer.
The Group Starts
Thirty years ago I started the Shoreline group because I needed it. I’d been nurtured in Jane Yolen’s crit group for 6 years. I couldn’t imagine writing without the warmth and support of a good critique group. Jane had written only 100 of her now 300+ books and Patty Machlachlan had just won the Newbury for Sarah, Plain and Tall. Despite their fame, Jane and Patty drove 100 miles through a howling snowstorm on the first Wednesday of February back in 1986 – for no other reason than friendship.
Paula Feder was here that night. (anybody else?) We heard about both women’s careers and how important critique groups were to Jane and Patty. The women passed the leadership baton to me. Later, Jane was to write an adult book called “Touch Magic”, the title taken from the old saying, “Touch Magic and Pass It On”. I’ve taken that as my mantra, for either I am full of magic – or I am deeply and truly touched.
Doe Boyle joined just a few months later. Artists and writers came. shared and grew in the group. Dozens and dozens of them. From Old Lyme to Norwalk to Portland. They’re steered in by SCBWI and by word-of-mouth. Or perhaps by fate. An old Chinese saying predicts “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” We succeeded if they stayed and prospered (188 books have been published by members of this group.) We also succeeded if they came once and vanished. They have learned something about the field and –just as important – exactly what they don’t need to follow their dreams. Nothing personal.
Special Writers / Illustrators
Some members were real characters, here for a time and moved on: Doug Cushman arrived late to each meeting, swirling in with a long scarf and his leather hat. After a few years he swirled away to Paris where he still writes and illustrates children’s books. Loretta Krupinski, a famous marine artist, strode into a meeting announcing that she was going to make some money from children’s books on the side. That endeared her to no one and it got worse when she produced several beautiful children’s books before she left for Maine. She is back to being a fine – and successful – artist there on the seacoast. John Himmelman arrived with all modesty, and was always embarrassed to be toasted for the sales of one book after another – and then his series started. He moved to Killingworth, where he now leads another, very lucky, SCBWI crit group. And keeps writing and illustrating series.
We’ve lost people too, called before their deadlines: Carliegh Huff, Kate Duke, Nancy Hough, Ethel Bacon. They and their stories live on with us.
Another group with special talents has helped me through the years. The newsletter that stitches us together has been produced by Lorraine Jay, Mary Kelly, Meg Greene and now, Tricia Carey. It is hard to imagine they took on this life clutter just to help out. Thank you all.
To wield the gavel – and the cheerleading pom poms – when I am sick, I have relied on Leslie Connor, Alice Bauer, Doe Boyle, and Leslie Bulion to ride herd on a flock of talented wild-souls in a pinch. Thank you.
What I Have Learned for Other Writers
What have I learned in 30 years with this group of wonderful people? Well. I learned that I am older. Lets say it another way. I am an elder in this tribe. I’ve published more than 40 books so I have a large experience base and, well, I’m old.
- I know that it doesn’t get easier. Each book is hard in its own way, and each teaches you more about craft and humility.
- I know that editors have your book’s best interest at heart – and it pays to make each editor a personal friend. There’s that word again.
- l know my writing process and it is very efficient. More importantly, I know it may not work for anyone else. “ I could never write like Leslie Bulion or Page McBrier – and that is good. Thus my dictum “Honor your process.”
- I am into self-flagellation – On my bulletin board is Johnathan Swift’s exhortation, “Write, Damn you, write. What else are you for?”
- I’ve learned to trust my muse. When I am at a loss I get very quiet inside and a still, small voice comes to help me – in the guise of a new character, new idea, the perfect word. It gives me an almost – almost – supernatural respect for muses, thus, “Leap and the net will appear.”
I’ve learned to follow the love. My love of writing. My love of learning. And the love of friends. When I walk into a meeting, I open my heart up wide. I can feel inspiration and confidence flood from my stockpile, and watch it land in the faces I love. (Doe would be crying here) All the good stuff – flows both ways. I feel like I’ve gotten the best of it for 30 years – You all are so inspiring to me! I come home after meetings buzzing with a contact high, my muse re-energized, and my spirits lifted by YOU.Thank you,