Madeleine Stories

Today my editor and I were swapping our Madeleine L’Engle stories, and it occurs to me this is something worth blogging about.

I met Madeleine on three different occasions. The first two were at the Blooming Grove Writers’ Conferences in Bloomington, Illinois, when I was a junior-high and then a high-school student. In fact, the inspiration for what would become my first novel manuscript came while I was sitting in Madeleine’s workshop. As I listened, I was doodling in my notebook. Without thinking much about what I was drawing, I sketched a dense grove of trees, and then for some reason, I superimposed an iron-bound door floating in the air in front of–or against–the tree trunks. It was standing open, and I later began to think about why a magical doorway would open in a grove of trees. . . .

Anyway, that first time I attended Blooming Grove, I was enrolled in Paul Darcy Boles’s fiction workshop. (An excellent quote of his that I gleaned then, which I still use every year with my writing students, is: “We [writers] are all storytellers, sitting around the cave of the world.”) Mr. Boles was a great encouragement. I’d written a little Tolkien-derivative story called “Where Lies Adventure,” and he told me the Dwarf in it was “a really good Dwarf.” “You don’t poke fun at your characters,” he said. “This Dwarf isn’t Disneyfied.” He recommended the movie Dragonslayer to me, which I’d seen, and which made him all the cooler in my teenage eyes. And perhaps best of all, he signed his wonderful book Night Watch for me with the words, “For Fred: A fine writer who knows about enchantment.”

But I digress. The conference was scheduled so that I could sit in on both Boles’s lectures and L’Engle’s, which I did.

The second time around, I enrolled in Madeleine’s young-adult fiction workshop, so I was able to submit a manuscript which she critiqued for me. I’ll never forget her wise, diplomatic comment: “I suspect you’re one draft away from being able to send this around.”

Heh, heh, heh! Isn’t that funny, if you think about it? I took it as great encouragement, which was what she hoped, I’m sure. High-school kids who want to write are to be encouraged. But that comment could be made honestly about the very worst pieces of writing. Anything could be “one draft away” from being a work of Shakespeare, if enough were changed in the rewrite.

Finally, the third time I met her was when she did a book-signing at a bookstore in Chicago, when I was a college student. I waited through the line, and when she was signing my book, being the over-eager, excited young idiot that I was, I asked if she remembered me from the Blooming Grove conference. (I would never ask such a question today, and the mere memory of it makes me blush!) Again, ever diplomatic, Madeleine answered, “Probably, probably.”

Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!


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4 Responses to “Madeleine Stories”

  1. Tandemcat Says:

    I never met Madeleine L’Engle, but I did get to meet one of her disciples, Susan Kimmel Wright, an author of children’s books. She is a Lutheran and presented at a Lutheran teacher’s conference I once attended. If you want to know more about Wright:

  2. Binsers Says:

    I did meet Madeleine L’Engle and was able to help her celebrate her 80th birthday. I went to New York City to attend a tea put on for Madeleine given by Victoria magazine, for whom Madeleine was the Writer in Residence. Judy Blume was there. Eli Wallach was there. It was lovely. But the best thing was that I was able to go to church at All Angels with her, have lunch with her and return to her home for a quiet afternoon as one of my best friend’s mother was a good friend. I was in awe of the bookshelves, the fine art on the walls and mostly, of Madeleine herself. I had had surgery on my tongue and was unable to speak much, but doubt that I would have said much anyway as I was stunned at my good fortune. My youngest daughter is named after her.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      What a wonderful story! Thank you, Binsers! I am truly honored and delighted that you’re here! I see that you’ve subscribed to the blog — excellent! I hope and intend to pick up the pace on posting now that I’m getting settled into my new city.

      I really enjoyed your Madeleine story! She was an awe-inspiring person. What a magnificent tribute that you named a daughter after her!

      WordPress theorizes that you might be located in Ontario (I’m not sure what they base that on, or how accurate they are). I’ve traveled in northwestern Ontario — it’s a beautiful province. I’ve been to Red Lake, and then on up into the native villages of Big Trout Lake, Round Lake, and Cat Lake.

      • Binsers Says:

        I am reading through your blog from the beginning and came back across this post. I hail from Minnesota but am married to a Canadian from Ontario and may have been at the cottage on Lake Huron when I originally replied to the post on your blog. If you ever get the chance to visit Georgian Bay in Ontario, I highly recommend it. Thank you so much for your blog. I am so enjoying reading it and reading the posts from your friends and blog-readers. I wish I could hang out with you guys and this blog makes it feel like I am. Again, Happy New Year 2012 and thanks for all the fun with the Gargoyle Name Game!

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