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!