Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Moment with Richard Peck

In which I spend 900 words talking about ninety seconds.

Jacqui's Room Goes To SCBWI-NYC Memorable Moment #1:

Have you read A Year Down Yonder? No? What about A Long Way From Chicago? ANYTHING by Richard Peck? No? Okay. Dear readers, I have failed you. I don't do this often. Turn your computer off and go to the library. Take out one of those books, or any one of Richard Peck's thirty plus fabulous books for young readers and READ IT.

There is nobody (and I mean nobody, not Salman Rushdie, whom you know I adore, or Katherine Paterson, or even me) who strings words together with the precision and beauty of Richard Peck. Witness:

Summing up exactly why I write: because "books show us that even our most secret fears are shared."

On writing: "we look to make a blank page sing with voices that are not our own."

On why kids should read: "if you cannot find yourself on the page early in life, you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places."*

Peck's books have humor, adventure, emotion, vivid settings, unique characters with strong voices, and satisfying yet surprising endings, all in that gorgeous, exact language. I read The Teacher's Funeral on the way home on the plane and laughed out loud from line one:

"If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it."

ANYWAY, I was in New York for the 10th annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) winter conference this weekend. Richard Peck spoke there last year and he was brilliant and afterwards I introduced myself and thanked him for existing and got a little light-headed. This year he wasn't on the agenda.

And then, all of a sudden, there he was! He's made an SCBWI master class DVD on writing novels for young people and came to introduce it.

And THEN, as he was walking in to give his speech, he passed by, looked at me and said, "Oh! Hello!" and shook my hand.

AND THEN he said, "Good to see you again. Looking forward to Two of a Kind."

Okay, I made up that last part. But still: Richard Peck recognized me.

After his talk, I found him and Linda Sue Park** at his signing table and we got to talk a bit. As in, he asked me about myself and I said, "Aggle flabble klabble" and "It's an honor to meet you sir."** And then Richard Peck signed my book and wished me luck.

And then my new friend Michie gave me cheddar goldfish. So life was perfect.

Coming tomorrow, two more Memorable Moments...

* I may be misquoting all of these. This is because I cannot even take notes when Richard Peck is speaking. I just sit there and think, "Yes!" And occasionally drool.
** Who was very sympathetic to my star-struckness, and who has, in addition to many great books and a Newbery medal, the kindest smile in kidlit.
*** I am not a formal person, but "sir" rolls off your tongue effortlessly when you talk to Richard Peck.


Diane T said...

Every time I hear Richard Peck speak about writing, I hear something wonderful and inspiring. Here's a great nugget from a talk in 2003: "Childhood is not a garden, it's a jungle."

Then I read his The River between Us on the plane ride home and it was like another masterclass excerpt. I don't wonder at you're being able to do nothing but abble gabble garble in his presence.

Candace Ryan said...

Awesome, Jacqui! We could use more of that Peck classiness
throughout this Biz.

Mary Witzl said...

I'd have been speechless too, and I'd definitely have sirred him. I've ma'amed and sirred the very few famous people I've met without batting an eye. (Are you Southern, by any chance? It helps if you're even a tiny bit Southern.)

I love that line about teachers. And when I die, I'll work hard to make sure it's in August -- just so SOMEone will be happy.

C.R. Evers said...

~sigh~ I so wish I could've been there. Sounds amazing. I looooved A Long Way from Chicago.

You lucky duck!


Jill Corcoran said...

wonderful surprise.....and it sounds like you handled it well:)

Sharon Blankenship said...

He remembered you! It's almost as good as Brad Pitt recognizing you, isn't it?
Peck is a wonderful, warm, genuine human being, isn't he? I saw him at Calvin a few years ago and he had those kids (and me) in his hand.
Except when I met him, I managed to drool, fleeble foe figuro?

Marcia said...

I never miss anything by RP. I heard him speak a few years ago and it was one quotable line after another. I wrote them ALL down.

Jacqui said...

Diane, it's first on my TBR list now.

Candace, ha. And word.

Mary, I am not Southern really, but there's something Southern in me. Does West Virginia count? My agent is always pointing out southern in my voice and we don't know where it's from.

Christy and Jill, I wish you had been there too!

Sharon, it's better than Brad Pitt. Six kids have really aged him :)

Marcia, I tried! But EVERYTHING was so great that I just ended up writing "HE IS SO GOOD!"