When I still worked as a teacher and librarian it always saddened me to hear students say they hated to read. This was unimaginable to me. As a kid stories sustained me and were often my only friends during my family‘s frequent moves. Books were my guides to the world, a dialogue in an otherwise empty room. They were a message in a bottle.
It’s no accident I became a school librarian, English teacher, and later, a fulltime writer of YA. The seeds for our identities in the world are planted during middle grade and high school years. It's the first breath of independence from your parents. They may try to imprint their ideas and values on you, but during this time your personality forms its own framework. You discover what you’re good at, what you suck at, who your friends will be, and if you’re lucky, what inner passions will drive you toward your life’s work.
I didn’t pay attention to the details of my identity, or perhaps I wanted to erase the Book Nerd stamp etched on my personality, so I wasn’t so lucky. Throughout my late teens and twenties I floundered around trying on a litany of college majors and half-assed jobs, and dating guys who, for the most part, were bad news.
Yet maybe I was lucky. These muddy side roads added layers to my experiences. Writers create alone, often sequestered in a small room in the back of their home or in a corner table in a coffee shop, but in order to create authentic work, writers also need experiences. We need to talk to people, work with our hands, know how it feels when someone breaks your heart.
In the late 80s, after finally earning my Bachelor’s degree with enough credit hours to have a PhD, I started writing. I wrote bad stories, wretched poems, and a really terrible novel. Most of that work is hidden in a file drawer. While my early work will never see daylight, to throw it out would dishonor the progress I have made. All writers start out being bad writers. Our work is derivative, filed with cliché, and often inauthentic. We haven’t learned to trust the process, to slice your heart open and bleed into the work. We get better by writing, reading, writing more, writing deeply, reading, revising, taking workshops, writing, writing, writing….
Good writing is driven by passion. I’m not talking about Harlequin romance lust, though many fine writers write romances. By the time I was thirty I realized books and words were my passions, and in quick succession earned a masters degree in library and another in writing. As a certified Book Nerd (aka school librarian and English teacher), my work opened up a new arena for writing.
Everyone has a story and writers are story magnets. If we listen, people strangers share their heartbreaking, tender, funny, sad, incredulous, and authentic stories. We expect They are my muses.
As a teacher my heart was further broken to hear students groan and roll their eyes when I broached the subject of poetry. To them, poets are all dead white guys who use too much flowery language and write about things that have nothing to do with their lives.
They had yet to encounter Pablo Neruda.
By teaching Neruda’s poems, my students learned “the word was born in the blood.” They were attracted to the violence in how the knife assassinates the tomato pulp and “how the sun floods the salads of Chile, beds cheerfully with blonde onion, “and parsley flaunts it little flags,” the in Ode to a Tomato.
One can't teach passion, yet my fervor for Neruda’s poems elevated my students’ concept of what poetry is, and opened the door to reading and writing poetry. It’s also no accident Pablo Neruda simmers at the root of my novel.
My characters in BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA are only real to me and my readers, yet their inception comes from a real place. My life experiences inform me, and allow my imaginary friends to channel their stories through me.
Digital publishing and social media have allowed everyone and his brother to easily promote their books, so a recent phenomenon for writers is to promote their ‘platform.’ Initially this concept left a bad taste in my mouth, as if I’m a product like running shoes or a bag of chips.
Platform can be defined as what we stand for or what causes we support. I believe in Pablo Neruda, poetry, books, and stories. Stories are the thread binding us together, peeling back the mysteries of our own existence.
Words are my platform. Happy Reading!!
Meanwhile, here’s a review from a Goodreads reviewer:
Jan 16, 2016 HNGC Library rated it really liked it
This is a gem of a book that really should have a more eye-catching (read inviting to young adult eyes) cover. On the first day of mandatory community service, Michael meets Shelly an intriguing force. But Michael doesn't have time for intriguing forces in his life. He is just trying to survive the mess of his life. He's going to be a fifth-year senior (after an unfortunate incident at school); he lives in his ancient car; he's focused on daily survival and keeping the authorities from knowing that his mom is a hoarder. Michael has his coping mechanisms down pat - he knows how to forage for food from dumpsters, take showers in rest stops sinks, get cologne samples from magazines, and not be too bitter about his circumstances in life. As the days in community service go along, Michael learns that Shelly has secrets too and they form an unlikely friendship. Michael shows a lot of strength for an 18 year old - far beyond his years. While many in his situation won't get the happy ending Michael gets; it's nice to think there is relief for some kids who have such difficult lives.