A million, trillion years ago (okay, okay, 9 years ago), I received the following letter:
Dear Ms. O'Connor [that just kills me],
I just finished Taking Care of Moses and, after also reading Moonpie and Ivy and Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, I had to write a fan letter!
I love the immediacy of your writing and the Southern settings and sensibilities of the stories that enhance rather than overshadow the situations your characters find themselves in.
Thank you for caring so much about writing good books for kids.
I had no idea who Kirby Larson was.
But I was, of course, touched by this letter. [Side note: a handwritten letter....not an email....big difference]
I put her info into my contact list on my computer and in the "notes" section I wrote: Writer who wrote me a nice fan letter.
Fast forward two years: Kirby Larson won a freaking Newbery honor for Hattie Big Sky.
I loved that book so much.
Now Kirby was one of my writing idols.
The following year, I like to died (as we say down South) when I saw that she named me as one of her "literary crushes" in this interview online.
I was floored.
There I was with all those other amazing authors. (And what a dinner party that would be!)
I confess that I clicked on the link to my name because I couldn't believe it was really me.
Call me mushy, but that was sort of a turning point for me with regard to how I viewed my own writing career.
I saw myself through the eyes of someone whom I admired and respected.
I will be forever grateful for that.
Over the next few years, Kirby and I stayed in touch via email.
Finally, in 2010, we met in real life at a conference in Orlando.
She was horrified by my Cafe Francais addiction but agreed to remain friends.
We hugged and gushed and chatted like old friends.
From that point on, Kirby has been my go-to gal in my writing world.
If I snivel and gripe via email, she picks up the phone and calls me.
If she knows I'm struggling with a writing issue, she picks up the phone and calls me.
When I've hit some bumps in the road, she picks up the phone and calls me.
When I got a new puppy, she sent puppy gifts.
She sends heartfelt, hand-written notes of encouragement when least expected and sorely needed.
This past November, we presented together at NCTE in Boston with our mutual idol and friend, Karen Cushman.
I call Kirby The Great Connector.
She is forever connecting writers to teachers to librarians to writers to teachers, etc. etc.
So, what's the One Easy Lesson?
Do what Kirby does: Write. Call. Connect. (And send puppy gifts)
P.S. I still have that note about Kirby being "the writer who wrote me a nice fan letter" in my contacts info on my phone.
What a long way she and I have come!
Kirby? *fist bump*