Capital in so many ways

November 19, 2008

There are many great things about living around Washington DC. There are the majestic views up the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. There are the inspiring words engraved on the walls of the Jefferson Monument, and the spring-time cherry blossoms. There’s the excellent kayaking on the Potomac – and the moment when you hear excessive tooting and know you’re about to spot a motorcade (you can tell I’m not a native DCer because I still get really excited at that). Yes, I am a living, breathing tourist brochure for this beautiful city and its environs.
But today I want to tell you about two particularly fabulous DC features – linked by what you might call ‘the writing life’.

Fabulous DC Feature #1

This great collection of museums ensures you’ll never run out of interesting things to see and do, and it also puts on an impressive list of courses and lectures. Last night I went to one of them – a brilliant interview with that goddess of contemporary women’s fiction, Anita Shreve. Yes, I was quite close to ANITA SHREVE! You may touch the hem of my garment.

It’s hard to think of a mega-selling author like Ms Shreve just starting out, but like all writers she has a fascinating story to tell about how it all started and what it’s like now. How she was a teacher and experienced such an intense and sudden ‘calling’ to become a writer that she left school in the middle of a semester (incurring considerable opprobrium in the process). How she still keeps her box of rejection letters, ‘enough to wallpaper my bathroom’. How she does three or four complete revisions of each manuscript before submitting it to her publisher, always changing at least one major component of her story, whether the narrator or the tense, or something equally fundamental. How every novel is agonizing to write, and how she is never free of the mental tyranny of her work-in-progress apart from a blessed couple of weeks after sending it off when she’s still waiting to hear back from her editor. The picture she painted of her particular writing life was one of strenuousness nicely leavened with anxiety.

The one piece of advice she gives new writers? Never give up. She didn’t, she got published – and one day her phone rang and it was Oprah!

Fabulous DC Feature #2

Now, if you don’t know Tami, you must be one of the few people in the US children’s writing community who doesn’t – because it always seems to me that Tami has more names in her Roledex than I’ve met in my entire life. Going to a conference? Tami will be an organizer. Need a ride to an event? Tami will turn up at the wheel. As well as being a genuine DC resident, Tami is also a Greenhouse author and this week I sold her first novel, ONE SHINY SILVER KEY, to editorial doyenne Melanie Kroupa of Farrar Straus. Huzzah!

I first met Tami some months ago in a roundabout kind of way, and we bonded even more at the Vermont alumni conference in July (Tami received her MFA in children’s writing there). Recently she interviewed me for the Through the Tollbooth blog that she runs with various other Vermont friends (check it out – it’s a great writers’ resource). So it’s been a great thrill to see ONE SHINY SILVER KEY finally come to fruition for Tami, after what I know has been an arduous creative journey – just as it is each time for Anita Shreve and for any writer who strives to produce work of originality and power.

You might say, reductively, that ONE SHINY SILVER KEY is about two girls (Margie and Peep), a car, and a whole lot of chickens.
You could also say that it’s a perceptive and moving novel about Margie’s quest to find not only her lost mother, but also her lost self. It embraces coming of age, a major rite of passage – and a particularly fine and hair-raising road trip.

So well done, Tami – I’m delighted that your very first novel will now be joining your very first picturebook (SOAR ELINOR – publishing 2010) on the prestigious FSG list. Not many writers can claim THAT double first in the same year.

Washington DC – a great capital city. Iconic monuments, cherry blossom, The Smithsonian, Anita Shreve (temporarily) – and best of all, my clever, clever Greenhouse author, Tami Lewis Brown!