The Importance of Writing Heroes

I was recently asked for a list of my favorite authors. If you're a voracious reader, much less a writer, that's an almost impossible task, right? Like what movies I like best or which kind of dessert is my favorite. ALL OF THEM, SILLY. (It's even worse because I have so many author friends. I feel horrible leaving anyone off.)

So I redefined the question in my head, and it snapped clear. Who are my writing heroes? Yes, there are SO MANY authors whose books I love to read. But there are only a few who somehow, for indefinable reasons, got under my skin. Most of them are authors I read early on (surprise surprise, kidlit author here), but a couple I didn't meet until high school or college. Still, they're on the list. I read everything (or almost everything) they wrote. I read their books over and over. I memorized pieces of their books, bought collections, moved Every Single Book from home to dorm room to apartment to other apartments to house. I've read their books with my daughter, or I will. I fangirl them. They are, each of them, part of the reason I write, part of the reason I thought it was possible to write. I even type their names with a touch of reverence.

Madeleine L'Engle
L.M. Montgomery
Susan Cooper
Mary Stewart
Douglas Adams
(and yes, Jane Austen)

Sadly, I missed the chance to meet most of them, or write to them, to express in some way how very much their books meant to me. Only two on that list are still living.

I'd rather thought of all of them as unreachable...not instantly accessible, certainly, in the way authors are now. But a couple years ago, when I was at my very lowest writing point--I'd quit writing, and was thinking of leaving my agent, and was despairing a fair bit--I discovered that a good friend of mine (Vicki Pettersson) shared an editor with Mary Stewart. And more amazingly, I could write a letter to Mary Stewart (who was in her 90s), and the editor would pass it on for me. (Thanks, Diana Gill!)

I wrote one. I poured out how much I'd loved her books, how they'd gotten me through all sorts of much she'd touched me with her stories. I told her I wanted to be a writer, but I was struggling, but she was still an example for me. I sent it off, glad I'd told her at least.

I was absolutely floored when she wrote back.

It's probably hard to read, but that last line, there? Says "Good luck with your writing!"

It's a simple note, but I cried as I read it, it meant so much. Just that I'd made contact with one of my heroes, and that she'd reached back. I keep the letter, still, in my jewelry box as one of my treasures. And I wrote another book, left my agent, got another one, and eventually sold the book. I can't say it was all due to her letter--the book dragged me back in, really--but it helped, that encouragement.

So when I saw that Susan Cooper was going to be at Book Expo America this June in New York City, I booked my ticket. I went to BEA for other reasons too, meeting my editor and agent, meeting up with friends, networking, all that good stuff. But I really went, underneath, to MEET SUSAN COOPER.

I was first in line, an hour before. I held the sign for her line. And then this happened:

If I look a little giddy, I WAS. But I managed to be coherent enough to tell her that her books are part of the reason I became a writer. She replied, graciously, "That's the best thing a writer can hear from another writer." I grinned, I'm sure.

I think maybe it's important to have writing heroes, people you admire and respect and whose work you devour, who aren't quite on the same level as you, on Twitter every day and instantly accessible. Or maybe it doesn't really matter HOW readers connect with those heroes, just that somehow, sometimes, it happens, and the authors reach back. As an author, I never expect to be anybody's hero. But I do plan to reach back if anybody reaches out to me.

Who are your writing heroes? Who would you love to meet, or who were you lucky enough to meet or contact (and squee over?)