I've heard Gary Schmidt speak a few times. To me, he was at his best at the Hamline MFA residency program lecture in July of 2015, where he paced back and forth, speaking without notes. A one man show. There was laughter, lots of laughter. A few tears, okay maybe more than a few. Impressed with his knowledge of history and endless stories, I thought I would never hear anything so eloquent again. I was wrong.
On Sunday, Gary was the last speaker at the #NY16SCBWI conference. The person next to me was an illustrator. She was thinking about leaving and getting in line for autographs.
"Don't leave" I said. "Stay. It will be worth it."
"But I'm not a writer" she said.
"It doesn't matter. Don't leave. It will be worth it".
Gary was full of exceptional stories. He spoke about writing. He spoke about kids.
"Who do you write for?" he asked.
Gary explained who he wrote for. The kind of kid he wrote for. The kind of kid I was. The kind of kid I still am. When I am writing and trying to pull from my experiences and my emotion from that time in my life, I am that kid.
Sitting on the runway waiting for the plane to take off, I reached in my bag and pulled out Gary's book Okay For Now. I started to read. It was snowing and the plane was delayed. I read. We had to wait in a long line to be De-iced. I read. Down to one runway for take offs and landings. I read. We waited. I read.
The woman sitting next to me was carrying a HUGE bible, (about 17" x 11") weird, right? Occasionally she would look at me and I knew she was wondering why a grown woman was reading a book meant for middle school kids, but I kept reading. And when I asked her to turn on my light because I was too short, I am sure she thought I was reading at the appropriate level for my intellect. But I kept reading.
When Lucas came home from the war and his mom greeted him, I cried. I cried because I am a mom and because I was the kid Gary writes for. In a voice used for a seven year old, bible lady told me it would be okay, we were going to take off soon.
I finished the book, almost at the exact time the wheels touched down. I was home. On the way home from the airport, I told my husband about the kid I write for. It felt good to say it out loud.
"I was that kid" I said.
"Sometimes you still are" he said.
Maybe that bible lady wasn't too far off. During that flight, reading that book, I was that kid. When I was eleven, a book changed me. It changed the way I looked at my life and gave me hope for my future.
Thank you Gary D. Schmidt. Thank you for writing for the kid I was and sometimes, the kid I still am.
So whether you write with words or with pictures, ALWAYS remember who you are writing for. You might be writing for me.