A Visit with Kate DiCamillo

Josie Leavitt -- March 24th, 2011

This is the signing line, which conveniently ran the length of the book display.

This past Monday, we had an author visit with Kate DiCamillo. The excitement was palpable all day and it just created a special air to an event we knew was a gift. A gift of such a talented author coming to Vermont and choosing to come to the Flying Pig.

Our venue could only hold 215 people. By Monday morning we had upwards of 30 people on the waiting list who were calling  to see if they could get in. We had some bad weather and, kids being kids, some got sick, so we had some cancellations. We devised a real 21st-century system for dealing with the wait list, so as many people who wanted to see Kate, could. I was with Kate and Jennifer Roberts at the Edmund’s Elementary School and had the wait list with me. My staffers would email me changes to my iPhone and I’d call based on what the email said. It was a lot like I was a magic fairy when I’d call people and say, “Hi, it’s Josie from the Flying Pig.” And I’d be met with squeals and shouts of, “Really? I got in?” It was amazing.

My two door people were fearless. They almost didn’t let Kate in because she wasn’t on the list. It’s easy to forget how many books Kate has written until you see them all laid out on three six-foot tables, and most of the books have stickers of silver or gold on them. Some kids just ogled the table and walked slowly up and down tapping books: “I’ve read this. This is my favorite, this one made me laugh.” The venue, Shelburne Town Hall, is lovely, and while it may hold 215 people, they’ve only got 130 chairs, so we set up a groundling area for the kids because they pack down so well. The adults got chairs and the room was full, right to capacity.  What I loved so much about this event is the kids and the adults were all leaning forward in their chairs, hanging on every word.

Kate read the first chapter of Because of Winn-Dixie and then took questions. This might have been my favorite part of the whole event. Hands shot up and Kate, who’s got phenomenal hearing, just started answering. Like most good speakers she repeated every question so we all could hear it. My favorite question came from a child who was about six, who asked in a shy voice, “Where do you find your words?” Kate’s answer was brilliant: “I don’t have a problem finding the words, it’s putting them in order that’s the problem.” Kate treated all questions equally whether they were asked by an adult or a child. She didn’t talk about structure but rather imparted the joy and the mystery of writing. She writes two pages a day, that’s it. That’s her goal, she said. “If you write two pages a day, every day, at the end of the year you’ve got a novel. And that’s pretty good.” People looked incredulous. This was what everyone was talking about while waiting in the signing line. To hear someone whose had as much success as Kate DiCamillo say she only writes two pages a day was liberating, especially since we all think of writers of spending all day toiling and writing pages and pages a day.

Kate inspired everyone in the room. A young girl was buying a book and said in response to Kate’s writing two pages a day, “Two pages is a lot, I’m not sure I could do that.” I asked her if she could start with two paragraphs a day until she worked up to two pages a day and she hopped, hugged her book and thought that was very doable.

Parents encouraged kids not to buy paperbacks, but to get hardcovers instead. One father told his daughter that these books were treasures and therefore it should be the hardcovers that got signed. I loved that dad for recognizing and encouraging library collection with his daughter and teaching her early on that some books are really special.

I think many folks left the event knowing their favorite author a little better. And l bet a considerable number of people in northern Vermont have written eight pages since Monday.

10 thoughts on “A Visit with Kate DiCamillo

  1. Sheela Chari

    I got the rare chance to hear Kate DiCamillo speak at a workshop in NYC with my 8 year old daughter. Kate is a phenomenal speaker – down to earth and charming. I especially loved hearing about her slush pile success (she was discovered by a Candlewick editor after a sales rep brought a story in by Kate to show to her). No agent at the time as far as I know. What a lovely event it must have been for all of you.

  2. Bobbie Pyron

    Oh how I WISH I’d been there! Kate walks on water, as far as I’m concerned. To have a signed copy of Because of Winn Dixie is a dream! And as an author, I was so relieved to read that She only writes two pages a day 🙂

  3. Kathy Hartzler

    It was a pleasure to read of Kate’s visit. It is so gratifying to hear her speak of writing with young children. What a gift for them to view an author this way-and for her to see her audience as they are. She is a special individual as well as a talented author.

  4. Amanda

    What a wonderful event and a wonderful description of it, Josie. Thanks for this. I hear many authors talk about taking the same approach as Kate, of writing just a little bit every day. Children can even experience this kind of structured approach to writing by participating in NaNoWriMo. For the month of November, they write 500 words a day and in a month’s time they have a novel! It’s a great program/site to know about. I’ve been floored by work I’ve seen produced this way!

  5. Mimi Powell

    wow! so glad it went so smoothly ( and hopefully profitably) for you guys and that the venue worked out. How did you ever have enough Hardcovers in this paperback world? Mimi@Baker Books

  6. Stephanie

    The father who encouraged his daughter to purchase and treasure the hardcovers is also the type of parent that gives the rest of us hope. These kids are the future of our country and if they can recognize treasures like books, they can recognize the treasure of education and free thinking. Kudos to him!

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