I have always been a book person. In another professional life I was going to be a famous editor at a big time New York publishing house. Lately, my third-grade daughter has been reading Kate DiCamillo books with me.
“We get our ideas from listening and looking and eavesdropping and imagining. Stories are everywhere. All you have to do is pay attention…Each time you look at the world and the people in it closely, imaginatively, the effort changes you.” – Kate DiCamillo
If you’ve read any of her work you will know that it consistently evokes a deeply emotional response. She precisely conveys the depths of despair and the height of joy, sometimes within the same sentence:
“There is nothing sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name.” [Tale of Desperaux, Candlewick Press, 2003]
I love reading the stories other people write. And, with the really good ones, the people that write them fascinate me.
Like many authors, there is a Kate DiCamillo website with interesting background information about Kate and her work. I was particularly struck by the story behind her first writing effort and an epiphany that shaped her craft:
“I cannot control whether or not I am talented, but I can pay attention. I can make an effort to see.”
Interestingly, Ms. DiCamillo is also very active on Facebook. I liked her page several months ago and have been floored by the richness and consistency, but also by the sincerity of her engagement. Her posts beautifully reflect her personal brand. She shares meaning she finds in everyday beauty and gratitude for the love of friends and family with such an authentic voice. Small effort has a big impact on her. She relays tidbits about people and events that influenced her book writing: the gift of a rabbit doll that inspired Edward Tulane; the young boy who asked for a heroic book where the main character would have large ears that became Desperaux Tilling (and the fact that that boy was just recently married!). Her connection with her readers and her characters is just so genuine.
On some level, Ms. DiCamillo relies on social media in the same way that we all do: to build awareness and to sell more books. In some ways we have the same challenges. A writer—like a consultant—is branding himself or herself; building awareness for a brand which is usually their personal name (Lemony Snicket notwithstanding). But, the way in which Kate DiCamillo interacts on Facebook suggests she simply needs to share the the contents of her mailbag. The very manner and type of her interaction–the level of connection she has with her audience–reinforces her personal brand. I have borrowed a few posts from her site to show you what I mean.
“Thank you for letting Despereaux be a hero and allowing Otis to keep a job and giving the magician a loving wife.” Something about this just undoes me…I am so grateful to be doing this…
One of the first letters I ever received was from a ten-year old girl who lived in Louisiana. She told me that she kept Because of Winn-Dixie on her nightstand. She said that if she woke up in the middle night and felt afraid, she would turn on the light and read from the book for a while, until she felt “safe and warm” and then she would go back to sleep. That little girl would be a grown up now. I wonder if she knows I still think of her. I wonder if she knows what a gift she gave to me.
She doesn’t make me feel like a voyeur when I read these posts. But, she definitely makes me feel. I am frequently moved to tears, but in a good way. And, incidentally, I really want my child to read this woman’s books.
Ms. DiCamillo, you get people. You have a unique ability to understand aspects of the human experience and make your understanding accessible, meaningful. You would have been a skilled market researcher. But I’m really glad you decided to write.