Meet the Author: Kate DiCamillo



My name is Kate DiCamillo, and I've written
four novels, and I'll have a total of six easy readers soon enough. The novels are Because
of Winn-Dixie, Tiger Rising, Tale of Despereaux, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
And the easy readers are all about a pig named Mercy Watson. I've just finished the sixth
one in that series, and I've got a picture book that will come out this fall, called
Great Joy. I've written mostly novels, but I'm branching out into other things. When I was in college, and professors said,
"Hey, you should think about graduate school. You've got a way with words." I thought, "Super. I've got a way with words.
I'm gonna be a writer. I'll be rich and famous." So then I bought a lot of black turtlenecks
and started looking sophisticated and world-weary, and I spent the next ten years that way, until
I realized that I wasn't going to be a writer unless I wrote something. So, I didn't actually start until I was almost
30. But I decided that I wanted to do it in my twenties. Sad story. Wasted youth… I worked at Disney World. I worked at Circus
World. I worked at a campground. I worked in a greenhouse. And the whole time, I said,
"I'm gonna be a writer" — but I wasn't writing. At the time, I was certainly a lost soul,
but all those jobs at the margin of society were a profound influence on me and became
a way of looking at the world. I became an outsider, because the rest of my friends were
moving along on a very prescribed path, and I had fallen off the track. So it was actually
a good thing. I didn't know that at the time, though. Nor
did I believe it. It's like, "Man, I'm a loser. What a loser. I'm a loser." And then I would
say, "Look down and watch your step," which was my job at Disney. Why would somebody bother to keep on sending
stuff out after that many rejection letters? I don't have an answer. I'd waited so long
to start. You know, a whole decade of my life went by with me saying that this is what I
wanted to do, but not doing it. I had reached such a critical level of self-disgust. I didn't
want to die saying, "I think I could have done it." Since I was doing the work of telling stories,
it was then an easy enough thing to then send the stories out and to keep on doing it, so
I didn't have to say some 50 years hence, "I think I could've done that." Well you know, I've been in so many writing
workshops, writing classes, and to the right of me and to the left of me, there's always
somebody much more talented than I am. And what I figured out is they're not willing
to go through the rejection, which is enormous, and then the compromise that comes with editing
your work. I decided a long time ago that I didn't have to be talented. I just had to
be persistent, and that that was something that I could control — the persistence.
I've always been kind of persistent. That was unbelievable, you know, because the
amazing thing about the Newbery is that, as far as literary awards go, it's something
that the layperson recognizes. People who aren't in the book world know that award and
pick up a book because of that award, and I, as a child, knew to look for that medal
on a book — that it guaranteed me that I was going to like the book. And so to think that that would be on something
that I had written — the first thing that I'd written — there's no describing that
feeling. Hysteria. I can't remember where they were that year.
It must've been on the West Coast, because the call came relatively early, and I was
hysterical, and then I went off to work at the bookstore. It was a life-changing thing,
and I hadn't understood the implications of how it was going to change my life. I wrote Because of Winn-Dixie during what
was at the time referred to as the "worst winter on record" in Minnesota, which is a
considerable statement for Minnesota, which is roughly the equivalent of Siberia in climate.
And because I'd grown up in Florida, it was a double shock to me. I mean we had a week
where the high didn't go above 20 below, and so you walk outside, and you open up your
car door, and pieces of it fall off because it's so cold. So, at that point, I was thinking, "Hmm. I
wonder what things are like in Florida." And so I was homesick, and it was the first long
period in my life that I'd been without a dog or access to a dog. I desperately wanted
a dog, so I made a dog up, and I went back to Florida – all of that happening without
any conscious decision on my part. I can look back and see what was at work now, but then
I just knew that I was longing for home and that I wanted to write a book… When I got to the set, they were filming the
scene with Dave Matthews playing a song for Opal in the pet store. And I'm not a weeper,
but I sat there and just cried like a baby, which delighted Wayne Wang, the director.
He was so pleased. It's an astonishing thing, because, you know,
you're in your little room, in your little apartment at 4:30 in the morning making things
up, and then all of a sudden five years later, there it is in everybody's mind, in a way,
so it was very unsettling and very moving. I always quote Dorothy Parker: "I hate writing.
I love having written." And so every morning, it's the first thing I do when I wake up.
And every morning, I wake up and think, "Oh, God. I don't want to write today." But I just
go ahead and do it anyway. And then for the rest of the day, I can think, "Oh, I got that
done." And then I start the battle over again the next morning… Why do I write? Because life makes more sense
when I write, because even though it's a struggle for me every day, at least once a week I'll
be sitting there, and a feeling will wash over me of, "This is what I'm supposed to
be doing." And I feel like I'm incredibly lucky that I get to do it. I feel like I'm
incredibly lucky that I found what I'm supposed to do. And just because it's hard for me doesn't
mean that it's not what I'm supposed to be doing. Anything teachers can do for the struggling
readers in their classroom? Read to them. I know that's incredibly hard to do now, with
standardized testing — that there's not enough time in the day to do that. But if
you can read aloud… And parents, it doesn't matter if the child
is reading on their own, if you continue to read aloud with them each night. And, again,
for parents, if the child sees you reading a book for your own pleasure, rather than
screaming at them to read for 15 minutes, and then you're sitting out there, watching
TV — if you can model for them that it a profoundly moving experience for you to read
a book for yourself, then that, I think, will encourage the child to read. And beyond that, I don't know, because I was
such a reader myself, you never had to beg me to read. It was how I made sense out of
things. If you want to write, you should read — a
lot. And not only in a certain genre, but outside of what you're interested in. If you
like realistic fiction, you should read fantasy. You should just read across the board. And
if you want to write, you should write, which seems kind of like a no-brainer, but it took
me about ten years to figure it out. That means making some kind of commitment to doing
the work of writing, even if it's two pages a day; if it's a page a day; if it's, you
know, just some kind of goal that you set for yourself that's reachable. If you want to write, you should pay attention
to people — everybody has a story — and listen to people when they talk. Not because
you want to steal their story, but because almost everybody's interesting if you give
them a chance and if you ask them the right questions. So, that's it. Listen. Write. Read. Pretty
simple.

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