So I’m spending this week writing a speech that I’ll be giving at the amazing annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in August (www.scbwi.org). I was looking over some past speeches I’ve given, and I came across one from 5 or so years ago. I wrote it the year after my grandmother, Betty, died. It really spoke to me about the power of books and writing, and I wanted to share a portion with you. Excuse the choppy writing! My speeches are always written in weird truncated shorthand…
Last August, my grandmother passed away at the age of 97. For my whole life, I called her Betty. Betty was a potter, very much a bohemian, baking granola, hot tubbing naked, making all her own dishes. Betty and I both loved books and we both loved writing. Ever since I knew how to write, we wrote letters back and forth… I called her Bettina, she called me Carolina. We wrote letters even when she was losing her vision…I wrote really big letters in a huge font. When I started writing, she read everything, edited manuscripts, wanted to talk about it. Read it with magnifying glass. She came to my first book party, brought me a corsage to wear. She was so proud, bought my books for everyone. We talked about characters and words. She was in the hospital and she asked me to bring my latest manuscript and read to her.
Last summer, when her health was failing, my mom and I drove up… My mom has a cabin next door to Betty’s cabin. We visited with Betty, my son played with her ark that she made for her kids during the Second World War. Went back to my mom’s, put my son to bed. A little while later, my mom came over.. “Do you have a copy of Guyaholic with you?” My fourth novel had just come out and I brought to show her. I said yes, and she said, “Betty wants to see it now.” It was ten-thirty at night, maybe we should just wait until morning. My mom didn’t think Betty was going to make it until morning. I brought it over. Betty looked at it…traced her fingers across the cover. Guyaholic. Carolyn Mackler. High heels on cover. Said she was so proud of me, has always been so proud of me. I cried and hugged her and said I loved her. Later that night, Betty died.
Last August, I lost my grandmother and my pen pal, but I’m so deeply moved by how words and books brought us together, that even as she was dying we were able to connect through books.
So there it is. It’s kind of cool to have this record. If it weren’t for that speech, I don’t think I would have written about the night my grandmother died, or even fully remembered that special connection around books and writing.
And now, back to this summer’s speech!