A Day with an Author

I spent an entire working day with the award-winning author Patricia McCormick. (Just another reason why I love my job.)

Loudoun County Public Library hosts an annual 1Book1Community, which consists of the library purchasing 15,000 copies of a title and passing it out to interested community members. To coincide with the free book we host book discussions, appropriately-themed events, and even an author visit. This year it was decided that we read Patricia McCormick’s Purple Heart, a story of an 18 year old Army soldier who wakes up in a hospital in Iraq with little knowledge of how he sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Snippets of the fire fight slowly come back to him, but he doesn’t want to believe what he is realizing; his buddy killed that young Iraqi boy.

In the words of the author, “Matt’s story is not anti-war or pro-war,” but it does make you think about the human cost of war both in the manner of troop and civilian casualties, and the long-lasting effects on those who come out of the war alive.

McCormick got the idea for the book when she was helping set-up the traveling exhibit Eyes Wide Open in Alabama a few years ago. [The exhibit displays a pair of boots to represent each American troop that died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (over 5,000). A simple Google search of the exhibit will give you an idea of what she helped set up.] She was particularly moved by a pair of red sneakers that looked as though they belonged to a young boy. She remembers being overwhelmed by the need to understand what happened to him. She said during one of her presentations to students, “They’re just boots. They don’t say anything. It’s what we bring to them that gives them meaning.”

Back to my awesome day:
Author visits to Loudoun County are multi-day events. Visits to schools, book signings, workshops, the works! Patty’s (she said I could call her that) visit began at the Douglass School, an alternative school for those grades 6-12 who require/desire a different learning experience. Half of the student body gathered in the lunch room to listen to Patty describe her feelings about the book and to field questions from the teens. She opened up the Q&A by accepting challenging and negative comments, saying, “What sparks good conversation is knowing what you didn’t like.” (Note: No one had anything bad to say.)

A young man from the Juvenile Detention Center asked Patty how she stayed on task while writing a book (each book taking approximately 3 years to write). She said that discipline, keeping yourself motivated, rewarding yourself (she treats herself to M&Ms for every 500 words), and getting critiqued by writers you respect were her ways to staying focused. She also starts every day journaling, emptying her mind of things that aren’t important to the book and that aren’t worth dwelling over. She even said, “I write so many things that go into the trash can.” Patty encouraged the teens to to become discouraged when sentences aren’t coming together. It takes time.

Some lines to remember:
– “Sex trafficking. Substance abuse. Self injury. I’m just a barrel of laughs.”
– Her teenaged son: “How do you come up with these book ideas, mom? Google the word ‘sad’?”
– In response to a question on whether she was a cutter, like the character in her book Cut: “I’m too chicken to hurt myself. But I was that 15 year old with so much anger. So much sadness. And I had no words to describe it. It was a very healing experience to write about it.”
– In response to a question on how she names her characters, “My son’s name is Matt. I really wanted to love this kid.” Furthermore, she named a very hateful character in another book after a horribly nasty person from her life.
– In response to the question of what she reads, “I am constantly inspired by the books I read.” and “Read what you don’t like because it might teach you something.”

Patricia McCormick was a true joy to be around. I will forever be a huge fan of hers and her inspiring novels.

Side notes:
1. In between school visits we went to a stunning 19th century historic landmark here in Loudoun County called Oak Hill (originally owned by President James Monroe). The mansion and the 2,000 acres it sits on are private so I will likely never be able to return (unless my co-worker who is a tenant on the land invites me to tea), but it is an absolutely stunning sight. There are actual dinosaur footprints on stone slabs that had been quarried and sent to the grounds for a walkway. The Smithsonian Institute certified their authenticity.

2. The rare roast beef with lemon-basil mayo sandwich at South Street Under is absolutely to die for.
Myself and Patricia McCormick (and my coworker’s dog, Ruby)

2 Thoughts

  1. Thank you so much for writing this! I live vicariously through you meeting all these awesome YA authors. It's good to know that they're friendly and approachable and down to earth.

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