Friday evening is still with me.

That’s when I attended a discussion at 57th Street Books, organized by the Hyde Park network of SCBWI. (It’s an acronym you’ll see here often, and it translates to the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.)

The event featured Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me, and her editor Wendy Lamb (of Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House). I was nervous. Why was I nervous? I’d read the book, so I was ready for any potential pop-quizzes. Maybe it was the John Newbery Medal that the book just won. It could just be that the book was amazing, and to be in the room was to feel like a “smart 10-year-old” again. (Stead and Lamb joked that this particular “demographic” was the ultimate test of WYRM‘s internal logic. Lamb added that she still doesn’t “get” it!)

The discussion was varied and entertaining in itself. Preteens and adults alike raised their hands, and Ms. Stead answered every question with the same openness and honesty as the one before. This is what’s still with me: Her willingness to let us into her head, to walk around for a little while. She signed the children’s copies of the book first, taking time with each young fan to answer questions and just talk. In my copy, she signed a “note” to my son Archer, because I can’t wait until the book “reaches” him. We also talked very briefly about the business. I shared what little experience I’ve had (which has been interesting), and I completely felt like she understood. She said “Well then, keep going!” and her written note in my new copy of First Light says the same.

There are little quips about being human in When You Reach Me that I never expected to find reflected in a page of print. And in real life, she’s just like that. She admitted, “I never liked book groups,” explaining that the experience of a book is so personal and the emotions were too big to talk about. As she explained this feeling she’d had as a kid, I went right back to my childhood and felt it, too.

A writer has to be brave enough to write honestly, even if it means saying something new. It can be scary to be original. Maybe the nerves mean we’re doing something right.

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