There are a handful of moments in my life that have had a huge impact on me as a writer, and one of them involves this book. It might not sound like a very big deal, but it’s a tiny memory — a pebble in my pocket — that I turn over and over when I’m struggling with a project.
In January of 2008, I was attending my first Kindling Words retreat in Vermont, and Laurie Halse Anderson was the leader of the author strand, which meant she gave three 90-minute presentations on craft over the course of the retreat — one each morning. I was excited. I had read every one of Laurie’s books and had just finished sharing FEVER 1793 with my 7th graders as a whole class novel. Laurie was — and is — one of those authors I want to be like when I grow up.
So on the first morning of the retreat, I showed up at the ballroom early with my cup of tea, figuring I’d get a good seat and scribble notes for a while until the workshop started. I was the only one there. Except for Laurie. She was sitting on the floor against a wall, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, poking away at her laptop and looking like she was about to pull her hair out. I sat down really quietly and pretended to write and drink tea, but really I was watching her. She never looked up until the room started to fill and she had to get ready for her talk.
She said a lot of things in that talk, but what I remember most is this: "Chapter 20 is kicking my butt."
That’s what she’d been working on over in her corner. Because she was working on it every spare minute, determined to get it just right.
And she did.
WINTERGIRLS was that book.
Today is its official release day, and you can buy it at your favorite independent bookseller or find one through IndieBound. You should. It’s an amazing, amazing story about eater disorders and teenagers and self-image and pain and forgiveness and healing. Teens are going to love it and hold onto it tightly.
As for me? I hold onto that picture of Laurie sitting on the floor with her laptop. Because that’s what a real writer looks like. And if she can turn Chapter 20 into that kind of magic, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us too.