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Unexpected Gift

Last week right around this time I drove down to Eugene and met with Kate Gessler’s English as a Second Language class at Lane Community College. This is a class for adults that focuses on reading and writing in English, and they have been reading Hanging On to Max.

Kate contacted me back in late October or early November to tell me that they were reading the book and she asked if I would mind answering some questions from the students. I said sure, and started getting wonderful emails with thoughtful questions about the story and my writing process. Kate and the students then invited me to attend their final class of the semester. “We usually have a potluck dinner, “Kate said, so of course I said I would be there.

I arrived in the little classroom in the basement of the building to find a feast had been laid out. Dishes from the Ukraine, Indonesia, Mexico, Java, Brazil, Puerto Rico…it was, as someone said, like having dinner at the United Nations. We all filled our plates, and then sat down to delicious food and an in-depth discussion of Max.

I quickly realized that I should have read the book  before I got there. They knew the story better than I did.  They hated the ending–a comment I have heard before–but they were willing to consider  why I felt the book had to end that way. But it was clear that they had  taken all of my characters into their hearts. They gave me an unforgettable dinner, but they gave me something even more lasting and delightful. Nothing is more valuable and important to a writer than intelligent, articulate and engaged readers.

When you write a book, it is yours for the entire creative process. The story becomes more than something you are writing; it becomes a part of you. The characters follow you around and inhabit your entire life. And then, when the book is done, and if you are very, very lucky, published, it no longer belongs solely to you. It belongs to your readers; it becomes a part of their lives. They own it in a way that you could not.

When I wrote Hanging On to Max, I never dreamt that it would take me to a school visit in a community college. When I sent that book out into the world, I hoped that it would have a safe journey. I never dreamt it would find such a safe harbor.


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