The good news is, the series is going out with a bang with this week's featured author. Today's post will make you LAUGH OUT LOUD. I promise. Please welcome today's Banana Peelin' author, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen!
I always say that since I write fiction for a living, I never let the truth get in the way of a good story. But when it comes to a “banana peel” moment in my writing career, there are so many genuinely horrific things that have happened (or that I’ve done!) that I could not make them up if I tried.
For example, I could tell you about that time I was doing a school visit and I fell off the stage…but as embarrassing as that was, it’s a fairly tame story. There was the time I went to a school and overheard some boys saying things like, “She’s so HOT!” – and then realizing they were talking about my DAUGHTER. Again, awkward and uncomfortable, but not really about my writing journey (and let’s be honest – that is not a memory I want to dwell on. I’d rather re-live the falling off the stage thing!). And then there was the time I wrote a whole YA novel and did not realize that it was AWFUL until I’d spent 6 months on it – but that’s a really sad story and I don’t like to talk about it.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of a good, entertaining banana peel moment to share with you…and I keep coming back to something that happened to me at an educator’s conference. I don’t want to give away any incriminating details, but I believe enough time has elapsed that if I leave out some specifics (to protect the innocent), you guys can get the humor without hurting any feelings…So here goes:
At this educator’s conference, I was asked to stay for the author dinner. Normally, that’s a nice ego boost, people treating you like you are special. (I never turn those down.)
Now, at this particular dinner, the organizers warned me that they were going to ask each of the authors to speak a little bit on how he or she got on the track he/she is on. I figured this was going to be very casual, low stress.
Oh, no. No no no no no.
Each author was asked to speak for 5 to 7 minutes. Not a minute or two. For 300 to 420 seconds. And we would start AFTER dinner.
And there were 15 of us. That’s 75 to 105 minutes of “a few words.”
The cherry on top of this banana split? I was number 14 on the list.
Does that sound bad? Don’t you worry. It gets worse.The first guy is routinely on the NYT Bestseller list. And used to walk a celebrity’s dog while he lived in the YMCA. (Imagine how that feels: he’s on the NYT Bestseller list, and I, you know, published something.)
The next woman has won like 712 awards. The next woman felt honored to be a children’s book author since she didn’t learn to read until she was like 9.
I haven’t won very many awards and I learned to read at a normal time.
Then a guy comes up and has his wife sing the national anthem to the country he created in his novel (she wrote the national anthem).
Then a guy plays the flute and gives us a Native American blessing.
By this point, I was incredibly resentful of being number 14 on the list.
Then a guy gets up and raps his picture book. Which I TOTALLY would’ve done had he not beat me to it. Really.
Then a woman gets up and tells a joke. And I think, Great! I’ll tell a joke! Except then I realize that the only joke I know has a hooker and a crocodile in it. This was not the right audience.
I don’t even remember what else happened, but trust me when I say that it just got worse and worse.
But as with all things in life, there are lessons to be learned. The most important actually ties into what we do as authors and storytellers. The thing is, all the stories we would tell are already out there. As authors, we can’t find new stories – we can only find new ways to tell them, ways that leverage our own personal narratives to create our fictional narratives. In a room full of authors who have been asked to talk about how each got on the path to success, the story is really the same – hard work, perseverance, and the overcoming of many embarrassing, difficult, banana peel moments. But the way each of us told his or her story was unique. And even though I was scheduled toward the end and spent a great deal of time mentally railing against the injustice of being forced to think up a new story every time someone else “took” my idea first, by the time I got up there, I’d found my unique voice. I talked about my non-traditional path to writing and the ways that I used my life to inspire my art. I talked about how writing was both a career and a calling for me, and how difficult it was for me to accept that the more successful I got, the harder it was to follow the calling and not the career. And I talked about how I write for many of the same reasons that others do – to inspire, to create, to be heard – but that I also write for a reason that no one else had mentioned yet: I write for Visa. I write because I’ve got bills to pay.
And, in case you’re wondering, the other lesson learned – the one that might be more important – was this: insist you must leave early so that you are scheduled near the beginning and not second from last. Because it is so much harder to think of something interesting to say after 13 other people have talked.
Silver lining: it could’ve been worse — I could’ve been number 15.
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the award-winning author of many, many books for children, including picture books, nonfiction for young readers, and a forthcoming chapter book series called THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY (due out in 2014). Her picture book QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY was selected for the California Readers 2011 Book Collections for School Libraries. BALLOTS FOR BELVA was named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer List and received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award in 2008 and FLYING EAGLE was a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Book selection for Students K–12 in 2010. Her science book, NATURE SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS, was named a finalist for the 2011 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. And her books CHICKS RUN WILD (named one of Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year in 2012) and HAMPIRE! (nominated for a Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award) are her personal favorites, and just fabulous.
Sudipta speaks at conferences, educator events, and schools across the country, teaching the craft of writing to children and adults. She lives outside Philadelphia with her three children and an imaginary pony named Penny. Learn more about her and her books at www.sudipta.com.