<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Two Scenes in Which I Listen to Other Writers


In the middle of class, I gathered my bags and quietly snuck out, feeling no guilt though rather sad to be leaving behind what was quickly becoming an interesting discussion on cyborgs. The previous evening I'd received a phone call from my YA Fantasy professor, Carole, to tell me that Australian YA fantasy author Isobelle Carmody was in town and that they'd arranged for her to give a talk in one of Carole's classes. (Though her visit was not a surprise, the sudden arrangements and short warning time were--to myself and everyone else involved.) Despite the fact that I have class solidly on Tuesdays from 10 AM to 5:30 PM, I quite definitely could not miss this talk, hence the sneaking.

Isobelle Carmody is quite famous in Australia, though I admit that I'd heard her name for the first time only a few weeks before. Since then I'd read her first novel, Obernewtyn--a novel that she'd written when she was 14, rewritten countless times in the years following, published when she was 20--sold to the first publisher that she submitted it to. The book was shortlisted for Australia's major children's book award, which made her a bestseller within days of the announcement.

I enjoyed Obernewtyn, though wasn't surprised to discover that it was her first novel. I'd be interested to read some of her more recent books, of which there are many. One day.

Her talk lasted an hour, and was like listening to a friend tell stories about the crazy things that had happened in her life (though, admittedly, a one-sided conversation held in a packed lecture hall). She talked about her childhood and how she'd come to be a storyteller and then a writer, her experiences writing and publishing and how she became famous. She gave advice and talked about her good and bad cover art and answered questions.

Afterwards, Carole introduced us, and I spent about five or ten minutes talking to her about writing and publishing and the like before I had to hurry off to my next class. She had a quick smile, terrifically short bangs, and wore the neatest collection of silver rings that I've seen in a long while.


In my final class of the day there are a few Creative Writing majors. (Names, faces, and personality quirks are not going to be mentioned to avoid identifying the scrutinized.) During break, sometimes they sit together and chat about so-and-so's latest story, or what they're working on, or going over some funny incident or another that happened in their latest CW class. I've always watched and listened to these conversations with a detached sort of interest, feeling like a spy from a potential future: that could have been me, I think, and I watch as if enough attention would explain to me just how that might have felt.

Yesterday, as people came into the room with their Styrofoam cups of coffee and mini bags of chips and Doritos, the CW majors were discussing how it felt to walk into a room full of other writers. It was nerve-wracking, they said, back and forth, each agreeing with the other's experiences. And it was nerve-wracking to sit there in class, they said, knowing that all these other writers are there, watching them, perhaps studying them at that very moment. Judging. As they themselves are judging everyone else there.

And I wanted to say to them, What sort of reality are you living in? What sort of writers are you associating with? What makes you think that this is normal, or okay? Is writing ability somehow apparent in the way that one listens, or holds a pen, or fidgets with a scrap of paper? Can you tell how a story is going to read from the way that a person chews their gum? I thought of my quiet chat with the bestselling Isobelle Carmody an hour or so before. But I said nothing, and opened the plastic wrap around the straw to my raspberry juice box with a loud crinkle.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:55 PM


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