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Our Reading Lives

The First Time I Met a Living Author

Rachel Cordasco

Staff Writer

Rachel Cordasco has a Ph.D in literary studies and currently works as a developmental editor. When she's not at her day job or chasing three kids, she's writing reviews and translating Italian speculative fiction. She runs the website, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

It was 6th grade and I was 12 years old. Already, I had decided to become a writer when I grew up. My first “novel,” written when I was 9, was an 80-page rant about school and snobby girls and anything else I felt like throwing into it. I was very sure of myself back then.

Anyway, it was the spring of 1994 and a REAL, LIVE, LIVING, BREATHING WRITER was coming to my school to meet with us and read from her latest book. Her name was Mary Downing Hahn. We were all expected to read at least two of her young adult novels and write a little essay on them. I, you can imagine, was freaking out. A real writer, who had her books published. I just couldn’t even, the excitement was so intense.

And then, my English teacher announced that one of us would be chosen to introduce Ms. Hahn, and I think my brain nearly exploded. The introducer would get the chance to chat with the writer for a few minutes before the talk and, you know, get some writing pointers.

I really don’t remember how it all went down, but I must have leapt on my teacher and begged her and pleaded to let me give the introduction. So I wrote a short piece and submitted it, and my teacher gave me the green light. AHHHHHHHHHH. I was probably a terrible pain to live with that week.

Recently, I found my little speech in a box of books after my parents moved. I offer it here with all of its mistakes and grammatical faux-pas (don’t laugh too hard):

Mary Downing Hahn is a very good writer of children and adult type books. I, and many of my friends, think that her books are very detailed, easy to understand, and enjoyable. Out of all the nine books that I read by her, all of them are my favorite.

Most of the plots in the books were about adventures with evil witches, growing up and making new friends, and dealing with wars.

In the book, The Jellyfish Season, Miss Hahn talks about a girl named Kathleen who’s family had to move to her cousin’s house near the beach because her father lost his job. It was hard for Kathleen and her three little sisters to adjust to the new surroundings in Bay View after living in Baltimore all of their life. The book had a lot of action and fun in it. It also made you feel as if you were the characters in the book and you were living their life. I enjoyed it very much.

But another book titled Stepping on the Cracks, had a very different twist. It was about life and growing up during World War II in the 1940’s. The book was very emotional and made the reader feel as if they could capture the feelings at the moment when Margaret’s brother had been killed in war, or when the families all over the world heard that the war was getting worse.

I thought that all of Miss Hahn’s books were creatively written and thought out. Let’s all welcome Mary Downing Hahn to our school.

I know, right? I especially like the line “Out of all the nine books that I read by her, all of them are my favorite.” Oy.

Well, with shaking hands and squeaky voice, I went to meet with Ms. Hahn before the presentation, armed with a pile of her books. I asked her to sign them for me, and then asked for some advice about becoming a professional writer. She smiled kindly and told me to just keep writing. If I tried hard and kept at it, I’d have a good chance at realizing my dream.

I gave my little intro and there were some half-hearted claps and then Ms. Hahn read a passage from one of her books. It was a wonderful day for an aspiring young writer.

More writers came to our school in the succeeding years, and I met them as well, but meeting Mary Downing Hahn was special. She took me seriously, even though I was a clueless middle-schooler with novel-writing delusions. It was one of the best experiences of my young life.


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