It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

… when Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit visited the Murrys so long ago. For me, that opening line will always be about Meg and Charles Wallace, even though I know it was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and not Madeline L’Engle. Still, I never read the good Baron’s story and I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what follows his line, but I can tell you what follows in A Wrinkle in Time: the most magical, mystical adventure in childhood literary history.

OK, MAYBE it has some contenders. Maybe.

Still, A Wrinkle in Time is such a famous book that I have yet to find one person who hasn’t heard of it. (To be fair, I don’t travel much. But still…) Yet a startlingly low amount of people can name the author of such a famous book: Madeline L’Engle.

That is her legacy.

When I was in high school my mother allowed me to skip school one day so that I could go to the bookstore and meet Madeline L’Engle. I was so excited that I almost threw up. Seriously.

Yes, that is the kind of fangirl I still am today. Musicians? Meh. Actors? Whatev. Authors? DROOL!

Anyway, I knew there would be no time to actually talk to Mrs. L’Engle, so I wrote her a letter instead. I smiled at her, she smiled at me and signed my book (which was actually my hard-loved copy of A Wind in the Door; I hadn’t gotten A Wrinkle in Time and didn’t have the money to buy it that day either), and I handed her the letter and left. I waited until I was outside to open to the treasured page, and when I saw what she wrote, I felt like I had grown wings. To anyone who hasn’t read A Wind in the Door, this won’t mean anything… but to you who have, this is what she said:

“To Jessica: Be a Namer”.

I still have that book. It will be passed down to my children after I die.

That was the only time I ever saw Madeline L’Engle in person… she died eleven years later in 2007 while I was just beginning my family and I didn’t even know it until last year. But only a few weeks after that short yet memorable encounter, I received a letter in the mail…

…from Madeline L’Engle. To me.

ME!

The author of A Wrinkle in Time had written to ME! PERSONALLY!

To say I was elated would be a gross disservice to the true feelings that welled up inside me at that moment. Madeline L’Engle had answered my letter! I had never expected that in a million fantasies in a billion worlds. Never. I don’t know if she ever knew what that meant to me, but even now, at the age of thirty-four, it makes me teary just thinking about it.

In my letter to her I had asked the typical questions of a budding teenage author: How did you get published? How do I get published? Is it possible to make a living off writing? Of course, these were mixed in with plenty of gushes about how awesome she was and how much I loved her books, yadda yadda.

Thinking back now as an adult professional writer, I can only imagine the small, knowing smile she must have had while reading it.

But her reply said nothing of the trials and tribulations I would have to endure while building my career. Most likely, she knew I would find those out for myself soon enough. Instead, she told me that few writers make a lot of money writing, but that wasn’t the point anyway. She said that true writers are born that way, and that we write because we have to. “It burns inside us”, she said, “and no matter what other jobs we try in our lifetimes, we always go back to writing.”

She told me to just… write. And never stop. And I did.

She didn’t touch much on my gushing about her own work, but she did say one thing that stuck with me through my own long and winding struggle to publication: “It’s not about who I am, but about what my work has created in you. It’s never about the writer; it’s always about the reader.”

That, as I said, is her legacy.

Let us all take a lesson from Madeline L’Engle and remember: it’s not about our fortune and fame. In the end, it’s about the young minds we reach, and the young hearts that we touch.

2 Responses to “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…”

  1. Annika Browne Says:

    Wow! I haven’t read A Wrinkle In Time (I know, I know…) but your story was wonderful and insightful. Keep up the great posts!

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