C’mon, we all have them. As a kid, it was S.E. Hinton. When I began writing for kids, it was Robert Sabuda. I heard him speak at an SCBWI conference. He was adorable and hilarious. And I fell. Hard. I bought every one of his pop-up books, sat front-and-center in all his workshops, and even paged him over the microphone during the after-hours party when I couldn’t find him. K, two words: Restraining. Order.
But I digress.
When I started writing for teens, my crush was Laurie Halse Anderson. I must’ve read Speak 1,000 times to study her mastery of dialogue and teen-think. Then it was Walter Dean Myers. Everything he writes is pure genius! Brilliant and authentic details paint perfect portraits of today’s youth. Then Alan Lawrence Sitomer. Nothing gratuitous. Nothing false. Just completely real. Then it was Dave Eggers. Reading his books, meeting him, and working for his 826 L.A. nonprofit organization absolutely changed my life and the course of my writing. His generosity and compassion for today’s disadvantaged youth is unmatched, and I consider him to be one of the most talented and altruistic people on the planet.
Not only do I take my crushes seriously, but I maintain them over time and keep adding to the list. Call me fickle. Or promiscuous. Or something. As a slow (and recovering reluctant) reader, it takes a lot for me to fall for an author. He/she must grab my attention from word one...and never let go. No flowery language or soggy middles or unnecessarily large words. And he/she must make me laugh. Even if it’s in a sarcastic, twisted, not necessarily funny to normal people kind of way.
My new crush is Brad Herzog, picture book writer and travel writer extraordinaire. His books States of Mind and Small World are love-letters to America, journals of his treks via Winnebago through the 48 contiguous states. He illustrates beautifully what I’ve always believed. Although people often think that exotic travel must include passports, shots, and malaria pills, there is a world of wonder, with interesting and diverse people and subcultures, right in our own country. Who knew??
True story: When I moved to New Hampshire in 1993, many of my college friends couldn’t find it on a map. A few didn’t even know it was its own state! One girlfriend said, “New Hampshire? That’s in Massachusetts, right?” I love that Mr. Herzog celebrates small town America and debunks the myth that small towns equal small minds, and that back roads equal backwards thinking. I knew this was a match made in heaven when I found my very own teeny tiny New Hampshire town featured in States of Mind. There’s even a picture of an old friend of mine chairing a town hall meeting!
After meeting and befriending Brad (we’re on BFF, first-name basis now), I read his books and fell really hard for his writing style and his ability to weave humor with history and universal human truths. This crush has even inspired me to re-structure my YA work-in-progress into the form of a travel diary, where my main character seeks, as Brad would say, “to cleanse one’s soul, restore one’s confidence and cure the virus of restlessness” through travel. Bonus is that the guy returns my calls and emails, and there’s been no mention of the words “Restraining Order.”
Brad recently discovered that States of Mind is included on high school AP Geography reading lists. Which, to me, is just plain brilliant. If we were assigned books like this in high school, I would have been way more interested in Geography and American History. And my girlfriend would be able to find New Hampshire, the state, on a U.S. map!