MORNING COFFEE 2 - twain shall meet

by Susan Weber

Just before Nicola Yoon, author of The Sun is Also a Star, takes the stage, the young women seated behind me compare their piles of unread books. “Man I am so backed up it’s ridiculous,” says one, to which her friend replies, “I only have fourteen, but I try to keep it below ten." They report on various book clubs they’re in while setting up a road trip to Columbus to hear another favorite author plug her book.

Nicola Yoon gets started by saying she reads two books a week and watches zero TV. “Reading makes me a more interesting writer,” she says. My guess is that this crowd doesn't do much screen time either.

Readers coming out in droves to an author event harkens to the time before entertainment got so glitzy. Mark Twain and others toured the country giving lectures, sharing stories. People flocked to those diversions. Having joined the flock this summer, I notice our return to Twain culture reveals us the voracious readers to each other as much it connects us to our authors.

This author's style is low-key friendly. Giving up her engineering work was hard, she says, having grown up poor in Jamaica. “I wanted stability, but I knew I had to write. So I did that every day from 4 to 6 before work.” She says the nagging you-can't-write-that-what-will-people-think voice tends to be sound asleep at that hour, allowing her actual voice to hold sway. "Let your freak flag fly," she advises, since editors and readers want that too. Her first novel, Everything, Everything, became a bestseller and eventually a movie. She left engineering for the writing desk.

Yoon shares her secrets with writers in the audience. “Don’t judge your own or anyone else’s work. Just absorb everything and write good stories.” As for doubt, it’s part of the game. “First drafts are supposed to be terrible. Books are made in revision.” She hates first drafting but considers herself “really good at revising a book.”

She distinguishes between mirror stories that reflect a reader's known experience and window stories that let readers look into other worlds. Window books with their diverse array of characters and situations breed empathy. She says the world needs more of those.

Now Ms. Yoon is answering questions as though her daughter, her sister, her elder were asking. She has us in readerly thrall to the thrill of words and self-discovery. If the ghost of Mr. Twain in his white three-piece were to happen by this lecture hall, I think he’d settle in for the duration.

Photo by El coleccionista de instantes CC BY-SA 2.0