I stand before a room full of children talking about my novel, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy of Los Angeles is the grade school all our children attended; and so there is no shortage of emotion just being in the building where Ariel ZT”L, and the girls spent so much of their childhood.
I tell the children about the years of research into Apache culture that it took for me to feel adequately prepared to write the novel. I discuss the creative process, emphasizing three words:
When I tell the children, 5th and 6th graders, that each page, each word has been written and rewritten at least fifteen times, they gasp in disbelief.
The boys go wild with joy when I detail the violence of the Old West, they particularly love it when I describe scalpings. The girls go “Euuuuw,” but sigh dreamily when I narrate the relationshiop between Ariel, the Hebrew Kid, and Lozen, the Apache Maiden. It’s soooooo romantic.
I treasure these sessions. Always, one shy child from the back will approach and tell me in almost a whisper that he/she wants to be a writer when they grow up. What is my advice?
“Don’t wait to grow up,” I say. “Start writing right now.”
“But what?” they ask. “What should I write?”
“A diary,” I reply. “And in it, write anything you want.”
The assembly is almost over and I take one last question. A little boy who has read the book says:
“I see that you dedicated the book to your son. What grade is he in now?”
I hesitate a moment. There is a splinter in my throat.
“He’s not in any grade,” I stupidly reply.
The Librarian saves me from further embarrassment and calls the class to an end.
The children file out. I sit, head bowed, catching my breath. A shadow falls over me. I look up. It’s the little boy who just asked the question about Ariel. He holds out his copy of my book.
“Can you write something to me?”
I inscribe the book using my favorite fountain pen. He stares, amazed as I blot the ink with a creamy sheet of linen paper. He smiles hugely, telling me that he loves books more than anything in the world. I have to hold myself back, so strong is the urge to hug this seraphic child.