Recently I had one of the best surprises of my writing life, and it concerned a book that came out nine years ago.
Lots of people judge whether a book is a success by what happens in that first year, or even in the first few months. By that standard, my first book, Virginia Bound — a story about a boy who is kidnapped from London and shipped to Virginia as an indentured servant in the 1620s — barely held its own. There was a recession that year, and I wasn’t able to do a lot of publicity for it, and for a while I feared it would never find its audience.
Turns out, though, that the book was just a late bloomer. The year after it was published, it started showing up on state lists. Sales went up, not down. A few years after that it won a children’s choice award. And now, nine years down the line, I still get some lovely reader mail for it.
Still, I’ve never had a letter quite like the one I received last month from Mr. Andrew Lynch, a fourth-grade teacher at Creighton’s Corner Elementary School in Virginia. He emailed me to let me know that he’d read Virginia Bound to his class, and they’d kept a blog of the experience.
And oh, what a wonderful blog it is! At the end of key chapters, Mr. Lynch would ask them how they felt about what had happened, whether they would have made the same choices, and could they guess what would happen next. Even at the start, their answers are terrific. And as they get farther into the story, you can see how deeply engaged they become with the book and the characters — and loveliest of all, with each other, because there’s plenty of respectful but forthright debate in their blog. I tackle some really tough issues in Virginia Bound, and they were with me all the way.
In reading their blog, I got as close as a writer can to experiencing my book as readers do.
As Madeleine L’Engle once said, “With each book I write, I become more and more convinced that the books have a life of their own, quite apart from me.
It is wonderful to have a glimpse of the life my book is leading in Creighton’s Corner Elementary School. Thank you, Mr. Lynch’s fourth graders! You are wonderful readers, and you are moving and powerful writers, too.