Guest Blog: Ann Haywood Leal
Posted September 1, 2009on:
I never call it Writer’s Block—that’s just plain bad Karma—I call it untangling my thoughts. One of my favorite ways to do it is to go for a run. It can’t be just any run either. (My grandfather was from Ireland, so I’ve got a thick stream of superstition that travels through me.) It has to be a certain path. This route of mine never disappoints. Without fail, I see something that fuels an idea.
The vacant lot along the way was one of my favorite discoveries. It was full of interesting ideas, including an abandoned pool. The house that used to belong to the pool had been torn down to make room for a new housing development. But what was left was so much better than a new house. There was a cracked, muddy, algae-infested pool, filled almost to the top with rainwater. The area around it was crumbled concrete from the used-to-be patio.
It right away made me think of a great discovery my brother and I made one summer. We lived in an apartment in New York while our dad was in graduate school. It was really hot that summer, but it must have rained a lot, because there was this enormous puddle in the middle of the apartment complex. The neighborhood kids used to congregate there, because at some point, we all decided it was our swimming pool, and we’d go wading in it.
When I saw the abandoned pool on our run, I thought, kids would definitely want to swim in that pool. I came back and snapped a bunch of pictures of it and it ended up in ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER. (My husband says he’s not bailing me out when I get arrested for being on private property. He calls it trespassing—I call it idea hunting.)
It was just a few days ago that I went on another untangling-my-thoughts run. I was coming up on the left hand turn that would take me to Harper’s pool, and I was feeling kind of sad, because I knew I couldn’t see it anymore. It had been filled in and had a very new, uninteresting house in place of it. But like I said earlier, this route never disappoints, because rounding the corner ahead of me was an old woman with a wheelchair. And the thing was, she wasn’t sitting in the wheelchair. She was pushing it—just like Dorothy in ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER. So of course I had to talk to her. I knew she had a story. (That’s the other thing about me that my daughter absolutely hates. I talk to strangers. I can’t help myself. I love finding out a person’s backstory.)
But the woman talked first. I didn’t even have to ask any questions. In fact, I barely got one or two words in, and I ended up getting way more than I had bargained for. She told me about the last six months worth of her life story, which included escaping a new husband who had become abusive and a newly diagnosed heart problem. My family would say that should teach me a lesson. I should mind my own business. But I’m looking at my running shoes right now. And if I go a few blocks further along that one route, I’m pretty sure there’s an abandoned house that’s being torn down. The sign out front says Keep Out…but I never wear my glasses when I run…
AKA Harper is one of the few MG books that I completely adored, as you can see from my review. This is one of the books that I want to share the love on so I’m giving away a copy, courtesy of the wonderful people at Henry Holt. All you have to do is leave a comment below about the guest blog by next Monday (Sept. 7th.). I’ll announce the winner Tuesday.