Liars and Spies

Here in Spokane, we have an annual literary festival. Authors come from far and wide to read their work, speak about writing and participate in workshops. You'd think that this is the sort of thing that I'd jump on. It may surprise you to know that last year was the first time I participated. This year, I scanned the emails I got ahead of time, seeing if there were any authors I was interested in. I am shockingly picky about who I will listen to.

liar and spy

Rebecca Stead wrote a novel for children called When You Reach Me which won a Newberry (for those who haven't worked in a library, this is a really big deal). I read that book and liked it. Very recently, she wrote another book: Liar and Spy. I loved that one. When I found out that Rebecca was coming to speak, I decided that I wanted to hear her.

When she finally stood behind the podium, having just set down a backpack which had a large orange bulging from a mesh pocket on the side, she said that always, in the five minutes before she speaks, she feels like a fraud. Even though she's written three books (and working on another), won prestigious awards and spoken all over the place, she still doesn't quite feel like a writer.

She had me right there.

It never stops, she said, this feeling of being not quite qualified to be who you are, and do what you do.

I got to meet her after her talk, and we chatted about our favorite children's authors. (We are both big fans of The Penderwicks). She spent a luxurious amount of time with each person in line, and I spread out into mine, recommending books, and receiving recommendations, which seems to be what readers do when they get together. But then I thanked her for saying that she feels fraudulent. I thanked her for saying that writing is about not waiting for someone to tell you that you are a writer, but planting yourself in your chair, much longer than you want to be there, and writing, badly, if you must (and you must) until something good comes out.

I don't always feel like an adult, I told her. Maybe this is why I love children's books so much. That is where I really connect. The rest of the time, I feel a little like Annabel from Freaky Friday, who found herself suddenly inside her mother's body. I laughed at that book, and read it over and over again, looking for clues about what adulthood would be like. No one told me that freaky friday is sort of how it feels when you grow up. I still don't know what I'm doing all the time, and I sort of wonder how I got here, even though I was there and can trace the way.


I think, really, that all great writing, fiction, nonfiction, poetry and what-have-you, works because you read it and realize that you are not the only one. Someone else feels the way you do. The things that are hard or confusing or wonderful for me are also so for someone else.

In some ways, I think that we are all liars and spies. We watch those around us, sort of fake it till we make it, and then realize somehow that we have been doing it all along. We are what we pretend to be.

These are some of my thoughts. What do you think?