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October 4, 2014

Mr. Scieszka and the Coffee Shop

The first Saturday morning I left our apartment to dedicate a block of time to writing, I simply hoped to find a seat at the coffee shop near an electrical outlet.


I arrived at the Starbucks on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, some time around ten am. All week, I’d been looking forward to this time to make some progress on the novel I’d been working on here and there. I stayed at home with our then-toddler, so being out in the world without a diaper bad was something to get excited about in itself.


As I waited in line to order my latte, I thought I recognized a man a customer or two behind me, from work. He wouldn’t remember a lowly editorial assistant who had left eighteen months before. I wanted to be certain it was really him before I approached him.


The Red Wings hat was my first clue. His Midwestern accent was number two. And finally, for ultimate confirmation, he gave the barista his first name, as common as it is: Jon.


Jon Scieszka. Oh my goodness.


Why was no one else fawning like I was? Had they not grown up with The Stinky Cheese Man? Did they have any idea what they were missing? The man is pure genius.


I figured I had nothing to lose, apart from my poise. I waited somewhat patiently until his transaction was complete.


“Excuse me,” I said. “I think we met briefly when I worked at Simon & Schuster.” It was a bunch of us having pizza I would never forget and Scieszka would probably never remember.


He didn’t pretend to remember my name, but he spoke with me as if he’d run into an old friend. Somehow we got to talking about what I was doing there. I downplayed my work in progress, because, hello, former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature here. But he was nothing but encouraging. He told me how he and Mo Willems were recently talking about how hard their work was. Then they realized, wait a minute, this work is awesome. And I don’t think he was talking about the fame or the millions of copies his books have sold. He just meant he gets to write every day, and that is such a gift.


His attitude was contagious, and I got the sense that he believed in me simply because I was out there, giving it a shot.


I had a productive session that morning (I found an electrical outlet to boot), and I went home on a creative high.


The memory of that morning continues to bring me up when I get discouraged. Scieszka’s joy was in the act of writing, of telling a story, and he welcomed me with a camaraderie I would not have dared to suggest myself.


So if I didn’t say it then—and I may have been too starstruck—thank you, Mr. Scieszka for helping me be the writer I want to be.

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