Last summer, I attended my very first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was exciting, fun, inspiring, and totally exhausting. By the time I crashed into bed, I was so full of all that had happened during the day that my mind continued to buzz all night long and I barely got any sleep. I met people who came from all over the world. I heard many different languages being spoken among conference attendees. Thanks to that, and to the genuinely friendly atmosphere, I felt totally at ease, and that’s rare enough to be mentioned, as I’m at my most awkward in big groups and crowds.
Where is this going, you ask? Well, on the second evening of the peer critique group session, I arrived a few minutes late and was shown two tables where I could sit. I hesitated a fraction of a second and chose the second one. I sat as discreetly as I could and took out my manuscript. After a few seconds, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was staring at the address at the top of my first page. I looked at her and found her eyeing me with an air that was part unbelieving part suspicious.
She: “You live in Hyderabad?”
She: “Hyderabad, India?”
Me: “Yes.” (starting to think : so what’s wrong with that?)
She: “That’s my hometown!”
Me, eyes now wide open: “Really ?”
You can imagine the rest.
Coincidence? Fate? Just another proof that our world is so much smaller than we imagine it to be? I’m not a religious person, but I believe in signs, in life sending us signals and even tests. And I don’t believe in coincidence, not this type of coincidence anyway. What where the odds that I, currently living in a south Indian city, would sit next to THE person (out of the 600 + attendees) who grew up in that same city, at a children’s writers’ conference in Los Angeles, California, half a world away? And that it would be precisely at a peer critique group where she was bound to see my address on the first page of the manuscript ? I mean, I sat next to a lot of people at that conference, and we sometimes exchanged a few words, but my situation is so complicated – French and Spanish, writes in English, lives in India, currently vacationing in Florida in order to see my husband’s family as the situation in Haiti no longer permits that we travel there with our small children… stop to catch my breath – that I usually chose to give a short cut or it would have taken too long to explain it all within the few seconds or minutes we had between talks or riding the elevator. The way I see it? Life, destiny, wanted me to meet this new friend.
Anyway, Rilla came to Hyderabad to visit family over Christmas, and we saw each other. We ended up climbing the very old Golconda fortification walls at sunrise AND a very tricky, slippery 500-year-old African Baobab tree that I had been unsuccessfully trying to locate for some time. We had an absolute ball, and here we are, in the early Hyderabad morning light, talking, talking, talking :
At that same conference, one of the authors who really stood out for me was Jacqueline Woodson. The world needs more authors like her, who actively seek not only to denounce, but also to bridge the gap between people. She gave a great presentation, and read her last picture book SHOW WAY. It was so beautiful I had tears in my eyes. Someone asked her a question : “Do you think there are still fences in America today?” She was referring to JW’s picture book THE OTHER SIDE, where two girls living in a segregated town strike a friendship in spite of the fences that separate their worlds.