I'm going to write about my biggest fear with Hang The Moon, the second book in the Sixties Trilogy, but I can't do it today. My friend and mentor died on Friday, and she is part of this Hang The Moon story, so first I want to tell you about her.

But I can't. I'm bereft and don't yet have the right words. So let me direct you to her website and her obituary, and let me say farewell in a most clumsy manner to Norma Fox Mazer today. I loved her and love her still. Her book When She Was Good knocked my socks off and was part of the reason I went to Vermont College to get my MFA in writing. Norma was my advisor for two semesters and became my friend. She loved me, too, with a fierce devotion that always surprised me. She demanded the best from me, and often I failed her miserably. And more than that, I cannot find the words to say.

I'll leave you instead with a piece I read this morning about a student and a teacher. It's Good Writing -- that phenomenon I love. Good Writing elevates the mind, and even life. And today I need a little elevating.

This piece is by novelist Alexander Chee, about his time studying with Annie Dillard. It will appear in the book Mentors, Muses & Monsters, edited by Elizabeth Benedict and published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster later this month.

Here's a tiny excerpt:

In that first class, she wore the pearls and a tab collar peeped over her sweater, but she looked as if she would punch you if you didn't behave. She walked with a cowgirl's stride into the classroom, and from her bag withdrew her legal pad covered in notes, a thermos of coffee and a bag of Brach's singly wrapped caramels, and then sat down. She undid the top of the thermos with a swift twist, poured a cup of coffee into the cup that was also the thermos top, and sipped at it as she gave us a big smile and looked around the room.

Hi, she said, sort of through the smile.

My first meeting with Norma Mazer was very different. I'm writing about it for publication right now (I will post the link when it publishes) and I'm trying to get the words just-right. I want the tone, the detail, the feeling of it to come across... and -- once again -- I'm failing miserably. But I will continue to try.

This is what Norma would tell me to do -- write. Keep working. Try. I may be gone, but that is not an excuse for you not to do your job, not to meet your deadline. I know she is right. And I know I will find the words.

Norma was ever the teacher. So, in her honor, I will put on my teaching hat today, too:

Try. Open your notebook and sketch a scene about meeting one of your teachers -- a mentor, a muse, a monster. What was it like? Notice what works about the Alexander Chee paragraph above, and why it works. Take it apart and see how you can do the same in your own short piece about a teacher whose presence has stayed with you.

My wise husband says that some people leave a part of themselves within you when they die. I think he's right. Norma is still right here, right with me, in my mind and heart, as I write Hang The Moon. What a gift that is.

Thank you, Norma. Thank you for all you gave to your friends and family, to the world of children's literature, and to those of us who came to learn at your feet. How strange the world is without you. How lucky we are to have our memories... and your stories.


  1. Oh, Deborah,

    My heart goes out to you. I did not work directly with Norma, but treasure the mark she left on all of us through workshop, lectures and that smile that lit up the room. You are right, she wants us to go on, keep trying, and she will root for us still!


  2. Deborah, I am sorry for the painful closeness of this loss. I didn't get the chance to know Norma, but I know it's a poorer world without her--even if she did leave it vastly enriched with her books and stories, and the stories of others that she helped bring into being.

  3. Thanks, y'all. I appreciate your kind words. They are soothing sounds for wrung-out hearts. And I am only one of them. Molly... Norma would have loved you, and you her.

    Isn't it grand that we had those Vermont days, Joyce?


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