"Civilization is built on empathy. If dreadful things happen to you, you learn empathy. The safest way to learn empathy is through a book. "--Donna Jo Napoli
If you don't know who Donna Jo Napoli is, visit her website.
If you'd like to read a summary of her Keynote, go to the Official SCBWI Conference Blog here.
If you'd like to know why that Keynote, "How Writing about Terrible Things Makes Your Reader a Better Person" made me cry, keep reading.
Just for the record, I can count on one hand the number of times I've shed tears in the past twenty years. Go ahead and analyze that all you want, but the point is that I rarely cry. So what did this spunky author say that opened the floodgates of my dammed up heart? Without knowing it, she talked about my novel, passionately putting into words the essence of why I wrote a story titled WHY I TOLD, a story that earned me the 2009 SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for A Contemporary Novel.
Here's what she said:
"Unprotected children, because of family problems, don't talk out of a sense of loyalty, because they feel alone, guilty, unworthy. Then they meet that person in a book and realize they're not alone, it's not their fault, that bad things happen to good people. Children don't have the power to change their world. These books help them to be hopeful, introduce them to those who managed to survive."
This was the point in the talk in which I started asking everyone around me for kleenex (which, by the way, no one had). Why did these words rip me wide open?
Because until I wrote this book, I didn't realize that (A) the majority of abused children never tell.
Because until I wrote this book and put it out there for others to read, I never realized (B) how few people truly understand an abused child's reasons for silence.
These two facts (A & B) make me very, very, very sad.
Just at the moment when I needed to hear it, Donna Jo Napoli touched my heart by reminding me why I write about terrible things.
Sometimes, it's good to cry.