"You gotta love me. And if you don't, about a billion other people do." ~Shannon O'Hara
I had not met the O'Hara family until last night at an event for Determined to Matter at Micawber's Books. I came aboard the Scarletta train just in time to see the finished product, so I never interacted with them through the acquisitions or editorial process. While I think working with Jen and her family during the first parts of the book's journey would have been a great experience, I am glad that I get to share in the stops that are left.
Determined to Matter was my least favorite book among the many that Scarletta was working on when I started here in February. I was so excited to work on events with creative, zany, adventurous children's books, and DTM is just about the furthest title from what I thought I'd be working with. It just didn't speak to me in the way that The Mighty Quinn or Monster Needs A Costume immediately did. And, as Dan and Jen pointed out last night in their discussion of the book's creation, I found it to be a little cliched. A family member passes and you write a book to memorialize them--it's a common practice.
Opinions change. And opinions change rapidly when they're introduced to such powerful catalysts as personal interaction and vulnerability. Sometimes, even a hug or a handshake can warp the way we regard this or feel about that. Listening to Jen and Dan and Erin share their experiences last night and watching them open up to an audience of friends, family, and strangers, I discovered how quickly an attitude can be adjusted.
So, I'd like to share my notes from the event. Maybe a little disclosure of my own will help pinpoint when I fell in love with DTM.
Note 1: "We're undefeated...Being sassy! 'What are you gonna do, go blog about it?!'"
There is so much love in the O'Hara family, and it just lingers around them like an aura when they're together. There was a portion of their conversation with the audience during the event when they mentioned how Erin and Shannon's favorite way to mock mom and dad was to say "What are you gonna do, go blog about it?" At points like this, when the room was uproarious with laughter, you watched Dan and Jen and Erin recall these moments--their eyes quickly cast back, digging through memories. You witnessed the three of them share this unspoken vulnerability with one another in front of a room of people. It felt like you were in on their secret, like they were allowing you in for just one tiny moment before divulging another story or relating a new thought.
Note 2: The importance of honesty. Radiation=Healing
Shannon referred to radiation as 'healing.' She thought the word 'radiation' carried to much negative weight, sounded too heavy for her young self. Jen shared this with us after her first reading from a blog entry on April 29th. What was moving about this moment was the amount of respect that Jen exhibited for her daughter, to mention something so seemingly small and give it such significance. It was a term that Shannon had created, and so it was used. Simple, elegant, and poignant detail that came across--unsurprisingly--encased in love and admiration for her daughter. In the same breath, Jen spoke to how Shannon was speaking with more honesty: she was being more clear about what she wanted and what she didn't. I can't say why Jen chose to emphasize this, but I think there's a valuable lesson here. Communication and honesty can go a great distance when they're utilized. Shannon was learning this lesson, and, because Jen included it in DTM, we're allowed to learn or remember it through Shannon's life.
Note 3: "I'm sure she did too..." Erin is so profound!
I've never been the younger sibling. But if ever I had been, I would want to carry that title with as much maturity and wisdom as Erin O'Hara. For me, listening to young Erin respond to questions or banter with her father at the front of the store was the most moving aspect of the night. She was so poised and collected for being so young. Listening to her reply to audience members with such clarity, I found myself more than a little impressed. To lose a sister and be able to talk to room full of people about the endearing memories and fond recollections is a feat of its own. To do so with more confidence and sincerity than even her well-spoken parents? That's magic.
Shannon O'Hara just wanted her life to matter. It's the entire premise of the book her family has created. From the perspective of one editor--one that wasn't too thrilled with the project to begin with--I'd like to share with O'Hara family that in just the last 20 or so hours, I have changed because of Determined To Matter. And if that's what a quick reading and Q&A is capable of doing, then I can hardly wait to hear what 336 pages will do for every path this book will cross.