There will be no more words from Mrs. Jones. She has left behind a great gap in the writing community, and reading Maggie's post was enough to make me feel that pang all over again. But, it's never too late to be grateful, and below, if you so wish, you can read my own humble tribute to one of the most wonderful children's writers I've ever seen.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Jones. You are greatly loved and very much missed.
Dear Mrs. Jones:
I meant to write you a letter, ages ago. It probably got lost in the endless piles of papers scarred with old, half-baked ideas and desperate pleas to published masters of the field I longed to "get the hang of", to help me figure out where I went wrong here or lost the track of it there. Probably, I was worried about wasting your time, or thought the letter would get lost somewhere over the pond and never end up in your mailbox.
Now, I think that you might not have minded. But it's too late for that, isn't it?
No, is what I think you would say in response. It's never too late to start.
What I truly want to say - what I've always wanted to say - can be summed up in two words: Thank You. Thank you for keeping me company through my childhood, even before I knew your name. I can remember one day when my mom plopped a beaten old paperback in my lap that she'd just fished off the library sales rack. I was frustrated, raw and fraying at the edges after another unsuccessful go at flat characters and a story idea that just didn't seem to sit right on the paper. So I opened it up and I read it.
That was Dogsbody. I remember reading about the dog who came from the stars and the little girl who loved him, and going to the last page, and then turning back to read my favorite passage again, tracing over the words as though some of the ink would sink into my veins and grab hold of my hands and force them to write The Novel.
It was official. I was hooked. And I didn't even bother to see the author's name.
You were always there when I needed you. In high school, it felt as though the endless papers, regulated reading lists and sleepless nights were swallowing me whole. I had no time for fiction. I had no time to breathe, it felt some days. And yet, somehow, your stories wormed in and forced me to make room for them, push aside a few essays and put that project off for later.
That was when I met Howl.
I don't think I need to tell you of all people how charming he can be when he wants to. As it is, Howl's Moving Castle is still that story that can make me tear up every time I see the cover. Combined with the beautiful score from the cartoon, I'm a veritable mess of tissues every time. I know that I probably might never write a story that can live up to it, but you know what? Just reading your story makes me want to try, to try and write a story that touches a reader's heart and just feels right.
You made me sure that being a writer isn't a bad thing. It's not something that ends up in lifelong debt or becoming a pauper or terminal diseases. It's not just a hobby that be set aside and forgotten. If you're a writer, when you read someone else's words and they sing to you, you can feel it, and you can't forget it. Your stories remind me why I churn away at these blank pages every time.
I used to dream that possibly, someday, somehow, I would pick up a copy of a freshly-bound book - my book - and see your name on the front, highlighting words such as "remarkable" or "fresh young talent". I know now that will never happen. I know that you'll never read one of my books or bump into me by chance at a convention so I can tell you exactly how every one of your books has made me feel (hopeful, enchanted, determined).
What I can do is keep writing.
You've taught me as much.
I could say so many more cliche things, things that others have already said for me in words that I will probably stumble over and make heavy and melodramatic in a way that would make Howl proud. You inspired me. You made me want to be like you, be that author who could span generations with just a few words. You're the one whose books will line my shelves in the future and will grace my lap when it's time for bedtime stories. You were the teacher that I will never get to meet, and I am sorry that it took your leaving for good for me to work up the courage to try and sum this up as best as I can.
I miss you.
I always will.