Sunday, October 18, 2009


Norma Fox Mazer has passed away. There is a hole in my life, and in yours, too, whether you know it or not. A long time ago, I wrote her a fan letter. I was in the very early stages of my late-start writing career with two small books for beginning readers published. I wanted to write for young adults and I was looking for examples. My editor recommended Norma's masterful After The Rain.

I could only blink and wonder as I read the luminous last few pages. Norma had drawn a perfectly real life for her protagonist:

School, older-than-average parents, a PTSD-missing brother, eldercare for a grandfather so complex and so difficult that I loved and hated him, the kindness of strangers, the pitfalls of friendship, grief, deep, true self-discovery without a hint of sappiness, a sense of history and generations--all of that and a worthy boy to kiss. And the canvas wasn’t crowded.

After The Rain stunned and intimidated me into another ten years of skill-gathering before I would actually try to write YA. But I wrote my first “writer swoon” fan letter to Norma Mazer the day I finished her book. Imagine my amazement when she wrote me back.

We kept writing then began calling each other a few times a year. We finally met at an ALA in San Francisco and went to lunch and talked for two hours. We agreed on most things and argued with zest about what we didn't. And we kept crossing paths as writers do.

Norma and I were writer-friends. I met Harry, her wonderful (and a wonderful writer) husband, only once, also at a conference. We never visited each other's homes. But we shared similar sorrows in our lives, and we talked about them. I was always healed a little by her kindness and her generosity. I hope I gave her the same gift. I am sad and ashamed to admit that I had not contacted her for nearly two years. I don't know why. I would give anything to change that.

A few weeks ago, a twitter post written by Norma's daughter caught my eye. She was going home, she said, to spend time with her mother, who was very ill.
So I wrote her through her website and she told me what ‘very ill’ meant. I wrote a message to the family, and revised it ten or fifteen times, which made me laugh then cry.

So I have known this was coming. And a few minutes ago, I read about Norma’s death on a list for independent booksellers---which is a perfect and fitting way to find out.

Good night, dear Norma.
I miss you.
I will do my best to do my best without you.

If you missed meeting Norma or weren’t aware of her brilliant work, her words and books are still here And that, truly, is the magic of literacy.


Lee Wind said...

I guess that really is the magic of literacy - the magic of stories well told. Thank you for a beautiful post honoring your friend. It will spread word of her words - and that magic, as well as your memories, live on...
Namaste and a Hug,

Anonymous said...

I was being given the Pen/Norma Klein award in New York in 1999 and was seated at a dinner afterwords next to Norma Mazur, whom, to my everlasting regret, I did not know. What an opportunity to get to connect with this fabulous writer and human being was being lost that evening. Talk about everlasting regrets.

I hope her passing was easy and that Harry, who was also at the dinner (another miss), is being surrounded by family and support.

Your post makes me realize how important those fan letters are.

kathleen duey said...

You would have loved her, Val, she was a thoughtful, purposeful, YA pioneer, a writer's writer and a brilliant human being.

And yes, the fan letters ARE important. The only other one I have ever written was to Tom Robbins, after Even Cowgirls get the Blues knocked me over. He wrote back two years later, a six-word answer. He said: "It takes one to know one."

kathleen duey said...


Her family is remarkable and lovely. Her daughter Anne is a very good writer of children's books. If there is any kind of afterlife, Norma is in the penthouse. If not, she is still here with us, in her books.