Octavia Spencer Called Me Beautiful So I Can Die Now: A Manifesto

Note: This isn’t actually a creepy 1,000 page manifesto. Just another darling blog post 🙂

 I sat and watched as a gaggle of adorable kids shot their pudgy hands skyward, waiting to ask questions of Academy Award-winning actress and proud author Olivia Spencer. She took the stage gracefully (as always) to read the first chapter of The Sweetest Heist in History, the second book in her Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series. The children in attendance at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books sat captive during Saturday’s reading as Spencer recounted Randi’s sleuthing ways. Much to the crowd’s distress, she stopped reading right before the main culprit of the mystery was revealed! When a young reader asked, “How come you wanted to write for kids and not for grown ups?” she laughed, “I don’t want to write for grown ups! I want to cater to the imagination and curiosity of children.”

The actress cited her love of mysteries as a major motivator to write her first book, which she had wanted to publish for over 10 years. According to Spencer, her dyslexia strongly discouraged her from reading and writing, until her first grade teacher hinted that there might be contextual “clues” in the readings. This persuaded her to consider each read a mystery that needed solving and she hasn’t looked back since. Spencer appreciates each chance to live vicariously through her characters: “I made her a ninja because I love the martial arts. Such a beautiful dance. I always wanted to be like Bruce Lee but I couldn’t. So Randi gets to!”

Living vicariously has its limits: The author revealed her obsession with finding hidden treasure, citing last year’s rare $15,000 purchase of a long-lost $35 million FabergĂ© egg. “Why does it always happen to other people?” she lamented. Fortunately, Olivia was able to incorporate the famed treasures into the plot line, as well as the characteristics and identities of some dear family members.

After the reading, I was granted the opportunity to introduce myself to her: “Hi! My name is Joy–” I began.

“Look at you, you’re so beautiful! And look at that hat, I love it! Can I have that hat?” she called out to me.

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I laughed and sputtered back, “Thank you but please! Every time I see you, I can’t even handle how gorgeous you look. And yes, you can have the hat!” Highly encouraged, I pressed on: “In your opinion, what makes a story worth telling?”

To sum up her answer: “To me, what makes a compelling story is a topic that has yet to be explored or perhaps something meaningful to you.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you a writer?” she inquired.

I struggled to find a suitable answer. “Writer, blogger, actress…” I trailed off.

“Do it all, honey. All of it,” she commanded. She then turned to the younger kids in the audience, “I want all of you to dream your biggest dream. Write down your biggest, most outlandish dream and have your mommy, daddy, aunty, grandpa, whoever takes care of you put it in an envelope. Remember that dream and every day you should do a little something toward it. Because you can do it.”

Inspired,

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