Thursday, August 15, 2019

Coming to a School Near You

Back when I was still a member of a professional organization for children's writers, I used to land the occasional school visit. I know there are writers out there who make up part of their income by doing school visits: I was not one of them. In fact, I actually got turned down for a visit or two due to the subject matter of my books. And that was when Saving Jake was my only claim to very slim fame. One seventh-grade girl who contacted me and then found out that the PTA wouldn't allow me to visit because of what I wrote about sent me an apologetic email telling me that I was no longer invited. And ended with "I guess we'll just have another boring writer this year." That comment helped take the sting our of my disappointment! But I did get to do a visit from time to time and every single one of them was an experience.

For one thing, because I was in a children's writers group, I was frequently hired to speak to students in fourth grade and younger. Anyone who reads me knows that except for the precocious reader, my works aren't exactly for that age group. But the younger grades were always part of the package, so in order to get myself and my work in front of the fifth graders and up, I spent time with students as young as Kindergarten-age.

I figured out how to present to the really young ones. I'd bring in a huge art pad and we'd plot a scary story. The kids would call out suggestions for a creepy setting, the name of the main female character, the name of the main male character, what kind of ghost or monster they were up against, and what kind of ending it would have--happy, sad, scary, or open-ended, meaning that said ghost or monster could come back for future stories. Turns out kids enjoy plotting stories like that so we usually had a good time.

But the best for me was speaking to the older kids. They were interested in how I got my ideas, what my writing process was, how a book gets published, who does the cover--everything related to book production, and that was great. I'd prepare a short talk touching on those points, taking questions along the way, and then having an actual Q & A session at the very end.

And their questions were amazing. How did I decide I wanted to write a book? Was it hard? How long did it take? Did I actually write every single word in the book? Did I draw the cover myself and if so, how did I get it onto the book? Did I know J. K. Rowling? Why were my characters the ages I chose for them? 

I was lucky enough to speak to a class where the kids read Saving Jake before I even got there. WOW! And one young student asked me about the dedication! Who reads dedications? I know I do, but I figure that's because I write them myself. I read them when I was a kid because I was -and am- extremely nosy. But to have a student ask me about mine was amazing. He asked what I meant about my father who didn't believe in "this stuff" until later. I was both honored and touched that he not only bothered to read that short statement, but actually thought about it enough to become curious. I also had someone ask me if I had the same ability as my character, Philip Corts. I had to admit that no, I didn't have that particular talent.

Sometimes the students and I spent part of my sessions swapping ghost stories, and that was always fun. I heard the local legends from their neighborhood. I heard about a student's uncle's haunted barn. I heard which books and movies were the best and which were lame. And I heard which paranormal reality shows were "totally fake" (VERY strong opinion from this child.) 

Absolutely hands-down, the very best question I ever got came from a sixth-grade girl who raised her hand and asked me if I had ever been possessed. I had to laugh, especially when I saw the expression on her teacher's face. I did tell her that although my husband might not agree with my answer, I had never been possessed. I think she was a little disappointed.

I don't do school visits any longer since I left that writers organization, although I am always open to doing one. I miss talking to those bright and curious students. So for all you teachers out there who may read this and deem me safe enough to come and speak, that's a hint!

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