Patrick Jones is the author of many Darby Creek series for reluctant readers, including The Alternative, Locked Out, The Dojo, and the upcoming Support and Defend series. Today, he’ll share why author visits benefit authors and students, and give some anecdotes from his recent school visits.
What’s that line about writing…one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration? I’d also say for (most) young adult authors, the perspiration doesn’t stop when the writing is done. That’s when it’s time to press the flesh and press the fresh. Meeting teens reminds me who I write for and why I write.
I’m speaking tomorrow, May 9, at the Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, and then from there I’ll go down to Texas for school visits. I just returned from two days in Wyoming and three days in my home state of Michigan. Before the end of this school year, I have five in-person gigs in Minnesota and two in Michigan and New York via Skype. This is the best part of my job. (Well, getting the royalty check’s nice, too.)
Back in the day, I used to be a librarian working with teens. In my first young adult librarian job, I hosted two visits by authors and I was struck by the difference in those experiences. One author wanted as much “teen time” as possible: he wanted to hang out with kids at lunch, he spent his down time observing at a mall, and his presentations were in small groups allowing for more questions than answers. The other was the opposite: he gave one big presentation with no interaction, he had lunch away from the kids, and, in my opinion, he seemed to have a disdain for his audience.
Give me teen time, as much as possible.
My visits last week in Michigan represent what I do and why I do it.
The first was at Morenci High School, a very small high school in a rural area of southern Michigan, which happens be the home of superstar teacher Sally Krueger. From my interactions with students, and Sally—the teacher or librarian is the make-or-break factor with most visits, I’ve found—I came up with an idea for a series of books about kids living in small towns. All my fiction is set in urban areas since that is what I know, but I realized while talking with these teens that someone needs to tell their stories, too. Since the visit, several of the students have been in touch via email with story ideas. This presses the fresh, keeping me connected to young adult life.
The next day I was the keynote at the Monroe High School writing marathon. Take it from me, if you’re asked to provide a writing prompt to a group of imaginative, artistic, chomping-at-the-bit-to-create high schoolers, you might not want to use “I’m sixteen years old and I’m holding a human heart in my hands” if you don’t want things to get a little gory and graphic.
If you would’ve been there, you’d have seen a room snapping with super similes, crackling with outrageous images, and popping with powerful prose. The students all donned Day-Glo green shirts, and it was as if an Army of Young Adult Author Aliens had descended upon the space, taken it over for a while, and left in their wake the notebooks bursting with words and trash bins filled with candy wrappers.
In addition to opening and closing the day, I was honored with the opportunity to sit with groups at tables discussing writing and publishing, and to hold one-on-one conferences with young writers. I was also able to converse with students while autographing copies of my novels used as prizes. In one person’s book, I wrote these words: “One day you will sign a book for me.” Yes, I write fiction, but that was non-fiction. I have no doubt those words will come true for one (or more) of these young writers.
My Michigan tour ended up at Riverside Academy, an alternative school in Dundee which I’ve visited many times over the years. At the event, hosted by YA goddess /ALAN president Daria Plumb, not only did I get to sign a book for every student, but I met with a small group of students who read the manuscripts for my next reluctant reader series. These teens honored me with their insights, intelligence, and energy.
Last story: at one of these schools, I had a chance to speak one-on-one with a teen who had read my book Target. During the course of the conversation, he told me that like that main character in the story, he too had a father who was in prison (again). He asked me, “How do you know so much about me?” I didn’t answer; I just listened because that is what the moment demanded.
So, if you’re a teacher, librarian, or youth advocate reading this, invite an author to your school. It’s good for you, good for your students, and for most of us, great for the authors. Writing and reading are both solitary acts, so make them social: host an author. Let us press the fresh. Operators are standing by to take your call.
Oh, and congratulations to Nayda, who commented on last week’s Free Book Friday blog post! Nayda, email us at email@example.com with your address, and we’ll get your books in the mail.