I had my first author visit yesterday afternoon--taking a trip to speak with a class of sixth graders at the local middle school library. I have to admit it: I was nervous. Some of this had to do with having never done one of these before. Some of it had to do with the audience. I haven't been back to middle school once since I left it as a student, and I wondered if the less-than-thrilling time I had a student would continue on as an adult. (No--I wasn't really terrified or anything, but I think the inner-middle-school kid in me was still doing its darndest to not go back.)
Kids can be mean. They can be cruel. I think it's because they sometimes feel like they're living in a dog eat dog world, where the only way to feel good about yourself is to make sure someone else feels worse. I'm not saying all kids are like this, but there are some out there. Who didn't go through middle school--and maybe a lot of junior high--feeling insecure and on tenuous footing?
Or was that just me?
(It wasn't until high school that I felt I started to come into my own. Figure out who I was as a person, what my likes and dislikes were, etc. And then it wasn't until after my mission--and well into college--that all of that started to be cemented. I think this might be a big part of why I write YA fiction. The process of finding out who you really are is just something that interests me. But you didn't come to this post to read about that. You want to know how the visit went.)
I'm a big fan of winging it, despite what my hyper-prepared church talks might seem to portray. I do little in the way of preparation. I just have confidence in my ability to talk about stuff I know well, whether it's one on one or to a whole group. So I didn't have a powerpoint ready. I didn't have notes. I just stood up there and talked about what I'd been asked to talk about: all the effort that went in to writing Vodnik.
Usually, I rely on my audience becoming engaged by my charming personality--hoping that they'll start actually asking me questions. (You can't rely on this when you're teaching a freshman library class at 8am. Then you get a bunch of bored, blank looks. I have a lot of practice with those looks by now.) I had no idea how middle schoolers would treat me. JK Rowling I am not.
But you know what? It went really well. They were listening--even the guys on the back row. They asked me loads of great questions (How much did I have to pay to get my book published? How much do I make on each book? Where is Slovakia? Where can I get an awesome T-shirt like that? (Yes, they really did ask that.) How do I know when a story is finished? How old do you have to be to get a book published? Where do you find out who to send it to? Just a ton of questions, and not just from one or two of the students, either.
I answered all of them happily, and I even had to cut things short, since we were out of time. Afterward, a ton of them wanted to come up and look at the book and ask questions about it. I've never seen a group of people so excited to get business cards before (though they are pretty cool cards, I must say. Vodnik's cover looks great at any size).
I was even happier when I found out from the librarian afterward that some of the kids asking a lot of questions were students who were usually just silent during class. That made me feel like a million bucks.
So it was a fantastic experience. I would love to do it again, and I hope to be able to often.
If you have a class you'd like me to visit--or even to Skype in to (though I'm not sure Skype would be as easy to really engage with students)--let me know. I'd be happy to set one up, as long as you don't live too far away.