This was a big weekend for me. I traveled out to Dearborn, Michigan with my wife to attend the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLiBA) trade show. There, I would do two book signings as a guest of my publisher’s distributing partner, meet a couple of wonderful (and wonderfully talented) authors, and form connections with a group of generous and friendly booksellers.
But before that, as I mentioned a few posts earlier, I had something even more unique on my agenda — a trip a bit further west, out to Battle Creek, MI, to do a school visit for friend and 4th grade teacher extraordinaire Colby Sharp.
And what a visit it was! My wife and I left Pittsburgh at about 3am Friday morning, and drove through the night. To be more accurate, my wife drove, and I alternately slept and practiced my talk for the students. At roughly 9:30am, we arrived at our destination: Minges Brook School.
Right on time for my 10am talk, I was greeted by a lovely poster over the front entrance. Then, I met Mr. Sharp and the principal, who was quite welcoming! (Though, I’ll admit, I didn’t know she was the principal until after we’d first met; I was visiting the day before Michigan played Michigan St., so everyone was in their game gear.)
Inside the school was a second, even more elaborate sign:
They even made it in my hometown’s colors, black n’ gold! How cool is that? And those flowers in the bottom foreground? Those were a gift for my wife! The day was already off to a great start.
Before I spoke, two students gave me a tour of the school, explaining whose classroom was whose — and one of the kids told me about his ties to Pittsburgh. He even had a Terrible Towel!
At 10am, the students filed in. I’ll admit, my nerves were a little rattled at the sight of over 100 rambunctious kids bounding in to the auditorium. This was without a doubt the largest crowd I’d ever presented to, and also the lengthiest presentation I’d ever done. Fortunately, my wife’s presence in the back of the room (she was filming the presentation, and taking all of these photos I’m sharing) helped to settle me down. And so I began.
I talked about my background and all the training it took for me to become a professional writer.
Then, I shared with the students my four rules for young writers, some of which you can see here:
In addition to “read” and “imagine,” my other rules are “listen” and “practice.” The spiel goes, you have to:
1) Read lots and lots — not necessarily quickly, but with careful thought as to how the writer affects you with their words.
2) Play the what-if game, and play it often. That is, invest time imagining worldviews outside your own, invent interior lives for those you see around you — spend time exercising your imagination. And focus on details.
3) Listen to the world around you, because inspiration is everywhere, and listening closely to how people speak can help one improve dialog and voice skills.
3b) Listen to the sound of your own work by reading it aloud. The ears often catch problems that the eyes miss.
4) Practice, practice, practice.
After explaining these concepts, I went into how I used them to create my novel, Latasha and the Little Red Tornado — at which point I read the opening chapter, explaining that even though it is the shortest in the book by far, it also took the longest to write by far.
To wrap up, I gave the kids one special surprise — I unveiled the book trailer for Latasha (this was before announcing it publicly to anyone else). They loved seeing the “original little red tornado” in action!
I closed the morning out with a signing for all the kids who wanted books. It was such a thrill to see how tenderly some students treated their copies, literally hugging them to their chests.
All told, I signed 61 books, and then it was time to go on my way, backtracking to Dearborn. After one last pleasant surprise for me (and a school t-shirt!), Mr. Sharp walked me and my wife out.
This was easily one of the best events I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking part in. The kids made me feel like a rock star! One last huge thanks to Mr. Colby Sharp, and all those who helped him make the day happen. I hope to come back through with my next book!