By Rod Martinez-
When we writers began our quest in the literary world, we held several fantasies.“My book will sell more than Harry Potter”, “Johnny Depp will call and beg me to let him produce my book into a movie”, “Stephen King and I will be on a first name basis” (come on, I can’t be the ONLY one thinking of this!). But then we write, and lo and behold, that status doesn’t come, the fame and money don’t come – but other things come. Maybe you receive local recognition, an invite to do a book talk at a local book club, or school, or library.
After a local newspaper mentioend my locally-published middle grade book, I was approached by a couple of teachers. They asked if I could do a book talk and speak to kids in middle school about literacy, writing and reading. Of course I jumped at the chance. I write mostly middle grade mystery/adventure – their students were my targeted market.
This is my fourth year of doing book talks to middle grade students, and I have come across some interesting tidbits I thought might help my fellow literary artists out there.
Public speaking is a common fear. I used to be the lead singer in a band, and I had to talk, and I was scared to death of it. That was years ago. Of course since then stage fright has multiplied – and then to think, “You have to talk to kids! They have the attention span of… a gnat!” Well that’s what teachers kept telling me anyway, but… I approached my very first book talk in pretty much the same way I approach my writing. “Don’t think about it, keep a short outline in your head, step up, do it… ignore the outline.”
Truly, some people are better off at winging it, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s some advice from someone who has had to stand in front of ‘tweens’ for three years running.
1. Don’t be afraid. These are kids, they don’t work for the I.R.S.
2. You are their entertainment. You being there means they don’t have to do class work. They want you there!
3. Exude the joy of writing to them. They need to see it, feel it, hear it in your presentation or you’re just another grown up, talking.
4. Be prepared. Have samples, teasers, book marks. They love taking that stuff. True it may never make it home, but some of it will.
5. Plan entertaining answers for common question like:
a. Are you rich and/or famous?
My challenge to this is to let them know that though we can eventually gain a mass of riches, we write for the love of writing. One question I always ask is “How many of you here like to write?” and it never fails, I get one or two hands go up in a classroom, and they aren’t excited to let their friends know this. So my response is “That’s great. How many love to read?” More hands go up. “Well there ya go, you can’t read unless someone is writing, so you couple of writers will be fueling their reading hunger, get started.”
b. “Miss Jones says that when we write, we have to do re-writes. How many times do you have to re-write the same story?” Answer? “Do you have a favorite song? Do you know it by heart? Did you know it by heart the first time you heard it? No it was new and fresh, right? Well a story is the same way. Your first draft is fresh and exciting. But when you finish it and you go back to page one and re-read it, you’re going to find errors. You may want to re-word a phrase, sentence, change a character’s name. The trick to re-writing is you want your story to be perfect when it gets into someone else’s hand. By the time you’re done, you will know and memorize lines and scenes in your story just like you know scenes from your favorite movie, or lines from your favorite song.”
c. “I can never get ideas, all my ideas come from books I already know.” Answer: “Ideas are all around you, just look for them. Writing to me is like a puzzle. It comes in pieces then as you write it puts itself together.” An example I give in every class is this one : “You know when you go to the grocery store with your mom and the cashier has a name tag ‘My name is Brian, ask me about my dog’. What about Brian’s dog? Well Fluffy died two weeks ago, but Brian has it in his freezer because he loves that dog and just can’t let go – and yes that’s dead dog hair on your Lucky Charms.” It always gets a laugh. Ideas are everywhere, a good exercise is to ask someone what they did over the weekend, and expand from there – and even make it a quick game. “We went to the zoo.” “Ahh, ok, so suppose you were at the zoo, and as you walked by the giraffe area, one of them leaned his neck down to you and said “Pssst, we’re breaking outta here tonight. Do me a favor and tell the monkeys, they never listen to me.” You’ll get a laugh but then you’d ask a kid, “So, how do you think I should tell the monkey?” The first thing you’ll get back is “Wait a minute, aren’t you freaking out that a giraffe just talked to you!?” “Yes I am, but he wants me to relay a message, I don’t have time to be freaked out.”
Basically, the audience wants you to sway them. They need to see the fire to write in you, and you will inspire. I love to share the fact that when I was in middle school I spent almost all of my time drawing comic books – or graphic novels as they like to call them these days – and that I credit my high school English teacher in lighting the fire in me to write. She pulled me aside one day and said “Why don’t you try writing a short story, I think you could do it.” I did. She liked it, and the rest is history.
If you are an author of YA or Middle Grade books, contact the media specialist or lead teacher at your local schools and ask for a chance to speak with the kids. A good time for this is either during the month of November which is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), or during your local schools’ National Literacy Week. Either way you can wow them with your literary artistic skill and craft. Make us proud.
Rod was born and raised in Tampa, Florida and was attracted to words at an early age. His first book The Boy Who Liked To Read was created in grade school. Eventually he discovered comic books, but his High School English teacher told him to try short story writing. He wrote a middle grade adventure “The Juniors” that was picked up by a publisher.
http://www.rodmartinez.us and http://qire24.wix.com/the-juniors