This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Tough Questions From Eighth Graders

            Wednesday of this week I was invited to E.A. Hall Middle School in Watsonville to talk to a group of seventh and eighth graders about writing my mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance. Early in the game it became obvious I was facing a tough crowd.
            The students were part of the Reading Buddies program sponsored by the Rotary Club of Watsonville, which has adopted the school. As part of that adoption, club members volunteer to go to the school once a week and spend an hour reading with a student. It’s been wildly successful, and the kids who take part typically show a significant improvement in test scores and classroom performance.
            Since they have been reading books, one of the club members thought of asking me over to talk about writing my book. It’s probably a bit above their grade level, but I was happy to do the presentation. No author should ever turn down an audience, and I wound up selling two copies — to the principal and one of the teachers.

A Future Investigative Journalist

            My plan was to start out by showing the two-minute video trailer for the book, ask if there were any questions about it, then move on to other topics based on the initial response. So at 11 a.m., the lights were dimmed, the video was shown, and when it was over, I stepped forward and said, “Any questions?”
            A boy at the back of the room raised his hand, and I called on him. “How old are you?” he asked.
            Damn. The kid has a future on 60 Minutes, and I mean asking the questions, not answering them. I couldn’t think of a clever evasion, so I answered as quickly as I could and called for the next question. As it turned out, the questions filled the hour, and I never had to go to my prepared talk.
            Some of them were from adults, but still provided an opportunity to share a point with the kids. One of the Rotarians asked, for instance, how hard it was to get a copyright, and that led to my explaining to the students what a copyright is and why it’s important. I also talked about print-on-demand book machines, such as the ones they have at Amazon and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

We Talked About Fishing, Too

            When we asked for a show of hands, it turned out that more than half of the kids had been fishing, though only one had been fly fishing. In anticipation of such a response, I had brought some props, including a 9-foot graphite fly rod, a vest of the sort worn by fly fishermen, and a selection of trout flies, including a Quill Gordon, the fly for which my main character is named.
            The props enabled me to talk about several of the detail points of the sport. It was raining, so we couldn’t go outside for a casting demonstration, but I tried to use the furniture in the room to explain how precise an angler has to be in casting to a rising fish. What I think really impressed them was my description of how the fishing vest allows a fisherman to pull out and tie on a new fly while standing in the middle of a river.
            Any time I speak to a group of adults, I can generally read the audience pretty well. With kids, it’s tougher. It’s hard to say how interested they were or how much of this will stay with them. But I was happy to do it because it can’t hurt for students to see that books are written by real people. Maybe some of them will write their own books down the road.