For those of you here for the Books to Go Now Spring Fling Blog Hop from March 7th to 11th, please leave a comment below just this post with your name, email address, and comment (I’d love ideas for more ways for writers to give back to their communities, if you have them). By commenting, you will be entered into a chance to win one of three free signed copies of my novel, Dreamweaver Road, as well as BTGN’s two grand prizes.
A few weeks before I officially became an author, I spent one glorious afternoon in a local elementary school talking to fifth graders about writing. When planning the talk, I’d had no idea where to start, so I launched with my own beginnings: little Kelly Ann Jacobson, sitting at her kindergarten desk, crayoning her first sentences over the dotted lines to match the picture she had drawn above. That moment had been the connection for me: I could describe what I had drawn, and both the drawing and the writing could give the reader the same image. It’s no wonder I became a poet too. So I shared that moment with the fifth graders, encouraging them to help me draw a character with both words and me physically drawing her on the white board, letting them add whatever came into their imaginations with the help of some prompts.
I wish I had a photo of that witch, who looked like a cross between a gingerbread man and a robot. I felt pretty bad about her, actually, until the kids asked me later on why I couldn’t become an illustrator as well, and then asked me again, and then asked me again until I was no longer self-conscious that my fish looked like a pair of scissors. That is why I love children.
After that we moved to plot, to the meat of the story, and built our own plot for our new witch character. I had to steer the conversation away from Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber a few times, but eventually we found our way to a vaguely romantic ending involving death. Then I read from my (at the time) forthcoming novel, Dreamweaver Road, for which the students were dead silent and then screamed “Yeah, more!” when I asked if I should go on. I may never have a better audience.
At the end, I did a Q&A session that lasted about thirty minutes and probably could have gone on another thirty. They had so many questions for me, and I answered all of them the best I could: Have you read Hunger Games? Do you write comics? Are they going to make a movie about your books? Will you tell people we’re friends? Will you sign my hand? How much money do you make? Do you have a YouTube channel? If you want to know what steps you should be taking as a YA author, trust me, just listen to children for an hour and you’ll have all the answers you need.
Toward the end, I asked the students how many of them wanted to be authors, and half of them raised their hand. “They do not want to be authors,” the teacher confided in me, or at least they hadn’t until I had come to speak to them. Despite the fifth grade teachers’ heroic attempts to prompt students in preparation for state testing, the kids had found prewriting laborious until they experienced it as something fun, a treat, let by someone who had learned how to apply it practically. As I said, kids are smart. But I had shown them a way to take all of that writing they were doing every morning and make books out of it, make silly stories with witches and flying pigs, and so in almost all of the thank you letters one of the teachers handed me before I left the school, the kids had written “I liked the prewriting the best.” Well, that and “Please tell people you know me, my name is _____.”