I was pretty zonked by the time I finished all the presentations and then drove 4 hours back to the Kansas City area on Wednesday, so I think I can be forgiven for taking a day to breathe before blogging about my fantastic visit to Vandergriff Elementary School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As I mentioned the other day, I stayed in a marvelous old inn, where I retired to watch Downton Abbey and old reruns of Sherlock after hanging with the Vandergriff Grizzlies.
But the highlight of the trip really was visiting the school. In five presentations to almost 400 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, we talked about why stories are important to us and why some stories are more interesting than others. The kids also did some brainstorming of their own, using some idea worksheets I provided on creating their own characters and settings. And of course, we had a Q&A session with each group. That's by far my favorite part of any presentation, because kids ask the best questions. Some memorable ones:
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A: I love to hike and walk in forests, and one day I was doing just that and I realized how old some of the trees are. Some trees can actually stand in one place for hundreds of years. That got me thinking about how trees witness a lot of history, and that makes them natural portals. What if you could pass through a tree and visit it when it was younger? It would be the same tree, but everything around the tree would be different.
Q: What made you want to become a writer?
A: I've always loved stories, both reading them and having them read to me. I was probably six years old when my mom or dad told me that someone was responsible for writing those stories, and that person got paid to do that. I couldn't think of a better job than that!
Q: What was the hardest part about writing your book?
A: Probably the middle. The beginning is exciting, because the story can turn into anything, and near the end you just race along, but in the middle sometimes you've created problems in the story that are hard to solve.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing a book?
A: Yes. All the time. I can't figure out how to get characters out of the mess I've put them in, or I just don't know what words to put down next. Usually if I get stuck I go for a walk or do something else totally different. I need to get away from my computer and my office and let my mind wander.
Q: Who drew the illustrations and cover?
A: His name is Karl Kwasny. The publisher hired him, and he did a fantastic job. First he drew the cover in pencil, and the editor and I looked at it and made different suggestions, like I said the girl in the picture has to wear glasses, and the younger boy has to have his hair sticking up. So then he revised the cover and added color to it, and we looked at it again, and they added it to the book.
|Karl Kwasny's early sketch of the cover|
|Karl's final, gorgeous cover art|
Q: What other books have you written?
A: This is the first book of mine that has gotten published. I've written other books that didn't get published. I've also written the sequel to this book, which is called The Wand & the Sea. It isn't in the bookstore yet; the publisher is still doing work on it, and it should come out next spring.
Q: How old are you?
A: I'm 48.
Q: What's this book about again?
A: It's about three kids who find themselves trapped in a fantastical kingdom where magic is outlawed, and they have to use magic to find their way home.