As posted before, I have been pleased to learn that 6th graders like reading and writers! Last week I expanded my student sample to 70 4th to 7th graders at Syringa Mountain School, a private school just down the road from my home in Hailey, ID. What a great group! Engaged! Curious! Orderly. Any question I threw at them, someone had an answer. My host, Crystal Oliphant, school librarian, had primed the pump by reading a few sections to the students from my new book Return to the Wilds. Crystal features a new author and new book at the Syringa Book Fair, a yearly fund-raiser for the school library. Like 6th graders I met in Oregon, these students loved to read. And when I asked, “who likes to write?” every hand went up. The question, “who hates to write?” got NO takers.
Syringa is the only school in Idaho that uses the Waldorf method (for more information). It seems to be working! Another Waldorf spinoff: art. A teacher had created a chalk poster depicting the themes of my book. This technique is taught by Waldorf and Crystal says anyone can learn it—although the teacher, she noted, is exceptionally talented!
Several budding authors came up afterwards along with teachers; I might get tagged for an after school writing seminar. This was a short presentation so I didn’t get to use my writing exercises. But they will go over well because all participants will be self-selected!
I am sharing a few questions students asked after my presentation. I had heard some of these questions from 6th graders in Oregon, but a few new and interesting ones almost stumped me.
Q-How long have you been writing?
A–Well, in one sense, most of my life. I started writing short stories, comic strips and little novellas when I was about your age. Then I worked as a newspaper reporter, then in public relations for the Forest Service—much of that work was writing. However I just started writing fiction again a few years ago! I wrote my book in 2015.
Q–How long did it take to write your book (Return to the Wilds) ?
A–About 5 months.
A–I also spent another 3 months revising the book chapter by chapter. I worked with a friend of mine who already is an author. I would send her chapters to edit by email. Then we spent a week together to go over the chapters again. I had to read each chapter to her and she would critique my writing. I sent the final book to another woman who is a technical editor; she spent many hours but I only had to spend a few hours, maybe 10-20 hours, making corrections.
Q–How long did you write (how many hours) every day?
A–When I was writing my book, about 4-5 hours every day, usually in the morning.
Q-What is your writing process?
A–Wow. That stumps me a bit. My book started with a story idea. I lived in a small town in the East at the time near Washington D.C. I was sad because the city officials hired a contractor to cut down the big trees behind my house. It was supposed to be a city park but they wanted to bring big equipment in to widen a channel for watershed control. I wrote a little story imagining a scene where logging equipment was coming to tear down the trees but then seeing a little army of woods animals (deer, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes) marching forward with weapons ready to fight for their home. That inspired me for the book Return to the Wilds. I thought what if the Wildings, or better yet, the Keeper of the Wilds asked kids to help save the Wilds. I set the stage with kids living in futuristic huge city; they have a different perspective because their teacher had taken them to the Wilds. Then the Wilds are threatened by a proposal to dismantle them, then their teacher disappears, then one of the kids hears a mysterious summons to visit the Wilds…and on it goes. I just followed the story as it unwound. It would unwind chapter by chapter. Every adventure seemed to require a new chapter until it was done!
Q-Do you like serials?
A-Do I like cereals. Oh, serials. Sorry. Well maybe not too much because I am an impatient person and I like the story to unfold quickly so I can see how it ends. Even though I am impatient I do like some serials. If I like a certain author, I will read most of what he/she has written even if it means I have to read a long series. I recently read a series by a fantasy author named Robin Hobb. By the time I got through all of her related trilogies I had read 16 books. I had to read them all to get the entire story, civilization, land and many magical elements that she had created.
Q-How many books have you written?
A-Only one. Return to the Wilds.
Q-Will you write more books?
A-I don’t know yet. It’s a lot of work and even harder work to get a book published. If lots of people like my book and want to read more, I will write more books!
Q-Could your book be a trilogy?
A-Oh yes. I have lots of ideas!