To school visit or not to school visit

Yesterday was Barry’s bday. We stayed up waaaay late. Too late. I don’t do late.
Woke up this morning and whimpered. Ate cake for breakfast and found the will to live in each bite.
Now, I want to barf.

So envious of people who can stay up late and then sleep in.
Me? I wake at 6:00 am.
No matter what.
Bed at 2:30? Too bad. Up at 6:00.
Woke up at 3:00 am thirsty?
Sucks for you–oh, it’s 6:00 am. Time to get up!
(Why I write in weird haiku? Cuz brain is not working, Holmes. Just keep typing.)

I’ve been thinking about school visits lately. There is something about school visits that fills me with fear. Maybe it’s because I remember being fifteen quite acutely. I was the girl in the back in the Led Zeppelin t-shirt with her best friends making snarky, awful comments about the earnest, very smiley person on stage telling us not to Drink and Drive or You’ll Get a Venereal Disease from Smoking Because Sally Fallopian Tube Is a Thrill Seeker Who’s Sorry She Raced Her Hot Rod and Killed Her Best Friend and That’s How Babies Are Made when you play with Satan’s Cheerleaders, Missy.

As I recall, we were ruthless at these assemblies. I’m sure I felt the gentle, artery-destroying squeeze of more than one teacher’s hand upon my neck/shoulder.

Now I’m the person sweating it out at the podium. Payback’s a bitch.

I think what’s tough about school visits is that it is a totally inorganic situation. We don’t know one another. I’m walking in cold and so are you. Frankly, if I were a teen in that class/assembly, I’d be thinking, “Who is this tool and why do I have to sit and listen to her?” Good question. Let me answer that, um, ah…oh, look–cake. Mmphfmmrrf, chompchomp.

I have a primal fear of having to stand up in front of people and talk about myself. You want me to talk about someone else or books or someone else’s books or movies or music or sock puppets or evil villain monkeys from the planet Zim, I’m totally cool with that. You want to do writing workshops where we can have two hours to write and read our work and talk about it and have actual dialogue, that’s awesome. We can get to know one another. Cool. You want me to stand at a podium looking ponderous, stroking my chin and intoning, “What do authors do? What is the eternal source of our fabulosity? Can anyone tell me?” I’m out the door.

There are some authors who are brilliant at school visits. I’ve seen Bruce Coville and Holly Black and Joan Bauer and the late Paula Danziger give talks that made me want to join their cults. Some authors are former teachers who are great at imparting information in a way that doesn’t make you want to search for the cyanide caplet you hope is sewn into the hem of your garment halfway through the talk. I went to a workshop with Franny Billingsley and Laura Ruby one time and came out with a head full of exciting new information about plot and suspense and other knowledgeable things, and I thought, wow, they are GREAT!

I don’t know that I have particular skills to impart. Some of this may be that I never went to a formal writing program and so I sometimes (often) feel that there’s a lot I don’t know about writing, that I’m learning all the time, too. Most of what I know I’ve picked up from reading and trying and failing and picking up things on the job and just generally making mistakes that have me saying, “hoo boy, won’t do THAT again!”

All I can really say about writing is that I do what I do the way that I do it which is, truthfully, insane and chaotic a lot of the time.

What I do have is a desire to tell a story because something deep within it is calling me on and I want to find out what that thing is. I either need to tell the story or I don’t. I either notice that the birds circling in the sky remind me of the whorls on a thumbprint or I sit for a long time thinking about it until I have the language that expresses the feeling that sight gives me inside. For me, writing is mostly showing up every day, even when I’d rather be eating brownies or reading US magazine or playing Guitar Hero. It is, to paraphrase a Nike ad–and yes, I hate myself for doing that–just doing it. It’s taking out the shovel and digging. Some days you end up sweaty and cranky with a lot of holes in your yard. Some days your shovel hits something hard under the earth. And sometimes you dig that thing up and discover a truth that’s been buried deep, something you had to see and hold and know.

How do you teach that in thirty minutes before study hall?

All of this is to say that I’m getting ready to do some school visits next month…and I am terrified. So I decided to try something new this time. I’m making a short film. I have no idea if this will work out or not, especially considering my lack of techno-skills. But for the past two weeks, my friend Geri and I have been filming stuff around NYC–places I like, things that inspire me, coffee shops where I like to write, other YA authors, etc. I’m hoping to edit it all down to about 15 minutes of coherent YouTube-quality movie. It could work, or it could suck utterly. I don’t know. I’m trying.

So here are my questions of the day:
*What do you want to know when an author comes to visit your school?
*What do you like? What works for you?
*What do you hate with the intensity of a thousand white-hot suns?
*If you could structure the time, how would you do so? Lots of Q&A? Workshop? Interpretive dance?

It would be great to hear from you. Call now. Operators standing by.

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