I visit college and university classes at the undergraduate and graduate level to speak as a published novelist about writing and the writer’s life as I have experienced it. I focus each talk on the specific aspects of writing books that would be relevant to students engaged in a particular area of study, whether it be a creative writing program, an education and teacher-training program or a library studies program.
My talks can be designed to fit different college class period time-frames (45 minutes; 75 minutes; 2 ½ to 3 hours). I also will make multiple visits to a class.
As an integral part of my talks, I bring examples of my book drafts, notes and outlines, photos and books by other authors, show Power Point presentations, facilitate short writing exercises and have students break up into discussion groups. I encourage active participation and invite students to ask questions, examine the hands-on material I bring, offer comments and take part in discussions.
In order for students to gain the most from my talks, I will provide instructors with pre-visit preparation material. This can include providing lending copies of one of my books and/or photo-copied sections of several books, a suggested list of research subjects related to the planned focus of my talk, and a list of issues I will be addressing in order for students to think of questions before-hand. If students are prepared before I arrive, they will have a better context in which to appreciate the talk.
Many students in creative writing classes have hopes and intentions of becoming writers themselves, and I share with them the experiences I’ve had in my own life as a writer and artist. I address specific issues aspiring writers are often concerned with, such as trying to get published, working with an editor and making a living, as well as questions about the actual process and craft of writing, the fear of being rejected and the importance of revision and rewriting. I discuss the decisions I’ve made, often at odds with conventional expectations or reasonable practicality, which were necessary to my commitment and development as a writer. And although I speak honestly about the difficulties in living a largely solitary life, keeping to a self-imposed schedule of work, and coping with the anxiety of financial insecurity, I always encourage students to remember that a life committed to fulfilling a deep dream is the most authentic, meaningful life there is. I leave plenty of time for students to ask questions and to share their own experiences and concerns.
Students pursuing an education degree and qualifications as a teacher will have a constant relationship with books in their classrooms and will need to keep continually abreast of the books available to young readers. Despite the importance of the Internet, reading books is still an integral and essential part of education from first grade through post-graduate work. Aspiring teachers, especially those taking courses in early-education, realize the importance of helping their young students develop literacy skills, a love of reading and a respect for books that will last a life-time.
I speak to students in education classes from the point of view of an author of books for adolescents, many of which have been used in middle-school and high-school classrooms. Books read in adolescence often have a deeper, longer lasting and more profound effect on us than those we read as adults. I share some of the letters I have had from young readers and discuss the complex sense of responsibility I feel toward my young reading audience—something writers of fiction for adults do not necessarily need to address—and how I maintain my integrity as a writer in light of that responsibility. I talk about the themes in my novels specific to teenaged readers, such as questions of personal identity and independence, and since many of my novels contain characters of a culture and race different from my own, I also bring up the current demand in education for multi-cultural material and its attendant issues of cultural appropriation. As in all my talks, I leave time for questions and discussion.
Public and school libraries are not just repositories for books—they host and facilitate summer reading programs, adult and youth literacy awareness events, read-a-thons, story-telling and read-aloud programs. Students in library studies programs are preparing for a career that will immerse them in books and in often highly-politicized issues such as censorship and literacy-program advocacy and funding. I approach my talks in these classes as a novelist whose books are more accessible to young readers in libraries than in bookstores. I discuss the long history of libraries as the keepers of ideas and knowledge and the importance of guiding young people toward books that will challenge them, inspire them and expand their awareness of themselves and others. As in my talks to aspiring teachers, I address the question of an author’s responsibility toward a young reading audience, how this can sometimes be in conflict with current political and social agendas, and what the role of a librarian might be in such circumstances. As always, questions and discussion are encouraged.
I have been a speaker and workshop presenter at professional conferences for twenty-five years. Each conference has a specific focus aimed at a particular professional audience, and my talks reflect some aspect of that focus. At creative writing conferences, for example, I have discussed elements of craft such as revision and rewriting or developing authentic point-of-view in young adult characters. At conferences in children’s literature or education, I have addressed issues of author responsibility to young readers, questions around the concept of cultural appropriation, and the teaching of children’s and young adult literature in schools. I have spoken at multi-media conferences about the role of books in an increasingly-digital world.
I approach all my talks from my life-long experience as a writer and thirty years as a published author. My intention is to present my observations, insights and questions about an issue as I have lived them throughout my writing life, rather than as a scholar or an academic might address them. My theories and critical analyses of an aspect of the craft of writing or an issue in young adult fiction derive from a deeply personal, experience-based point of view, and I use this subjectivity to make my talks less formal and more inviting of audience interaction.