Posts Tagged ‘teens’

High School Author Visit Chronicles: Episode Two

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Today I did my second solo high school author visit. (I visited a group at Capital High School in Olympia recently with several fellow authors, but going it alone is a whole different animal.) Today, I spent the morning at West Seattle High School in – you guessed it – West Seattle.

In some ways, this visit was a very different experience from my visit to Edmonds-Woodway High School earlier this month (read about that visit here). For one thing, Edmonds-Woodway is in a brand-spanking-new building, while West Seattle High is literally “old school” – in fact, it reminded me of the high schools I attended back in the ’70s. For another thing, while Edmonds-Woodway is predominantly white, West Seattle High has a very diverse population. The groups I presented to had a mix of African-American, Latino, Asian, and white kids, as well as a few girls in burkas.

But in many ways, my experience at both schools was similar. The students seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say (in spite of the studied look of boredom on some of their faces) and asked some excellent questions. The most popular question seems to be “How long did it take you to write the book?” Today, when I asked the students to guess how long it took, their estimations ranged anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. When I told them I did eleven revisions over the course of six years, their jaws dropped. One boy asked, “Was it worth it?”

I wish I could say that I immediately answered with an unqualified yes. But in all honesty, I had to think about my response. The past few years haven’t been easy. There have certainly been high moments – learning that Flyaway was going to be published rating top among them – but there have been incredibly low moments, too, moments filled with frustration and disappointment.

So I just stood there for a second, unsure of what to say. Then I gazed out across the sea of desks and saw all the faces looking back at me and ¬†realized that those kids are the reason I write YA novels – it’s not for the money or the notoriety or the reviews, but for the teens themselves.

“Yes, it was worth it, ” I told them. “And you know what makes it worth it? Being able to stand here and talk to you.”

This statement from the bottom of my heart was greeted with eye-rolling and sniggers, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I loved it. Because that’s what teenagers do.


Observing teens in the wild

Monday, July 18th, 2011

I once heard Michael de Guzman, author of MELONHEAD, say that he doesn’t feel he needs to be around contemporary teens to know what they’re like – he just connects with the teen inside himself. I, on the other hand, do feel that, as an author of YA novels, I have ¬†a responsibility to keep in touch with teens in order to write about their concerns accurately and realistically. I always relied on my stepsons and their friends to bring teen sensibility into my life. But now that my younger stepson will be a senior in high school this fall, I realize that the time is coming when I’ll have to go outside the walls of my own home for my teen fix.

I kickstarted the teen observation process this weekend by going to a show at Seattle Drum School’s Lab, an all-ages performance space.

Though there were a few other adults in the audience, the vast majority of the crowd – and all of the performers – were teens. It was amazing and inspiring to see the commitment of the young musicians, and it was a blast observing the reactions and interactions of the audience members. I gleaned some interesting fashion tidbits: dorky is the new cool, short hair for guys is in, and horizontal stripes are what teens in Seattle are wearing this summer. And I noticed, at least in this particular crowd, that kids are big on hugging – even the guys seemed to have no qualms about flinging their arms around each other in public.

I know different authors have their own ways of keeping in touch with teens. My colleague Mindy Hardwick, for example, works with teens in juvenile detention, author Liz Gallagher runs the Teen Book Club at Secret Garden Books, and debut YA novelist Stasia Ward Kehoe meets with a group of kids she calls her Teen Advisory Panel. At some point, I’d like to find a way to get more involved with a group of teens. But until an opportunity comes my way, I’m happy to sit on the sidelines, observing teens in the wild.

What do you do to keep in touch with the age group you’re writing about and for?