More about what students write to authors

Apparently there is a discussion going on at some listserv about teachers assigning students to communicate with authors. I’ve talked about this here before. It can be wonderful (most of the time) and frustrating, especially if a reader’s grade hinges on hearing back from the author, or if the reader writes demanding the author explain all of the symbolism, setting, and themes of her book. But mostly it’s great.

I thought I’d post one day’s worth of notes so teachers could get a sense of things. Here is the email I got yesterday. (There was snail mail, too, but I am months behind on that.)

This comes from a teacher:
“I am teaching Speak in my Junior Honors class. As a parallel work, we watched the film version of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. My students found it a little weird that you named the wonderful art teacher the same name as Maya Angelou’s rapist. Since I didn’t have the answer (except to say it was probably more to demonstrate YOUR Mr. Freeman’s character and the connection to the other character was an accident), I told them I would ask you. So I am.”

A fairly detailed request, from a reader who hasn’t yet found the Biography or FAQ pages of my website:
“Hello…i m …. & im doing
a Author report on you and i was wondering
if you could help me and answer a few things.

like tell me thing what you liked to do in
your childhood?

How did you become intersted in writting?

What other degrees did you earn?

Did you earn one to become a writer?

how was your family?

anty brothers/sisters?

What are your most important awards/honrs?

What your favorite book?
[my speak]] very good!

Well i would apprecitate it VERY much if you took time to answer me these questions and tell me about your self!”

Ah, spelling. But you have to love the sweet tone of this one:
“Hey, Im doing a school project on you, we were told to pick an author and do reserch and i really couldnt think of the books i have read cuz im not a big reader and the frist that came to mind was speak, i have read the book 2 times and have watched the movie plenty, it was a touching story, now i have got most of my info from writer lady, but thiers one thing i really coundt find and thats qoutes… i need a few qouets that u may say or live by and if u could reply back to this it would be much help and i would appreciate it tones!!!”

Never been asked for this before:
“Hi Laurie…. During our English 12 class, we have to choose one particular author and write an author study on our choice. I decided to write about you. I have read mostly all of your books besides a couple, only because our school library does not own them. But, I am hoping to buy them this summer. The reason I am emailing you is because we have to find a short story that our author wrote. I have looked long and hard and have not found a short story written by you. I was wondering if you have ever written any short stories. Sorry if that offended you, but in my search, every sight told me you have not written any. If you have, I was wondering if you had the time, if you could email me a short story you have written. I would appreciate it greatly. Thank you for reading this email. I understand that you have a life of your own and do not want to be a burden. If you’re too busy, I understand. I hope to hear back from you.”

Students are not the only ones writing:
“My name is… and I’m a bookseller at… my manager and I are trying to round up prizes and giveaways to put in our goodie bags. I have been given the unenviable task of e-mailing every YA author and/or publisher I can think of and asking for help. I read Speak when I was about 13 or so, and it made quite an impression on me, so of course, you were one of the first authors I thought to e-mail.

Do you have anything—and I mean anything—that you could send me to help me out? Anything from signed books to a stack of bookmarks would be fantastic. Not a lot goes down around here, so we are trying to make this as fun as possible. Let me know, and I can send you the store address and my manager’s name.”

This one is wonderful… she forgot to include the link to the site she was talking about, but did so in a post later in the day:
“i know you have no time for any of this, or maybe just no brain-energy left, but life is short & really what else matters?
so anyway i wanted to thank you for ‘twisted’, which i just read in one sitting / lying (sprawled, in someone else’s empty bed, in someone else’s empty house-)

i read ‘speak’ in high school, maybe when i was more part of the Target Audience, but now, finding ‘twisted’ at 22 i wish more than anything my (older) brother could have read it when he was most vulnerable.. it could have really saved him. you are doing immensely important work, i hope you know that..

though i understand you are terribly busy & probably inundated with emails like this, i would really be honored if you would look at something i made / am making… just a little nothing in the forest. click the house when it lights up.

if you find a moment, thank you, it takes awhile to load, i hope it’s worth it. oh, and your website is beautiful, by the way.”

This is simply lovely:
“I have recently read your book speak. I found it very interesting and i could connect with it in many different ways. Throughout my school years i have endured some very tough times, and reading this book brightened my life a little bit, and made me realize that anything is possible. I wanted to personally thank you for writing an excellent book, that is also very meaningful to me and many other readers. You are one of my all-time favorite authors and believe me i do not say this to everyone! Well once again thank you so much for the insight that your wonderful book provided me.”

As is this:
“hi laurie i’m yvette, i read three of your books and i loved them, i actully finished them it usally takes me a whole semester to finish a book but not this time. so far i read “speak” “fever 1793” and “twisted” i liked them all and i can’t wait to read the rest of your books!”

Gotta love this, too:
“that your book Speak is by far the best book I’ve read, and I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot, but I am an absolute slowwww reader and I have a very difficult time just sitting down and concentraiting for a solid ten minutes. So like I’ve said before, I know you hear this a lot but i couldn’t put this book down, and this book has also inspired me to speak up. thank you.”

My conclusion:
Beefing up the website has definitely helped stem the tide of reasonable requests for information. (Though I have no plans to post essays about the themes in my books!) Answering reader mail is mostly a very nice problem to have. The only thing I ask teachers is please don’t make a student’s grade rely on my ability to respond in a timely fashion.

Any thoughts?

I’m back in the Cave of Revision, BTW. Will be crawling out for my booksigning in Oswego on Thursday evening.

In which an author gets down to it

Don’t know about you, but my weekend rocked the house. I worked on revisions, I did not touch the pile of research I was supposed to, BH and I ran 13.3 miles on Saturday morning, and I was both mom and daughter yesterday. Spent most of it in the garden, a most Demeter-like day.

(ETA – You should read my daughter’s blog on what she learned from her various moms about books.)

I will be signing books on Thursday! Come see me at river’s end bookstore in Oswego, NY from 6 – 8pm. The store is celebrating its 10th anniversary and it is time to party. We’ll have TWISTED in paperback and INDEPENDENT DAMES (thank you Uncle Simon and Uncle Schuster for making it available a little early).

The next 6 weeks are going to scream by, so be patient if my posts are a little sporadic and shorter than usual. I am going to be posing questions in preparation for my July Writing Challenge; things designed to get you thinking and maybe open up some ideas for your writing during that month.

Today is Katherine Hepburn’s birthday. Ms. Hepburn famously said: “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”

So here is today’s question: Which rules are worth breaking?

The Ladies are in the House!

Having your new book – the book you’ve worked on for years, dreamed about, fussed about, cried over, danced with, bored your relatives to tears with (“aren’t you done with that thing yet?”) – having that book arrive is the closest thing possible to the moment when you give birth to a child.

Without the mess and a room full of strangers wearing latex gloves and face masks.

Without further ado, meet INDEPENDENT DAMES: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic ::wipes tears from eyes::

Image and video hosting by TinyPic DAMES is a 40-page non-fiction historical picture book that highlights the revolutionary activity of 80 women and girls you’ve probably never heard of.

When you spend more than a decade on a project, you want to show it off.

Want to join my writing challenge?

Last month I gave the keynote speech at the New England SCBWI Conference. There were 550 people in the room. Most have them have written to me in the last couple of weeks (thank you very much – they have been sweet and much appreciated notes) commenting on what I had to say.

The most frequent topic is the challenge I issued: to write for at least 15 minutes a day for 21 days. Some people loved it, others struggled.

With summer coming, I thought I’d issue it again:

Can you commit to write for at least fifteen minutes every day from July 1st – July 21st?

Let know if you want to join by leaving a note in the comment section. You can comment anonymously, if you want. If there is enough interest, I will focus my blog posts in July on writing stuff.

What do you think? Want to play?

Happy Cinco de Birthday!

The Forest is decorated with streamers and margaritas today. Yes, it is Cinco de Mayo (and take it from me: San Jose is where you want to be on Cinco de Mayo weekend). But it is also the birthday of Stephanie, my oldest daughter. You can leave birthday greetings on Bookavore, her blog, if you want. AND it is the 50th birthday of my most very Beloved Husband, Scot. All he wants for his birthday are a few more donations to his charity run.

So, yeah. This is Party Central today.

It’s also Catching Up from the Weekend Day. Friday morning I ran along the Guadalupe River Park Trail – it reminded me a lot of the trail that runs through the middle of Austin. After a long shower and lunch, my intrepid hosts, Dr. Mary Warner and Dr. Jonathan Lovell, drove me to Yerba Buena High School. Thanks you very, very much to Ms. Goltzer and her students for making the afternoon so much fun! After we left the school, we went to Hicklebee’s, an amazing independent bookstore run by Valerie Lewis, who ought to be called She Who Knows Everything. I would love to take her out to dinner with Teri Lesesne. The two of them in the same room at the same time might be enough to fix everything that is wrong with our world.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic This should be a Destination Bookstore; the kind you plan an entire vacation around.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Not only do they have tons of books, artifacts from writers (like The Pants from Ann Brasheres and an early drawing of Clifford the Big Red Dog), and a terrific staff, but they have wall after wall crowded with signatures and drawings from authors and illustrators who have dropped by.

What San Jose, Stevie Wonder, and the Shippensburg Women’s Rugby team have in common