Weekend update & Mail call (many SPEAK letters)!

Weekend update – brief version: I forgot my camera so photos are waiting for various relatives to produce them.

Saturday: PCTELA conference. What the heck is PCTELA? Simply many of the passionate, dedicated English teachers of Pennsylvania gathered in one place at the same time. Thanks to everyone there who made me feel so welcome. It was a wonderful, inspiring day.

(Note – in the hotel where the conference was held, there were FOUR weddings going on. At one point, I saw a priest being dragged up to a room by a distraught mother-type women, trailed by an anxious groom-looking fellow. That made me think only three weddings were actually going to occur.)

Sunday: Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with two daughters, plus their boyfriends and various buddies. It was the first time I attended a Faire this late in the autumn. The weather was cool and crisp. Made me glad I had on my garb that included a wool shawl. Loved the Tartan Terrors. We had SUCH a fun time…… I really love doing stuff like that with my kids. We had a long drive home that night, but it was worth every mile.

Oh, and last night, I went to my dad’s poetry reading. That was a blast.

The mailbag holds a number of very good questions from a 9th grade English class:

Do Melinda’s parents have an affair? Where have they been the night she is raped? Why is that part of the story?
Yes. Their relationship stinks. That’s why they were out (with other people) the night she was raped. It’s part of the story because it helps to explain why their family is broken, and why they don’t communicate well. When/if you figure this out, a number of other things become clear. It’s all about motivation.

During the rape scene of the book, what is the other smell that Melinda smells on Andy? Some of us thought that it was drugs.
No. I put that in there because this is all new – she’s never had any kind of sexual activity – much less one that is forced. She hardly knows what a guy smells like up close and personal.

Why do you give Melinda grades/especially for non-school subjects?
I was trying to figure out how she saw her own performance in those areas.

Does David ever call Melinda?
You mean after the book? I see them as developing a tight friendship for a year, and then they fall in love when they are juniors.

What happens to Mr. Neck? Does David sue him?
Nope. He will take early retirement, I hope.

What was Melinda like before the rape?
Happy, funny. Hopeful. Naïve and trusting. Sweet. She will get most of those pieces of her back, but not the naive part. And once she deals with what happened to her, she will be much stronger and wiser.

Is there any classic books that have influenced you, or this story?
The work of James Joyce has had a real impact on the way I look at language.

What book would you suggest from classic literature that ninth graders read/study?
Oh, dear – this is a hard question. I’m not sure ninth graders are ready for classic literature. I am a fan of the approach suggested in from Hinton to Hamlet, that pairs thematically-connected works from the canon and contemporary YA literature. The important thing is to find classic literature that speaks to the concern of the reader, a story that will really touch their hearts. If a 9th grader does not feel connected to a book, they will quickly abandon it. That defeats the purpose, don’t you think?

Why did you wait until the end of the book to tell about the rape?
Because I wanted the focus to be on her struggle to find the courage to talk about what she was afraid to talk about. That is the real challenge. If I focused on the rape from the beginning, I was afraid that would get lost.

Why doesn’t Melinda kill Andy with the piece of glass?
She thought about it. (I thought about her doing it.) But that would make her into the same kind of person he was.

That’s all from the class – great work!

Dylan writes:Hello! Speak is my favorite book ever! It was funny and serious at the same time. I hope that I can write a book like that someday.
I have a quick question. In the book, why does Melinda only confront Heather about ditching her, while in the movie she does the self-centered social climber thing? I know it’s not a big difference, but calling somebody a social climber would be hard for somebody who hadn’t spoken a lot in a year.

Because I didn’t write the movie. The screenplay writers made a couple of minor changes and that was one of them. Authors usually have no say in the matter.

And finally, a nice note with no questions:
KT writes: I am curently reading you book Speak, and I would just like to say I love it! I really do! I really love the way it’s written, and the amazing story
line. I really like how you show the emotion and changes that Melinda goes through, and why. It’s a really amazing story. I absolutly love it! I can’t wait to read your other books, too!

10 Replies to “Weekend update & Mail call (many SPEAK letters)!”

  1. You continue to inspire me. Thanks for sharing so much of youself with your readers and hopeful wannabe writers like me.

    Colleen Cook

  2. questions about Speak

    Those questions made me think of two of my own. One is about how the movie ends. When Melinda throws that liquid at Andy Evans does she blind him temporarily or permanently? And where did you think of the name Melinda? Was it in your dream or did the name come to you after waking up? I know that Sordino has a hidden meaning. I think that’s one of the hardest things about writing a story, finding the perfect name for a character. Whenever I write, the character can’t have the name of someone I know or knew. Anyway, thanks if you answer, it’s not for school, just my curiosity, but I would like to know.


    Enjoyed your keynote address at PCTELA. You truly are one of the good guys. Hope the teachers win the censorship battle and Speak is still taught at their school. We have it in our school library (I am a librarian at Shaler Area High School), and we read it for the English Festival (sponsored by WPCTE) last year. The students love it. Also, this year, one of our English special education teachers is using it with her 10th grade classes. She told me that she has never gotten such a great reaction from a class novel. (You told me to give her a hug, so that was the first thing I did on Monday morning. She appreciated your support and kind thoughts.)

    I also attended your workshop and benefited from hearing about your writing process and publishing experiences. You recommended Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which I picked up before I went home. What a great inspirational book for writers. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me that every writer starts out with doubts and fears. Just getting it all down on paper and working through the crap is part of the process. (Something I remembered when I taught English in another life, but had since forgotten.)

    Now,ideas are forming more rapidly; creative juices are beginning to flow (I wrote two poems Saturday night/early Sunday morning, which I hadn’t done for several years.)

    Thanks again for sharing your personal story and continuing to write for the voiceless. (I am looking forward to Twisted and getting it for the library.)

  4. Re: questions about Speak

    I don’t know aboutt he movie ending because I didn’t write it.

    I chose Melinda after looking at about 50,000 other names. It was the one that fit. And I was wide awake when I chose it.

    I have the same problem that you do finding the exact right name for a character. It can take months!

  5. Belated Thanks from PCTELA

    I am still sharing with everyone who will listen how wonderful it was to hear you at PCTELA this month! Your Saturday workshop was outstanding, thanks for being so authentic with us all!

    Looking forward to Twisted and many other tales!

    Jan (the other P.K.)Janice E. Spohn

    Reading Specialist, Peebles Elementary

    North Allegheny School District

    V.President Elementary – P.C.T.E.L.A.

    W.P.C.T.E. – Executive Board Secretary

  6. speak ….continued

    Are you going to make a countination for speak. I know that melinda has a cameo apperence in the book catalyst but i would really like to read another story about her. maybe see how she has change….see if there is something between her and David…it seemed like they were heading somewhere in the book.

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