I’ve been blessed with an abundance of retired teachers as neighbors on the lake where I live. Their brains are fresh for the picking. Yeah, I know, sounds like something out of a Zombie novel, but the fact is that teachers can be an author’s best friend. I recently corralled two friends —a hubby and wife team—one is a retired elementary principal and the other taught teachers to give presentations. My mind went to mush. It needed to in order to be sculpted into the perfect author presenter. So what did I learn?
First—engage the class—draw them into your presentation. Bait the kids—in my case, upper middle grade and lower YA is my target audience. Then I hook them into thinking that it’s all about THEM. Actually, it is all about them, they just don’t need to know that! So I dusted off my fishing rod and began to create an author presentation that would lure them in by asking these specifically designed questions:“What’s your favorite video game or game App?”
“What happens in the game?”“Who are the characters in the game?”
“What makes this game interesting to you?”Then once I get enough responses, I reel them in with:
“What’s your favorite book?”“What do books have in common with video games?”
Do you see what I did? Hook, line, and sinker! Engagement first, then I went into the actual presentation. From there, I ask the class:“When a teacher gives you a writing assignment, how do you come up with ideas for your stories?”
“What’s the hardest part of it?”“What do you think about before you write your story?”
More engagement ensues before I get to share my writing process with the class, which I start by telling the class to remember that the heart of storytelling is to write what you know or like. For me, I love all things time travel, paranormal, and the mysterious, so that’s where my imagination goes. My writing process is always the same for every book…First, an idea for a story can come to me through a dream (like The Last Timekeepers), or something as simple as a ‘what if’ question. Asking ‘what if’ is a very powerful question for a storyteller. What if a teen with a psychic ability was sent to a small, rural tourist town? What if a group of adolescents found an ancient time portal buried in an overgrown backyard? Once I’ve got the seed idea, I’ll write notes in point form until I have the bones of the story.
Second, I create a cast of characters and build the story around them. I begin by writing out character tracking sheets (stats on characters appearances, clothing, likes and dislikes, etc.) which helps keep the characters organized. I do this even when I’m writing a short story. Once I’ve accomplished this, I add the sheets to a binder that I use as a guidebook for my entire series, where each book has its own section. BTW – I make sure I have a character tracking sheet handy to show the class.Third, it’s on to research, research, and more research! I find this process is the biggest investment of my time, but it’s a necessary evil. When you’re writing time travel, you’ve got to know your facts to create the fiction.
Fourth, only when I have enough facts, and I feel my characters are sufficiently fleshed out, then I begin to write the first draft. Sometimes I’m a panser (writing by the seat of my pants), sometimes a plotter (outline entire storyline or chapters)—it all depends on the tone of the book and where my muse directs me.Then it’s on to the best part of an author presentation—the reading. I set up what has happened in my book so far before I read the selected chapter, and ask the students to imagine my story as if they were playing a movie in their head. My teacher friends suggest that the whole presentation should be no more than half an hour (unless you’ve prepared a workshop), and to make sure you have enough time to take questions from the students. When the presentation is over, I have signed trading cards and rubber wrist bands available to giveaway, and leave my book order forms with the teacher.
That’s it! A made-to-order Author Presentation created with the help of two wonderful people who have shaped the minds of both children and adults. Now that’s what I call passing the baton!