Speaking & Teaching

Overview

I love to talk about writing, research, the infectious appeal of survival stories, and more, and I would be happy to do it at your school, library, conference, or bookstore.

There are also few things I love more than dissecting a piece of writing (especially if it’s not mine). With an MFA in writing and 25 years of experience as an editor, I’m available to lead workshops at schools, retreats, and conferences.

Please take a look at the sample presentations below and contact Michelle Campbell at Scholastic for fees and scheduling. Or feel free to get in touch with me directly.

If schedule or budgetary limitations make it hard to plan a visit, Skype or FaceTime is a great way to connect. I’d be happy to schedule a free half-hour Q&A session.

Presentations

Stories to Live By

Survival stories—fiction and nonfiction alike—are some of the most dramatic, compulsively readable narratives we have. What can we learn from them about what makes a great story? About why stories are so important to us in general? This is a multimedia, interactive session for class-size groups that gets students to think out loud about the elements of a story: characters with strong desires, conflicts that are clearly defined, plots in which the stakes are high. And we’ll tell some pretty good survival stories along the way.

Survival Strategies

Did you know that kids under the age of 7 are more likely to survive in the wilderness than older kids? That sometimes, in extreme situations, the experts are the ones who don’t survive? That three-quarters of us tend to freeze when disaster strikes? Psychologists have studied why some people thrive when threatened with death, while others wither. We’ll start by breaking into groups to consider a survival scenario and decide what steps to take. Then we’ll take a look at the traits that make good survivors, and ask how those traits can help when everyday life gets stressful—in sports, in school, at home.

The Story of a Book

We’ll look at the making of a nonfiction book, from concept to research to writing to revising to design to publication. Where did the idea for the LOST series come from and how do you track down good stories? How do you find sources and truly useful information on the internet? What about the nuts and bolts of doing research: taking notes and organizing material? How do you shape a story with the research you have available? What happens after a book is written? I’ll also draw on my experience reporting magazine stories—at Columbine after the school shooting; on homeless kids in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; about a drunk-driving accident in Minneapolis, and more.

Workshop

Peer critiques are an important part of the writing process in most classrooms. And learning to be a critical reader is key to becoming a good writer. But the critique process is hard on both ends: Writers are laid bare in front of their friends and enemies; readers have to articulate vaguely formed impressions. Personally, I love the workshop process and can use my 25 years of experience as an editor to unpack the process for students. I’ll read up to 3 short first chapters ahead of time and comment in writing on each one. Then I’ll lead a 15- to 20-minute critique of each piece of work. This process works best in groups of 12 or less.

Tod Olson