I think the best way to inspire kids to read and write is to tell great stories. When I visit schools, I tell the stories that moved me as a kid and talk about their role in my journey to become a writer. In small groups, I like to give kids a way to think about the structure of stories. Mostly, I try to connect, to uncover the stories kids want to tell and give them a window into the life of working writer. I am also available for talks at libraries, bookstores, and conferences.
Story is Struggle
Large group: 50 minutes
Good stories, like good lives, don’t happen unless people are wrenched into doing things that scare them. I try to make this point by folding my own personal story into an interactive retelling of two stories that inspired me as a kid: the survival of the Andes plane crash victims in 1972 (the Alive story) and the Freedom Rides of the civil rights movement. What it was about these stories that was so important to a shy, cautious kid? How did that same kid go on to become an author? And what does all of this tell us about why story is important to everyone?
Shape of a Story
Small group: 45 minutes
Stories are a huge part of our lives. We read them, write them in class, watch them in movie theaters, tell them in conversation. But what is a story, exactly? Is it an exact recreation of the experience it captures? No, a story is experience transformed or shaped by the storyteller. And good stories are shaped in a certain way. They have structure, a skeleton. They have a beating heart. In a fun, interactive session, we tease out the elements of story using examples from the large-group presentation, from the class, and—embarrassingly—from my own life.
Adventures in Research
Small group: 45 minutes
The LOST books are sometimes mistaken for fiction, and I take that as a compliment. But they are nonfiction, and drawn from as much primary source material as I can unearth. How does a nonfiction writer go about uncovering sources? Which sources are useful for which purposes? What do you use to recreate moments vividly? How do you reconstruct what your characters were thinking and feeling? I’ll tell the story of a couple of LOST books, get the class to brainstorm how they would dig up information, then show them my own detective work. Along the way, we’ll develop a healthy skepticism about the relationship between written words and the experiences they describe.
If we can’t organize a visit, I also enjoy doing half-hour Q&A visits via Skype or Face Time, as my schedule allows.
Presentations can be tailored to students in grades 3-8.