The PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) was looking for people with interesting jobs to serve as presenters for their eighth-grade career fair. Although I live 100 miles away, I raised my hand and volunteered to take a day off from the day job and show up. Besides, it would give me the opportunity to combine the trip with a visit to local bookstores, so I would get double use of my travel time.
I asked them to list my job title as “Mystery Writer,” figuring that might sound more exciting than “Published Author.” Or at least friendlier somehow.
In the days leading up to the event I found myself worrying about a million things. What if I dressed like a dork? What if they didn’t want to know about writing? What if they thought writing wasn’t cool? What if nobody talked to me?
Good grief! It was like being in junior high all over again!
The big day finally arrived. I put on my best outfit, loaded up a bag of books, my laptop, and my Kindle. I figured if everybody ignored me I could always work on the latest book, or read the newspaper.
I think that was the same defense I used in junior high, too.
I arrived at the school a little before the 9:30 start time, and was admitted to the gym foyer by one of the parent volunteers. She asked if I was one of the “vendors” which completely threw me. I managed to stammer out that I was there for the career fair, but couldn’t for the life of me come up with the word “presenter.”
I was directed to a table where they gave me an adhesive name badge, and showed me a map of the gym. There were tables around the entire huge room, with a different person as each one. There were representatives from banks and a local retail chain, along with EMTs, police, military, lawyers, engineers, salespeople – a wide variety. I found my table between a professional musician (viola) and the local librarian, who was in charge of children’s services and seemed to know every kid that came by.
I spread out my books, impressing myself with the range displayed. I hadn’t taken anything I would worry about a young teen picking up, but I still had a dozen or more titles on the table. Two ALIAS novels, a couple STAR TREKs, a sweet romance, some fantasy anthologies, and the three-book mystery series.
I was ready. And just as nervous as when I was meeting new kids in sixth grade.
The kids came in two groups, one each hour. I have no idea how many kids were in each group, but I’d guess fifty or so. They were brought it and released to circulate around the room and talk to the people whose jobs they were interested in.
Then something amazing happened. They started coming by my table and talking to me! Some of them picked up books and asked about them. A couple even took business cards with my email address. And one even read the blurb on one of the mysteries and said she would go look for it.
But that wasn’t the best thing.
The best thing was their questions, and the things they told me. One girl spent several minutes talking to me about the book she’s writing. She told me she writes adventure games with her friends, and she wanted to be sure she didn’t take her friends’ ideas for her book. She didn’t want it to be too “Twilight-y” either. I admit to being very impressed with her resolve to do original work.
I answered the “Where do you get ideas?” question several times. I understand it; I had the same question when I started writing. I told them to keep asking “Then what?” or “What if?” and to read and listen and watch what goes on around them. Ideas are everywhere if you are open to them, but that kind of curiosity needs to be encouraged.
Another question I got a lot was “What kind of college do you need?” I told them they didn’t need a degree in English to be a writer, and bolstered that with the evidence that my degree is in Accounting. I told them to study what interested them, whether that was history, or mathematics, or engineering. Everything you learn will feed your writing.
One kid asked me how much free time I had. Not wanting to go into an explanation about balancing a day job and a writing career, I told him I had as much free time as I wanted. But when I took free time I wasn’t making any money, and if I took too much free time I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills.
They asked about job satisfaction, what I liked best about my job, and about financial security. Try explaining the roller-coaster-ride that is freelance income to a thirteen-year-old in less than two minutes!
Several asked which of the books on the table I had written, and I was able to proudly say, “All of them.” That got some surprised, and respectful, looks.
They wanted to know how long it took to write a book, how long it took to get it published, and which book was my favorite.
Most of all, they wanted to know what working as a writer was like, and they had good questions.
Clearly, they had been discussing the career fair in class, preparing a list of general question. Some of them read from their lists, or consulted their notes. Some of them asked a question or two and moved on, but some lingered for several minutes, asking more questions, like the girl who was writing a book and wanted to talk about it.
I don’t know if any professional writers will come out of the classes I talked to yesterday, but I do know this:
There are some really bright, level-headed, curious, and engaging youngsters out there. Our world will be in their hands soon. And after yesterday I have a good feeling about that.
Thanks, Rosemont Ridge Middle School, for reviving my optimism!
Christy Evans and Christy Fifield are the mystery-writing alter egos of romance and sci-fi novelist Christina F. York. Together they live with national best-selling novelist, and husband, J. Steven York, within the sound of the surf that pounds the scenic Central Oregon Coast.
Evans is the Berkley Prime Crime author of the popular Lady Plumber Mystery series (SINK TRAP, LEAD PIPE CINCH, DRIP DEAD), and Fifield is writing the Haunted Gift Shop series for Berkley, which will debut in 2012 with MURDER IN A SHOT GLASS. York has published sweet romance (DREAM HOUSE) and has several romance novels out from indie publisher Tsunami Ridge.
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