How old are you?
How do you make the words small enough to fit inside the book?
Did you ever meet Jeff Kinney? No? What about J.K. Rowling?
How long does it take to make a book?
Doesn’t your hand get tired?
Well, did you ever meet Rick Riordan?
When are they going to make a movie out of your book?
Do you like cats or dogs better?
What about Mo Willems? Did you ever meet him?
Are you rich?
Can you please write a book about me?
The Q & A—it’s my second favorite part of an author visit. After I’ve blabbed away, I finally get to have a conversation. Meeting a writer would have been a revelation for me when I was a child. Much as I loved reading, I scarcely understood that books were created by people who ate corn flakes and watched TV, just like me. If asked I’d have said authors all lived in England, in cottages covered with roses, and kept hedgehogs for pets. No wonder I was in my late 20s before it began to dawn on me that maybe I could write not only for myself, but for an audience. I could be a writer.
So it delights me to tell children that I’m afraid of heights, that I’m a terrible cook, that my father often disappointed me, that my cat is named Habibi, that I can’t pick a favorite book any more than I can a favorite daughter. Sometimes they ask where I get my ideas, but in general that’s more of a grown-up question. Most children I meet have more ideas than they know what to do with. The tough question is how to wrangle those ideas into stories. Often they ask about what to do when they get stuck, or what to do with all the stories they’ve started but never finished. Now and then someone will ask me a technical question so sophisticated and thoughtful, I know I’m talking to a fellow writer.
Some teachers have children write down questions in advance, which is wonderful, but it’s also cool to wing it and see what happens. One writer I know sneaks into the auditorium beforehand and tapes questions to the bottoms of random chairs—it’s a great ice breaker, and once that ice cracks, stand back. With the youngest students, it can be a challenge to know the difference between questions and comments.
I have a cat, too!
My auntie wrote a book.
I don’t like writing. I like wrestling. (When I suggested to this boy that he could write about wrestling, he looked at me as if I’d sprouted a second head).
Yours shoes are pretty.
Almost always, after all my blabbing and explaining and attempting to answer clearly and cleverly, someone will raise a hand, squint, and ask, “So, how do you make a book?” It’s the heart of the matter, of course, and maybe, in the end, words will always fail to illuminate it.
Writing is a solitary business, and spending time in schools and libraries is exhilarating and inspiring. My first favorite part of visits? Reading aloud. How much stories mean to children! How seriously, how personally, they take the fates of the characters. The stillness that comes over the room as I begin to read humbles me every time.
Tricia’s newest, PHOEBE AND DIGGER, is a picture book, but she’s found that middle grade readers are excellent at helping her do the sound effects. Rmmm!