Wednesday, April 09, 2008

mouths of babes

My dear friend Melanie is a high school teacher and asked me if I wouldn't mind spending an hour at a career fair.

"Just try to speak slowly," she said. I am known to talk so fast that even (and especially) my mother can't understand me. "Keep their attention by asking lots of questions."

I decided I'd also keep their attention by bringing door prizes. "I'm incentivizing you to listen to my speech," I told them at the beginning. "Whoever can answer my questions can come up at the end and pick up a book of their choice."

I started out by asking if anyone loved to read. No one loved to read. Not one person. "Come on," I said. One boy finally raised his hand. "Thank you," I said. "Everyone else is just being shy."

[Later, in the hallway, the boy who was supposed to take me from one class to another confessed that he, too, liked Harry Potter. "Six was my favorite," he said. "It answered a lot of my questions." "Oh, I liked Book Four," I said. "It had dragons." Now he has moved on to TWILIGHT. I was pleased and impressed--he, like many of Melanie's students, is ESL--and didn't betray my feelings about that book and its colorful dialog tags.]

I told the class I was an editor at a publishing company and asked them if they had any idea what editors do. All was still, and then suddenly one kid shot his hand up in the air. "You cut stuff," he said.

"That's right!" I said, utterly thrilled that this 12th grader understood what several of my professional authors do not.

I told them about editorial, publicity, sales, and rights (all in four sentences or less) and then quizzed them on what I said. The ones who knew the answers got to come up and pick out books. Even though I did rights last, no one remembered the rights department either time I gave my speech. Bummer.

Then we talked a little bit about getting a job in publishing. I advised them to think about getting a summer job in a bookstore or library if they were interested, or checking out the wealth of summer internship opportunities. I urged them to consider it--they are luckier than 98% of America (in terms of getting into publishing) because they already live in New York.

No one had any questions for me. Bummer again. Maybe I was really, really boring. My assistant suggests perhaps I was just so very lucid and coherent (the only purely lucid and coherent 10 minutes of my life!) that they didn't need to ask any questions.

At the end, one kid called out, "Miss! You made me want to start to read more!"

"Good," I told her. Maybe she meant it; maybe not.

Also, I was given a banana muffin and a slice of avocado for breakfast. Unexpected but not unappreciated.

That was my little 2-hour foray out of my cave for this week. Hopefully not too many lives were ruined. It was certainly more exciting and delicious than catalog copy. (Seriously--did we not just do a catalog?!)


Sherri said...

That's awesome. Where would I be now if I'd had the good fortune to hear an editor talk at my high school? Maybe in the same place, but I probably would have started sooner.

Colorado Writer said...

Good times!

cyn said...

awww, i love this!!! and avocado for breakfast? i've had avocado shakes and i'm addicted to them!!! eeee! i think they originate from southeast asia? not sure.

ChristineEldin said...

If teenagers are giving you presents, then they like you.

Sounds fun! Like Sherri, I wish I had someone like you talk about publishing when I was in high school.

Thing 2 (who is 7) asked me a publishing question last night.
"Mommy, which is the biggest: Random House, Scholastic, or Yearling?"

Holy Cow!! That's my boy!

Since we're talking about him, he asked me last week if they call it Random House because they publish random things.

I love my kids.

Precie said...

That's so cool! Yay, you!!

I'm sure you inspired more than one student to read more and to look at books a little differently. :)

jalexissmith said...

Well done!

High schoolers never ask questions. Don't be offended.

Charles Gramlich said...

A friend of mine recently presented about her writing at a local high school down here and was pleased as punch to find that quite a few students were readers and were interested. I was surprised but pleased.

angelle said...

reading something is better than reading nothing.

i know you hated twilight, but i guiltily liked it.

Sarah Hina said...

I just got back from volunteering at my daughter's school library. I'm always heartened to see at least a few of the fifth graders get really excited about books. I'm glad your talk resonated with the kids, although it's always hard to tell to what extent.

Today, a girl checked out Bridge to Terebithia...I almost kissed her. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

Getting one more person interested in reading can change the world. Besides, that was a special thing to do.