Do Your Kids Know What an Author Looks Like?

What Happens During an Author Visit?

The most important thing that happens during an author visit is that the kids get a look at an author as a real person. Too often, the creator lurks behind the book, anonymous and "other," not someone the child could ever aspire to be. It's not easy for a child whose only first-hand view of adult life is of people working away at nine-to-five jobs to imagine herself putting non- nine-to-five talents to work. They think that not having a job means getting rich as a performer -- a singer, actor, athlete, or politician. Having a writer or artist talk to a class can open their eyes to other options, and to the possibilities inherent in their own talents. After all, if an ultra-ordinary lumpy little white woman like me can be published and read in libraries all over the country, anyone who wants it badly enough can!

It also gets you out of regular class to watch an adult make a fool of herself running around bursting with enthusiasm for what she does, which can be fun. But don't tell the teachers that. We've got to make them think this is educational.

When I do a school visit or assembly, I consider the needs of the children and of the school. For instance:

At the San Benito Festival in 2007, I returned to the area of my birth and participated in their annual celebration of literature, with a special emphasis on children's literature. I talked a little bit about all my books, with particular emphasis on The Ghost Sitter, ghost stories, and the relationship between truth, fiction, and folklore. I also sang the worms song.

At the Northeastern Missouri University Children's Literature Festival, 2003, I contrasted the process of writing The Music Thief, a story which essentially threw itself at my head and forced me to write it, and The Ghost Sitter, which started with the academic desire to write a ghost story and do something atypical and essentially "realistic," and ended with my rewriting the ending five times, crying every time.

At the West Texas Book and Author Festival 2002, I talked, along with another author, about history in children's literature: how it works, why it works, and where you get the good stuff.

At the Solomon Schechter Academy of Dallas, in 2002, I led the fourth graders through a participatory presentation on Where Ideas Come From, starting from scratch (flipping a coin to decide the sex of the protagonist), and ending with the saga of Fred the Mutant Dog. For the fifth and sixth graders, I talked about The Ghost Sitter and the ghost story as a genre, in fiction and non-fiction.

For the Fort Bend Independent School District in 1995, I was asked to talk to middle school students who had read Switching Well in class. Since my visit coincided with their being assigned their first research papers, I used my experience with Well to explain How to Do Research, which is more fun than most kids assume!

At the Miami Bookfair in 1994, I spoke to two auditoriums-full of elementary and middle school students about What It's Like to Be a Writer. I explained why I do it, how hard the work is, and also how much fun.

When you call me, tell me why you want a writer to talk to your students, what grade I'll be talking to, and how many there'll be. We'll decide whether one of the above presentations would be suitable, or if I should work up a brand-new topic to suit your curriculum. I'm easy.

If you want an idea of the kinds of response your kids are likely to have to my presentations, check out Frequently Asked Questions, Middle School Style.

I wrote it to prepare first-time school visitors for what they will face, but teachers deserve preparation, too. Yes, your children will embarrass you -- but they will also astound you. Many times a teacher has said to me after a session: "I cringed every time So-and-So raised his hand, because he's usually such a smart-aleck, but he kept asking these wonderful questions!"

What Schools Will I Visit?

Mostly, anyone who wants me. My primary audience is middle-schoolers, so groups which consist mostly of grades six through eight will probably get the most use out of me. I'll also happily visit libraries or groups of adults interested in writing -- especially those interested in writing for children. Since I live in and set my stories in Texas, I am a more logical guest in regional schools, but I have no objection to traveling, and don't mind cheap modes of transportation or sleeping on couches.

WHAT'S IT COST?

The costs below are based on the assumption that I will do four presentations per day of forty to fifty minutes each, with a break for lunch between 11:00 and 12:30, and including time for answering questions and autographing sessions, if desired. I will be happy to negotiate prices on shorter days, longer presentations, or other variations. Bear in mind, however, that a day I go to a school is a day on which I will not get any writing done, because school visits are exhausting. I really can't leave town for less than $750 a day.

Base cost: $750.00 per day

Expenses:

Transportation -- If necesssary, Greyhound or coach airfare from San Antonio to your town, plus transportation around your town. It is imperative that transportation within your town be arranged beforehand. I've only been driving for a couple of years and I hate it. Also, we only have one car. I can't drive up to Austin, do a full day of school visits, and drive back the same night, and I may not be able to take the car away from my husband, depending on his obligations that day.

Lodging -- For out of town visits, single occupancy room for the night before, the night after if necessary, and all nights between presentations.

Per Diem -- $25.00 per day for meals and incidental expenses. Visits in San Antonio or the immediate vicinity will not involve lodging costs and may reduce or eliminate the per diem.

If you feed me directly, please remember that I'm a vegetarian. I will not eat corn dogs in your school cafeteria.

WHO AM I?

I am an Air Force brat, born in 1961 on the now-defunct base at Harlingen, Texas. My childhood was spent reading and taking long car trips, as we moved from Texas to Alaska, Alaska to Iowa (while my father was in Nam), Iowa to Maryland, Maryland back to Texas -- San Angelo, to be precise. I came to San Antonio to attend two universities, from neither of which I graduated. They couldn't teach me how to make the stories in my head accessible to others. That, I learned by reading, and by writing. In 1987 I married Michael D. Griffin, A.K.A. Damon. We live with two cats, Thai the Best Belovable and Bruce the Spruce, in a Grecian revival house which we are slowly renovating.

I sold my first short story in 1986, and my first book, to Margaret K. McElderry, in 1989. The audience I aim for, generally, is myself at age ten. I have known seven year olds who read my books with pleasure, and fourteen year olds who found them too hard. Children demand better books than adults do, so I try to answer the demand.

The world is so full of stories, I will never be able to tell them all. But I'm trying.

Interested? Please e-mail me!

Still not sure you want an author visit, or afraid that if you try you'll create a disaster and never be trusted by your school board again? Let me put you into the hands of a professional by sending you to the homepage of Toni Buzzeo, elementary school librarian and author (with Jane Kurtz) of Terrefic Connections, the book that will tell you how to make an event that is successful for you, the kids, and the author. This book is highly recommended to those organizing school visits, as it is full of specific, helpful advice and provides insight into the needs of everyone involved in the process. If Toni can't get you excited, I'm afraid you're just not excitable.

Interested in an author visit, but don't think I'm quite what you want? No hard feelings, but somewhere there's an author who would be suitable for your school. Explore the "Author Illustrator Source" page for other possibilities.

Go to "Peni and Damon's Wonderfulness on the Web"index page.