In the last two and a half years, I've participated in about a dozen book conferences and spoken on about twenty panels. I enjoy these engagements, mainly for the audience. The people who come to conventions simply love books. They travel great distances and pay for hotels, airfare and ungodly expensive meals for the chance to rub shoulders with their favorite authors (usually not me) and hear about the vague word that is 'writing.' As authors, we survive on readership.
Yesterday, though, I had a chance to speak somewhere a little different. THE MARK was selected by a high school for their book club, and they asked me to come speak to the students about the book. I've done about four or five of these kinds of talks, some high school and some middle school, an I hope I don't offend any convention attendees when I say that these are by far the most fulfilling speaking engagements I could imagine.
Aside from walking into the school's library to see between 40 and 50 high school students with well-worn copies of my book in front of them (a really humbling feeling) there's nothing quite like the genuine excitement and slight embarrassment of young readers. (How many people hesitated to ask questions of guest speakers in high school because they were embarrassed? Besides me?)
When you're at a book conference, you inevitably spend a great deal of your time talking about publishing, marketing, everything that goes on once you close the word processor, and everything you'd prefer not to deal with. But students...man, they want to know everything about the books themselves. They want to know where ideas come from. Where you get your inspiration. How much of the characters are based on you, and how many are based on other people. It's everything a writer really wants to talk about, to the hungriest audience there is.
Students don't care about co-op. They don't give a damn about genre wars, review space, or sales meetings. All they care about is what is between those two covers, how it got there, and for some of them, how they can do it too. You can always tell who the writers are in these groups. They're the ones who ask question after question. At first tentative, hand raised just barely above their head, perhaps wondering what their fellow classmates will think of them. But as time goes on, the hands eventually raise higher and higher, they become more confident, more open. You have to purposefully call on other students sometimes because, near the end, that hand refuses to stay down.
Thank you to the great students at W.T. Clarke high school. I know there are hundreds of school around this country with students just as eager as you were to know just how books are written. And I hope you get a chance to hear about it from writers just like me, who probably enjoy speaking to you even more than you do listening to us.