I’ve been invited to attend the Hunter Jr. High School career day this Friday to talk about being a writer.
I both love and dread these events (I’ve been to Hunter twice before, and a few other schools as well). I love them because junior high-aged kids make me laugh. They are so full of life and so ready to let you know that they will challenge anything you say if they think you’re trying to put one over on them. They are struggling to find themselves and their identities so they are open to new ideas even if they act like they are completely unaffected by what you say. Some will chime in and engage in the conversation, others will listen eagerly, and others will just slap on a glazed expression and stare at you like zombies.
By the way, it’s often the zombies who approach me after the session wanting to pick my brains! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). They are the ones with the personal questions who don’t want to reveal that much of themselves in front of their fellow classmates (insert zombie joke of your choice here).
I”m always asked about the benefits of being a writer. My co-author Jared did a very funny blog on this subject here on WordPress (Jared S. Anderson – check it out!) and I mostly agree with his assessment, but I don’t think I’d be mentioning a few of his perks in a junior high environment. Perks like working in your jammies, being your own boss, and being able to stare at clouds and call it research are all excellent aspects to being a writer.
A lot of kids want to know how I got started in writing, and I tell them that I was interested in writing before I even really knew how to do it.
No, that’s not me, but it could have been. I would play on my dad’s manual typewriter pretending to write books. I would write poetry for my mom when I learned to rhyme (my spelling was something hysterical to be sure), and when I was in 3rd grade, I wrote my own book and did a book report on it. I had a pen name and everything! In junior high, I wrote for the school newspaper (the Bonneville By-Line), and in high school I had poetry published in the literary magazine, and I was the type editor for our school newspaper (the Colt Round-Up). In college, I majored in English, but decided to go into public relations and advertising. I wrote all the time, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be writing. So I decided to try writing professionally. I did a lot of research, I studied, I worked with mentors, (thank you Carol Lynch Williams), and eventually had some success. I wrote for CitySearch.com and for a local magazine called Wasatch Parent. My first book, Love & Loathing, was published in 1998 and is still in print today.
Then I decided I wanted to go back to school. I earned my Masters from Vermont College and the creative thesis for my degree became my first novel for kids (“My Brother the Dog” which is soon to be rereleased as “Kiss Kiss Bark”). That was preceded by three nonfiction books just a few months before (the “Hey, Ranger” books), and now an adult horror/suspense novel has arrived (“Beautiful Monster”) and a young adult novel will be released next year (“The Deepest Blue”).
But there is always the part of these career days I dread. Unfortunately, kids ultimately want to know “How much money do you make?”
My typical reply is a bit evasive, but it is none the less true: It depends.
It depends on the book.
It depends on the publisher.
It depends on the contract.
It depends on the sales for that book in a given time period.
Sometimes kids will be satisfied simply to know that you can make money from writing. Others want details. So I tell them: It depends.
Some of my checks for my book advances have been a few thousand dollars, some have been a few hundred, and some publishers don’t pay an advance. Some of my royalty checks have been over a thousand dollars, some have been a few hundred, and some have hardly been worth driving to the bank to deposit.
I don’t really get offended when they ask; it’s just embarrassing to admit that I’ve been doing this for so long, but I still don’t make a living at it. I’m committed to making that change, however. I have set a timeline of 5 years (well, 4 1/2 now) to living solely from the procedes of my writing. Of course, one of the benefits of being a writer – to me, anyway – is that I will do this for the rest of my life even if I don’t make a living at because it’s what I do for my heart. It’s what I do for me and it is something that not only do I love, but that I hope when my time comes to meet my maker, they find me dead at my keyboard with a long string of “f’s” being typed by my nose.
So wish me luck on Friday! Maybe I can inspire a young mind. I just pray I don’t put them all to sleep.