So I'm still waiting for editorial comments on my new manuscript, and unlike some highly talented writer friends I know (and envy), I find it really hard to just bounce right on to a new story. For one thing, it takes me forever to locate the next idea. But to tell myself I'm still writing every day, I've turned to my blog, hence all those Celebrity Encounters.
I'm not really sure I should write about author visits gone wrong ... I wonder if I'm breaking some sort of unwritten author code, like "What happens in libraries, stays in libraries." But my best guess is that every children's and YA author out there has at least one awesomely humiliating story, or funny story, or crazy-making story, about a school visit gone bad, and here's the thing: I'm pretty sure I can top most of them.
School visits are, for the most part, a fun offshoot of the children's/YA author's life. There are pros and cons, of course. For me the cons are: a) It's always somewhat terrifying, standing in front of a group of (in my case) 11, 12 and 13 year olds, and trying to keep them engaged, and b) I get tired of my own voice. Even though my own mother once bought me a t-shirt that proclaimed, "It's All About Me," I actually get tired of hearing me, tell stories about ... me. And c) if you do four per day for a few days in a row, it's exhausting. It's given me a whole new appreciation for teachers.
However, the pros outweigh the cons. First of all, it is really good to be forced out of the house and get my head out of my own butt once in a while. And the kids and teachers are usually awesome; they're engaged, and have great questions. Not all of them have read my books (at some schools, none of them have read my books), but I know at least some of them will after I've visited. So it's a way to gain a few fans. And, when I go to a school where a bunch of the kids have read my work, it is a ridiculously cool feeling to meet actual consumers of my product. I love hearing what they have to say. I love that my work actually has readers! It's a great ego-boost much of the time.
If I were to break it down, I would say 85% of my school visits are a terrific experience, 14% are just okay ... and 1% are (is?) awful.
So. I'm going back a few years, which is why I'm feeling that it just might be okay to blog about this now. I was still very new to school visits, but was at the tail end of a full week of them in a large urban center. Things had been going great. Then I hit my second to last school. I had a bad feeling right away because they'd put me in a gym, even though I'd requested no gyms. And there were way more than 100 students, even though I'd requested a max of 100 students. To some of you this will sound precious, but it really is about maximizing everyone's experience, mine included. The presentation I do best suits smaller groups, as it's also quite interactive. But I plowed ahead.
Near the end of the presentation, I showed a photo in my power point presentation of me and my cat. This came on the heels of a photo of the entire cast and crew of a TV show I'd produced, to contrast the number of people it takes to put together a TV show, versus the number of people it takes to put together a book (I point out that there are actually quite a few people who go into putting together a book! But the photo's for contrast).
This kid put up his hand, a seventh grader. He asked, "What is the name of your pussy?" Now. I bet your alarm bells are going off already. Mine were too, but I answered him straight. "Sam," I said, and was about to move on to the next question when he said, "Your pussy looks good enough to eat."
Yup. I'll let that sink in a moment.
I was completely stunned. I saw a teacher sitting near him gasp in horror. Fortunately it seemed to go over the younger kids' heads. I just muttered, "Okay, I won't be taking any more questions from you." I know - lame. But I was honestly speechless.
The presentation wrapped up a couple minutes later. The same teacher who'd looked horrified approached me immediately. "Good," I thought, "she's going to tell me they're going to deal with this."
Nope. Instead she said, "You said you worked on Degrassi. Did you ever meet Drake?"
I'm laughing even as I write this, because I still cannot believe that's what she said!! I replied, "No, I didn't meet Drake, and I would like permission to speak to that kid." I didn't need to say which kid; she knew. And she said, "Oh! Sure."
And here's the part of the story that doesn't cast me in the best light, but what the hell, in for a penny. The kid was already out of the gym. I pushed my way through the other kids and teachers; I was seeing red. I saw him in the corridor and put a hand on his arm to stop him. And I tore a strip off him. I told him what a horrible thing that was to say, how inappropriate, how hard it was to stand up there in front of all these people, and would he talk like that to his mom? His sister? He looked at the ground and mumbled, "Sorry Miss, sorry Miss," over and over.
The offending photo. It is no longer a part of my presentation - just to be on the safe side.
A few days later I received an apology from him, e mailed through the school.
I've only shared this story with a few other writers because it is soooo cringe-worthy. But here's another funny anecdote: I told this story a while back to four male YA authors. You know what their first reaction was? "You put your hand on the student's arm??"
Nor surprisingly, when I tell female authors, they focus on a different part of the story!
Anyway, I know we all have tales like this - I've heard some of them from some of you, and they of course remain in the vault - but I just felt like sharing my absolute worst/cringiest one. Feel free to share yours if you want!