A couple of years ago I did a school author visit which went rather badly. I was surprised by a young group for which I was not prepared and I froze. This fumble caused the teachers to write me a review stating I was not fit for doing school presentations. Needless to say, I ran and hid in a corner.
As a horse woman I know well – when you fall off the horse, you brush off the dirt, and get back on and ride. So, the longer I hid and refused to get back in the saddle, the worse my fears became.
Yesterday I took the step again. The journey was not an easy one. My granddaughter pushed from both ends, encouraging me as well as working with her teachers and librarian, to have me visit her school. (Yes, she is my greatest fan, Praise God for her) But I was slow in contacting the school, then slower yet in responding to the email inviting me to visit. I nearly ran out of time since we are in the last six weeks of school.
So I answered the call to action (the hero quest) and began refining my Power Point presentation to fit my audience. But I struggled with an appropriate topic.
I know I write for a very narrow niche. Faithful readers of horse stories. Nothing action/adventure, or mystery, or dystopian, just a horse story – exciting to horse lovers. So what to prepare for fifth and sixth graders in a city where horses are not the center of the world?
The muse speaks.
I was staring at my box of books, which I purchase to take to book fairs and readings, and I asked myself, “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I write only this?” Of course I know the answer. It’s what I know and love. It’s where my passion lies. It’s because a little girl in a library tearfully searched for a book about horses which had chapters, and which she had not yet read. And that book had to be short, because she was not yet a confident reader able to tackle the longer works such as Black Beauty. I wrote my pony series for readers such as her.
That question became my topic. “Why write that?” So I planned, scribbled notes – in pencil – in my spiral – and the words flew from the muse to my mind to the page. A perfect and inspiring presentation. I was pleased and of course practiced a few times in the safety of my office. Then went on to other projects for the next couple of weeks. I knew I was prepared and ready.
The day before my scheduled visit, I packed my truck, checked my list and checked again. Then made the 160 mile trip to stay with my daughter. That night I checked my notes to refresh my memory. I had slides in my Power Point I had never used before and suddenly I forgot what they were intended for!
Open the notes! But I hadn’t typed them – and my trusty spiral was still on my desk.
Second obstacle, worse than the first.
I wracked my brain and begged the muse for a clue, but the harder I worked, the farther the idea slipped away. The muse had given me the words, and I carelessly let them slip from my grasp. I’d not given them the proper respect.
Help arrives. (the beginning of the final struggle in the hero quest)
I finally called my husband, knowing he would have trouble reading my jumbled notes and half written words and sentences. All I needed was that one key word to spark my memory. But first I had to guide him to the correct spiral in my jumbled work space. (A messy desk is a sign of genius.)
While I struggled to understand my dear husband’s attempt to make sense of my notes, my faithful sidekick, my daughter, fretted and offered to drive all night to retrieve the notes. But my husband finally came through. I got the key word and the memory returned.
I am prepared to face my fears and deliver the message.
In my presentation, I challenged the students to confess that they hadn’t been interested in my books – because their interests lay elsewhere. And that’s okay. It surprised them. It also surprised them when I validated the non-readers, and showed them options to reading lengthy novels. Basically, the talk centered around the vast selection of genres and styles from wordless picture books and graphic novels, to non-fiction, and even journalism and ‘how-to’. Their biggest surprise was learning that they all adored poetry – in the form of music.
With ever increasing confidence, I presented to five groups. I watched faces go from bland and uninterested, to joyful and engaged, complete with the wheels turning for a lifetime of real writing, whether they publish or not.
My reward, the elixir.
I do not yet charge for my visits, I haven’t been in the business long enough to garner good reviews and references. However, the bright faces and the hugs I got from boys as well as girls as the students left the school for home, was more valuable that money. I now have the courage to ride again.