[This is reprinted from Oct 4, 2012]
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the 6th grade at Howe-Manning School in Middleton, MA. The students had read my book, The Grey Ghost, as part of their summer reading. During the first 30 minutes of each of the three 90-minute sessions, we discussed the story, and I answered any questions they had. Their questions and observations were inquisitive and fearless, and it was my pleasure to tie back the decisions I had to make as an author to the ideas of theme and character development they had read in the story.
Following the Q&A I taught a writing workshop to each of the groups. I focused on the structure of plot and how Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey can serve as a framework for writing fantasy and fiction. I told the students that these were the lessons I wish I had learned when I was their age. I emphasized that with an understanding of how to craft plot, and some practice with the basic techniques of fiction, that they too could become authors.
I had first visited Howe-Manning in June 2012, thanks to the generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Reed and Kittie Cutting. Reed had been a life-long educator in Marblehead, MA, and the Cuttings had been good friends of mine for many years. Reed loved that my school programs touched so many students, and he and Kittie wanted to fund such a visit for a school that might not otherwise afford one. It took several months to schedule, and unfortunately, Reed succumbed to pancreatic cancer just days before my June 2012 visit to Howe-Manning. I was so grateful the students wrote him thank you notes two weeks prior, so he was able to feel their warm appreciation.
I had a wonderful surprise for the students and teachers when I returned to Howe-Manning on September 20. Kittie Cutting was able to come and sit in on our second session with the students! Afterwards, dozens of kids came up to her introducing themselves and thanking her. It was a truly special occasion for everyone!
I spent most of the time between the three sessions autographing students’ writing journals. Their teachers and I hoped that an autograph and encouraging word might help motivate their writing through this school year. As I signed more than one hundred journals, I couldn’t help but wonder where these kids might go as writers. Many thanks to teachers Nancy Jones and Abby McCarthy for a wonderful day at Howe-Manning!
Driving home after school on Septemeber 20, I reached into my pocket and found a folded-up note one of the students had passed me. She said I didn’t need to autograph it, that it was for me. I unfolded it and smiled as I read it. What a terrific ending to a great day!