Archive for the ‘Author Visit’ category

The writer’s workshop with Tom Leveen was awesome.

November 1st, 2013

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It’s one thing to have an author visit your school to promote the sale of their books. I get it. I’ve also seen authors talk about their books but then also give writing advice. That’s been great and I really appreciate it.

But for an author to talk to our students for the sole purpose of helping them write better? What a novel idea. (You see what I did there?)

Tom Leveen knows how to relate to students, addressing them as intelligent writers who want to improve their craft. He hosted a writer’s workshop with our students last Friday after school and walked them through his own writing process, but did not stop there. He dialogued with our students, challenging them to truly analyze what makes for a well-told story, and then taught them how to take that knowledge and put it to paper. His quick wit and approachable demeanor complemented his dissection of the hero’s journey, actionable plots, and how to hook a reader with the First Five – the first five words, the first five sentences, …

He’s a local author and I’m glad that Ms. Trombley lined up the visit. It was definitely a benefit to our students and our faculty. Librarians/English teacher-type people: you need to invite him to your school. It’s well-worth your time. I was impressed with the maturity that Tom drew out of our students and for the increased excitement for writing that happened on a Friday afternoon when most students would want to vacate the school as quickly as possible. They chose to be there and it was a good choice.

A day with Pelican House Productions

May 15th, 2012

Yesterday we had the privilege of hosting Pelican House Productions, the film company behind General Education. If you’re a fan of quirky comedies, this is one that you will want to see in August.

One of the reasons that we hosted Pelican House is that a founder, Elliot Feld, used to be a student at our school and it’s great to see a Hurricane come back to share experiences with current students. Their group did a great job of talking to students about how to pursue goals and how to work as a professional. Over and over again they talked about taking opportunities as they came, but also learning how to say no to things that didn’t line up with their goals.

They were very approachable and related well with the students. They put on a marathon presentation schedule yesterday, but were good sports about it and were happy to meet with as many students as they could. More than once they mentioned to me how much they wanted to give back to the community.

As co-writers of the screenplay, they had great insight into how to create a story that would not only translate well to the screen but would emotionally connect the audience to the subject matter. A big lesson for the students was that planning is free and crucial. The more effectively you plan, the more money you save. Each day filming translates into money. These guys had a budget to shoot for 18 days, not 90 like a blockbuster. Also, you have to be super-planned because it’s not just you and some friends messing around with a video camera. When filming the graduation scene in General Education, 500+ people were on set. Without planning, the movie would have  ground to a halt in the chaos. It was great hearing the producer talk about his role in organizing things ahead of time.

Check out the movie trailer here and marvel at the cast they have listed at IMDB. They can be reached on Twitter at @PHPfilm and on Facebook at Message them to schedule a visit. It’s well worth your time.

Author Visit: Lisa McMann

September 1st, 2011

We had the great opportunity to host Lisa McMann in our library yesterday. She’s touring with her new book, The Unwanteds. (It’s a great book. Make sure to check out my review (and then go buy the book)).

It’s interesting to compare author visits with some of the others that have come to our school. Lisa was definitely not jumping on tables. That may have been a unique characteristic of Frank Beddor. She did have some of the rebellious attitude of Heather Brewer, which was great. The students applauded many of her statements and had tons of questions for her.

One thing that stood out was that Lisa read the first chapter of her book to start her presentation. I know that authors do readings all the time in stores and coffee shops, but I’ll be honest: I thought reading aloud to 180 students might not go over well. I’ve presented to that many students, but I’m tall and loud. Lisa McMann does not shout, or at least she did not during her presentation. She read with a quiet intensity that I was afraid people would talk over.

Then I remembered that her book rocks. There were students in the audience who were reading along with her, which is pretty cool considering the book only went on sale at the start of this week.

She shared about her own kids and her husband helped run the PowerPoint. It allowed students to see that an author has a real life and is not a completely mythological creature, although hearing that she wrote Wake in seven days leads me to believe that she has some Olympian characteristics.

If you get a chance to have her speak at your school, take it. It definitely boosted interest in reading her book. Check her tour schedule here. It was a worthwhile experience for students and staff. Thanks to Changing Hands for the opportunity and Ms. Redden for making it happen.

Yes, I’m tall.
Yes, it looks like Ms. Redden is photobombing us.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

August 27th, 2011

I just finished The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann and really liked it. Well, there you go. Do you need more of a review?

If I were you, I definitely would want more details after Kirkus (and others) makes a bold statement like, “Hunger Games meets Harry Potter“. Is it realistic to namedrop two of the three biggest titles of the decade? (It would be the YA trifecta if the Death Farm was run by a sparkly vampire.)

I think the world of Unwanteds is split into part dystopia and part fantasy. The book starts out as main character Alex is about to be Purged, sent to to his death for showing artistic ability. The advance copy that I read has a letter in it from McMann explaining the inspiration for the story. Since I’m an educator in Arizona, I’ve seen the budget cuts to the arts. My brother’s a music teacher and one of my closest friends used to be a drama teacher until cuts were made. I get the Purge.

There’s quite an allegory that can be drawn from the story, but the narrative does not suffer. It would have been very tempting for McMann to get preachy or throw in some obvious jabs at current politicians and she refrains, unlike some authors (I’m looking at you, Dante Alighieri).

Unwanteds reminds me so much of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which makes sense, since McMann says she drew inspiration from similar greats like Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Despite the dangers, it’s a world you kinda want to live in. Each student has their own talent, a specialized artistic ability, they use to make the world a better place. Teachers help the students hone their craft into powerful weapons.

There’s an ensemble cast, so even though the main character, Alex, is talented in visual arts, there are other characters for students to identify with. The teacher that speaks in iambic pentameter is a particular favorite of mine, although it’s tough not to side with a painting instructor that is part crocodile/part octopus (don’t get me started on the squirrelicorn warrior).

The story does have elements of the monomyth, but hey, that story’s entertained for a couple of centuries. What McMann does with the archetypes is great. The old mentor that runs the school could have easily been another Dumbledore, yet I felt like Mr. Today (whose name has significance) stands on his own. In one part, he asks the ruler of the dystopia to name any secret Mr. Today is hiding. Throughout the book, Mr. Today emphasizes the need for transparency and how fear is not the way to get things done. That’s a lesson that I hope many readers hold onto after finishing the book.

Unwanteds is its own book and doesn’t need the comparison to Hunger Games and Harry Potter to succeed, but if it draws students to this great book, then I’m all for it. Librarians, get this book. It’s already starting to gain popularity and I agree that it deserves it (and I’m not just saying that because Lisa McMann’s going to be on our campus this Wednesday).

Yeah. I don’t work at that school.

August 18th, 2011

The positive? Someone quoted me with regards to P.J. Haarsma’s author visit to our school years ago.

The negative? I don’t work at Desert Arroyo Middle School. I would have to Google it to find where it is.

I’m going to try and edit the Wikipedia page where it’s mentioned.

Oh, Wikipedia. Facepalm.

Notice how there’s a citation, even. It links to a fan site that isn’t even online anymore.

The quote is from my website article here.

Author visit with Mike Lupica

November 16th, 2010

“I look like a jockey standing next to you.” – Mike Lupica

Mike Lupica’s great to have speak with your students. A big thanks go to the folks at Phoenix Book Company for making it happen.

He didn’t spend too much time hyping his new book, which I appreciate. He told the story of how he started writing YA books and his inspiration from his own children. You can tell that he loves sports and has a love for the game, no matter which one it is. Something that he emphasized was that in sports, you get knocked down a lot. Many people get knocked down. It’s the people that get back up that show the heroics.

He also explained that one reason people love sports so much is that you can’t go to Blockbuster and rent tonight’s game. It’s unscripted, it’s unpredictable, and that resonates with people because it echoes life.

It was cool to hear him say that Hero was the most fun to write because he was such a fan of comic books growing up. You can tell that he enjoys writing and likes interacting with students. He does tell it like it is, though, and called out a kid because the student’s favorite team had spent a billion dollars on players with not much to show for it. He also found it ironic that you can get a trophy in youth sports just for showing up.

I enjoyed hosting Mike Lupica and I know the kids found it worthwhile, as well. He said that every one of the students had a novel in them and I hope that some will be encouraged to take up writing, whether academically or in a professional setting.

Author visit with Ridley Pearson

May 10th, 2010

Last Wednesday we had a great author visit with Ridley Pearson. Both the Peter and the Starcatchers and the Kingdom Keepers series are very popular in our library.

Much like when Frank Beddor visited, I now hear Ridley Pearson’s voice when I read his work. I’m on Kingdom Keepers III right now and many of the real-life stories Ridley shared made it into the book. The characters visit the abandoned carousel room, find the maintenance journal for Soarin’, and ride on a crazed Test Track.

If you ever get a chance to host Ridley, take it. He’s a very interesting individual. Last year he taught English at a university in China and was a substitute teacher in St. Louis. Ridley is very successful – he doesn’t need the extra money. He loves working with students. Every chance he gets he teaches To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite books to read and teach.

He’s in a band with Matt Groening, Amy Tan, Stephen King, Mitch Albom, and Dave Barry. Those have got to be some fun rehearsals. It was during one of those band sessions that Dave Barry and he decided to write Peter and the Starcatchers.

As if that wasn’t interesting enough, he has a pass to get into any Disney location for free at any time. He just calls up, says he needs to do some research, and an Imagineer hooks him up. Ridley showed some spooky photos from It’s a Small World at 5 am. If you’ve read the first Kingdom Keepers book, you know what that’s about.

Ridley was a good mix of fun insider stories about Disney and an experienced perspective on the writing process. He also loved what we’re doing at our school, so I pass the applause on to the teachers for fostering an enjoyment of reading in our students.

Author Visit: James Dashner

November 3rd, 2009

When teachers ask me about if an author visit was a success, I consider a couple of factors:

  1. Were the students engaged?
  2. Was there a balance between “Buy my book!” and “Here’s how to be a better student”?

Student engagement is a big one, since a bored audience could be doing something else with their time. Author visits take work to coordinate; Quiet Ball is a much easier way to bore students.

I understand that authors make money from book sales, so of course they would want to hype their books. But by being at the school you’ve already highlighted your book apart from all of the others on the shelf.

James Dashner scores well on both of these requirements. He had some pictures on a PowerPoint to make the students laugh, but what really kept the students involved was asking questions. Dashner asked students about why to pre-write and what makes for a good revising process. He detailed the steps that he takes when writing a book. It was great to hear that pre-writing, first drafts, and revisions (all things our teachers emphasize) are involved in how he gets published.

Our focus on rigor, relevance, and relationships was enhanced by his real world writing examples. I especially appreciated that to be a published author many times you send off your revised manuscript to an agent before you get to the final copy. Students came away from the author visit with a better understanding of strategies for writing (and signed copies of the book).

P.J. Haarsma Visit

September 9th, 2008

The author visit by P. J. Haarsma was a lot of fun. He knows astronomy, technology, and how to get young adults interested in what he’s talking about.

Librarians, a warning – you’ll need to order more books. Mine are all checked out and on hold.

On Target with John Flanagan

April 10th, 2008

Frank Beddor was crazy and jumped up on our tables. Ally had less table-jumping but great insight into the writing process (dirty water out of the hose first). 

John Flanagan was a good way to end author visits for the school year. He told us about his work in TV but how he really wanted to be an author. I loved the fact that his big celebration was not a big house/car but that he could do his dream and still support his family. (That excitement was demonstrated by looking like a “loon” as he and his wife pulled up to stop lights (instead of the bland faces people normally present.))

He also talked about how he started Ranger’s Apprentice to hook his son on reading. His son’s favorite part was Halt catching Will in the tower. He never knew you could actually feel fear in a story. Flanagan then stuck the stories in a desk for 12 years until his daughter recommended to get them published as Book 1. It’s cool that now we’re talking script by Paul Haggis (who, for the first time in Academy Award history won back-to-back awards for the scripts for Crash and Million Dollar Baby). 

It’s even cooler that Paul Haggis took notice of Ranger’s Apprentice because the scriptwriter’s son loved the books. I am stoked because I still am boycotting the Stormbreaker movie because I’m such a fan of the Alex Rider series and usually young adult books-turned movies stink. (Did you see Eragon? Yeah, me neither.)

Flanagan had a great thing to say about all of the rejection letters (he gets so excited, he says sarcastically). You can’t guarantee success, but you can guarantee failure. He then shared Steven Bradbury’s story. (He also shared how kangaroos go from cutesy to old men kangaroos who lean on golf tees like they owe the place.) 


Flanagan popped the balloon. Students got copies of Book 5, Sorcerer of the North (which comes out in November).


He signed my book “aka Halt”. I’m excited.