Yesterday, while walking around my old high school, I felt both closer and further away from the teen I used to be.
Hayward High in many ways looked the same. I remembered where all the halls were. I remembered where my locker had been. Little memories of walking between classes, of chatting with people at lunch by a certain classroom kept coming to me as I waited for my friend and now-teacher to find me. But it was different as well. The school was no longer mustard-yellow, but grey. There were bars across the front of the school, making it look like a prison.
I spoke to two AP English 12 classes yesterday, in 3rd and 6th period. I was really nervous beforehand and as the students trickled in. In some ways, I went back to my high school self at that moment – will they like me? Will they find me interesting? Will they think I’m cool?
But when I looked out at their faces, they all looked interested (well, aside from the one boy who fell asleep…). And so, awkwardly at first, I told the first class about myself. I graduated from Hayward High in 2006 before going to college up the hill at Cal State East Bay, but now I live in Scotland, so I was both local yet not.
After I told them about the book, the classroom asked me questions. They’d been asked to come up with two questions for homework, so it was like a pop quiz. But after the first few questions I actually really liked it, so that when there was a lull I wanted more questions! It was so good to hear what teens wanted to know about my book–they asked about the setting and the characters. They also got a bit off topic and kept asking me about my husband because they thought our love story was cute (because it is). I even got a room full of “awws.” They also asked a lot about the publishing world, and I told them the process and warned them against the mistakes I had made. Someone asked about writer’s block, I got the question about inspiration, or what themes and philosophies I had integrated into my work.
One girl asked me about the language tone I used as Pantomime is set in a pseudo-Victorian society. Another asked if I used “big words,” and I said that I did, I supposed. I didn’t dumb down my language at all because, as I said, “teens aren’t stupid,” to which everyone applauded. Because they’re not. These teens were so bright, so interested, and so with it. It was so inspiring. I told them that they are my target demographic. While of course I’m pleased as punch if adults read it too, my book is for them. And they really seemed to like that.
I gave them a reading from Pantomime, and in the second class a few of them put their heads down like it was storytime, but their eyes were still open. It was a totally different atmosphere to when I did a reading for adults at the launch. I was totally relaxed by that point. No knee shaking this time.
After the first talk, a group of students came up and asked to have a photo taken with me and they gave me hugs. And after the last period Briana, who asked lots of amazing questions and was so sweet, asked me for an autograph. My first autograph!
I was so nervous about answering the questions that it took me until today to realise I missed a really good opportunity to ask them questions. What sort of stuff did they like to read? Where did they find out about books? Do any of them have e-readers? The next school visit I plan to prepare some questions of my own.
I walked out of the campus the way I had countless times in high school and then met my dad. And I felt really exhilarated and privileged that these students had asked me questions and now knew about my book. And it reminded me so much about why I love teens and writing for teens. Hurray for YA!