Book Talks: Inspiring Elementary and Middle School Students

I visit elementary and middle schools with 3 goals in mind: inspire kids to read, write, and follow their dreams. I tell them my story with the hopes it inspires them to write their own, both figuratively and literally. I want to show them proof that they can do it, that they can dream big and let their imagination take them places.

I know some of the kids will not be persuaded to take up writing, and that’s okay. I hope their take-away is that no matter what their thing is, they can do it. It’s all about putting in the hard work, the effort, and their determination.

I would have loved to hear that message when I was younger, so I feel lucky I get to spread it now. It’s important for them to hear that they can do it.

It’s also important that I help them make the distinction between school writing and creative writing. In school, students write a lot of nonfiction and essays with assigned prompts. That’s not all that writing is, and I want them to know that. Writing can be freedom, a creative outlet, self-expression. Writing can be anything you want it to be.

With every school I visit, I look out into the sea of faces and latch on to the kids I see absorbing my words. Even if there is only one, it makes me happy to see in their face that I inspired them. It makes it all worthwhile.

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How I Came Up With the One Chance Story

As I say in all my book talks, I wrote my dream book, one that I would want to read. I did this by thinking about the components of other books I loved and combined them into one. For me, it was time-travel, magic, mystery, and history. I molded those four things together to create the Stone of Discedo. The Stone of Discedo is a time-traveling stone that allows the user to change anything in their own life if they first fix three terrible events in history. I used the stone to build up the plot from there and just let the story go where it wanted to go.

Unlike what I was taught in school, I did not do an intricate outline or a BMME planning. I let the story flow more naturally and had fun with it. Once I finished, I worked on the next book. In sixth grade, I rewrote One Chance on my computer and made a lot of changes. Once seventh grade began, I decided to re-write it again. The re-writing and editing process changed a lot but the basic plot remained the same as One Chance grew into the true dream book I had in mind when I started.

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You Can Do It Too!

It was a little luck, some skill, and a lot of hard work that got me where I am. I frequently get asked how I got a publisher, so here’s the story. I attended ICE Writers Camp (ICE stands for Imaginative Creative Explorers) for two weeks every summer from 3rd grade until high school. Every fall, ICE Camp has a reunion at the University of South Florida where all the campers and facilitators come back together. An author, illustrator, or publisher comes to speak to us. In September of 2015, my publisher, Mrs. Mitten, was our guest speaker. She’d heard about a book of poetry I self-published in elementary school and asked me to speak on a panel of authors to answer questions. I must’ve done a pretty good job, because after the event was over, she gave me her business card and expressed interest in publishing my book. For about a solid year and a half, my parents didn’t believe me that she was serious. But she was, and in May of 2017 I signed a book contract.

I happened to be at the right place at the right time, but I’d done all the right things to take me from there. I’d worked hard at my poetry, had a manuscript ready when asked for one, and continuously pushed myself to better my writing. I read everything available, have always spent long hours poring over edits, and learned the value of critique.

I think, or at least I hope, that many of you have a thing. By a thing, I mean something you love to do. Something that makes you happy, something that you want to do forever. If you don’t, that’s okay. For some, it’s art and for some, it’s music. Maybe you want to be a doctor or a scientist. Maybe you want to be a baseball player or a dancer. Whatever it is you want to do, whoever it is that you want to be, put your mind to that. Know that you can do it and you will.

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Why I Started Writing

I wrote my first story in first grade about a girl who could become invisible. You might think I wrote this because I wanted to become invisible. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I’ve always been the person in class who likes to talk (but not out of turn) and answer questions. I wrote the story because it was fun to imagine what another person’s life might be like. There’s mirrors (writing that stems or reflects the self) and windows (writing that lets you see into others). I started with writing window stories.

When I was in 5th grade, things changed. I was on crutches and in a wheelchair for a while. I missed out on some of my favorite things, like playing basketball. In October of that year, I got appendicitis and had to have emergency surgery. The worse part about that year, though, was the discovery of a life-threatening peanut allergy that spun my world into a danger zone. My life was in the hands of the people around me, people who couldn’t understand or just didn’t care.

I started writing to escape. I wrote mirror stories and window stories, both for the freedom of it. 5th grade was when I started the first draft of my novel, One Chance, and I’ve kept writing novels ever since.

It’s really easy to get lost in the same world over and over. So I did, and that’s how I got my series.

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