Advice on Writing and Life from Youth Authors at Fall for the Book

Three reasons I love Fall for the Book at George Mason University even more than the National Book Festival in Washington DC: ample free parking, a short drive and reduced crowds. It’s fantastically easy to meet award-winning authors and get books signed with hardly any wait. This was the first year I attended the children’s events. I was especially eager to see Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover, a book about basketball-loving twins told in free verse. Alexander wrote it to show kids, particularly reluctant readers, that poetry can be cool. He demonstrated by reading passages aloud with a rap rhythm, evoking the beat of a basketball on the court.

The authors were generous with advice for aspiring writers. Alexander recommends the BIC (butt-in-chair) approach to pounding out pages, as well as cultivating support from other writers and always saying “yes” to opportunity. When approached about writing a book for middle schoolers, which he hadn’t considered yet – he said yes. When asked to submit a manuscript he hadn’t written yet – he said yes, and made it happen. The rest is history in the form of The Crossover, winner of the John Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Honor.

Katy Kelly, author of the Lucy Rose and Melonhead series for middle grade readers, had many tips for would-be writers. Think of something funny that happened and push it to an extreme: what if that mouse in the house had been a hundred mice? Be an eavesdropper: listen to what people say and how they say it. Take notes. Keep a journal. Write a page a day- in a year you’ll have a 365 page book! It is easier than ever to make your book a reality, Kelly pointed out: self-publish an eBook or print a paper edition using the Opus book machine at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Thomson, author of the Keena Ford series about the misadventures of a second-grader, agreed with the advice about keeping a journal and listening to the world around you. Working as a teacher helped Thomson understand the minds of seven and eight year olds. Keena, the name of a parent of one of her students, struck her as perfect for her character. Inspiration abounds in everyday life.

If you missed your chance to meet the authors, you can still get to know their characters- Keena, Lucy Rose, Melonhead and Filthy McNasty - at your local Fairfax County Public Library branch. Check out events for all ages at next year’s Fall for the Book.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

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