Author Tricia Springstubb & her cat, Habibi
One morning last week I brushed my hair, grabbed my cat, and clicked my ruby heels together. Quicker than you can say Toto, I was in Kansas.
In a school library, to be exact, talking with kids and teachers as excited as I was. I’d never been to Kansas before, and this poor, rural school had never had an author visit. My ruby slippers–AKA Skype–had made the magic happen.
Technology and I have an on-again, off-again relationship–I love it when it’s kind to me, curse it when it’s difficult. I adore Skype. It’s whisked me and my cat Habibi into classrooms all over this country, as well as Canada. Of course I’d love to visit those schools “for real”. Nothing substitutes for the chemistry of being together in the same room. A different kind of magic happens when you walk among rows of kids, bend down close to listen, catch the eye of the shy boy in the farthest row.
Yet actual visits take an enormous amount of energy and time. And many–maybe most–schools can’t afford them any more. The schools that lack resources are the ones that most need an author visit, and the ones that I’m most eager to reach. Done right, a Skype visit can be every bit as stimulating and inspiring as a face-to-face-one. (On the plus side for us writers: we can wear a nice shirt but stay in our sweatpants. And I get to bring Habibi, my rotund orange cat, who always steals the show.)
The most successful visits, in person or via screen, happen when students know a bit about your work. Ideally, they’ll have read, or be in the middle of reading, one of your books. This ups the engagement. Teachers and librarians often have kids view my website, where they can see goofy pictures of me when I was their age, and read that once I hoped to grow up to be a dog (it’s true). Wow, I imagine them thinking. If she could grow up to be a writer, anyone can!
I suggest that the children think up questions ahead of time. They love stepping up to the camera and introducing themselves–there they are on screen, stars! (It’s a good idea for them to write their questions down, in case they get too star-struck and forget). Blabbermouth that I am, I try to keep my answers short, so everyone who wants gets a chance to shine. The ideal Skype visit with elementary students is 30–35 minutes.
I don’t charge for Skyping. I think of it as giving back, for my own tremendous luck in being a published author. (Often schools take book orders–I personalize books and ship them.)
That morning in Kansas was magic, through and through. Afterwards, the librarian wrote to me that most of her students have never been far from their small town. She thanked me for telling them how my first stories were rejected, and how I was disappointed and frustrated but kept on writing, because I knew I could get better and because I loved story-telling too much to give up. This, she said, had real resonance with her students, most of whose families are struggling.
Writing is so much about connecting. First you connect with your own truest, most honest thoughts and feelings. You put those into words and hope they connect with readers. Meeting readers forms another kind of bond. Hurray for Skype, that magic tornado that twirls me across hundreds, even thousands of miles and set me down among new friends.
Tricia is the author of the novels What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found, as well as the picture book Phoebe and Digger. Her new middle grade novel, Moonpenny Island, will publish in February, 2015, and the first book in her new chapter book series, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, will publish in April, 2015. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her teacher husband and, of course, Habibi.
You can arrange a Skype visit by contacting her through her website.