“That story was so good!”
The kid has no idea what he’s saying. He has no idea how much it means to me. He’s one of my son’s classmates. He’s helping out at the school’s end-of-year carnival, and we’re chatting as I wait for my daughter to attempt to drop a teacher into the dunktank.
“You really think so?” I ask him.
“Yeah! You need to come read next year!”
“Next year you’ll be in middle school!”
“So?” He smiles at me.
Oh, this is a good kid. And honestly, I’m going to miss him. My son’s elected to go to an out-of-district middle school for their strong music program, so I probably won’t run into this particular kid nearly as often.
See, today I came and read to my son’s class for the last time this year.
I’ve made it a habit of reading in my kids’ classrooms any time the teachers can use me. I offer at the beginning of the year. The teachers are typically skeptical of the offer at first, but one usually takes me up on it. And after that they invite me a lot more often.
Apparently I’m a good reader.
I’ll read anything they give me. Through that I’ve read Percy Jackson and The Last Kids on Earth and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Often enough they’ll ask me to bring in something I feel like reading; through that I’ve read What Came from the Stars and Fox in Socks and some short stories by various authors.
And today… today I risked everything. I read my own story.
See, I’ve gotten used to rejection from editors. Two more came in this week. Woo. But once you get into the industry a little bit, you realize that every editor has certain things they’re looking for, and more often than not they’re deluged with so many more stories than they can use. A rejection really isn’t necessarily a reflection of the quality of your writing.
But reading my story to a pack of fifth graders? That’s terrifying. It tells you whether or not your story is actually any good. Does it hold their attention? Do they get bored?
Make no mistake: fifth graders will let you know if you’re boring them. They’re very talented in that area.
I didn’t tell them I wrote this story. They didn’t know. I knew some would be kind enough or just so excited to meet “A real live author!” that I wouldn’t get a true reaction. I read the story that was published in Wings of Change: “A Dragon Bigger than My Stories.”
During the reading, the kids giggled when Manda spat a dragon out of her mouth. They were scared when the mother dragon showed up. I had their attention. That’s no small feat. In fact, after reading the story to them, one of the kids came up and gave me a hug. And this evening one of them was still excited about the story.
So yeah. All those rejections I’ve gotten? They’re real. They mean I need to keep working. Keep writing. Keep submitting.
But today reminded me: I can weave a tale that can hold the interest of fifth graders.
And really, if you can hold their attention? You can do anything.