“You are the first author I ever met and I’m 15,” a Neah-Kah-Nie High School student said to author April Henry, as she signed books at NKN High School on Oct. 3. He may well have been speaking for others at both the high school and the middle school. First author or not, a large number of students were inspired by Henry’s visit. More than 120 students participated in events during the day.
By Kathie Hightower
The program was provided by the Hoffman Center for the Arts who sponsored Henry’s visit. Kathryn Harmon, Library Media Specialist for NKN Middle/High Schools coordinated a packed full day to maximize Henry’s visit.
The morning started with Book Talk, a daily event where Harmon recommends one or two books for middle schoolers, inspiring students to read. Henry joined in to recommend another favorite book, “Life as We Knew It” by Susan Beth Pfeffer, a novel about surviving a worldwide natural disaster. It’s a Young Adult book that many of our local community might want to read, no matter what age.
Henry is the New York Times-bestselling author of 21 published novels, mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults. She has a new book coming out in the spring, and her twenty third due to the publisher in two weeks.
“I spent last night at my hotel in Rockaway writing the penultimate chapter for that book,” Henry told the high school audience.
Henry’s books have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, German, Polish, French, and Turkish. Her book “Girl Stolen” has been optioned for a movie.
Henry speaks to high school groups all over the country, working towards reaching all 50 states. She recently got asked to speak in Nepal. The title of the talk is “How I Quit My Day Job and became a killer and a thief…and how you can too!” She does clarify that she only kills and steals “on paper.”
The high schoolers learned that despite now being able to say she’s a fulltime writer, she was not the “overnight success” that some articles claimed. Her story inspired the audience to follow their own dreams, work hard and persevere.
“I actually had my first writing published at age 11,” she said, “I was naïve enough to send a story I wrote to the author Roald Dahl. He wrote me a nice note and shared it with the publisher of an international children’s magazine, which published it. I didn’t realize how cool that was; I didn’t even keep a copy.”
Henry went on to describe how she didn’t think a poor girl from Medford, Ore. could be a real writer, so she didn’t revisit trying to get a book published until she was 30.
Her first book was rejected by 150 literary agents. Her second by 53. When the 54th agent took it on, it was then rejected by many publishers, as was her third book. It was her fourth book that sold to a major publisher in three days, making her an eight-year “overnight success.”
The high schoolers were riveted to the stories of all she does in research for her books.
“I’ve taken courses in how to get out of hand-cuffs, how to get out of duct tape, how to craft a disguise,” said Henry, describing attending the Writers Police Academy and an Urban Escape and Evasion course.
“I took a Close Combat Course, where I was the only lady and 20 years older than the other students who were all cops and on SWAT teams,” Henry said.
After the high school visit Henry taught writing workshops for two middle school writing classes, involving the students in creating a character using names taken out of the Portland phone book. Students participated in a 10-minute free write, with many of them reading aloud afterwards gaining feedback from Henry.
Following the classes, Henry joined a group of students for pizza. All of the students attending have committed to writing and submitting to the North Coast Squid Literary Journal’s sixth Edition. The journal is a project of the Manzanita Writers’ Series and the Hoffman Center for the Arts, which brought Henry to the coast. Henry will be judging the young writer category for the literary journal, with all submissions sent to her “blind” with no names attached.
One of the Squid editors, Andy Barker, a retired high school English teacher, will be returning to NKN schools in the next month to help students with editing ideas, and with the technology of submitting their pieces online.
At all events, students were encouraged to ask questions. The questions were questions common with adult writers too.
“I have a number of books started, but never finish them. How do you keep going?”
“How do you overcome Writers’ Block?”
“How do you stay connected to your story? I often lose interest?”
“Where do you get most of your ideas?”
Henry had thoughtful answers to all the questions and also spent one on one time answering questions as she autographed books.
After a long intensive day, her work wasn’t quite done. After leaving the schools and the coast, she planned to spend research time at a cemetery on her way home to get details for the current book.
“I hope to find a defensive weapon my character can use.”