Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Villains at Milton Academy

Earlier this week I had a great visit with the fourth-graders at Milton Academy. Half of them had read Fish, and they had several great questions about the writing process. At one point in the presentation I was talking about the evolution of a particular line in the book, and how it changed after a few debates with my editor, and a few of the kids actually remembered the sentence when it flashed up on the smart screen. Maybe it was the appearance of four ladies in large yellow dresses in the middle of an action scene that made the fragment memorable, but still, I was impressed. Quite a group of readers.

They were also especially interested in the villains in my books. Several of them volunteered their names for future evil characters. I promise I will keep them in mind.

We had some extra time at the end, so I read them the first chapter of my next book, Dangerous Waters, which comes out in March. Normally I edit while I read, cutting a sentence here, shortening a paragraph there, but in this case I read every word. They all felt necessary. That's a good sign, I think. And the kids seemed to love it...not a yawn or wandering stare in the place.

My favorite comment from one of the students: "You make me want to read a hundred books!"

That's exactly what an author wants to hear.

Eating Stars in Austin

Last week I was in Austin reporting a really exciting story for Discover magazine. The main subjects of the piece keep vampire hours, so I had some free time in the morning, and listened in on some fabulous Austin dialogue while prepping in coffee shops. A few lines from one spot:

"Hip hop will never be the same."

"There's just a lot going on and none of it is interesting to me."

There was context to both, but I don't think it's necessary. Another exchange:

"How do you feel about Beck? I feel like there are a lot of Beck haters here."

"I don't feel one way or the other."

"I totally agree."

At another spot, I discovered that the highly skilled barista making the espresso was also a musician. His band is called Auroravore. For some reason my brain associated aurorae with stars, and asked him if his band were star eaters. "No," he said. "Aurora represents the music that exists outside of us and vore is kind of the synthesis."

Or I think that's what he said. And it's a very cool idea, but I still kind of wish they were the star eaters. Although that would make them black holes, which would probably not be a very good name for a band. If you went to a show by the black holes, would you ever leave? Would you disappear? Or become a part of the band, perhaps, as it swallows you whole?

There were quite a few more characters, but none of them matched the scientists. I've never had so much fun while being completely overloaded with intensely complex science - geophysics and astronomy and astrobiology. The story won't be out for a while, but I'll post it here when it's published.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Skyping with Singapore

People have always told me that I have a rather large head, but the students of the Singapore American School must think it's gargantuan. A few weeks ago I skyped with Captain Coole's crew, a very inquisitive bunch of kids in Singapore. (OK, so they're not really a pirate crew, and their teacher isn't actually a pirate, but that's how they introduced themselves, and I like it.) They asked great questions about reading, writing, pirates, and my book Fish. I was especially excited to talk about Scab, the nasty, stinking villain; he's one of my favorite characters.

Toward the end of the visit, though, someone turned around the laptop in their far-off classroom so I could have a view of the space. This virtual tour also afforded me a look at the smartboard, where my massive head filled up the entire screen. It was terrifying. For me, at least. They seemed perfectly fine.

Anyway, thanks again to Captain Coole, the Roots, and the rest of the class. We'll have to talk again sometime, as long as we can figure out that time zone stuff...