[copied from my old Myspace blog]
Can you come up with a caption for this picture?
Last Friday’s visit to Marvin Ward Elementary School in Winston-Salem, NC, was exhausting but rewarding. After an appearance on closed-circuit “Ward TV” at 8:45 a.m., I delivered four 40-minute lectures to 4th-5th grade “academically gifted” students, 1st graders, and 5th graders again. Each session had upwards to 60 students.
To the 1st graders, I read Dr. Seuss’s “What Was I Scared Of,” followed by the first few pages of Chris Van Allsburg’s “Jumanji.” The rest of the sessions were presentations about skills needed to be a writer and about the horror genre in general. I tried to keep it interesting by inviting the kids to tell story jokes (emphasizing that a love of storytelling is the first requirement of being a writer) and by holding drawings for toy-filled eyeballs and eyeball whoopee cushions (because my latest book is Eyes Everywhere).
I also gave a reading of “Landini the Magnificent,” a short story I wrote about a lion tamer who gets his just desserts. You can still listen to a recording of me reading this story on the June 3, 2005 podcast from ReallyScary.com. I had a lot of fun on all the readings–running around the room, walking through the crowd, and screaming out selected lines–and the kids really got into it.
It was while reading my short story, I think, that the observing teachers noticed that a wheelchair-bound student with cerebral palsy seemed to be giggling and having a good time. This kid, CJ (who wants to be a DJ when he grows up), even contributed to the discussion later on when his favorite movie, Monster House, was mentioned. He was also one of the students to win a toy-filled eyeball. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently this level of interest and involvement on CJ’s part was unheard-of. One of the teachers who’d been vainly working one-on-one with him started crying.
I’m not telling this anecdote to toot my own horn (well okay, maybe a little) so much as to say that this was the part of the visit I think I’ll remember the most. When I later heard all this information about CJ, I was kind of dumbstruck for a few hours–feeling really good that I might have made a brief difference to someone. It’s a rare moment in a writer’s life that he doesn’t just feel but knows that he’s done something concretely good.
Anyway, there’s a chance Marvin Ward might invite me back next year, budget and time permitting. In the meantime, I’ve offered to judge a writing contest from their students and to publish the winners on matthewwarner.com.
As part of the police-sponsored Book ‘Em fair coming up in Waynesboro, VA, on October 14, there’s also a possibility I might be talking to some school kids in my area within the next couple weeks. All good opportunities to promote my books, of course, but more importantly to get people interested in reading.
Just so you don’t think I’m a goody two-shoes, Deena told me after the day was over that I may have unintentionally scandalized the teachers a couple times. The first time was during my discussion of how horror uses symbolism to comment on the true horrors of the world. “Take werewolves, for instance,” I told the kids after making sure they knew what werewolves are. “When you boys get older and have girlfriends, you’ll find that for most of the month, they act one way. And then for a few days, maybe during the full moon, they’re like somebody completely different.” (I declined to go into detail.)
Then there was the time during the last session when I suggested that writing was a job they might hold one day, just like they might pursue like any other profession such as being a bartender. Then I asked the kids if they knew any story jokes (“you know, of the ‘a guy walks into a bar’ variety”). I honestly didn’t realize at the time that I’d made these two separate references to bars.
The Horror Yearbook website will be interviewing me and reviewing Eyes Everywhere in an upcoming issue. To promote my forthcoming “appearance,” they’re giving away one autographed copy of my book. To enter, all you have to do is send them an email with your name and location. Details at this link.