An Unexpected Party
When I talk to my author friends about this trip to Florida, they all say “That’s the coolest thing I can imagine!” and the family who invited me thought “That’s the coolest thing I can imagine!” I think the moral of the story is that there are a lot of opportunities in the world available if you simply try to make them happen. All you have to do is ask—the worst they can say is “no.”
So, several months ago, I got an email through my website, asking me if I’d ever consider being a guest at a birthday party. I was a little doubtful at first (a LOT doubtful at first) because this was no small thing. This was a trip to Florida, and I live in Utah, and that’s expensive. So I told him that I would be absolutely willing, but it’d be at my standard rate for a school visit (a daily fee, plus travel costs). I assumed that would be that, but they came back and agreed. I was flabbergasted.
The thing is, people try to short-sell authors all the time, saying that something may not pay well, but will be “good publicity” or “good exposure”. I have to turn down more events than I say yes to, just because a lot of them don't justify me paying the travel costs. This isn't to say I don't love doing volunteer events, or that I have particularly stiff fees. It's just that a lot of time and energy (and lost productivity) goes into speaking events and travel, and I sometimes can't justify it.
But this was different. This birthday party was for a girl turning thirteen, and I am her favorite author. And her family has this really cool life philosophy about creating memories. For example, when they take a vacation, they plan long in advance, and set up pen pals for their daughters (one 13 and one 15). So, six months later, when they get to their destination, the kids not only a best friend already there waiting for them, but they have tour guides who can show them the real side of the city. They talked about going to China, and spending time with a Chinese family, sitting in their kitchen and helping the mom cook dinner—then they took that family with them to their hotel suite, where the relatively lower class Chinese girls were blown away to see a house with two bathrooms. It was far from a sight-seeing tour; it was a cross-cultural experience.
And I felt that the whole time I was there: they created an experience for me to be immersed in the culture, not just come and be a speaker. They put me up in a condo on the beach, and I mean: right on the beach. My door was eighty feet from the water. From my bedroom I could watch dolphins playing in the Gulf. It was amazing.
And the party—it was the next level. They invited the whole class, expecting that only a handful would want to come have a book club, but 27 kids ended up coming. Many of them were familiar with my books (Variant won the Sunshine State Young Readers Award in 2013, which means that almost every school library in Florida has multiple copies, and most students were encouraged to read it at some point.) So, after pizza and play time, we settled in for a book club.
We talked about everything. Not just Variant and my other books, but we talked about what you do when you’re sitting at a computer and staring at a blank page: how do you get past that? We talked about not being satisfied with a first draft, but about editing and revising—and how important that is in school as well as writing. And we talked about mental illness. The mom (who was “interviewing” me/leading the discussion) said she knew of at least three kids there who had suffered from panic attacks, and everyone had a MILLION questions. And yes, we talked about my books, and I made them packets of info about the behind-the-scenes side of Variant. (And if the kids hadn’t read Variant? Every kid who came to the party got one of my books.)
It was just SO COOL. I can’t get over it. But it goes back to the moral of the story: they thought “he’ll never do this; he’s too famous” and I thought “they’ll never do this; flying me to Florida isn’t cheap.” But they asked, and I said yes, and they said yes, and an amazing opportunity was had by all.