Friday, April 8, 2011

This makes writing 'Columbine' worth it. Again

Two years after the birth of my book, I had quietly come to the unconscious conclusion, that it had finished surprising me. Then went downstairs for today's mail.

Truthfully, I ran down to get my royalty check, which I really need, and it wasn't there, but something better was. Four bulging manila envelops from the same address: Fremd High School, where I'd appeared at their Writer's Week last month.

It was an incredible day and I am so behind on posting about it--which I will, with great pictures. But the gist was: two great sessions with students, back-to-back in their auditorium, maybe 600-800 each, followed by two hours in the teacher's lounge talking to students and teachers in small groups and signing their books. They were bright and energized and it was amazing. But it didn't prepare me for this:


This was the best I could capture on my iPhone. It's about a two-inch stack of thank you letters:
mostly typewritten, quite a few handwritten, and all sorts of different stationary and cards. Each one from a different kid, expressing the impact it had on her or him.

I open the first envelop and sort of gasped. I read a few, tore open the next one, and I was crying by the third.

Maybe this is what teachers feel, or ought to. When I do these events, the rush of emotion is overwhelming. Kids are so expressive and I can see right there are excited they are and interested, and it's invigorating hear them describe what they can't wait to learn next.

But it's one big rush, more than I can really absorb. And I wonder, too, how much of the enthusiasm will last. Next week, will they remember? Will they really dig into that subject or will some new idea replace it thirty minutes later? Maybe that replacement idea will be better. Maybe I was just the excitement of the moment.

I never see them the day after.

I've gotten reports the weeks after. Teachers often write me to say the kids are still talking about it. Librarians email about their waiting list. Those are reassuring. Very. But I've never been bowled over like this.

Thank you so much to every kid and adult at Fremd High who wrote one of those messages. And to whatever teacher organized this wonderful gesture. (I think I know who.) What a difference it made.

What an amazing feeling to know hundreds of kids were touched in some way by my work. I hope it makes them read more. I hope it makes some of them write.

It's also a nice time to reflect on the book itself. I knew the anniversary of the tragedy was approaching, because I've heard rumblings from the survivors and always worry about them this month. I had forgotten the book had its own birthday as well--this past week I guess.

It's out there now--two years on a life of its own. It's even more like parenting than I had imagined. I birthed it, and I still feel responsible, but it detached from me publication day and started a separate life I can neither forsee nor control.

I can help it here and there, open doors for it--like these events, skypes with schools and the Columbine Teacher's Guide. I think that helps, but only on the margins. Most of it comes from readers--especially students and teachers and book clubs--and weird outside forces and the book itself.

I saw a Broadway play last night, and was talking with my friend outside the theater afterward about how exciting it will be when the stage-play version of my book comes out. (We optioned those rights to a very talented writer.) Someday, I'm sure there will also be a film. Who knows when.

Oddly, I was conflicted, talking about how excited I am about my new book project, and finally ready to put Columbine behind me. But not for good. Just off the front burner. I expect it to return several more times for who knows what developments. Definitely the play and the film. A few other possibilities I can foresee. I never saw this one coming.


And if you're curious what one of these school events looks like, I actually had a student tape the sessions at Fremd, and posted one of them on my youtube page. It's here:


  1. Wow, back atcha. I shared this with my Fremd students just now and, like your visit at Writers Week, it affected them. They get it more with concrete evidence/reaction: their writing leaves an impact; it's not just words on a page. We all know that having a specific audience in mind when writing helps the writing to be stronger, but having feedback from that audience, as you noted, validates. Your posted reaction just validated their writing beyond any words I could use to explain that to them. And, perhaps, they trust that what I have been saying over the course of time is, in fact, true. Thank you. Again.

  2. That IS fantastic. Kudos to you, Dave, and to the school. Just amazing, all of you.

  3. Wow, Nicole, very cool. Funny, it didn't even occur to me when I was writing that that the students I was writing about would see it. (It seems obvious now, but I'm used to just blurting out what I think and feel on my blog, and the people involved rarely if ever see it.)

    It's nice to see an actual conversation, through whatever means, and I'm glad it impacted them, too.

    And thanks, Leigh.

  4. know hundreds of kids were touched in some way by my work. I hope it makes them read more. I hope it makes some of them write.

  5. Caroline in BaltimoreApril 17, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    How very nice. And thank you for including video so we can see you in action.