Give that kid a prize!

Today I'm taking a detour on running stuff to talk about high school. We'll get back to running over the weekend as I put together an article on how my experience with a coach has progressed.

Tuesday, I cleared my schedule and headed up to Spokane. I had two missions and a quest. The first mission was an interview with Pat Tyson, the head XC coach at Gonzaga University. Pat is every bit a gentleman and it's easy to see why he has enjoyed so much success coaching. He's incredibly positive, calling out by name students, athletes, and friends as they past us on the way to classes. More on that visit on another day.

The second mission was to visit a creative writing class at Mead High School. Dori Whitford is the teacher, the track coach, and one of my biggest fans. I offered last year to visit, meet her class and her xc team, and had a blast, so I offered to do it again during the spring semester.

What a joy! The group is eclectic in personality. I sat in with a group while they did a reading of their work in progress. I didn't have the entire backstory to work with, but the young man put together an engaging piece of writing that was imaginative and held together nciely.

Dori shared a paper from another young lady, a future writer. She's sixteen or seventeen but she has the eye of an author and a voice of her own that was apparent from the first page.

I also had a chance to meet a young lady who has been getting updates (too infrequently!) on my current book and has been hugely supportive. She had to ask special permission to visit the creative writing class instead of going to math. That's a high compliment that she offered me - I'm not sure she realizes that, but when I'm writing, she's one of the ideal readers that I hold in my head.

When I say the eye of an author, by the way, I'm talking about something quite specific and I'm not sure it can be taught. It the ability to see that one thing that defines a person or a thing or a behavior and be able to express it. It goes beyond simply seeing what is present. Like the chain of a knotted necklace folded into itself, there is one link, when you pull it, begins to unravel the whole length until the charm at the end shows through.

There's always that one person who seems to know which link to pull. When she does, the rest of us stand around and think, "How did she do that?"

In writing, we think, "I wish I could do that." You'll hear the same thing in writing with dialogue. Some writers have a knack for capturing the voice of their characters without resorting to the clumsy use of patois to get the point across. The word choices are subtle, the pacing and the rhythm shift, and the voice becomes unique to the character. The writers that pull that off have great ears. They listen and distill, and then know the words to pour on the page to bring it to life for the rest of us.

This girl has those kind of eyes. Dori called her over before the class got start. I could see repressed excitement, and a little fear, when Dori  told her that I had read part of her work. I made the comment about her eye for the telling detail. I'm not sure she realized she lifted almost onto tippy-toes while we talked and she needs to focus on breathing, but I really hope she keeps writing and working at learning the craft of writing.

The prize, though, goes to a young man in the back of the class.

I brought in copies of my books, including the new home inspection book. We were about halfway through the class when he raised his hand and asked a simple question.

"Did you know you have a grammatical error on the cover?"

The oxygen level in the room went to zero as all the kids sucked in air and I'm pretty sure my eyebrows were trying to climb over my forehead.

"I do?" (I'm great with witty repartee - always after the fact.)

He read it to me. I did. And twenty pairs of eyeballs waited to see what the Author in front was going to do.

I exploded with, "Thank you!"

Which might have been the most shocking thing I could have said to him, and in front of all of them. I reinforced the thank you with a  quick lecture on always thanking people that have helped you in your writing. This young man had done me a very large favor in pointing out something that literally hundreds of people had missed, including some professionals.

It impressed me that he had the gumption to speak up, both in front of the class and in front of me, and ask an honest question that would be sure to elicit  response. There was no way for him to know how I would react.

Neat, neat kids, all the way around. I enjoyed all the questions about writing and self-publishing, and even the discussion on story-telling after the class was over.

The quest was to find a particular wine shop. I found it - and it was closed. Sadness.