Saturday, December 13, 2008

Paragraphs, Queries & A Kid

Yeah, so I didn't place as a finalist in the First Paragraph contest. He ended up getting 1,000 entries!!! I didn't even really think the paragraphs chosen were that intriguing, but what do I know.

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Over Christmas break I have big, big plans. I want to:

1. nearly finish my new book about the two 8th grade boys who stumble into a world of insanity. Right now I'm on pg. 50 and the story is itching to get out of me.

2. query the snail mail agents. I've exhausted the email query folks. Still have about 20 unanswered email queries out there - including original dream agent and Mr. Steinberg.

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Thursday, I'm sitting at my desk, checking email and organizing for the next day of school when in walks a boy I had last year. This boy had a mountain of personal and social problems last year - scary, sad problems.

If you've followed my blog since post-one, you know of my wicked problems: pregnancy, loss and stay at home from teaching (book 1 came out of that mess).

Anyway, when I started teaching again, fresh from my 4 month short-term disability leave, this boy was a complete mess. The guidance counselor cornered me my first day back and filled me in. Whoa/Wow problems. I noticed his forlorn demeanor immediately - no smiling, black eyeliner, different clothes. Different kid than before I left.

When I have a student like that I usually ask them if they'd like to start a Dialogue Journal with me. I tell them it is the perfect place to get stuff out of their head and a chance for us to 'talk' without having face to face talks - which can be hard for adolescents. I always tell the kid that if they write inappropriate stuff or stuff that makes me worried for them, I'm sharing it with the guidance counselor. I also let the parents know of our journaling and invite them to read the journal with their child. All in the open.

He says he wants to journal with me. His very first letter to me is so filled with pain and inappropriateness that I have a meeting with him to remind him who he's writing to...his teacher. The journal ends up not working. He keeps writing to me with so much angst and inappropriateness that I tell him we have to stop. He says he understands. His mom gets him into counseling.

I have idea #2. I choose two kids to read my first novel, for feedback. I choose him and a girl. The girl finishes the book in one night. He gets to about page 100 after weeks and weeks. The spiral bound copy shows serious wear and tear. The cover falls off. The spiral binding starts to give. I get it back from him and he shrugs his shoulders like he doesn't really care. Can't look me in the eye.

"Whatever," he says.

And that was that. School ended and I didn't see him all summer. I'm serving what we teachers like to call living hell, Bus Duty, in late September and viola, there he is. Taller, thinner, older. He makes a b-line to me and without one single word, plants an enormous hug on me, like a tight hug you'd give your mom after not seeing her for a few years.

I pull back and say, "Wow! Did you have a good summer?"

He's already walking away and he shakes his head yes. His face has an enormous smile plastered across it.

Jump ahead to Thursday, December 11th. Haven't seen the kid since September and he shows up as I'm sitting at my desk. He's got that enormous smile again. He walks straight to my desk and places a pile of typed pages in front of me.

I ask, "What's this?"

"My book," he says.

"YOUR BOOK?!"

"Uh-huh. My book. It's only the first four chapters, but I want you to read it."

"Oh _______, I can't believe you are writing a book!! I would be honored to read it!"

Sheepishly he adds, "Ummm, do you remember last year...when you asked me to read your book...and I kept not reading it?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Well, ummmm, you inspired me to, ummmm, write this book, my book, and, well, I'm sorry I never finished your book. Do you think you could bring it back in and I can re-read it?"

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That, my friends, is why I teach. I love my job.