Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Kids Ask Authors the Darndest Questions

Share |

I just returned from London, Ontario where I was spoke at a private school - two classes of grades 6, 7 and 8 students. I was in Richmond Hill the day before and will be in Calgary and Regina throughout next week.

Almost every YA novelist who speaks in schools allows a bit of time, often at the end of presentations, for questions. It is amazing how often kids, from Newfoundland to B.C., will ask exactly the same questions; and it's interesting to consider why they are curious about those particular things.

Authors have all had the experience of having to figure out how to answer a student who asks how much money we make. "Not much," would be a succinct and, for most of us, accurate answer. But I try to come up with something more interesting. It's hard, the instant we hear that question, not to think that students nowadays are awfully materialistic, intrigued first and foremost by what the arts might bring them in terms of money and fame, instead of how it feeds the soul. That kind of thought may just reflect the cynic in me, and perhaps is too judgmental. Kids have ALWAYS been interested in what someone might make at a particular job, after all, they are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, so you can't blame them for wanting to know how certain jobs pay. My answer to that question, like many of the things I do in classrooms, involves trying to give them an insight into the writing profession, not simply giving them bland information. Instead of just telling them, flat out, what I make in a given year, I turn things back on them and ask what percentage of a book's retail price they think I make. They almost always guess too high - 50 percent, 75 percent or even 100 percent. When they hear that what we receive is more like 10 percent, that writers get about $2 on a $20 book, they are shocked. I can see by their reactions that they then wonder why anyone in his or her right mind would become a writer!

Another frequently asked question is how old the author is. When I was a mere strip of a young writer, I had no problem answering that question, but now, a few (ahem) more years down the road, I balk at it. Oh, I give them an answer, you must do that, but I usually tell them that I'm a bit older than they are, something like that, or give some idea of when I started writing, and how long I've been doing it. I don't make it a very interesting answer ... just in case they might want to ask again.

And finally, there's the curious question that is asked almost EVERY time an author speaks in any classroom anywhere. "Which of your books is your favourite?" At first, this befuddled me. Not the answer, but why they were constantly asking that same thing. I often told them, my eye ever on the business part of things, that I am conceited and like all my books and that each one is wonderful; or I tell them that artists (of all sorts) tend to like the thing they are currently working on, since they feel passionate about it at that particular moment. But one day, I had enough of the question, and asked the student, point blank, whey he was asking it, since I had heard it a thousand times before. There was a pause. "Because I want to know which one I should read!" he said, looking as if I should have known. Ah, yes, I thought, of course. So ... now I tell them with added gusto that all my books are my favourites, especially the ones on sale at their local bookstores ... and then I give them the prices, for both hardcover and paperback!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page