By Paul Andrews
Paul Andrews with Yulee High School students, Nassau County, FL
After attending the 2018 Amelia Island Book Festival’s Author Expo, I knew I wanted to get involved with this organization. I saw what they were doing and had to be a part of it. I decided the best way to do this would be to volunteer at the 2019 Expo. That experience was very rewarding. And, to my surprise, a few months later I received a call from the president, Larry Williams, asking me if I had any desire to be on the board. I immediately said yes.
Because I’m an author of a young adult mystery series, I knew I wanted to apply for the Authors in Schools Literacy Program. However, I was unsure if this would be a conflict of interest, as I was a board member. After a little investigation, I discovered that the media specialists of the Nassau County School System selected the books for the program, and not the AIBF. So, in the summer of 2019, I submitted a copy of my novel, Reilly’s Walk.
Reilly's Walk is the first novel in my Jack Graystone Mystery Series. I believed ithad a good chance to be accepted as it was written with a pace and style that would keep the student’s attention. It had the added bonus as a valuable learning tool, because each of my novels includes approximately 300 SAT vocabulary words and their definitions.
I was pleased to learn in November 2019 that Reilly’s Walk was accepted by Yulee High School. Shortly after, I met with the media specialist, Donna Perry, who was excited to have my book. She told me another school also wanted it, but luckily, they decided to give it to her. That boosted my morale and made me even more excited about the Authors in Schools Literacy Program.
When the day arrived for my visit, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I only knew I would be giving three presentations throughout the day in the media center (the new name for libraries) to students from different English classes and members of the book club. Mrs. Perry had instructed me to prepare a short speech discussing how and why I created the Jack Graystone Mystery series, and said the students would ask questions afterward. Following that, I would sign the students’ books. To say I was nervous is an understatement. Not only had I never spoken in front of a group of students, but I had never discussed my book in this type of forum.
I gave my first presentation at 10 a.m. to a group of mostly juniors and seniors who informed me that they were reading the book aloud in class. When it came time to answer their questions, I thought I was prepared. I was ready to discuss anything from my writing method to how I developed my characters. I even had advice ready for anyone who wanted to become a writer.
The first hand raised was from an eager young man in the first row. Here it is, I thought, the first question of my professional writing career. What would it be? The question was, “In the next book, will there be more cussing?” I froze for a few seconds. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell if he was offended by the few cuss words I used or if he wanted more. Trying to cover all the angles, I replied that my editors, along with the general consensus of writers in the young adult genre, say that these stories need some cuss words. If they have none, they are not realistic, and if they have too many, they are offensive. I followed my response with, “Why do you ask?”
I will never forget his answer. “Well, we read the book out loud during class and it’s the only time we’re allowed to cuss in the classroom. So, we would like more cuss words.” His answer made me laugh. The other students followed with several great questions ranging from who the characters were based upon to how I determined the plot of the story.
During one of the presentations, I was informed that many of the classes hadn’t finished the book. I asked if any student had read ahead and one young man raised his hand. He said he finished the book in three days. Based on his demeanor and eagerness to get the next book, I could tell he thoroughly enjoyed this experience. This made me happy. But what happened after the presentation made me even happier. This young man’s teacher came to me and said she was sure this was the first book he had read from cover to cover. This experience made me realize just how much impact the AIBF has on the students of Nassau County.
By the end of the third presentation, which was after three o’clock, I was exhausted. I had answered many questions and signed more than 200 books. I left Yulee High School feeling that not only myself, but everyone involved in the AIBF, from the volunteers, to the board members, to the sponsors and donors, had done something great for our community. I hope my next book will be accepted for the 2021 Authors in Schools program. I will do it again in a heartbeat.