Weber High School students were treated to a special event recently when young adult author Neal Shusterman visited the Pleasant View school.
Shusterman gave a school assembly in the afternoon on Nov. 1 and a presentation open to the public that evening, as well as a book signing. Students were engrossed by Shusterman's personable and well-delivered presentation, organized by the tireless school librarian, Joann Christensen.
Questions about where the ideas for his books come from is one thing Shusterman addressed. "The Eyes of Kid
Midas," for example, came from his experience as a summer camp counselor; to distract the kids in his cabin, he told a story about a pair of magic sunglasses. Years later, he wrote this idea into a novel.
Working as a camp counselor also taught Shusterman, who grew up in Brooklyn, about the power of storytelling.
"I realized I could silence kids just by my presence," he said, relating how other counselors would ask him to tell stories to their cabins. This was also where he began to create stories aimed at teenagers, who had longer attention spans than the younger children.
Shusterman also talked about the origin of one of his most popular novels, "Everlost," a story about a place between life and death.
"I started thinking, what happens if you trip on the way down the tunnel? ... I wrote one chapter, put the idea down, and didn't come back for 10 years," he said.
A decade later, however, he came up with the idea of "Everlost" as a place where things that have been loved are preserved. What really caught his imagination, he said, was the thought of an alternate New York City, "where the Towers would stand forever, and nothing, and no one, would ever tear them down."
"Everlost," said Shusterman, is a story about loss, but also about hope.
When asked about how he deals with writer's block, the Southern California author replied that he doesn't believe in it. Instead, he believes in "writer's cliff": not a wall or insurmountable problem, but a gap that can be crossed with time and effort. To cross these gaps or jump-start a project, Shusterman takes what he referred to as "writing retreats"; by spending a week in a cabin, ship or other isolated location, he can write up to 12 hours a day.
Shusterman has been a writer ever since the ninth grade, when his English teacher challenged him to write a story each month for extra credit. Since then, he has written more than 20 books, as well as many short stories and several screenplays. He also takes inspiration from the works of authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Orson Scott Card, and his background in theater and psychology, which he said taught him how to become a character and get inside a person's mind.
The author's presentation at Weber High was enjoyed both by previous fans of his work and those who had never read his books. Several students said that they planned to read one of Shusterman's novels as a result of hearing the presentation. Audience members also enjoyed having their books signed by the author.
Finally, Shusterman took no responsibility for the failure of students to pass their English tests as a result of reading his books late at night -- disappointing several in the audience.
Angelica Previte is a junior at Weber High School and an inveterate bibliophile. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.