Sharing his writing secrets
Author Roland Smith told a crowd of middle schoolers that in four minutes, he was going to teach them how to write a book.
"I'm going to go so fast that you're going to miss some points, and if you miss some points, you won't become great writers, and that'll be good for me financially," he quipped.
The Oregon author writes young adult fiction and nonfiction books for children. He visited Crook County schools and the Crook County Library Monday and Tuesday to share his book-writing tips.
"This is a conclusion of a dream to have Mr. Smith visit," Crook County Middle School librarian Kris Jones said before his presentation Tuesday morning.
She was inspired to bring authors to Crook County after the 2017 Association of School Librarians conference in Portland. She partnered with Crook County Library Director Buzzy Nielsen to bring Smith to Prineville.
Funding for the visit came from the Crook County Cultural Coalition, the Friends of Crook County Library, Crook County School District, and a community donation.
"This two-day event took a great deal of effort from many individuals on a number of fronts," Jones said. "There were a lot of working parts taking place to make this happen throughout our community, and the team effort was phenomenal!"
After presenting to elementary and high school students Monday, he spent Tuesday at CCMS.
Smith asked the sixth-graders how many were interested in becoming writers. A few raised their hands.
"How many are interested in traveling around the world and having somebody else pay for it?" Dozens of hands excitedly shot up. "That's what I get to do for a living."
But he hasn't always been an author.
Right out of high school, he got a job at the Oregon Zoo, where he took care of big cats for 10 years. Then, he was a research biologist for 12 years, working with animals all over the world.
He helped rescue hundreds of sea otters after an oil spill in Alaska and was a wolf biologist in charge of a red wolf reintroduction program. He spent some time in Kenya, Africa, working with elephants.
"While I was there, I got an idea for my first novel, 'Thunder Cave.' It's a story about a 14-year-old boy who goes to Kenya by himself to find his dad, who is a research biologist studying elephants, like I was doing," Smith told the students. "When he gets over there, he gets into big trouble."
Using a slideshow, he went on to tell the kids about his 40-plus books that captivate young audiences with tales of travel, adventure, and beasts real and mythological. He has authored such works as "Cryptid Hunters," "Sasquatch" and the "I, Q" and "Storm Runners" series.
"The thing that makes Roland really amazing after listening to him so many times is his life has been so interesting," Jones said.
Smith acknowledges that his life experiences have indeed played into his books, but he said a good imagination is also key.
"It takes me twice as long to do the research for the book as it does to write the book," Smith told the students. "When I wrote 'Thunder Cave,' it took me 18 months to do the research, nine months to write the book."
While researching, he often travels to the area he'll be writing about, looks at photos and maps, reads books, and spends lots of time in the library.
"I write what's called realistic fiction. It means that you can go to the places that I write about – most of them," he explained. "I'm what's known as a visual writer."
Every time he sees something, hears something, thinks of something, or reads something that he might want to put in his book, he makes a note on a 3x5 notecard.
"When I have a big box of cards, my research is done," he said.
He then sorts the cards and decides which little bits of information he's going to put in his book.
"Do you ever get stuck when you're writing? When I get stuck, I do one more thing after I do the research. I do a thing called a story board," he said.
Using his notecards, he plans out his story scene by scene.
Then, he's ready to start writing.
"I always write in these little notebooks. They're portable. I carry them with me wherever I go," he said. "If I have a spare 10 minutes during the day, I'll get my book out and start working on it."
He says the term sloppy copy perfectly describes his rough drafts.
"I write the most horrible, hideous, ugly, stinkin', awful rough draft sloppy copies you've ever read in your life," he admits.
Once the notebook is filled up, he types his "sloppy copy" into his computer.
"If there's one secret to writing, it's this: Writing is revision," he said. "Once I have it perfect, I send it to the publisher."
But, the editor, who he compared to the worst English teacher ever, lets him know his manuscript is not perfect.
"I think my books are pretty good when I send them in, but apparently, they're not," he chuckles. "They make me look like a much better writer than I am."
Smith reminded the students to write about things that are important to them.
He says when he writes, he doesn't have a particular audience in mind.
"I write for myself," he said. "I never matured past 14."