WESTMINSTER — They came, they listened, they asked questions and they sought autographs.
Is there really a house like that one in the book? Did thisevent really happen? Why do you write mysteries?
"Up Close and Personal: Young Adult Author Conference" brought five nationally known writers and 300 students from all seven middle schools to East Middle Saturday for a rare learning experience.
Among those who shared stories and insights into their craft were Mary Downing Hahn, an award-winning writer from Columbia; Gordon Korman, whopublished his first book at age 13; Harry Mazer, whose "Snow Bound" was made into a movie; and Jerry Spinelli and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the 1991 and 1992 Newberry Award winners, respectively.
"I got started writing in the seventh grade when the English teacher showed up one day and said we're all going to write novels," Korman said. "The teacher was a track and field coach. They had lots of those, but not enough English teachers, so he was put in the classroom."
Kormanwrote his story and received a B-plus for "This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall," published shortly thereafter.
Spinelli, who also got his start in school, recalled, "Books began for me the first minute of the first day of first grade when I took my seat, looked overto my right and saw this foxy little girl."
Afraid to tell her his feelings, Spinelli learned to write, then sent her a note asking her to marry him. He was promptly turned down.
His second writing attempt got him wrongly accused of plagiarism, but his third try earnedhim a spot in the local newspaper. Later, repeated rejections taughtSpinelli a valuable lesson.
"No matter what you want to do, therewill be competition with others, and you will become intimate with failure," he said. "Education teaches you how to succeed, but when youget out in the real world, you'll find out failure is much more common."
Another lesson was surprisingly similar to the one students still learn in school: Write about what you know.
"When I write a book, I have to know the world I'm writing about," Mazer said. "I don't write fantasy. Very often I've experienced or know the place."
Hahn's favorite book is "Stepping on the Cracks" because "I put
so much of my own life in it."
Naylor's Newberry Award winner, "Shiloh," came from a true experience as well.
The students were surprised by some authors, delighted with others.
"I thought Harry Mazer would be different from the books," said Michele Skirato, 12, of Sykesville Middle. "It was interesting how they write about themselves but change the story."
"It was very interesting and educational," said Jimmy Reed, 13, of Mount Airy Middle. "I learned to take advice from somebody if they give it."
Students heard from two authors in two 45-minute sessions. They were given a book by one of the authors to be autographed.
The conference was co-sponsored by the Carroll County Public Library and public schools, which are focusing on popular writers all school year. The program was subsidized by a grant fromthe Margaret Edwards Foundation.