Author puts new slant on 'freedom' of press Sleator tells students he only writes when broke

April 08, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

With a $33,000 royalty check in hand, science fiction writer William Sleator hopped a plane to Italy, where he enjoyed his riches in a scenic villa before moving on to a Greek island for yet more relaxation.

When the money ran out, Sleator headed back to his keyboard to craft another tale of terror, nightmares -- and coming of age.

Such is the life of a free-spirited fiction author as described yesterday to a rapt audience of eighth-graders at Pikesville Middle School as part of a schoolwide effort to promote reading.

"This is one of the wonderful things about being a writer -- you have no security, but you have total freedom," Sleator lectured the students. "When you're broke, you get another advance."

Sleator, with 22 books published since his first, "The Angry Moon," came out in 1970, is the 15th author to visit Pikesville Middle School in as many years under a visiting writers' program sponsored by the PTA.

Sharon Freedman, a Pikesville Middle School English teacher, said Sleator's appearance will boost students' enthusiasm for reading.

"It's a motivator," Freedman said. "Certainly, the students will never forget him. Now, whenever his books come into the library, the kids will notice them and read them."

Sleator is best known among young adult readers for his science fiction stories and a memoir of his zany upbringing in St. Louis called "Oddballs."

Up and down life

He told students of the upswings and the downsides of the writing life, including the anxiety of uncertain royalty checks, searching the lives of his friends and family members for story ideas and the pain of overcoming writer's block and then dealing with picky editors.

His message delighted the students, most of whom had read eight of his books to gain entrance to a special post-lecture pizza luncheon.

"I liked what he had to say," said Gerrod Dixon, 14. "The writing life is definitely cool and exciting, but I write only when I have to."

'He told the truth'

Julie Levinson, a 13-year-old who has read many of Sleator's books, said she liked the honesty of the message.

"He told the truth about writing -- most writers don't," she said. "I like his books; his stories contain a lot of oddballs and show what life is like in families."

Sleator, a Harvard University graduate who now lives in Thailand and in Boston, said he hopes to inspire students to read and write. He lectures frequently to teen-age readers.

"Writing is not poetic and you don't have to wait to be inspired to write," he said.

"I'm just trying to show the kids that it's a skill that can be acquired. You just do it."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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