I was discussing where my crazy ideas come during a library visit, when I noticed a young boy, seated by himself in the back, was chomping on something hanging from his mouth. When I walked over, he grabbed the gloppy thing and shoved it in his pocket, obviously thinking he was in big trouble. I smiled, but he still looked about to skitter away and hide under a desk.
“You’re not in trouble,” I said. “What were you eating?”
He reluctantly pulled a half-mangled, slimy, multi-colored, gummy worm from his pocket. I laughed and said, “You just gave me an idea for a story.” And together with the other children all sitting on the carpet, we wrote, “Invasion of the Gummy Worms.” The children learned ideas can come from anywhere and I got an idea for a future picture book. When you work with young and eager minds, you get ”juiced” with ideas. Writers block doesn’t stand a chance.
As a teacher, and author, I get an incredible ”high” when I know I’ve reached children, perhaps inspired them to read or write, improve their school work, and life. That is why I’m excited that the goal of the FWA Youth Program (FWAY) is to help our young improve their school work and lives by becoming members of the FWA, with access to all our great resources. Imagine how you would have been helped if you had an author who cared and worked with you when you were in middle or high school! FWA wants every child to have that support. We can with a little of your help.
You cheered them on at the Awards Luncheon during the FWA Conference. You shared their excitement when they achieved the dream of being published in the FWA Collection. When our FWAYouth members were recognized as finalists, and then as winners at the Awards Luncheon, you could feel their pride and sense of accomplishment. Imagine the thrill when the Collection winners had their special signing! FWAY helps make this happen.
The FWAY multi-faceted program features an Online Critique Club, moderated by Kristen Stieffel, where members get help from their peers and the professional writers of FWA. They also get opportunities to become published in the Florida Writer Magazine, our FWAY website and blog, and in a new e-zine. As FWAY members, they are invited to submit free entries to the annual FWA Collection and are given a free first entry to the RPLA, wonderful experiences for any writer.
I had the privilege of attending the Florida Writers Association’s Youth Conference where young writers soaked up sessions delivered by attorney Anne Dalton, 2017 FWAY chairpersons, Kristen Stieffel and Serena Schreiber, and such professionals as Chantelle Osman, Mark Gottlieb, Darlyn Finch Kuhn, and best-selling author Steve Berry. An interview with FWAY alum Mikaela Bender served as impressive proof of the impact of this program. Another graduate of the FWAY program, Tyler Vest, served as a volunteer, providing another positive role model. It was rejuvenating and fun to spend the day with these talented and motivated young men and women. I knew I wanted to help this valuable program reach even more of our young writers.
If you can spare one session (60-90 minutes) per month at a school or public library near you, we’d like to chat with you about becoming a leader for an FWAY critique club, the most valuable way you can help.
You know the benefit of your own critique groups. Working with young writers has many benefits. The flow of ideas is amazing. That gummy worm inspired me, but you never know what might inspire you. You’ll learn what books young people want, and your group may become your next beta readers and fans, spreading word about you and your books. You share the excitement and pride when members of your group enter, become finalists, win FWA contests, e.g. RPLA, the FWA Collection, and more. You, your books, your contribution, will be spotlighted on the FWAY website, Facebook page, and e-zine. But most importantly, these youthful writers will thank you for being their guiding star, sharing your passion for writing.
One last true anecdote. Several years ago, I received a fan letter from a young boy in California. He wrote that Rockhound, my teen-age dog detective, was his “favorite person on Earth.” That made my day, but he added a bunch of questions, and ended his letter with, “I know all authors are rich. Can I swim in your pool?”
All authors rich? Most of us struggling writers don’t get that kind of adulation. FWAY members, and their parents, are grateful for our help. With FWAY, we have a chance to give something back. To the boy with the gummy worm, and to every child I’ve been blessed to know, I say, “Thank you. If I had a pool, I’d be honored to have you swim in it with me.”
For more information about how you can donate one session a month to help middle and high school youth writers in the FWAY program, and feel the joy of ”swimming in the pool” with us, contact Mark or visit the FWAY Team at floridayouthwriters.org. We have everything you need to help you help youth writers. Dive in. They’re waiting for you.
Mark H. Newhouse
2018 Chairman, FWAYouth Program