When the guy in the baseball cap and shorts waved me down in the University of South Florida parking garage on Tuesday night, I thought it was a college kid with a cougar thing.
Until it wasn't.
The "kid," who admittedly looked about 15 years younger than he actually was (not jealous of that at all) was Eric Vona, the director of I.C.E., the Imaginative Creative Explorers, the name chosen by the first group of youth writers in the Tampa Bay Area Writing Project 17 years ago.
Eric laughed when I told him how young he looked, and said he gets it a lot.
He fits right in with his students who range between 14 and 22 years of age, all of them hungry to learn more about writing, four of them who have already written complete novels. He'd invited me to speak to his group about character development, a subject I knew very well considering I was raked over the coals for not having any of it in my first book, the novel that shall heretofore be known as JUST BURN IT because it was so horrible.
Naturally, I was happy to contribute to the conversation about character.
With huge smiles and a palpable eagerness, the students welcomed me into WIND, the new name for the group, although "Writers in Need of Direction" is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. Once we started talking, I was incredibly impressed with the level of knowledge they already had. They were light years ahead of where I was when I first started drafting! We talked about giving their main characters desires to propel their stories' plots and making sure their mcs have misconceptions about themselves or the world (or both) that get resolved so they have strong arcs.
Since I stopped teaching years ago (has it really already been ten years??) I SO MISS interacting with teenagers on a daily basis, so this little snippet of conversation was such a boost to my spirits.
I'm hopeful I gave them something in return, too. Maybe it was just some inspiration that someone like me, someone who has repeatedly failed, can chase after her dreams and grab them. Or maybe it was simply a little more information than what they already had.
Either way, I'm so appreciative of the evening and hope to do it again very soon. Eric, thanks for having me!! And to all the students I hope you realize just how much you made my day. More than anything, keep learning and keep AT IT, even when you lack the motivation to do so.