Freshmen connect with NYC author 2012.12.19

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Why did you have Jake leave and not come back?

Why did you decide to have Astrid get pregnant?

How did you decide which people would become couples?

author visit.1Why did you set the book in the future?

"Man, you guys are nailing me with hard questions," said author Emmy Laybourne last week in the Morenci Middle School library.

Laybourne wasn't actually in the room with Mrs. Kruger's freshman English students. She was in her house near New York City, talking into her iPad. The students watched her image projected on a large screen, while taking turns sitting in the "interviewer's chair" in front of a school iPad. The application Facetime closed the 600-mile gap between the two locations.

Mrs. Kruger developed a curriculum around Laybourne's first novel, "Monument 14," and the author agreed to chat with the two freshman classes.

She was impressed with the lessons Mrs. Kruger created for the book and she told the students they should appreciate their instructor.

"I've met a lot of English teachers in my time," she said, "and you have one of the best."

Laybourne said she earned an English degree in college, but started doing improvisational comedy in New York City in the 1990s.

"I would write comedy bits during the day and go perform them at night with old friends who are now famous," she said.

Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Mark Maron, Louis C.K.—it was a wild time for comedy in New York's lower east side. Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels watched one of her shows and that led to a role in the 1999 comedy "Superstar," starring Will Ferrell.

Laybourne gave up comedy for writing after she was married and became a mother. She pitched the idea for a novel to her agent and "Monument 14" was bought by MacMillan Publishers. She's now about to begin work on her third book.

The story tells about 14 students who are trapped inside a big box superstore while a series of natural and unnatural disasters unfold outside. Laybourne said at one point she began wondering what was wrong with her to create such a dark story that's so tough on her characters.

"I think the darkness of the story really serves as a backdrop to allow the characters to care for each other and take care of each other, and to stand up for what's right," she told the class. "I hope readers will see a spark of their own goodness."

Laybourne was asked how she came up with the idea for blood types serving as a key to the story.

"I get a lot of my best ideas when I'm out walking," she said. "I was walking down the street in Manhattan, talking to my husband about the book. I knew a chemical spill was coming, but I wished that it didn't affect them all in the same way."

That's when the idea of blood types came to mind.

Why make Astrid pregnant?

There were several reasons, Laybourne said, including giving the character Dean a reason to stay. She said sometimes a character speaks to the author. That's her mystical answer.

"Sometimes an author gets a sense of something happening," she said. "Either it feels right or it doesn't, and if it doesn't feel right, you have to tear it up and start again, and go in a different direction."

Laybourne said it took about two years to write "Monument 14," much longer than it should have. After her initial chapters were bought by the publisher, she wrote a long, long second section which wasn't well accepted.

"I got one of those scary letters that writers sometimes get," she remembers: "We think you're a very talented writer but this manuscript isn't the book that we bought."

She could feel her heart sinking and she wondered if the publishers would want their money back. It wasn't that bad. The editor thought the story could be fixed so Laybourne began re-writing, picking and choosing the best portions from the long version. By then she knew her characters quite well.

Her second novel went much faster and she expects to have the third book completed in about eight months.

She was asked if she ever got discouraged while writing the book.

"Absolutely," she said. "It's so easy."

When writing fiction an author uses the creative mind and critical mind. Words are written and then assessed to determine if they're any good.

"The problem is that you can't do them both at the same time," she said. "If there's one thing for you to learn from today, it's this: If you're making a piece of art, do not judge it at the same time you create it."

Just then the book chat was interrupted by an announcement from the school office. Due to inappropriate behavior, the seventh and eighth grade students had lost their recess—a humorous interlude for the much older freshmen.

Back to the discussion, Laybourne said that the inner critic can be depressing, especially knowing that most books on the store shelves won't be around in six months. Few have staying power.

"It's really easy to get discouraged and you have to fight for your right to create, within yourself," Laybourne told the class.

How to develop writing skills? Practice, practice, practice. Why the potentially offensive language? She wanted the dialogue to be realistic and she thinks many teens would react to the situations presented with cursing.

After a couple of final questions, the hour was up and the freshmen were on to their next class.

"Don't get into trouble like those eighth graders," Laybourne cautioned.

Been there, done that, quipped a ninth grade student.

  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.snake
    Lannis Smith of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor shows off a python last week at Stair District Library's Summer Reading Program.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
    LINED UP—Lengths of pipe were put in place last week along the route of the Rover natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Ontario, Canada. Topsoil was removed before the pipes were laid out. The 42-inch diameter pipeline is scheduled for completion in November.
  • Front.rock Study
    ROCKHOUNDS—From the left, Joseph McCullough, Sean Pagett and Jonathan McCullough peer through hand lenses to study rocks. The project is part of Morenci Elementary School’s summer camp that continues into August.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017