West Valley School Visit & The Trouble With Boys

West Valley Welcomes Sarah Ockler

Earlier this month, I spent the day hanging out with ninth and tenth graders at West Valley Central School (about 45 miles south of Buffalo). We talked about the importance of writing and communication skills, learning the rules and knowing when to break them, following your dreams, the nuts and bolts of becoming a published author, and finally, that age-old dilemma…

Why do boys have to act like such… boys? Seriously.

When I write about boys in my novels, they tend to be sensitive, mature, romantic, and highly swoon-worthy. My fictional boys open doors and show their emotions. They read books — even girly ones like Twenty Boy Summer. But when I asked the boys in the classroom what it would take to get them to read my stuff, they said I’d need to add some explosions, fight scenes, and a few well-placed dead bodies. Hmm… Twenty Boy Massacre? Maybe next summer!

I joked with the girls in the class that the fictional boys we love may not be an accurate portrayal of teen guys. They laughed and said, “Uh, yeah, we know. Why do you think we all love Edward?”

Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it.

Sarah Ockler at West Valley Central School

Okay, it’s not like I knew any sensitive, swoon-worthy boys when I was a teen, either, but I always held out hope. And I still don’t believe that there aren’t any guys like that out there. There have to be at least three, right? Hiding out somewhere, reading a book under cover of darkness, picking flowers out of your mom’s garden for your secret girlfriend? Wherever you’re hiding, if you’re one of them, or if you’re dating one of them, or you’re related to one of them, please let me know. Come on, guys. Don’t let a fictional character ruin your chances here. Show them Edward doesn’t have anything on you!

*crickets*

Vampire-crushing aside… the boys of West Valley were actually pretty cool (*cough* for mortals *cough*). So they weren’t inclined to debate the kissing techniques of Twenty Boy Summer’s Matt versus Sam, or talk about why vampire romance is so hot these days. But they did ask some great questions about books and publishing and what it’s like to be an author, and no one hit me with a spitball or anything (at least, not that I noticed). 🙂

I had an awesome time at West Valley, and I hope that everyone came away from our visit pondering two things:

  1. maybe not all boys are such… boys, and
  2. learning how to communicate through writing opens the doors to our dreams, whatever those dreams may be. Even after all the assignments and tests and essays where you’re not allowed to use the word “I,” writing is a form of expression. It allows us to say what we mean and convey our wants and needs in a way to which people can respond and help. And for the creative storytellers out there, writing helps us find the best words to tell the stories of our hearts — romantic boys, explosions, red hot vampires, or whatever thing keeps us up at night, begging to be told. Listen to that voice, take it seriously, and do whatever it takes to honor your dreams!

Like I told the class… think about the one thing you love doing most. Now, imagine waking up and getting to do that thing for as long as you want. Every day. Imagine getting paid to do that thing. Well, that’s the door that good writing opened for me, guiding me through the twisted paths of high school, college, and several jobs until I was finally able to listen to that inner voice, sit down, and write a book.

Thanks again to Deb Fenn and the teachers and staff at West Valley for the opportunity to visit, and thanks especially to the ninth and tenth grade students who made me feel so welcome. Happy reading and happy writing, all!

Sarah Ockler at West Valley Central School