RAWing with John Coy answering the five questions of doom
1. You’ve written pictures books, middle grade, fiction, nonfiction, everything. What is it that draws you to tell the story of teens, a coming of age story like in Box Out?
One of the most interesting topics for me is identity, how we figure out who we are and who we want to be. That’s a central search for many teens, and that’s one of the reasons that makes YA such a compelling form for both readers and writers.
2. A few years ago, we spoke about everyone wanting boy books, so writers wrote, publishers published, and bookstores send them back unsold. We know that boys do read, but maybe they don’t buy their own books. What’s the disconnect?
I have had teen boys tell me that “reading is a girl thing.” How we have gotten to the point where so many boys identify themselves as nonreaders is a national tragedy that is producing all kinds of damage. This is even more remarkable considering that we have teens reading more words per day on their phones and computers than teens probably ever have in the history of the world, yet so many still say they don’t like to read. Another factor in boys not buying and reading more books is the lack of male role models for reading. There’s been a real failure of fathers stepping up and letting boys know how important it is to be a strong reader.
3. On your web page, you note that you an “educator” which I don’t see of the web pages of many authors. Why do you consider yourself an educator?
I see the role of an educator as someone who is learning along with others. When I go into a school, my main goal is to connect with students and help them understand that I struggle with some of the same things they do with writing, that we are in it together.
4. We did a school visit together a few years back (okay, we were in prison, not a school) and the energy you get, rather than give, visiting is amazing. Tell me why you think it is important that teachers and librarians host author visits. And what’s your best author visit story?
The first school visit I ever did was in the small town of Long Prairie, Minnesota. I asked the students who were seniors in high school if they had ever had an author visit. Students raised their hands and eagerly told me about the author who had come and went into detail about the stories they had written. That author had come when they were in third grade and the students remembered specific details of what they’d done nine years later. I realized then how powerful an author visit could be and that there was no way to predict which students would respond most strongly at the time or years later. Another reason they are so important to me is that I never had an author come visit when I was in school and consequently never thought about it as an option for myself. I’m convinced that had an author come to my school, I’d have had a much better start on being a writer. A good author visit can be a transformative experience for students, teachers, and the author.
5. And now in this corner, Blatant Self Promotion: tell us about what just came out and if you care to confess, what you are working on now?
A new picture book is coming this year called Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game. It’s true and has spectacular illustrations by Randy DuBurke who I have wanted to work with for years. A middle grade nonfiction book called For Extreme Sports-Crazy Boys has been lots of fun to work on and comes out this year. I even took a little skydive in Dubai as research for that. And I’m in revisions on a new YA novel called Gap Life that comes out in 2016 about a boy whose parents will pay for college, but only if he studies what they want. Thanks for asking.