Monday, March 9, 2009

Those Who Can Teach

By Deborah Sharp

I still remember the little-girl crush I had on my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Rowland. She was tall (who isn't to a 7-year-old?) Her slender hands were graceful. And she smelled like gardenias.

One of those annoying teacher's pets in school, I always sat right in front, shushed the other kids, and hung on every word. Even beyond second grade, I loved school. I worshipped my teachers.

All of which made my one-and-only experience in front of a classroom all the more traumatic. In another life, I was a Ph.D. candidate in psychology. I was perfectly happy as a research assistant, until some genius decided I should have some teaching experience, too. Picture this:

Psych 101. A giant auditorium. Rowdy college freshman on game day. At the University of Georgia, a party school where football is EVERYTHING. And me, mousy-voiced and serious, trying to explain Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.

I begged to go back to research. Even cleaning the lab rats' cages was better than trying to teach those football-and-hormone-crazed freshmen. Georgia's team mascot is a bulldog. And believe me, you never forget the sound of an entire auditorium barking.

So here's my problem. I've been asked to teach a session on mystery-writing at the Coral Springs Festival of the Arts. Put aside for a moment the fact that my first mystery hasn't even been out six months. I feel like a fraud, even though my next two Mama books are written and awaiting release. I know teaching is a part of this whole writer's gig, based on how many author friends do panels, seminars, and critiques.

I'm just not sure I'm teacher material. Any tips from the more experienced? Do you lecture or do more interactive, writing exercises? Use notes or speak off the top of your head? Care to share your own top tip for writing mysteries?

Even though the sound of barking haunts my dreams, I think I'll manage. I found some Jungle Gardenia perfume on the Internet. Plus, nobody in south Florida follows Georgia football.

I just hope there are no Florida fans in the class. I couldn't bear to hear a Gator Growl.


Keith Raffel said...

You wrote a book, found an agent, signed a contract with a publisher.... You have something to teach.

G.M. Malliet said...

Deb - Presumably the people who signed up for this course will be there voluntarily (that's the difference), and eager to learn from a published author. You are providing a service of value to them.

Craven said...

Much as Keith and GM have said, the biggest difference will be the audience. You have been published. To them, you have the Rosetta Stone and have broken the code. And they want to hear about it. They will hang on every word and soak up anything you can tell them.

Encourage questions, and your time will be done before you know it.

You are going to have so much more fun then at UGA.

Paul Lamb said...

This reminds me of that Woody Allen quote:

"Those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach, teach phys ed."

Deborah Sharp said...

Thanks for the encouragement, all. It will definitely be easier than facing an auditorium of Georgia football fans.

Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Raffel said...

Seeing your photo of the prototypical school teacher reminds me of Oscar Levant's comment: "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin."

Deborah Sharp said...

Ah, yes ... and we're dating ourselves by the fact we even know Doris Day at all, virgin or not.

Jess Lourey said...

That sounds like a wonderful opportunity, Deb, and those of us who watched your Today show appearance know you have a warm and witty charm that makes people hang on your every word.

As someone who pays her bills by teaching, I recommend handouts for when you're nervous. The audience appreciates them, and it takes some of the eyes off of you as well as creates an air of preparedness, which means professionalism.

I recommend an outline handout, where you have let's say six areas dealing with mysteries--plot, pacing, protagonist, antagonist, dialogue and red herrings, for example. Put a few talking points under each of those headings, leaving room for your audience to take notes, and giving you a map for your talk. Also, have examples, examples, examples, both from your work and from famous mystery writers. Don't necessarily put them on the handout, but read little excerpts from published books that underscore the point you're making, and put biblio info for those books at the end of the handout (people love takeaways, and book recommendations count).

You're going to do great! They're lucky to have you. Make sure they're selling your books there.