Tag Archive for author skype visits

Still Accepting (and Enjoying!) Skype Visits

I recently Skyped with this wonderful group of students and, toward the end, snapped a few photos of my computer screen. These young people were impressive in every way: great demeanor, attentive and courteous, insightful questions, joyful vibe. It felt good all the way through, a true pleasure. This 6th-grade class is taught by the most excellent Ms. Kramer, and the Skype was arranged by Barbara Scott, from PA’s Waldron Mercy Academy. They were especially interested in hearing about my plans for a sequel to Bystander

No, it’s not finished yet. Hang in there.

I enjoy Skyping. Typically I accept a modest (negotiable) honorarium. The conversations run for 30 minutes and employ a simple Q & A format. My strong preference is to work with a group that has read the same book, to give our conversation shape and focus. I’ve Skyped about Bystander, The Courage Test, Jigsaw Jones, Scary Tales and more.

So far, because it’s new, no Skypes yet on Blood Mountain. Boy, I’d love to have that conversation. Just zing me an email and we’ll figure it out.

I was glad to receive a follow-up note from Barb shortly after the visit: “Thank you for such an interesting and engaging Skype visit with our students. They truly enjoyed it, and they are not an easy group to please!”

The feeling is mutual, and I’m not so easy to please, either. Who wants to be “easy to please” anyway? 

Here’s those terrific kids again, waving good-bye . . .



Author Skype Visits: Three Perspectives

Last week I posted about doing a couple of Skype visits, complete with follow-up comments from a teacher-librarian. Because Skyping is a relatively new (and powerful, and affordable) educational tool, I thought I’d recap my experiences in more detail. To that end, I decided to share a couple of different comments that came out of one post-visit debriefing. As background, Skyping is new to me as an author; this year I’ve been dipping my toe into the water, testing the temperature.

For the visit under discussion, I met with a combined classroom of two 6th-grade classes from the region of my parents’ old stomping grounds, Queens, NY. The students had all read my book, Bystander, and came prepared to ask questions — essential ingredients for a successful visit.

After the event, I received a note from the teacher, Adam, who was most instrumental in making the visit happen. He wrote:


Today was fantastic — hands down one of my career highlights. I am proud of the work that the students have done on this topic and I am so impressed with how today’s Skype conference went. You certainly were able to capture and hold the attention of everyone who was in the Media Center today. Their insightful questions about specific characters along with your humor and honesty made the experience something that I will look back on for a long time to come as a moment in their lives that actually came alive. It was a perfect moment in the school day that makes it all worth everything that we do.

In a separate exchange, I heard from another event organizer, a parent. Liza wrote:

Great presentation today. I was sitting off to the side and could tell the kids really loved it. So much energy in the room! Great topic and technology.

I replied with a confession:

Skyping is a little weird, there’s a strange disconnect to it, so I find it hard to read the audience (whereas I think, live, that’s one of my strengths — I can tell when they are bored, when it’s time to stir them up or settle them down).

Liza responded with this observation:

Regarding Skype, the funny thing is that although you were experiencing “a disconnect,” the opposite was happening in the classroom. With your enlarged face on the whiteboard, it created the illusion that you were speaking/connecting with the audience and the energy level was palpable. I might even go so far as to say that the “gee-whiz factor” related to use of this technology make the experience more exciting to the kids than if you’d actually been in the room. From the audience’s standpoint, Skype/whiteboard is a wonderful and surprisingly intimate experience.

The origin of Skype, from The Wizard of Oz. Who knew?

Conclusion: Well, I think Liza said it, and I can only trust her opinion — a Skype visit can be an exciting, oddly intimate experience. As an author, and a 50-year-old guy dealing with (scary) new technology, it takes some getting used to. I appreciate the magic of it, the pure thrill of seeing those faces — from Kentucky or Queens, California or Maine — and answering their questions directly. Admittedly, I still feel a little removed, still feel like I’m alone in my office, voice echoing, the cats looking at me weird, but amazingly that doesn’t seem to be what happens on the other end.

I think it works well for an interactive, book-specific, Q & A session not more than 30 minutes in length. I know that it doesn’t replace the impact of a live author visit. That’s as far as I’ll go right now. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in exploring this new technology together. My fee for next year will be what appears as the industry standard, $150.

Fan Mail Wednesday #113: Skype & Teaching in the 21st Century

Preamble: My friend, talented author/illustrator Matt McElligott, is a frequent presenter at schools. I saw him when he came to my local elementary school and he was spectacular. A total pro, funny, informative, and kind. For info on his author visits, read this. See what I mean about being a pro? He makes me feel like a dirtbag, a rank amateur getting by on shaggy charm. I learn things from Matt every time we speak (twice a year if I’m lucky).

The Point: Matt recently told a good story. A few days after a visit, a librarian called Matt to convey a conversation she had just had with the mother of a young child in the school.

The Joke: The girl came home and said, “Mom, guess what!? We had an author visit our school . . . AND HE WAS ALIVE!”

Maybe you’d find that funnier if, like me, you’d been introduced as a “real, live” author dozens of times over the years. Or maybe you find it hysterical already. I don’t know how you feel. What am I? A mind-reader??!! So just . . . BACK UP, PEOPLE. BACK — IT — UP!

Ah, so. This morning I did a couple of Skype visits. I’m relatively new to Skype and still figuring it out. It’s like we’re in the first few dates of our relationship, where I’m still dressing nice and pretending that hey, no, I actually love Julia Roberts movies. The first visit this AM was with an 8th-grade class from Duxbury, MA. They had all read Bystander as part of an anti-bullying initiative and had a lot of insightful questions. It was a cool way to connect directly with readers without putting on socks and shoes. And come to think of it, that might be the right word for it: Skyping is cool.

I got the nicest note shortly thereafter . . .

Dear James,

Thank you so much for the skype session this morning. It was a great experience for me and for my students to virtually talk to a real author. We all found your answers interesting and personal. The kids said they were surprised that you were “so normal and such a regular guy.” You were so personable, honest and down to earth with them. A few students wanted to ask some other questions and I said maybe they could send you an email sometime??? It was such a great example to the kids about teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Thanks again, Martha.

I replied:

The invoice is in the mail. Please remit within 30 days.

No, kidding!

I actually replied:

Thanks, Martha. When I first started author visits, back in the way back, I was a little uncomfortable with the star treatment. Sometimes I’d get put on a pedestal, the famous author! Well, that wasn’t me; I couldn’t live up to it. I soon realized that if I had anything of value to share, maybe that was it — that I was a (relatively) normal, average, everyday guy who happened to write books for a living. I was no more special than the neighborhood architect, doctor, midwife, lawyer, or . . . um, wait, actually I am more special than lawyers. But anyway!

The Irish have an expression, “Flowers for the living.” (Meaning: You don’t have to wait until someone dies to say something nice about them.) I appreciate your kind words. And I had a good time visiting with your bright, lively students. I’d be happy to answer their email.

My best,



NOTE: I realize that I’ve been bad, bad, bad when it comes to Fan Mail Wednesday. I’ve got a huge backlog and I’m seriously in trouble. I’m going to start digging out asap. I mean it.

An Author’s Adventures in Skype

Okay, this is pretty terrifying in a Mothra kind of way . . .
Yes, that’s my giant gob projected on a viewing screen. The picture was taken during a recent Skype visit. Quick, here’s a couple of other shots:
I’m still in the early stages of figuring out this Skype business. I’m not even sure how I feel about it yet, or whether I can (or should) fit them into my schedule. That said: It is undeniably cool to connect with kids from far-away places, schools I’d never visit if not for this amazing technology. So I’m leaning yes.
And it is amazing, as tired and cliched as that word sounds. Suddenly we’re looking at each other, waving, laughing, talking, snorting. It’s craziness and I think students really do feel a thrill.
The photos are from my first-ever Skype visit. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, just fumbling around, I didn’t charge a fee. And I still don’t. Though that might change down the road if I decide to pursue this in any kind of organized fashion. The visit was a result of an enterprising teacher, Tyler Samler, who reached out to me after reading Bystander with his class. We decided on a 20-minute Q and A session. I enjoyed it, despite having to comb my hair. However, I found it difficult to read the audience. In person I’m pretty good at glancing around the room, recognizing when I’ve got their full attention or when, perhaps, it’s slipping away. With Skype, I was less certain. Hopefully I’ll get better at that with practice.
Tyler wrote to me after the session:
The Skype session was awesome!  You’ve acquired some life long fans here at Hyde Park Elementary School. After the session we went around and had each student give imput and share their opinions.  It was a really good response. They enjoyed your sense of humor and your kindness. I think they were greatly enriched to have this opportunity. You’re a wonderful storyteller!
Thank you so much.
NOTE: I reached out to gifted author (and swell all-around person) Mitali Perkins for advice on Skyping and she directed me to author/teacher Kate Messner, because “Kate is the real expert.” After a few seconds digging, I found this excellent blog post by Kate, which is a pretty good primer on Skyping from both the school and author perspective. If you’re a teacher, you should check it out.
For authors, Darcy Pattison wrote an impressive primer. She offers a lot of great tips, from lighting, to looking at the camera, all the way to suggestions for bathroom breaks. Darcy thinks of everything. The truth is, I would have never dreamed of putting on lipstick if it weren’t for Darcy.
Really. I mean it. I just have naturally rosy lips.